Adding to my meagre collection of travel guides, I wanted to give the excellent city of Kraków a shout out. It's the perfect place for a continental city break - affordable, not too far away and easy to get around. Unfortunately I can't lend you my awesome friends to go with, but I can offer up some (fairly boozy) tips for how to make the most of the city.
1. Take the time to visit Auschwitz.
I'm not going to write here about why people should do this but I did want tp note a couple of tips that made our visit run smoothly. We booked an English-language tour online before our trip, took the bus from Kraków bus station and gave ourselves plenty of time to get there, collect headphones and watch the film that is available. It's a gruelling day so it's good to plan ahead.
You also don't need photos of Auschwitz. Put your phone and camera away and look at where you are. Some people there will be behaving terribly. Close your eyes, breathe and step away from them. They are beyond your help.
2. Mix up culture and beer
Kraków is not a big city: it's very easy to cover it all on foot, which allows for the perfect amount of wandering around, looking at beautiful buildings and nipping into bars to drink cheap beer. I'm always a bit stingy when it comes to paying to go inside cathedrals and churches but Wawel Cathedral is absolutely worth it. It's packed with truly spectacular opulence and topped off with a midnight blue, star-studded arched ceiling.
Starry starry night
To counter-balance that, head around the corner to the House of Beer and curl up on a squidgy leather sofa whilst sampling their vast selection of craft beers and ales. Other good spots for an afternoon beer are CK Brower if you're after a hilarious picture with a five pint beer pipe, Pauza to look out over the bustling Florianska street, or Caffe Camelot either for a sun-trap if the weather is nice or to hole up inside in what looks like your grandma's living room.
3. Eat Polish
It's a proud moment that we genuinely shocked the manager of a milkbar by competently putting away almost all of the outrageous number of dumplings we ordered in one sitting. Spinach dumplings, potato cakes with sour cream, breaded pork and deep-fried Camembert make for a hearty evening meal. Polish food is not to be sniffed at.
If you want to try somewhere traditional but not daunting, head to Milkbar Tomasza. Be warned, they don't serve booze so stock up on your beers elsewhere.
4. Drink Polish
Apart from good local beers, Poland is all about the vodka and even managed to convince a staunch vodka-hater that it's not all bad. We used our resident quarter-Polish tour guide to show us the way and she directed us straight to Żubrówka, known as bison grass vodka. The way to drink it is very cold with apple juice, and a hint of cinnamon. It tastes like Christmas. Try it at cosy, hipster Eszeweria in the Jewish Quarter before dancing down the road to Alchemia.
I prefer something a little less sweet so I'd recommend heading to a traditional snack and shot bar. Maybe give the herring a miss but pick up a shot for 4 zlotys (about 70p). My favourite was raspberry vodka topped with fresh lemon juice. And remember to sip, not shot, otherwise you'll look incredibly British.
The vodka hater has come round to the idea.
5. Try absinthe without getting totally out of your tree
My past absinthe experiences correspond pretty closely to nights when I've either kissed a lot of boys or made my most committed effort to recreating the Dirty Dancing lift. Both have resulted in bruises, some to my pride, some to my knees.
It all went a bit Moulin Rouge after this.
Taking the luxe and measured approach to the Green Goddess turned out to be much more fun and much less foggy. We visited the eclectically decorated Absynt Bar in the Jewish quarter which set us up well for a night of dancing. There were some treacherous sounding absinthe cocktails on the board but we went for the Belle Époque style traditional serving with fancy Instagram-worthy goblets and intricate silver spoons. Having only ever necked a shot of the cheap stuff, it was a pleasant surprise to water down the absinthe in the style of whiskey and appreciate the aniseed flavours.
It should be noted some appreciated this more than others.
Hey everyone! Enjoy absinthe!