Accomodation: There were not alot of accessible hostels in Krakow as most of the buildings are very old. I found one hostel with a lift which was the Goodbye Lenin Hostel. However the only accessible thing about this hostel was the lift. The bathroom was very small and difficult to get around. The reception door was too narrow so I had to sit outside the reception and yell for assistance. The doors to get into the rooms were double doors but only one side opened so a hostel staff member had to get a screwdriver and a hammer to open up the other door so that I could fit through. However this was really the only option as all the other hostels I couldn’t even get into the building
Transport: The old town of Krakow is compact so it’s easy just to wander around. However Krakow does have buses and trams although i’m not sure of their accessibility. There are also horse and carriage rides (too high for me to transfer into) and golf carts which take you around. I did a golf cart tour and it was pretty easy to transfer in and out of.
Overall Accessibility: I knew Poland was going to be difficult before I arrived and actually considered doing an accessible tour with this company http://www.accessibletour.pl/en/, however they didn’t have any tours running at the time. So I just did it on my own, and yes I was right Poland especially Krakow was difficult but doable. It would have been easier if you had someone to help you. Most of the restaurant’s and cafes had about two steps to get into and all of the bars were underground and had a set of steps to get into. Also there were many many cobblestones. However the main tourist attractions in Krakow itself were ok and even though it was quite inaccessible it was one of my most favourite and beautiful places I visited.
Day 1 – Old Town, Jewish Quarter, Old Krakow Ghetto
I arrived the night before after a 12 hour long train ride on a ridiculously crammed train. It was one of those train rides where I was grateful for my wheelchair as at least I had a seat where everyone else was standing. When I arrived at the hostel I couldn’t even get through the doors because they were too narrow. So it was a slow start the next morning.
Krakow is made up of 3 parts the old town, the Jewish Quarter, then across the river the what used to be the Krakow Ghetto.
I started at the centre of the old town the Market Square which is dominated by the impressive Cloth Hall. The main square is so picturesque with market stalls and horse
drawn carriages, you feel like you are in another time. Behind the Market Hall is St Mary’s Church which again is beautiful and accessible to get into. I then meandered down the streets of the old town until I reached the castle. The castle is actually a collection of buildings including the cathedral, a couple of museums and the castle itself. The castle sits atop a hill. You can drive up to the top if you have a car and an accessible pass but seeing I had neither I had to push, which was hard work. The view from the top is amazing. A lot of the separate buildings and museums require tickets to get into and the ticket office is up 4 stairs so I just walked around the outside of the buildings which was still pretty good (and cheaper). The cathedral has an accessible entrance and is very impressive from the inside.
After the castle I made my way back to the old town and then caught my own private golf buggy which gave me a guided tour of the Jewish quarter, the old Krakow ghetto and the outside of Schindlers Factory. As I was a bit tired at this stage and still had so much to see this was a pretty good idea and cut down a bit of time.
The golf cart was easy to transfer into and the driver just took my chair apart and put it in the cart with me. Although I would have liked to have done this on foot/chair sometimes you just have to take shortcuts.
That night after spending forever trying to find a restaurant with no steps at I decided to join a pub crawl. The pub crawl was in no way accessible. Every bar had about a flight of steps into a basement so my chair was carried alot. However I had a good night and meet a lot of interesting people.
Day 2 – Aushwitz – Birkenau
Aushwitz – Birkenau (concentration camps used during the holocaust) are about an hours drive from Krakow. You organise a tour through your accomodation. The bus then picks you up from your hostel/hotel and takes you there. Once there you are taken on a guided tour of both camps. It is a very long day and can be very emotionally draining. Aushwitz was the main work camp where Birkenau was the extermination camp. Again I’m not going to talk about the camps too much as it is a very sensitive and emotional topic, I will instead try and cover these places from an accessible viewpoint only.
Neither camps are really accessible. As quoted on their website “The imperative of preserving the historical authenticity of the Museum may make it difficult for disabled persons to move around the grounds and buildings”. The ground is made up of small pieces of stone – like cobblestone but worse so negotiating it can be almost impossible. Aushwitz is made up of a series of red brick barracks blocks which were used for varying horrific purposes and now house different exhibitions. Each red brick block has a set of very large stairs to get into and once inside each building it is double story (i just stayed on the main floor). To get into each building I developed a routine with some amazing other people on my tour , this involved crawling up the stairs and getting them to carry my chair each time we moved to a new building.
I felt because I was so focused on getting around I lost a lot of the meaning of this place and couldn’t really focus on the significance. I also felt just so terrible for complaining about accessibility in a place where so many people had endured such an unimaginable evil. Where people had lost family, their lives and everything they had known.
Therefore when I got back to my hostel that evening I had a a bit of a moment and reminded myself that even though sometimes being a wheelchair can be difficult I still have my family, friends, my health and my independence. I am also lucky to live in a country and a time where I can be free to express my thoughts and beliefs. I think this was the most important lesson I learnt that day.
Day 3 – Jewish Quarter, Old Jewish Cemetery.
I had the morning free before my afternoon train to Warsaw. I spent my morning walking/pushing around the Jewish Quarter. The Jewish Quarter is beautiful with meandering lanes, cute cafes and Synagouges. I ended up going into one of the Synagouges but cannot remember it’s name but it was beautiful inside. In the main square they have preserved alot of the shop fronts as they would have been before NAZI occupation. I also went into the old Jewish cemetery which was just beautiful.
* side note- another attraction that a lot of people visit when they go to Krakow is the Wieliczka Salt Mine. I unfortunately ran out of time. There is a shortened tour available for people with disabilities and there is lift access down to one part of the mine.
And thats it for Krakow. An absolutely incredible place. I would definitely return, even despite the difficult access.