Europe18: Krakow day trips - Auschwitz and Wieliczka Salt Mines

July 11, 2018 | 6 Comments

There are a number of day tours which you can do from Krakow. The two most popular are the Auschwitz Concentration/Extermination camps from WWII and some impressive Salt Mines. We did both on consecutive days.

I wasn’t sure about going to Auschwitz as I’m fairly sensitive. I certainly didn’t want to do a guided tour and hear all the horrendous details – I can feel deeply without knowing absolutely everything. Most of the bus trips from Krakow included guided tours, but we did find one called a ‘contemplative tour’ which gave us a documentary in the bus and then around 2 hours of free time at the two camps, Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II – Birkenau. This worked well for us as it gave us sketching time which would have been impossible on the guided tours.

I found it a very hard place to sketch as sketching creates such a strong connection to place, but at the same time it was a good way to process the emotions. And it is all coming back as I type this blogpost! So I’m just going to share a few photos and my sketches as they are, without commentary.

Auschwitz I

Auschwitz II – Birkenau

It’s hard to describe how emotionally drained we were at the end of the day after this tour.

It was a hard experience but I’m glad that I made the decision to go.

Wieliczka Salt Mines

The next day we did a half day trip to a very impressive salt mine which was opened in 13th Century. We walked for 2 hours, down 800 steps to 130m below ground and then caught the lift back up. We only saw 1% of the whole mine.

We had to have a guided tour and she only stopped at each spot for a few minutes (at best case – sometimes we only stopped for seconds). I sketched non-stop, very quickly and often in the dark. I added a little colour at the end in the ‘commerical district’ (the area full of shops) before we returned to above ground.

Lots of tour groups!!!

Lots of timber in the shafts and chambers.

Some of the chambers we saw were very impressive (this was my favourite) and included chandeliers with salt crystal decorations.

The walls are all rock salt – if you touch it, and then lick your fingers it’s very salty! The miners built a number of chapels – this is one of the small ones.

And this is the largest one – St Kinga Chapel – wow!

As for my sketches… here they are!

I was very pleased with what I managed to sketch during the tour. Some of them might not make much sense to others, but they are a good prompt for me of the various spaces we visited.

This type of sketching is not super easy for me – I see it as a good ‘push’ exercise. It was a case of having the confidence to just go for it and then rely heavily on my eye-hand coordination. As soon as I we stopped at a place I would make a split second decision about where to stand, then work out what were the significant edges that would define the space, and then go for it! So much fun!

But although I had fun sketching in the mine, I was very happy to get above ground and get some fresh air!



  • Mary Kay Long says:

    Thank you so much for going on the Auschwitz tour and I’m so pleased you shared you photos, drawing and painting with us.

    Mary Kay Long
    Stonington, Connecticut

  • Thank you so much for sharing your photos and sketches of Auschwitz. I weep with you.

  • Fiona Campbell says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful and reflective post. I also appreciated your sketching response to such a place. A lot to think about in this.

  • Deb says:

    Good for you! Bearing witness is not easy.

  • Stephanie Trimas says:

    Your photos of Auschwitz convey the feeling of it more than almost any photos I’ve seen of the place. I haven’t been there but have seen documentaries about it. The salt mines also look fascinating.

  • Hi,
    I included your sketch in a documentary I’ve created on the life and death of St. Maximilian Kolbe who died in that Auswitz Camp.

    Thanks for sharing your memories and sketches.

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