24.11.17

Trip To Auschwitz & Birkenau

I felt that after writing all my blog posts regarding Krakow, that this trip to Auschwitz and Birkenau Concentration Camps deserved its own spot, with its own gallery and story. It is a place I had wanted to visit for many years, and although I had a sinking feeling that my emotions would be clouded a little by the consuming tourist vibe and over commercialisation, I did walk away feeling quite numb.







Auschwitz Birkenau Concentration was built outside of Krakow, and over 1 million Jews were exterminated in this camp during WW2 from all over Europe. Brought in on trains, they arrived at the famous tracks of Birkenau, separated from their families and chosen for either work and starvation, or immediate death in the gas chambers. The trip was taken with a local copmany, many hotels will offer this service and you can usually book the tours the day before if it is a little off season. It is around an hour's drive to the camp. Auschwitz and Birkenau are separated, in two separate spots in the village of Oswiecim. In itself, it's a sad town, feels a little forgotten, perhaps never quite recovered from the atrocities of WW2. Auschwitz is the main camp, the most preserved with the exhibitions inside the blocks.

Auschwitz

Walking through the security gates, you see a small courtyard and the famous sign, which translated into English simply means, "Work Will Set You Free". So eerily ironic. You can see the blocks that still remain in the camp. All numbered, and built in what almost feels like a communal village. Sounds silly, but the buildings are not imposing or ugly, the feel there is not solemn, there is a sense of peace and the preservation is incredible. Some of the buildings cannot be entred but many can be, and inside there are many glass cabinets of old posessions of the Jews brought here, hair, shoes, glasses. Far too many for your mind to comprehend, and even more so, knowing that they were taken from victims who most likely succumbed to the evil acts made here at Auschwitz.

Auschwitz does attract many people, even in colder months. Wear suitable clothing and shoes. The terrain isn't brilliant. After looking inside the small museums, as they felt like, we moved onto the horrific gas chamber which still stands today. Walking inside felt surreal, you cannot comprehend it, perhaps only afterwards, your main processes the images and you begin to realise where you have just visited. I was struck firstly with how small it was. I expected a huge space, they most definitely look bigger on television; and this is when you realise how much fear, and chaos there must have been inside when so many people were crammed into these chambers.















Birkenau

Birkenau is an area around fifteen minutes on foot from Auschwitz, where the famous train tracks lie. They remain untouched, and it's a particularly haunting place. The tracks are long, almost too long to see the end from the entrance. There are a few tourists who abuse the area, but you musn't let this detract from your own feelings and emotions. Birkenau is vast. This is where the majority of the work was done, and it is so vast and flat, it does feel a little more abandoned than Auschwitz, particularly because this is less museum-like. There are blocks to walk in, you can see the bunkers where they slept, the toilets, and there are still remnants of the destroyed gas chambers. The ruins of the chambers and buildings are in some ways, more eerie, there's a sense of abandonment, as if it is forbidden territory. Make sure you walk to the bottom to the end of the track you can see the train trakcs in their entirity, and it's the best place to sit and think and realise where you are, you can almost see the horror of the past unfold in your mind.

You can spend as much time at Birkenau as you wish, it feels a little less rushed and chaotic there as it's all outside. The wire fences are particularly disturbing; as during the war, these would have been live, and any prisoner who tried to escape would have had a large voltage surge through them, most likely killing them should they try and touch it. These are all difficult things to imagine; or even comprehend, but well worth a visit if you enjoy history and want to pay your respects to the victims.









Tips

I would recommend visiting the site alone, without a tour group as you are not restricted to time or areas you can wander. Tours are more specific in where you go and how long you have, and whilst alone, I imagine you could truly feel the essence of the place much better than stringing along with a large group.

For transfers and picks up to and from the airport I use Welcome Pickups.

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19.11.17

Travel Styling With Victoria PLUS App

Gracing the runway shows at this year’s London Fashion Week was yet another vast compilation of styles stretching from bright vivacious colours to deep earthy street tones, in what felt like the most diverse fashion week to date. Each designer eloquently conveyed styles and textures, with Claire Tagg being a popular choice with many in her presentation show at The Freemasons Hall in Covent Garden. With so many fashion inspirations to delve into, picking out the season’s trends was certainly a tough ask. A little swipe through the photos on Instagram proved that the trends this season are undoubtedly laced with textures, popping with those beautiful spring tones, and both simplicity and complexity with patterns are noticeably present. There is however a common theme throughout, unique style. With a huge nod to being yourself, loving yourself and exploring through fashion, the key fact remains that whilst fashion may be pervasive in its trends, you can recreate the looks you love, not just on a budget, but with a subjective eye.

Style Seeker helps you find outfits with one click!
How To Recreate

Recently, I have been working closely with Victoria Leeds, the city’s most lucrative and luscious shopping areas, to show exactly where you can recreate the hot trends, your way! Re-invent the looks, your way, with a just a couple of clicks. The Victoria Leeds PLUS app; is a free app, that encapsulates everything you need to know about the centre, from news, to offers and events, but of course the piΓ©ce de rΓ©sistance is the amazing Style Seeker feature. In essence, the Style Seeker is your personal shopper, indicating where you can find the styles you have seen. Take a snap of a piece of clothing you may like, perhaps from the runway at London Fashion Week, perhaps on a friend, anywhere, upload the photo, hit click and wait for a plethora of results to pop up and scroll through. It will show you where similar items can be found in the shopping centre. I chose a few items from some of my favourite looks, and I found similar matches in John Lewis, Reiss, And Other Stories and Anthropologie.

Firstly, I was highly inspired by incredible dress designer Mimi Tran, whose looks last year were utterly mind-blowing in a display of sequin and lace heaven; and this year the lace yet again an inspired move by Mimi. The dress itself, a black lacy sparkly evening dress highlighted for me the importance of a black dress for evening occasions. After imputing it into the Style Seeker, I was guided towards the Karen Millen section in John Lewis, where I found the Lingerie Lace Dress, with the three quarter length sleeves, and the delicate touch of lace that really captured the red carpet look whilst still keeping the authenticity of a classic black dress. This was a dress with a twist and thread of gold throughout, which gives this look a truly glamorous edge. First look complete, and highly successful!

Karen Millen (John Lewis)

Secondly I had been inspired by some of the classic simple looks, that use simple colours, whites, blacks, greys, to create an effortless style that can be dressed up or down. This look, highly inspired by Rohmir, saw blazer jacket, styled with a hat and touch of fur to bring a little decadence to the outfit. This style can be so heavily accessorized, to inject chic style, or it can be a more day-to-day choice, but either way, I felt the need to recreate this look. Although white blazers seem currently out of season for February, the Style Seeker took me to Reiss, where I found a beautiful duplicate, which seemed to be perfect for this time of year, highly impressed by the choices the app threw up for me. Thankfully within store, the accessories seemed to be sat waiting for me, a faux fur scarf, and a little cream bowler hat which complimented each other just as well as the looks I’d seen at Fashion Week. With a little inspiration, it is not difficult to find items that marry elegantly together, whilst still keeping a strong personal identity and definition.

A little faux fur and simple bowler hat to make things chic for winter-spring!

Thirdly, the Claire Tagg presentation had been the most colourful show of the season. The piece merged girly goodness, with womanly sexiness, and it was perfection, with florals and shades of pink I had not seen in many months. The dresses remained classy whilst also highlighting the contours of a woman’s body, with cut outs, waist ties, and strapless dresses. Claire Tagg keeps her integrity throughout the entire collection, and this felt like a spring dream, and although I felt these dresses were going to be too detailed and intricate to find, I managed to find some inspired pieces in Anthropologie, after uploading one of my favourite pieces from the collection into Style Seeker. A little skirt and blouse duo, felt like a perfect combination, to combine fussy prints with the plain simplicity seen at the show. A crisp white shirt, giving structure, and a floating colourful skirt, that highlighted the pink tones so well. Despite the Boho edge in Anthropologie, I was pleasantly surprised by how stylish this came out. Thanks to the Style Seeker, I managed to find one of my favourite skirts of the season so far.

Anthropologie

One trend I noticed at London Fashion Week that was cleverly emphasized by the designer KristelKuslapuu, was large bright coloured jumpers that could be worn with anything; and colourful accessories such as big belts and colourful sunglasses. The Style Seeker app brought up a large quantity of jumpers; however, I was drawn to the brilliant yellow jumper that was found in And Other Stories. With a little bit of street style but keeping it simple, this is a very wearable look, that may be bold, but is brilliant, and add a couple of accessories, and this is highly inspired by the look at London Fashion Week. I picked up a pair of chunky red sunglasses that completed the alternative trend look; which had strong spring vibes, and would look heavenly with a pair of jeans, leggings or colourful skirts. The world is really your oyster when you play with fashion; but even better when they’re inspired by the trends of the season.

And Other Stories - bright colours on trend!

Dress Like A Queen

We all saw the incredible photos of Queen Elizabeth at London Fashion Week and it's no surprise that she dressed impeccably, with a gorgeous grey jacket, with an undertone of muted blue. With the Style Seeker app, you can easily find similar items, that will allow you to dress like a queen every day! 



The Victoria PLUS app, found in the app store, has been a fruitful and pivotal turning point in my shopping routine and ideas. I no longer have to troll through aisles and aisles of clothes, or go into every single shop to try to find an item of interest, I can get click happy with my app, and as easy as that, I am able to find what I want, when I want, and what’s even better is that I can confirm the prices of each item before I choose which duplicate I want to pick up. It lists the brand and retailer, and if you would prefer more choice, then click on refine to change aspects of your search. A perfect shopping companion that you must download, and of course, make sure you head to Victoria Leeds to find a brilliant mix of high street and designer brands, that cater to all needs, male, female and closing the gap between young and mature.

Download the app today here, and be sure to tag Victoria Leeds in any looks you recreate this season!

Victoria Leeds Twitter: @VictoriaLeeds_ 
Victoria Leeds Instagram: @VictoriaLeeds_

*This post was written in collaboration with Victoria Leeds and London Fashion Week. 
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16.11.17

Zakopane - Poland's Winter Capital

The country of Poland is filled with many treats and surprises. I had no idea that sat just around 70 miles away from Krakow, sat a winter wonderland named Zakopane. It's been dubbed Poland's Winter Capital and is a popular ski resort and has plenty to offer for snow sport lovers and mountain outdoors lovers in general. Zakopane is sat in the Tatra Mountains, which are part of the Carpathian mountain chain, and the town itself is very close to the Slovakian border.

This bespoke trip to the town was a private transfer to Zakopane with www.krakowtransfers.eu and our lovely guide and driver, Jarek was a complete joy!

Zakopane Overview

We set off at 9 a.m, we were picked up from the hotel, in a luxurious car, with bottles of water provided for the trip. An added bonus was having wifi in the car (super helpful when you need to keep on top of work and emails). We headed south towards Zakopane, with a little stop off at a very old church, set just back off the main road. The drive itself was incredibly scenic, and you definitely get to see a side of Poland that you may not experience when just heading to the cities. As with any country, exploring and seeing its countryside is the best way to get the most out of your stay, and experience the true spirit of the country. We carried on towards Zakopane and as we arrived, the snowcapped mountains and snow and ice everywhere felt very festive and magical. It's a popular destination around New Year, with over a million flocking there to celebrate. The views are incredible. Jarek, our driver, suggested a trip up the mountainside for the stunning views and they did not disappoint. Cost only around £4 each and you can hop on the 'funicular train' near the outdoor market. It can't be missed. 

Viewing Point Overlooking The Tatra Mountains
The Tatra Mountains

The Funicular Train Tracks

Jarek introduced us to a charming wooden-built traditional Polish resturant named Owczarnia Restaurant, where Jarek recommended the pork and potato soup, a true mountain dish that was absolutely delicious! Afterwards, we had a little wander around the town. Zakopane itself is very tourist friendly. Plenty of hotels, cafes, and shops! A real little gem hidden in the mountains, and even more charming after the snow had fallen. The sky was as blue as summer, yet as chilly as an icy January. The temperature is known to plummet to around -20 during some winters, so it's advisable to be very prepared if you're planning a little breakaway here.

Traditional Polish Restaurant
Parish Church

After a stroll around the markets and taking plenty of photos in pretty locations, we headed off, for a little drive to the ski slopes. This destination is incredibly popular with skiiers from both Poland and abroad, and with Poland being very inexpensive and good value, it has become increasingly more popular. It's also popular for hikers and outdoor lovers, it has plenty to offer, forests, mountain treks and more and as a day trip, it's briliantly within reach from Krakow - another must-see! 

Skiing For Beginners

After researching a little further into the ski slopes and areas in Zakopane, it is believed to also be an ideal spot for beginner skiiers, lots of places to practice if you're a learner; unchallenging and well kept, they have had very good reviews by many tourists. The resorts include:


  • Kasprowy Wierch - Two skiing tracks through the Gasienicowa and Goryczkowa Hills.
  • Nosal Ski Station - A northern slope which is fabulous for beginners and skilled skiiers.
  • Szymoszkowa Ski Station - Beautiful views of the Tatra Mountains can be seen from here.
  • Harenda Family Recreation Centre - A slope for beginners and skilled skiiers. 
Mid-afternoon we headed back towards Krakow but the schedule was very open if you had any specific requests for other places to visit. We had seen many interesting things on the trip, and opted to head back towards the city but not before we stopped off at the beautiful Jaszczurowka Chapel in the Tatra Mountains. A quaint and enchanting wooden church sat up off the main road and was the most intriguing church I've ever seen. It was seeped in history and had such a traditional Polish feel. Moments like this make you truly realise you're in the heart of another country! 

Jaszczurowka Chapel

Tatra Mountains

Jarek headed back to Krakow in good time and showed us a little famous pizza place around the Jewish Quarter, before dropping us off outside our hotel. It was the perfect day, and made so relaxed by Jarek - highly recommend www.krakowtransfers.eu. 5*****


Jarek and his company also offer trips to all the sights around Krakow including airport transfers, with a professional and helpful manner. Zakopane is definitely worth a trip and it's safe to say that I will definitely be returning to this beautiful country in the not too distant future, I hope! 

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15.11.17

Krakow Guide

Poland is a country that is famous for so many things, firstly, usually, World War 2 and the terrible atrocities bestowed oupon the country in general. Secondly when we think of Poland we think of magical European towns, that are just the best to explore in the winter months. Krakow is a city steeped in history, and there are many reminders left behind of World War 2. From the streets of the Jewish quarter and ghettos, although mostly the city was unscathed during the war because the Nazis were so determined to use the city as a place for trade. Krakow in general is inexpensive. Food in supermarkets is very cheap as are tours and general living costs. Of course hotels may not be as cheap.



Transport

Most of the main attactions can be found on foot. It is a large city but not huge, and you can walk from the castle to the Jewish quarters in less than half an hour. There are quite a few taxis around the area, but be sure to check it is legit, and that it shows pricing in the windows to avoid any fiddling with fares. Uber is available here of course, such a handy tool if you're a little further afield and need a lift back to your hotel.  There is no underground Metro system here but there are many trams, often busy, and can be used by tourists, but it's wise to plan the route well before you go but tickets are no more than around £2.50 average.

Hotels

I stayed in Krakow at the INX Design Hotel,  a brand new hotel in the Jewish quarter that was definitely not a disappointment. Artsy, modern and so stylish with pops of colour everywhere and lots of marble that was definitely a big bonus for me. The rooms were stylish also, small a little perhaps but very comfortable and a little mood lihting also which was the highlight!

INX Design Hotel 4**** - click here to book.

There are a plethora of hotels in Krakow including most of the large chains also, be sure to have a little look here for more idea of what's available.

Typical Room - Hotel Design INX
Hotel Design INX
Top - www.wearall.com

Attractions To Make The Most Of

Wawel Castle - The walk along the Vistula River is lovely in any weather and can take you around the side of the Wawel Castle, a castle that blatantly is influenced by the medieval, baroque and renassaince periods. It's a little gothic in style, although not overly noticable, when compared to Budapest. It's exhibition  prices start at 90PLN (around £19), and there are a few exhibitions on offer, as the castle itself has many separate areas to explore. Outside is equally as beautiful and worth a trip to the grounds!

Entrance To The Castle

Stunning Architecture In Castle Grounds
Castle Grounds

View Of The Vistula River 

Clock

Wanders In The Castle

Jewish Quarter - The Jewish quarter is full of places to go inside and visit. The district itself is known as Kazimierz, and it's based a little further out of the main town, which you can access via Starowislna (street). It's full of small museums, and little untouched streets; you can hope on a little golf cart tour bus which takes you around all the areas of the city also, including this area of the city. Be sure to have a look at Galica Jewish MusuemGhetto Heroes Square and the Jewish Square.

Jewish Quarter

Auschwitz Birkenau - Auschwitz is a brilliant place to visit if you're in Krakow. Based only around an hour and a half away from Krakow, it is a must-see for history lovers and of course a wonderful way to pay your respects to the thousands of victims slaughtered during World War 2. Auschwitz and Birkenau are separated in two different camps and needless to say, both are fascinating. With a small area to eat and drink a couple of little shops, you can wander around on your own should you wish or go along with a tour group (recommended) which usually you can book just a day in advance from your hotel. Most hotels offer this and it's a good option as they will be able to pick you up from your hotel and not a meeting point, like some tours. Costs around £35 average. There is little else to say about this incredible place, I'll show some photos and let those do the talking. You shouldn't miss out on this if you're in Krakow.

Auschwitz Entrance
Original Signpost
The Blocks
Auschwitz Concentration Camp 

Auschwitz Concentration Camp
Birkenau Train Tracks
Birkenau Train Tracks
Birkenau Camp
Village - Returning To Krakow
Food

There are quite a few restaurants in Krakow. It perhaps isn't as food orientated as some European cities but they are varied and inexpensive, and there are lots of choices. There are lots of little kiosks with traditional street food but here are a few places to wine and dine in if you're in the city. I did notice however that sushi seems to be a hit in Krakow, plenty of little sushi bars around to fulfil your need of a spicy tuna roll.

1. Starka Restaurant - a chic restaurant, classic themed, with traditional Polish food served under candlelight. Perfect for dates, or a little bit of a romantic atmosphere with your other half, or just for an elegant night out to celebrate being in this superb city.

2. Nago Sushi & Sake - a trendy Japanese restaurant dedicated to top quality delicious sushi and Japanese cuisine. Highlights being their sashimi. Highly ranked on TripAdvisor also and a perfect lunch spot.

3. Albertina - this luxurious restaurant is a brilliant way to indulge during your stay in Krakow. Known for it's world famous wines and highly acclaimed food and drink in general, Albertina brings out the best in Polish cuisine, for an indulgent stay!


Make sure you decide to tick Krakow off your European bucket list!
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