life on pine

Eastern Europe

visiting auschwitz: an experience we'll never forget

Kate Parrish2 Comments

this is the main gate where all of the prisoners entered the camp, which translates to, “work will make you free.”  the prisoners thought they were going to labor camps, while in reality this was camp designed for mass extermination and less than 10% who walked through these gates survived.

of all the days we were in poland, the day we visited auschwitz had the gloomiest skies and most frigid temperatures. combined with falling snow, it made an already intense experience even more vivid. i knew that visiting auschwitz would be extremely heart breaking and painful, but the sheer magnitude of it all is tough to comprehend.  

auschwitz was actually split into two camps, which i didn't realize before. the first camp was originally constructed to hold polish political prisoners who began arriving in may 1940. later they built birkenau, the second camp, which was the largest prison complex built by the nazis and its size was visually disturbing. in total an estimated 1.3 million people were sent to the camps with at least 1.1 million being killed. in the 4+ years the camp was occupied, it was staffed by 7,000 members of the german SS – only 12% of whom were later convicted of war crimes. the nauseating stories, inhumane conditions and glimpse into the severity of the winters here is something i will never forget.

the experience of getting to auschwitz is fairly easy – we arranged for a shuttle/tour and were picked up at our airbnb. the ride lasts about an hour and the bus was pretty quiet and somber – gazing out the window i wondered how much the scenery had changed since the 40's. when we arrived, i was shocked by how many tourists there were. buses, crowds, a book store... that being said, most people were very respectful. the setting is such that you almost feel like you shouldn't talk, and if you do talk, a whisper feels more appropriate. there were of course a few people that make you want to punch them in the face as they take jumping photos [why, honestly, why]. we hesitated to take any photos of our own, but also wanted to share the experience with readers who might never get the chance to visit. 


  • book a small private group before you go, not when you arrive [there were about 12 people in ours, the guide was very knowledgable and had worked there for 14 years. $35/per person]. don't try to do it on your own. 
  • even if you already know a lot about the holocaust, we found it helpful to brush up on our history before visiting the camp. we also re-watched schindler's list which if you haven't seen it, is a must. 

kraków: why poland should be on your travel radar

Kate Parrish2 Comments

a city [and country] with heavy history, delicious food, cold winters, warm people and a very soulful energy. we'd been excited for quite a while to visit kraków, but still weren't sure what to expect. for the most part they still aren't on the typical european tourist track and despite becoming recently known for their creative renaissance, it was still somewhat of an intriguing mystery. it helped that one of our best friends with deep polish roots visited here a couple of years ago, swearing by the city and his time spent here.

with 13th -14th century churches, an imposing castle and europe's largest market square - the old town of kraków is full of historic charm. in the jewish quarter [kazimierz], you are reminded of the tragic history here during WWII, but also inspired by the art scene, hip cafes, creative food and inviting culture that reigns today. while we visited in the dead of winter, it seems like the most charming of seasons might be autumn – beat the heat and avoid the frigid winter [that being said, their christmas market was very fun to see, you can read more about that here]. 


  • eat pierogis & borscht soup and lots of it. our two favorite spots were przystanek (locals sent us here as "the best in town") and mr. vincent in kazimierz.
  • sick of pierogis? try some of these spots, too: pod baranem authentic polish restaurant, great for dinner | boscaiola pizzeria in a beautiful old vaulted brick ceiling | skwer judah food truck park | zenit hip culinary & cocktail experience | kolanko no. 6 patio, food and ambiance all great here | focha42 italian inspired, food is really good and a popular spot with locals.
  • drink vodka i'm not a vodka-straight person... but i really enjoyed bison grass. there are a bunch of cool bars where you can try the different vodkas and blend in with the locals. some we liked are: mleczarnia | miejsce | singerwódka cafe bar
  • sick of vodka? enjoy the cafe culture! BAL is the best. we went here multiple times, perfect for coffee, lunch or drinks. it's also around the corner from schindler's factory and MOCAK | cheder jewish cafe and event space. great vibes and tucked away in the jewish quarter | mostowa artcafe fun spot with local art displayed and a deep local beer/cider menu
  • take a day to see auschwitz read more about our somber experience in our next post

  • avoid restaurants & cafes right off the square kraków is really cheap, but these cafes will rip you off 
  • day trip to the salt mine baths 30 minutes from kraków by train is a 13th century salt mine that has been converted to a bath house, music venue and resort. the mines are very medicinal as the air underground is free of pollution and rich in micronutrients.

SLEEP: airbnb (€) designed by an architect host, this studio was chic, clean and perfect. it's in a cool local neighborhood and great for budget travelers. we stayed here and loved it | aparthotel stare miasto (€€€) full apartments with exposed brick decor – most rooms have jacuzzis, but on the higher end. 




budapest mini guide: what to explore

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szechenyi thermal bath the most popular and it is definitely pretty, but honestly not that refreshing for the full bath experience. it is very touristy, dirty and overly packed. if you only have time for 1 or 2 then i'd skip it honestly.

gellert spa & bath our favorite of the baths. in a stunning, old and historic building - this bath is a clean, fun experience in beautiful setting. there is a fun walk here up the hill that has great views over the city.

rudas thermal bath new building and much more modern than the other baths, but very clean and is right on the river. they have a cool spa on the roof looking back over the city that i recommend.




shoes on the danube during WWII hundreds of innocent men, women and children (Jews, gays, etc) were ordered to take off their shoes and shot at the end of the river, their bodies fell in and floated away.  it's a tragic story and beautiful memorial, completed in 2005

parliament built for an empire 5 times the size of hungary, it's neo gothic architecture is stunning and it's size grand. also check out the opera house skip a show, but do the tour it’s a stunning building

budapest castle district (fisherman’s bastion, royal palace, matthias church, chain bridge) budapest’s most important medieval monuments and museums (UNESCO site). bring drinks from pest (much cheaper) and go here for sunset

great market hall 100 year old market where locals go to shop, fun to browse and grab lunch here [langos!] 

house of terror & hungarian national are two great museums - the exhibits are moving and eye opening on the war filled history here

margaret island in the middle of the danube. tons of walking trails, big open green spaces, and a couple of great restaurants, etc.

for more on budapest visit our "where to eat, drink and things to try" and "scenes from around the city" posts, or watch our travel video here



budapest mini guide: where to eat, drink & things to try

Kate ParrishComment

budapest, hungary's capital, is actually two cities merged into one [split by the danube river]. its 19th century chain bridge connects the hilly buda district with the flat pest district. buda represents the old town and castle hill, opposed to pest which has the old jewish quarter and represents the upbeat energy of the city today. 

our time here was mixed, with a few days on our own and a few days with friends & family to celebrate thanksgiving. what a wonderful experience we had exploring this unique and incredible city. we loved the pace, the people, their cafe culture and the deep history around every corner. the city is affordable, fun and has a little something for everyone...below are some of things we loved.


BREAKFAST & LUNCH || STIKA budapest coffee and fun breakfast spot || bistro suppé healthy local snacks and really good soup ||  déryné bisztró must come here for brunch before visiting castle hill [short walk from here] || grand market hall can't leave with out trying langos here! || centrál kávéház elegant historic cafe with marble tables & balcony, come here for coffee & cakes || steg fish bar great fish soup and other seafood! 

DINNER || két szerecsen need to do at least 1 dinner here, so cozy - shared plates style and the house wine is delicious. zeller bistro

COCKTAILS || bar pharma or gresham palace budapest for cocktails RUIN PUBS || szimpla kert the first and most popular of the “ruin pubs”. have an organic farmers market here on sundays too. 

COFFEE ||  konyha coffee, tea, food or wine/beer. this place was one of our favorite cafes to hang at for hours.  juicy & budapest bagel grab a juice or try a creative hungarian bagel option like goose liver pate || madal café great coffee and ambiance || espresso embassy beautiful space with a 200-year-old vaulted brick ceiling || fekete ‘black’ in hungarian - their subtle hint on how to order.  

TEAHOUSE || sirius or red lion two old teahouses loaded with cushions and zen vibes for taking a break.


things to try

lángos classic hungarian street food, deep fried flatbread with all kinds of toppings. the basic is sour cream and cheese, adding red onion, arugula and tomato was our favorite.  

goulash soup meat and vegetables, seasoned with paprika and other spices. 

fisherman's soup (halászlé) & goose liver hungarians are famous for it.

boat ride on the water day or night is fun and a great way to see the city. budapest is second only to paris for brightest cities at night.


a few more photos with our friends... 

for more on budapest visit our "where to explore" and "scenes from around the city" posts, or watch our travel video here


lodging in belgrade: boatel charlie & square nine

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docked on the danube and just across an island bird preserve, staying here is a very unique and peaceful experience. just a short bus ride or 20 minute walk into downtown, you feel removed from the bustle of the city when drinking your morning coffee on the deck, yet comfortably close for when you're ready to explore.

boatel charlie is simple and beautifully designed, with a cozy fireplace to welcome guests on chillier days. even better – they offer bikes, have super comfy beds, an extremely loving staff, delicious breakfast and are located in the park which makes for a perfect morning run if that's your thing. we loved everything about our stay at this unique little hotel. €40 - €75 depending on the season


walking into square nine hotel pretty much feels like you're on the set of mad men. their sophisticated and elegant design goes into every single tiny detail, and it's very obvious that every touch was intentional. you can read more about their gorgeous antique furniture here. stop by for coffee in the morning, drinks and live music in the evening ... or even try one of their tasty restaurants. and if you're looking to splurge on a room, it will absolutely be worth it. €250 - €300 depending on the season

** this post was part of a collaboration, all opinions are my own.