Old Town & Pierogies: 72 Hours in Kraków – Owen Angle

After a two-hour flight over Europe, we finally touched down in sunny Kraków, tucked in the southwestern corner of Poland. I remember sitting on the plane, waiting to disembark, thinking, “well, here goes nothing.” Having just left France, where I knew about ten words of the dominant language (bonjour, monsieur), I was about to step foot somewhere where I was totally unfamiliar with the language, the culture as a whole, and the people. I was walking in completely blind, in a sense.


The first thing I noticed was the familiarity of the scenery. Looking out the window on the twenty minute bus ride from the airport to our hotel, I was shocked at how much rural Poland reminded me of… home? Hailing from SE Ohio, the rolling hills, dense forests and thick ground vegetation of the Polish countryside held within them a noticeable resemblance to my stomping grounds.


I was charmed by the Old Town area of the city, as the narrow pedestrian streets were lined with shops and cafés, and the main square was bustling with activity. Restaurants offered outdoor seating all around the square, and St. Mary’s basilica towered overhead. The atmosphere here was so welcoming and exciting, and the sunset combined with the glow from the lights of town made this stop one of my favorites from our journey.


Another highlight of Kraków was the pierogi-making class I took with a handful of our cohort members. I got to try my hand at making the dough, and we each learned how to stuff and bake our own pierogies! It was a great and unique experience, and one I surely will not forget anytime soon.


I wish I was able to spend more time in Kraków, but the time spent here with our group made the city my favorite stop on our trek through Europe. Kraków is truly a beautiful city, both big enough to explore for a week and quaint enough to not feel overwhelming to travelers, new or experienced.

Remembering the Fallen at Normandy’s War Cemeteries

In Normandy, you’re surrounded by the echoes of death. The most poignant reminder of the war that scarred this beautiful landscape resides in the American, British, and German war cemeteries. Each cemetery was beautiful and moving on their own, with immaculate lawns, bright flags and flowers, and eerie yet tranquil silences that filled the spaces between headstones. Standing in a field of memorials and crosses, it is almost impossible to fully grasp that each marker represents a man. 


German Cemetery at La Cambe

The German cemetery at La Cambe was, to me, one of the more sobering sites of our Normandy visit. With roughly 21,000 men buried there, each stone marked the burial spot of two German soldiers. Some were identified, some were not. Some of the dead were forty years old, some were as young as seventeen. I felt genuine sorrow for those buried at La Cambe. Interred in the land of their enemy, in a cemetery with little pageantry, having died for a cause that many stationed at Normandy likely did not believe in. It was difficult to walk through La Cambe, past graves of young Germans three, four years my younger and not feel pity for how their lives came to a close.


British Cemetery in Bayeux

The British cemetery in Bayeux was brighter in appearance than La Cambe, yet just as sorrowful. The graves were lined up in picturesque rows, columns, and sections, and the grounds are obviously well-maintained. Each grave had a flower or shrubbery planted in front of it, and was adorned with a message from family or a Bible verse. Once again, here I noticed just how young these men were. Nineteen and twenty year-old men, abandoning their lives and families to fight against the tyrannical German war machine.




The American cemetery, located on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach, has been one of my most memorable stops on this tour. The rows of crosses stretch seemingly to the horizon, and when you stand amongst them, you truly feel surrounded. It is hard to put into words the emotional rollercoaster that was the American cemetery. Taps and the national anthem were played over the loudspeakers, which, upon the concluding notes, had not left a dry eye within our group.

American Cemetery at Omaha Beach


The cemeteries of Normandy are our most tangible reminders of the war and the human devastation that crept in its shadow. Yes, the beaches are still visited, the artificial harbor still peeks out of the water at Arromanches, and the memories of those days live on in the collective memory of the region. But until you visit the hallowed grounds, absorb the scale of the loss, and pay your respects, you don’t really understand the true cost of war.

The British Bulldog & ‘Free Europe’

Winston Churchill is undoubtedly one of the most prominent figures from either side of the Second World War. A great orator with strong opinions and fierce patriotism, Churchill’s tenacity led Britain and her empire through Europe’s darkest days and into victory. I have always admired Churchill as a leader, and this has only been reinforced after our visit to his War Rooms located in the heart of London. Having been “rediscovered” in the 1970s, the War Room is a sprawling, maze-like structure from which Britain’s leaders conducted their fight against Nazism for six years. What really struck me about the museum exhibits and the largely intact operations areas was the clear zeal with which the British people rallied around Churchill, and how he presented himself as the people’s leader. 

There are several comics, like the one pictured, that portray Churchill as the gritty, do-what-it-takes man who is the undisputed leader for the Commonwealth. Due in large part to his oration, described by one as sending the English language “into battle,” his words gave the British people hope that all was indeed not lost, and inspired within them a deep sense of duty to King and Country to continue to fight.


Churchill frequently sported his military dress uniform, which represented his deep commitment to freedom, his country, and the cause for which so many Britons gave their all.

Another theme I noticed frequently throughout both the War Room and the incredible Imperial War Museum was the notion of a ‘Free Europe’ which found its home in Britain for the duration of the war. With Prime Minister Churchill as the de facto figurehead, London and England as a whole saw themselves transform into the last bastion of European freedom and democracy. Men and women who had escaped the Nazis found refuge in Britain, as did foreign governments in exile. British colonial and Commonwealth troops were called to the island, and refugees offered their services to the British Expeditionary Forces. American goods and war materials were arriving as part of the Lend-Lease Act, aiding Britain in her fight against tyranny.


Through our visits to these amazing museums, I have begun to really understand the influence that Churchill had on his people. The emphasis the British still place on Churchill, nearly 80 years after the end of the war, goes to show how the Prime Minister unified Britain – and indeed the rest of the free world – in such a way that instilled the hope and confidence that helped sustain Britain through the tribulations of war.