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Kraków, Auschwitz: An unforgettable experience

The city center of Kraków, Poland hosts a variety of restaurants, shops and nightlife for tourists. Dating back to the 7th century, Kraków is the second largest city in Poland and serves as a mecca for economic, academic, artistic and culture growth in the country. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Michael Battles)

The city center of Kraków, Poland hosts a variety of restaurants, shops and nightlife for tourists. Dating back to the 7th century, Kraków is the second largest city in Poland and serves as a mecca for economic, academic, artistic and culture growth in the country. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Michael Battles)

Located only 15 minutes from the city center of Kraków, Poland, Wawell Hill and Castle was originally built as a hunting cottage. The castle now serves as a recreational and conference center for the president of Poland. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Michael Battles)

Located only 15 minutes from the city center of Kraków, Poland, Wawell Hill and Castle was originally built as a hunting cottage. The castle now serves as a recreational and conference center for the president of Poland. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Michael Battles)

Auschwitz is the largest concentration camp, located in Oswiecim, Poland¸  is a museum and acts as a memorial for the individuals who lost their lives during the Holocaust. Auswitch was liberated by Soviet troops on Jan. 27, 1945. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Michael Battles)

Auschwitz is the largest concentration camp, located in Oswiecim, Poland¸ is a museum and acts as a memorial for the individuals who lost their lives during the Holocaust. Auswitch was liberated by Soviet troops on Jan. 27, 1945. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Michael Battles)

Auschwitz, located in Oswiecim, Poland¸ is the largest concentration camp in the world and consists of three compounds: Auswitch, Auschwitz II – Birkenau, Auschwitz III – Monowitz. From 1942 to 1944 more than 1.3 million individuals lost their lives at Auschwitz. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Michael Battles)

Auschwitz, located in Oswiecim, Poland¸ is the largest concentration camp in the world and consists of three compounds: Auswitch, Auschwitz II – Birkenau, Auschwitz III – Monowitz. From 1942 to 1944 more than 1.3 million individuals lost their lives at Auschwitz. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Michael Battles)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- As I entered the city center, my senses were overwhelmed by the sight of the buildings whose height seemed endless, as well as the crowded, tourist-filled streets that stood between me and my destination.

Busy streets and tall buildings are normal for any country around the world, but in Poland the city of Kraków offers an unforgettable vacation.

With my bags packed and tour books in hand, I set out on a 10-hour journey through the heart of Europe to reach the city that rests on the Vistula River in the southern region of Poland.

Dating back to the 7th century, Kraków is the second largest city in Poland and serves as a mecca for economic, academic, artistic and culture growth in the country.

Arriving at my hotel, located within walking distance of the city center, I was stunned by the beauty of the architecture and surprised by the amount of tourism the city brings. My curiosity was piqued as I entered my hotel to check in, as I heard a variety of languages from the around the world filling the lobby.

Since my stay in Kraków was limited I decided to start my sightseeing early to get the most out of my trip. While doing research on what sites I wanted to see most, I stumbled upon the Royal Route, which monarchs used when returning from victorious battles. The route highlights 22 of Kraków's popular historic and beautiful sites. Traveling through the main city square I was able to capture the best views of St. Florian's Gate, St. Mary's Church and Wielopolski Mansion.

A must for any tourist in Kraków is Wawell Hill and Castle, located only 15 minutes from the city center and sits 80 feet above the Vistula River. Originally built as a hunting cottage, the castle is influenced by the Gothic and Renaissance period and stands as a recreational and conference center for the president of Poland.

As night began to fall I worked my way back to the city center, which hosts a variety of restaurants, night life and shopping. Situated in the middle of city center stands a former train station that was converted into a shopping center and offers many handcrafted items such as craved wooden boxes, jewelry and knickknacks.

The long day of touring had my stomach churning for dinner, and after talking to some local vendors I decided on a small Polish restaurant on a side street in the city. The atmosphere of the restaurant felt as if I was in Poland during the renaissance era. For 100 Polish Zlotych, roughly $30, my friends and I enjoyed a full eight course dinner that included pierogi, grilled lamb, beef rolls and local brew.

Waking up on day two of my Polish excursion, I decided to travel an hour to Auschwitz Concentration Camp, which stands as a memorial to individuals who lost their lives during the Holocaust. Auschwitz is the largest concentration camp consisting of three compounds. From 1942 to 1944 more than 1.3 million individuals lost their lives at Auschwitz.

I was shocked to see the living conditions at Auschwitz and the gas chamber as Iwalked the same path that each arriving individual had to endure at the camp. After listening to the tour guide recall stories from the camp, we had a moment of silence at the memorial, where I was hit with the realization of what really happened in the location I was standing.

As we made our way back to the bus to return home, I couldn't help but think of the impact this trip had on me. Not only was I able to enjoy the sights and sounds of the Polish people and their architecture, but more importantly, I was left with a better understanding of how the Holocaust affected the world.

I encourage travelers to go grab their pen and list of must-see travel destinations and quickly add Poland to the top. It is a country with a diverse culture and influential history that will leave you appreciating the world we live in - it certainly did for me. .