Our high speed train arrived at the Krakow Glowny (Central Station), a short walk to our bed and breakfast a few blocks from Krakow’s Old Town and, handily, right across the street from a traditional bakery.
Krakow is a truly stunning city on both banks of the Vistula River in southern Poland. As with most European cities, it has a lengthy history dating back to inhabitants of the Stone Age and, at one point, was capital of Poland (introducingkrakow.com has a good linear history of the city). Krakow is known for having one of the most well-preserved Old Towns in Europe and is a magnet for tourists (over two million a year!), more so than the cities of Gdansk and Warsaw. Discovercracow.com, ‘Krakow Old Town’, tells us that Old Town was made a UNESCO site in 1978, covers 88.67 hectares, and has the largest old market square in Europe. The Old Town is made up of cobblestone streets, several squares, and ancient churches overseen by a castle on the hill. Krakowmonamour.com identifies the five best sites to see in Old Town: the main Market Square (Rynek Glowny), St. Anne’s BasiIica, Wawel Hill and Royal Castle, Forianska Street (ulica Forianska), and Krakow Barbican (the main Old Town gate). We thoroughly enjoyed Old Town. It is something out of a medieval fairy tale with horse-drawn carriages clopping along the cobblestones. I have vivid memories of sipping steaming chocolate out of a cup on a cool evening and joining locals for an outdoor ham-hock meal at a beer garden. There is a long, delightful, green space and walking path (Planty Park) surrounding the entirety of the Old Town. Enjoy the pictures:
But Krakow is much more that it’s Old Town.
One of the most interesting areas was the Jewish Quarter, which we reached by a walking bridge (Father Bernatek’s Bridge) decorated with hanging acrobatic sculptures. Here is a slideshow of the bridge and the sculptures. We were dazzled. (The slide arrow is at the right side.)
The Jewish Quarter (Kazimierz) is home to Schindler’s Factory (remember the well-known movie, Schindler’s List?) which we toured – yet another amazing Polish museum. Discovercracow.com tells us that only about 10% of the Krakow Jews survived World War II. We enjoyed walking the traditional streets and were sobered by the chair sculpture in the Jewish Heroes Square, “The Empty Chairs of Krakow”, each chair representing 1,000 lives lost in the Holocaust. We visited the Museum of Municipal Engineering (much ‘lighter’ than the war museums!). Larry found one of his favourite record album stores on the Jewish side. We had read that if the owner does not like you, he won’t let you in; Larry passed the scrutiny. It was in this store that we were told, “It’s not what it seems.”, in response to Larry telling him what a great country Poland was. He did not elaborate, but this got us thinking outside the tourist box. We found another milch bar and a modern craft brewery in the Jewish quarter. Here are some pictures:
And, just for fun, here is a slide show of the Fiat exhibit at the Museum of Municipal Engineering (the slide arrow on the right side is faint, but it is there!). (The Polski Fiat was built in Poland, under license from the Italian company Fiat.)
Introducingkrakow.com, ‘Krakow’, tells us that Krakow is the second largest city in Poland with a population of 760,000 in the city and over 1 million in the area and is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe due to it’s historic preservation and due to the fact that it was not significantly damaged during the World Wars. The 'modern' mixes with the historic - such as the beautiful new convention centre right across from Old Town. Upcoming was a European cybersecurity conference and a Pink Floyd/Roger Waters concert. In the base of the convention centre was a bakery where two huge croissants and two espressos cost about $5.00 Canadian.
Krakow has it's own dragon legend - the Wawel Dragon who purportedly lived under the Wawel Castle and terrorized the citizens for food . The legend can be read in discovercracow.com, 'Wawel Dragon Legend'. Today, it is a 20 ft tall, fire-breathing, statue sitting below Wawel Castle.
We managed to see the majority of Krakow’s top sites, and more, in our three days there, but we would like to return to explore more museums and ancient churches and parks. Introducingkrakow.com outlines the sites in detail. We chose not to seek out two significant day trips that are highly rated – Auschwitz Concentration Camp (we went to Dachau, and I will probably not attend another, but I do think people should attend one - once) and the Wieliczka Salt Mine which is another UNESCO site and is said to be breath-taking.
The record seller’s comment got us thinking about Poland and wondering what he meant. Maybe he meant that all is great if you are a traveller and can afford to sleep in hotels and eat in restaurants? (I went into a mall - the Galleria Krakowska attached to the main station - that looked pretty much like any mall at home and wondered how many of the population could afford to shop there, given prices were similar to our own but their minimum wage was much, much lower.) Or maybe it was the fact that, despite emerging democracy, the government still intervenes as it did with the content of the Museum of the Second World War in Gdansk? Or maybe it was that there are still challenges to what we take for granted with democracy such as the decision regarding women's reproductive rights (read 'Poland: no more women should die because of the restrictive law on abortion', europarl.europa.eu, if you'd like for more information)? Or maybe it was simply that the people have experienced so much tragedy over the centuries that heartache is engrained in their psyche? I don’t know. But it was a good reflection to us that despite how well-travelled you are, you really don’t know a country until you have lived there, and their reality might be quite different than what you think – so be a humble traveller.
This ends my little series on Poland. We had no preconceived notions and were so pleasantly surprised at what we found. I would return in a minute for a most affordable holiday with much beauty and history.
Our next stop was Budapest, Hungary, arguably a world class city. Please stay tuned!
(all pictures are my own)