Exploring the Many Faces of Krakow, Poland

My mission – to celebrate the end of a long, torturous degree.  My accomplice – Wizz Air.  My destination – Krakow. The drive to Liverpool airport allowed me to play my ‘learn Polish in an hour’ CD twice, meaning when I touched down in Katowice, I could ask for a beer, a policeman and a swimming pool.

Shame I couldn’t ask how I ended up closer to Slovakia than Krakow…

Anyway, eventually, the streetlights of Krakow old town shone upon my overstuffed hand luggage, lighting up the path to my hostel and home for the next five days.

Krakow Panorama

To say the first night was surreal would be an understatement. After being shown to my dorm by the quirky, upbeat Pole-with-American-accent, a man in his late sixties tried to adopt me via a slideshow of fifty religious paintings on the net, all discussed enthusiastically in Ukrainian.

I disentangled myself uneasily from the situation, fleeing to the safety of the common room where ‘Schindler’s List’ was being watched by a group of 8.  Set in Krakow, the film features streets only metres from the hostel. Meanwhile, the peculiar man from earlier not only resides in my dorm, but in the bed three feet from mine.  Marvellous.

I rolled over in the night to find him staring at me in his long johns; shudder. Mercifully, Mr Ukraine had left by the time I woke up the following day.  It was time to step out onto the streets and hunt down local sustenance, but not before learning some interesting facts about Krakow.

Lady walking in Krakow

Dining in Krakow is an unusual affair (in a good way).  My first foray into pierogi (boiled dumplings shaped like half-moons with varied fillings) had me smitten, though I was a little less enthused by the cabbage that seemed to accompany everything – never have I seen cabbage dressed in so many different outfits!

This presented the perfect opportunity to observe local workers scuttling through Krakow’s Grand Square on their lunch hour, interwoven with tourists on horse drawn carriages jiggling along the cobbles, all to the sombre sounds of an accordion-playing street bard.

Old Krakow

A visit to Auschwitz was the most memorable experience of the five days, however to try and summarise does it an enormous disservice.  I can only fervently recommend a trip to the ex-Nazi camp, an hour from Krakow, as well as reading Primo Levi’s first-hand account ‘If This is a Man’.  It’s well worth tagging on to one of the guides in the camp, who will have an army of individual stories and facts to accompany the visual exploration of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’.

Krakow street

Evenings in Krakow are some of the best I’ve ever experienced. Bars in the old town resemble intimate, stone caverns where chocolate vodka is but one of half a dozen shots you’re encouraged to sample. Clubs, too, have the same intimate air, with Euro rock the common flavour for Poles and travellers to mingle amidst cheap beer and exposed brickwork.  My hurried attempts to grasp some Polish paid off after six bizarrely flavoured vodkas – I could speak it fluently.

Krakow parking

The remnants of the horrific recent past should not be overlooked and with cheap flights, lively hostels, interesting food, bubbling nightlife and a beautiful Grand Square all within striking distance, you’ll have the recipe for a diverse few days.

Scarlett is a postgraduate social researcher with a heavily stamped passport, an empty bank account and a desire to eternally dodge the rat race…

 

Have you been to Krakow? What time of the year would you recommend other travelers visit it? Anything else one should not miss? And, would you visit Aushwitz? Share your comments below, and this post too if you “Like”  it!

 

Leave a Reply 11 comments

Escape Hunter - January 20, 2014 Reply

Love Poland! It’s so underrated, but I guess it’s worth a lot more exposure, publicity!
Wizz Air indeed is a good low cost choice for flyers… in operates to so many Polish cities.

Waegook Tom - August 7, 2012 Reply

Ahh, I LOVE Poland but have yet to visit Krakow – I only had a few days when I went, so opted for the cities in the west of the country (Wroclaw, Poznan and Gdansk) instead. Looks like I’ll have to make it to Krakow to try some of that chocolate vodka…and hopefully not encountering any men in long-johns staring at me as I sleep. Shudder.

    maitravelsite - August 9, 2012 Reply

    hahaha…I must admit it’s a creepy thought Tom…

Johanna Bradley - December 28, 2011 Reply

Hi Scarlett! I have Polish family living in Krakow and love the city. The Jagellonian University buildings are well worth a visit and the district of Kazimierz, the original Jewish Quarter, has great charisma, and is a good alternative for drinking and eating.
The several vodkas is a good tip for tackling the Polish language- I’m still struggling!

    maitravelsite - December 29, 2011 Reply

    I’m not surprised, it is not an easy language…

Leah@ Walking Tours Rome - July 18, 2011 Reply

I haven’t been to Krakow, but I’ve visited Warsaw (well drove through it) and stayed in Lodz. I went in October which I would NOT suggest to go because the cold is very very cold. The thing about Poland is that their Italian restaurants were amazing!

    maitravelsite - July 18, 2011 Reply

    Now that’s a first timer! Italian restaurants are great there! How about local food?

Seri - April 22, 2011 Reply

Lovely post, really makes me want to go back and visit again as I was only there for a few days. The things I would recommend is the market in the central square (I bought a lovely wooden chess-set there extremely cheaply) and I’d also really recommend a trip to the Salt Mines which I absolutely loved and highly recommend, the sculptures are fantastic and it’s really interesting.

I love the photos in this post, unfortunately I only had a disposable camera when I visited so I hardly have any of my own photos of the trip, but well that just gives me another reason to go back! =)

    maitravelsite - April 23, 2011 Reply

    Thanks for the tips Seri! The salt mines you mention remind me of the Cathedral inside a salt mine that can be found in Colombia- something not to miss! Pity you didn’t have a better camera, what happenned?

Andrea - April 20, 2011 Reply

Gorgeous photos! I’m a quarter Polish and can’t wait to visit later this year. We were originally going to visit Auschwitz but just won’t have any extra days to fit it in, unfortunately. We watched an eight-part documentary on its history last year that was incredibly moving and informative so we’re pretty sad we’re going to miss it. Sound like you had a great trip.

    maitravelsite - April 21, 2011 Reply

    Aaawww…you missed it? A pitty, frankly, particularly after having watched that documentary. I hope you are not planning on going to Poland in winter though…

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