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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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!