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mistybleu Krakow - A travel report by Amanda
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Krakow,  Poland - flag Poland
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mistybleu's travel reports

Krakow - not another European city

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With thoughts of one European city merging into another, I braved the historic city of Krakow, the third largest in Poland. I was pleasantly surprised, and yet disappointed. Well, within reason…

The Barbican
The Barbican
I never really considered going to Poland, but after a recent trip to the Czech Republic, I was told ‘if you like Prague, you’ll love Krakow’, so naturally it I had to see for myself.

For those who aren’t really familiar with Krakow (and I don’t propose that I know everything) here’s a little background.

Poland (total area 322,500 sq km) is the 9th largest country in Europe and the 63rd in the world; it shares borders with Russian, Belarus, Ukraine, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany and lies on the Baltic Sea. These borders were defined after World War II resulting in Poland losing 20% of its territory.

The capital city is Warsaw however way down south is Krakow (population 750k) the historic capital. It did not sustain much damage during the war and the medieval charm is still in the air and is illustrated by structures like the Barbican.

It is a wonderful compact city with has many pedestrian areas. The centre is encased in a park called the Planty Garden which replaced the old city wall and most roads lead into the heart. In the town centre is the Cloth Hall which was built in the 14th century and opposite is St Mary’s Church, famous for its wooden altar carved by Wit Stwosz and where the ‘Hejnal’ is played on the trumpet, on the hour.

The local airport is known as Balice or more recently John Paul II International, after the late pontiff (formerly Karol Wojtyla) who was the archbishop of Cracow for 10 years. It is located 10 miles from the city centre and the no. 192 bus leaves 4 times an hour directly into the city. It costs 2.50 zloty (ie 69 cents or 48 pence), but if you take luggage you have to pay an additional amount; or there's a taxi at around 50 zloty.

Favourite spots:
The massive Auschwitz-Birkenau
The massive Auschwitz-Birkenau
Well it’s the place that generated the most emotions. I journeyed 1½ hours outside of Krakow to as small industrial town of Oswiecim. Instead of heading into town, we took a diversion and the sign read Auschwitz-Birkenau. I had toyed with the idea of going there, but I thought if I didn’t go this would be another thing I regretted.

So a snowy day in November we pulled up to the gates of the former concentration camp and then through where the sign read ‘Arbeit macht frei’ work bring freedom, a slogan used to mock. Even though this is a museum, we were asked to be respectful, and not take any pictures inside the buildings.

After studying Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally for my A levels and viewing many films it kind of made it easier to see the camp, it actually felt like a film set, but it was the size of the compound that tugged at the heart strings, as this compound saw the murder of around 1.5m Jews and POWs. I can’t understand how man can be that wicked.

What's really great:
The Juliusz Slowacki Theatre
The Juliusz Slowacki Theatre
On a lighter note, the old town is very compact; the medieval main market square (Rynek Glowny), complete with pigeons, is a hive of activity, and I spent all day just wondering around and enjoying the cafes, restaurants, shops and street performers, and then in the evening just party the night away. There was even a Christmas market what added a nice touch.

All building that surrounds the square tells a fairytale, from the old post office to the most famous restaurant in Krakow Wierzynek that comprised of three houses.

Some of the things to see are: Cloth Hall, this building was originally a covered market with stall and shops selling textiles; now it sells souvenirs whilst upstairs has a museum; the Statue of Adam Michiewicz (a poet) is more of a meeting point however at present it was being renovated; the town hall located inside the tower and at each end churches - St Adalbert Church (a small and oddly shaped) and St Mary’s Church.

Wawel Royal Castle
Wawel Royal Castle
Krakow proves to be a wealth of sightseeing opportunities.

Wawel Castle and Cathedral stands royally overlooking the Vistula River on a limestone hill. It was the residence of kings for many years and legend has it that a Slavic duke named Krak founded a fortified settlement.

At the middle of Matejko Square is Pomnik Grunwaldzki – Monument to the Battle of Grunwald. It commemorates one of the greatest medieval battles in Europe, with Polish victory Teutonic knights and ended there dominance over Europe.

Barbican is the finest example of medieval defence architecture and has a distinct fairytale feel. Recently opened after 10 year restoration project, it’s a circular gothic building and is surrounded by a 25m deep dry moat. Then across the bridge to the City Arsenal and through St Florian’s Gate; St Florian is a patron saint of Krakow.

Plus there are many museums, churches, galleries etc to visit.

The Planty Gardens late evening
The Planty Gardens late evening
The accommodation is very good in Krakow; I was told most places have a good standard and they looked good too. We chose to stay in a hotel on the outskirts of the old town; it made it very easy to get around. My friends stayed a little further out, as they wanted cheaper accommodation, but it ended up fine, as when we completed the tour their hotel was on route so it was fine.

It was also close to the shops. The two things that make Krakow rich with the presence of amber which is taken from the Baltic Sea and salt from Wieliczka Salt Mines; and both have been traded since the Neolithic era. Now you can buy amber jewellery all over the town and it makes a lovely gift. I also purchased a pair of lambs wool slippers and enjoy shopping in the Christmas market in the Main Market Square.

The Arsenal
The Arsenal
The nightlife in Krakow is cool, ranging from theatres, operas, classical music or just the cinema. But then there are loads of clubs and bars round the town, which caters for all types. As it is a university city they tend to be fairly cheap and on weekends a drink is always close by. I also found a lot of merry people along the way.

However on the main market square there are many clubs like Kredens, Pod Baranami and Pod Jaszczurami. The latter was a cool place, with lots of you people around; my guide described it as bohemian culture for a university lifestyle. I went on Saturday night and MTV was doing some promotions it was nice.

Pod Jaszczurami is at 8 Main Market Square (429 38 37).

The Main Market Square
The Main Market Square
Down by the old marketplace in the Kazimierz district there were many bars, most of them were full, with lively music bellowing out and the atmosphere seemed really happening.

Alef's in Kazimierz district
Alef's in Kazimierz district
I found the Kazimierz district really interesting, from the Synagogues, museums, bookshops, to the little cafes and restaurants, each with a strong Jewish flavour. Apparently the Jewish link happened back in 1494, when King Jan Olbracht expelled the Jews out of Krakow. But I won’t try to explain the area, just relished it for what it is now, a great place to dine, converse and enjoy great music.

Some of the pre-war styled restaurants are brilliant and took us back in time. We get to enjoy both Jewish and Polish cuisine but it’s not just limited to that, we tried three picturesque restaurants Ariel and Alef’s on Ulica Szeroka; as well as Ristorante Portofino which served both Italian and Polish food (further details are on my travel tips).

Popular Polish dishes include zrazy zawijane (mushroom-stuffed beefsteak rolls in sour cream) served with boiled kasza (buckwheat), beetroot soup or herring fillets served with sour cream potatoes garnished with parsley and dill.

Other recommendations:
Wieliczka Salt Mines
Wieliczka Salt Mines
Basically you cannot visit Krakow without visiting the Wieliczka Salt Mines - the oldest working mines in Europe. It’s just a 20 minute mini bus ride away which costs 2.5zl. Whilst you can make your why there, you still have to join a tour to explore the mines (admission 43zl).

Some of the chambers are really large and are used for conferences/parties or the main chamber which is used for weddings and twice yearly religious services. The air is pumped down into the mines (which is kept a constant 14 degrees) and there are huge wooden doors which help to maintain the air balance however it’s this very air which is destroying the sculptures.

Initially when going into the mines you have to walk down 58 flights of steps, going down over 100 metres down. There are nine levels to the depth of 315m but the tourist trail only goes down 135m and only3 levels.

The sights are amazing, especially knowing that all the statues have been carved from salt by the miners.

Published on Saturday December 10th, 2005

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Mon, Feb 11 2008 - 07:16 AM rating by krisek

A really well written report! My family is from Poland, and I have been to Krakow many times. I am so glad you liked it. I know that the limited space to describe everything in the reports does not always allow for giving the places true justice.

Thu, Aug 02 2007 - 02:35 PM rating by adampl

I'm glad you liked Krakow. It's probably the most beutiful city in Poland. The only drawback is masses of tourists flocking there.

Sun, Apr 09 2006 - 02:14 PM rating by isaacmolina

As always, you are fabulous!

Sun, Apr 09 2006 - 10:22 AM rating by alfonsovasco

All your reports, without exceptcion, are masterpices

Sat, Jan 21 2006 - 08:48 AM rating by karden

Krakow is beautiful city, i completely loved it too.
Good report.
Tanks :)

Tue, Dec 13 2005 - 04:55 AM rating by ravinderkumarsi

this is another beautiful report by you
keep it up

Sun, Dec 11 2005 - 10:27 AM rating by davidx

Fine report. It's high on my list now!

Sun, Dec 11 2005 - 09:38 AM rating by christianj.

Hi Amanda,

yes, I like Prague - and I heard about the beauty of Krakow. After reading your report, I'm sure that I have to go there! Thank you for sharing all these informations - a great Report!


Sun, Dec 11 2005 - 04:39 AM rating by marianne

A joy to read, well reseached and practical info.

Sun, Dec 11 2005 - 12:10 AM rating by leillli

hi..great report ,i heard krakow is wonderful,now i see it:)thanks

Sat, Dec 10 2005 - 10:30 PM rating by rangutan

Very full and interesting report, well researched too.

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