Krakow – Poland’s cultural capital; the shining gem of in the centre of Europe; a gorgeous mix of beautiful architecture, deep history and mythical legend. Although Warsaw is the country’s capital, some say that Krakow is Poland’s spiritual home. Legend says that this city was founded on the defeat of the Wawel Dragon (apparently some guy blew the poor thing up with sulphur hidden in lambskin – hungry dragon ate the lambskin and grew so thirsty he drank up all of the river Vistula, then blew up – sad I know). The dragon’s bones are still chained up at the entrance of Wawel Cathedral and are said to have magical properties, credited with protecting the city from destruction during centuries of Polish conflict as well as during WWII when almost every other major city in Poland was heavily damaged. This city is vibrant, full of life and culture, good (and cheap!) food, and history!
I visited for a few days in fall 2014, October to be precise. Fares to Poland are quite cheap from Malta thanks to Ryanair, my favourite budget airline :D, so I just decided I needed a quick break and booked a flight and rented out a little apartment right IN Rynek Główny, the main square of the old town – Pod Słońcem Main Market Square – that’s the name of the place I stayed at! It was amazing! A lovely little room right on the square! There were three flights of stairs to climb to get to it, but what the hell!!! More cardio = less guilt when gobbling (and drinking) down lunch and dinner in this deeeelicious city – so this arrangement was ideal!!! HAHA!
The best thing about Krakow’s old town is that it is a walking city – meaning you can easily walk to most of the attractions! All are easily accessible as the city is very user friendly. Right in the centre of the town square you can find a tourist office which provides you with ample information about any attractions and tours outside Krakow city you might be interested in booking. They also have a variety of useful leaflets and free city maps, just to make moving around the place easier 🙂 Most Polish people speak acceptable English – the youngsters speak good English. Everyone was very friendly and accommodating during my stay and I felt very safe travelling in this lovely city.
So… Before continuing with my experience of Krakow, I’m just going to share some random fun facts about the place, just to pique your interest!
- Krakow was the capital of Poland for over 500 years and is one of the oldest cities in Poland, dating back to the 7th century. It is Poland’s second largest city, and the country’s most popular tourist destination.
- As I already mentioned – the city was the home of a fearsome dragon. He was killed by a cobbler who stuffed a lambskin with sulphur. The poor dragon was hungry, ate the lambskin thinking it was lamb (duh) and died a horrible, horrible death. The bones of this said dragon are still found hanging at the entrance of Wawel Cathedral – they have never been moved from the area as they’re said to be magical! Most speculate the bones are those of a blue whale or a wooly mammoth. I guess we’ll never know now will we!
- Krakow’s historical city center is a UNESCO world heritage site.
- In September, Kraków has an annual Daschund Parade – random, I told you!
- You don’t need to wear a watch in Krakow! This is because every hour on the hour (yes, he is very very punctual), at St Mary’s Basilica in the town square, a trumpeter plays a tune that cuts off mid-stream. The story of this bugle call (known as the heynal) is linked to the numerous attacks made on the city in the 13th Century (estimated 1241). The bugler at the top of the tower spotted a large army of Tartar warriors heading towards Krakow and so sounded the horn to warn the people of the city. His early warning is said to have saved the city. However, he was shot in the throat by a Tartar archer and was killed in the middle of his bugle call, thus explaining the significance of the broken tune.
- The two towers of St. Mary’s Basilica in the middle of the town square are not equal in height. The bugle player I mentioned earlier plays from the higher tower. There are no architectural plans showing why one tower is higher than the other. Ask for an explanation and you are likely to hear the following gory legend. Under the reign of King Boleslaus the Modest (1243-1279) a decision was made to add two towers to the body of the church standing by the Main Square. Two brothers embarked on the task. When the elder realised that his tower was much shorter, he murdered his brother out of envy, and the construction stopped. The murderous brother was then wracked with remorse and on the day when the church was to be consecrated, he pierced his heart with the same knife he used to kill his sibling, dropping dead from the top of his tower to the ground below. You can find this legendary knife hanging in the Cloth Hall in the square – creepy!
Ok so that’s enough fun facts for you for now! I’m going to stop here and will continue with the juicy stuff in the next coming days! Keep an eye on the blog as I will be updating it regularly! Until my next post 😉