So onto writing down some details about the trip! Will keep it short and concise, so as not to bore you! So I basically had four days in the lovely city of Krakow. Getting to the city from the airport is easy! There’s a selection of buses you can use as well as airport taxis, which are quite affordable and provide very good service!
As I visited Krakow in the end of October, the market in the Rynek Glowny (aka. town square) was especially beautiful and already very Christmassy!!! There were a number of lovely Xmas themed souvenirs for sale including lots of pretty woodcrafts as well as some beautiful hand painted Xmas baubles featuring the amazing Krakow square, the St. Mary’s Basilica and the Wawel Castle. It’s OK to haggle with the market owners, but don’t push it too far; even though the hand made gifts are not cheap, they are worth their value, and by making a purchase you’re actually helping local craftsmen and artists, so it’s a win, win situation! 🙂 Make sure to taste the food in the market! The pork knuckle was delectable, as was the traditional Polish sausage. Also try out the Pierogi – also known as varenyky. They are filled dumplings and are made by wrapping pockets of unleavened dough around a savoury or sweet filling and then cooking them in boiling water. For those who have a sweet tooth – go to the sugared nuts venders – HEAVEN!!!!
As I mentioned Krakow – Part I, the city can be easily seen by foot. First thing to do – go to the tourist office in the centre of Rynek Glowny (town square). Get some walking maps, also check out any day tours you could be interested in! I actually chose to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau via tour, as well as the Wieliczka Salt Mines – these are about an hour or two away from Krakow by bus, so see whether you would prefer to see the sights on your own, or whether you would prefer taking a guided tour instead.
So here’s a list of the places I visited, and some information about each location:
- Rynek Glowny (Main Market Square) + Sukiennice (Cloth Hall) – already mentioned this lovely square and the “Cloth Hall” housed within it. This stunning Renaissance building dominates the Main Market Square and is one of the city’s most recognisable symbols. The Medieval Shopping Centre was built in 1257, but the original structure needed renovating after it was heavily damaged by a fire in 1555, resulting in the remarkable masterpiece you can see today. Throughout history, the Cloth Hall was at the heart of Eastern European trade selling an abundance of textiles, silk, leather, spices and wax. There’s an art exhibition on the 1st floor featuring a collection of 19th Century sculptures and paintings.
- St Mary’s Basilica – A beautiful brick Gothic church which stands 80 m (262 ft) tall, adjacent to the Main Market Square. This impressive building is especially famous for the hourly bugle call I mentioned in my previous article. It is also known for its wooden altarpiece carved by Veit Stoss. This altarpiece is just so full of intricate detail and colour – check it out if you have the time. It’s worth a visit!
- Royal Wawel Castle – Erected in the 16th Century, this massice palace was used as a stately residence and became an architectural prototype for other castles across central and Eastern Europe. It´s immense arcaded courtyard was ideal for hosting tournaments and various court events and it now houses the National Art Collection which boasts an outstanding collection of Italian paintings, silverware and ceramics. One can also visit the crown treasury and armoury within the Castle. Be sure to visit the cave below Wawel – this is where the fearsome dragon I mentioned earlier used to live! There’s even a statue dedicated to the poor guy on the grounds! The alleged bones of the beast can also be found on the grounds, at the entrance to Wawel Cathedral!! Are they really dragon bones??? Guess we’ll never find out! Nobody has ever tried to remove the bones from their place to analyse them as they’re said to contain magical powers which protect Krakow from any threat or danger!!!
- Church Of Saints Peter And Paul – This was the first Jesuit church in Poland to be built in the Baroque style! (I’m a nerd, I know). It’s a very pretty church, so if you like architecture you can admire the baroque figures of the 12 apostles outside the church and the elaborate stucco decoration by Giovanni Battista Falconi.
- Oskar Schindler Factory – OK, first watch Schindler’s List on BluRay, then go to this place. It will all make sense! The museum exhibitis artefacts, photos, documents and multimedia features detailing what life was life in Krakow under Nazi occupation and describes in detail the resistance movement and the underground Polish state that tried to help their Jewish neighbours. The most interesting part of the museum is the office of Schindler himself which still includes his original desk, chair and huge map on the wall. Definitely worth a visit!
- Kazimierz – The Old Jewish Quarter – It’s a nice walk along the narrow streets of the old Jewish quarter, one of Krakow´s most unique districts, boasting some of the finest architecture found anywhere in the city. Make sure to visit the Old Jewish Cemetery in the Remuh Synagogue as well as the memorial of the Krakow Ghetto on the Plac Bohaterow Getta.
- The Krakow Mounds – There are four of these man-made hills scattered around Krakow (if I’m not mistaken!). The first was created in the eighth century, and the most recent as late as 1934. The two prehistoric ones are the Mound of Krak and Mound of Wanda, and have been the subjects of much curiosity for historians. Scholars maintain they were either the 7th-century monumental tombs or fortifications or pagan temples. The pair of man-made barrows, being about fifty feet in height and being placed on natural elevations about 12km apart were easily seen from apart, and together with two natural hills in the area, they constitute a gigantic astronomical calendar. Even if this information does not interest you in the slightest, the views from the mounds are still very cool to see, so if you have some extra time, get your walking shoes on and getting moving to the mounds!!
- Wieliczka Salt Mines – Whilst not exactly in central Krakow (about 10km away) taking a bus ride out of the city to visit this man-made wonder is a must do! Opened in the 13th century, the mine produced table salt continuously until 2007, as one of the world’s oldest salt mines in operation. There is a legend about Princess Kinga, associated with the Wieliczka mine. The Hungarian noblewoman was about to be married to the Prince of Kraków and as part of her dowry, she asked her father for a lump of salt, since salt was very scarce in Poland at the time. Her father took her to a salt mine in Máramaros (Hungary) where she threw the engagement ring from her suitor in one of the shafts before leaving for Poland. On arriving in Kraków, she asked the miners to dig a deep pit until they come upon a rock. The people found a lump of salt in there and when they split it in two, discovered the princess’s ring. This is where the mines are said to have originated from! Princess Kinga is thus known as the patron saint of all salt miners in and around the Polish capital. During the Nazi occupation, several thousand Jews were transported from the forced labour camps in Plaszow and Mielec to the Wieliczka mine to work in the underground armament factory set up by the Germans. Manufacturing never began though, as the Soviet offensive was nearing. The UNESCO World Heritage site takes visitors to depths of 135 metres below ground and gives you the opportunity to explore 2km of tunnels in what is regarded as the world´s largest mining museum. When you venture along the passages you will see giant caverns, underground lakes and chapels with sculptures and chandeliers made from salt crystals! The ingenuity of ancient mining techniques have both baffled and charmed historians and the unique acoustics make for a remarkable musical experience, so concerts are regulary held in the mines. If nobody’s looking, lick one of the walls in the tunnels (yes, I did it, don’t judge me!!), saltiest walls EVER!!!!
- Auschwitz Concentration Camp -The infamous network of German Nazi concentration camps and extermination camps built by Nazi Germany during World War II consisted of Auschwitz I (the original camp), Auschwitz II–Birkenau (a combination concentration/extermination camp), Auschwitz III–Monowitz (a labor camp to staff an IG Farben factory), and 45 satellite camps. I actually booked a day tour from the Krakow tourist office to visit these sites where I was shown Auschwitz I and II. A very sombre and eye opening experience. You can actually visit the places on your own, but I think going on a guided tour is a better way of doing it. They always share the most interesting facts about a place, even though not the most pleasant in a place like this. The exhibits on Auschwitz I were particularly disturbing where whole rooms were filled with victims shoes, luggage, personal items and even HAIR, that’s right, HUMAN HAIR!!! The Nazis used to shave off the prisoners’ hair and use it to make sacks, socks and other forms of textiles! It’s a sad place to visit and may cause visitors distress. One particular room had photos of a lot of the prisoners who had been held (and died) in the concentration camp. Their names, ages and occupations can be seen in the photo. That’s what hit me the hardest. Until you see their faces, you fail to realise that actual human beings, all having their own lives, careers, families and loved ones were once held in this place against their will; tortured, experimented upon, and made to work until they took their last breaths.
I think that’s about it really. Krakow is a great place to visit, especially if travelled on a budget. It’s user friendly, easily manageable by walk and public transport, and extremely pretty and vibrant. The food is great, the nightlife too, with lots of great bars, pubs and restaurants to visit all over the city and even if you don’t want to do much sight seeing, just sitting in the beautiful old town square, people-watching and having a beer or nice glass of wine is just as enjoyable! What more could you ask for! Enjoy your trip to Krakow! Bring me back some of those sugared nuts please!!! 😀