Newest Review: ... and took the train to the city - this was easy - just a 5min walk or a 2min bus ride from the airport and it takes you into the city ... more
Enjoying the Krak-ow
Member Name: fizzywizzy
Date: 15/08/05, updated on 15/08/05 (418 review reads)
Advantages: Charming historic city, diverse entertainment, budget airlines now go there
Disadvantages: CAn get very busy in summer, queues at tourist attractions
We arrived In Krakow, Poland's second city and the first UN designated World Heritage Site, by train and without accommodation. We were approached immediately by locals offering rooms to rent but our first stop was to change some money and get some refreshment.
This done, we started trawling the hotels but without any luck. We were on a tight-ish budget but even when we upped the amount we were willing to pay we still had no luck. We then went along to the accommodation bureau by the train station and struck gold. The office can arrange private accommodation in rooms or apartments, with private facilities or sharing with the owners.
We were able to secure an apartment just off the Rynek Glowny with own kitchen and bathroom for just twenty seven pounds per night (for two people). It was an absolute bargain. Had we been willing to go a little further out of the city, we could have paid even less and if we had shared bathroom and cooking facilties with the owner, less still. (I should add that we were not intending to do any cooking, though it did mean that we could buy some lovely bread and cheese for breakfast and eat at our leisure).
The apartment was reached through a passage way off the street and the owner was there at the top of an high iron spiral staircase to greet us. The apartment was on the top (and third floor) but the owner kindly helped me get my rucksck up there.
The apartment was clean, very comfortable and home for the next three days. I wouldn't usually say so much about accommodation in a general review about a city, there's so much more to mention, but I think in this case it's useful information because it shows just what good value you can get for your money when you travel independently.
The Rnyek Glowny is a good place to start; many of the city's famous architectural sights are on this very square - the Town Hall Tower, several churches and probably the best known by sight, the Sukiennice, the vast cloth market hall.
If you are in the square around the top of the hour you will hear the bugler play a fanfare but you'll hear it four times at different volumes because the bugler plays it once at each corner of the tower.
The cloth hall is the centrepiece of the Rynek and is incredibly beautiful. It has two arched entrances leading to the two wide aisles which are lined with stalls selling gorgeous (and reasonably priced) amber jewellery and other souvenirs (some nice, some a bit tacky).
It's lovely to sit outside one of the many bars and cafes on the square and watch the world go by. You'll see loads of nuns crossing the square to and fro (Poland is one of the world's highest contributing countries of nuns and priests to the Catholic church) and there are always at least two or three bands playing around the cloth market. On weekend evenings in particular, the square's cafes and bars are thronged with locals meeting up to meet friends and be seen.
A couple of other bars to mention are The Still Bar which is in a street behind the Rynek and Shakesbeer which is on the same street. The Still Bar is reached through a dark passageway and is no lighter inside but the locals are friendly and were only too happy to advise us where to go to hear live music. Shakesbeer (great pun) is a lively place which was full of Brits, Aussies and Kiwis when we were there. I usually prefer to go to places with a local flavour but this place was lovely.
And while I'm on the subject of local flavour, what about the food?
The best place to go to eat real Polish food is Chlopskie Jadlo on ul. Sw Agnieszki and also Sw Jana 3. The decor is that of a traditional Polish country inn where you sit at wooden tables on settles covered with sheepskins. There is a big old stove in the middle of the restaurant from which hang lovely pots and copper pans. Food includes many Polish specialties including smoked eel (delicious), herrings (which I enjoyed with a couple of vodkas) and various kinds of pierogi which is described as a dumpling but is, I think, nearer to ravioli. The filling can be sweet or savoury but the most common filling is a mixture of fried onion and cabbage. They are very filling, very cheap and are a staple food of the Poles even today.
You will never be stuck for somewhere to eat in this city. While there we had, in addition to traditional Polish food, Mexican, Italian and some fantastic sushi at a fraction of the price you would pay in Britain.
In between meals, you'll be sightseeing of course and Krakow could keep you occupied for weeks, even if you just stay in the city and its environs. Most visitors make for the Wavel but here it's best to see what's on offer and then pick a couple of activities because there's so much to see - state rooms, private rooms, Museum of Music, the Royal Art collection, the Dragons Den and even the beautiful gardens.
We opted for the State Rooms and the Dragons Den and which occupied us a whole morning. The state rooms give an insight into the life of the castle and the various rulers who used it. There are some fantastic tapestries and furniture but the rooms can eventually start to look the same and it's rather dark inside, partly to preserve the exhibits.
The Dragon's Den is also dark but for a different reason. A network of caves were discovered under one of the buildings of the Wavel and visitors can now descend a spiral staircase and see the caves for themselves. It is quite remarkable with the beautiful stalactites and well worth a visit, but perhaps not everyones' cup of tea as they are a little dank and cold.
A fascinating area to see is Kazimierz just on the edge of the main part of town and this merges with and brings you to the old Jewish ghetto. This is Schindler Krakow and the main synagogue and it's cemetery is particularly interesting. (Please remember that men visiting the synagogue should request suitable headwear on arrival).
If you know the story of Oskar Schindler, this is the area where he had his famous factory where he employed and protected many Jews form being sent to concentration camps. There are several companies who offer guided tours around the area pointing out the sites of significant episodes.
Krakow is a city full of museums and cultural attractions; we did not visit many due to time constraints but it seems to me that there is something for everyone with musuems as diverse as the ones dedicated to pharmacy and Asian arts. There are signs outside many of the churches advertising musical events being held there, but the main draw in Krakow (as with much of Poland, we found) is jazz and there are many jazz clubs in town. Harry's on the Rynek Glowny is the best known but we found a great cellar bar with jazz musicians on Florianske, just off the Rynek. There is also a thriving metal/alternative scene and plenty of bars and musci venues for those with such tastes.
Krakow is easily tackled on foot but a fun way to get around is to use the little electric carts which courier passengers between the Rynek and the main attractions (Wavel, Kazimierz, Etc) and operate all day and evening.
With so much going on and only having limited time in Krakow, I felt like I had only scratched the surface. But I do know that after years of having dreamed of visiting this fairy-tale like city I was not disappointed. It lived up to and exceeded my expectations
Summary: Heritage, charm. and style - the thinking person's travel destination