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DK Eyewitness Guide : Cracow
Whenever we buy a guidebook we opt for one of the Dorling Kindersley Eye Witness ones as they are so well laid out and have great pictures so you can actually see what you might be looking for when you go somewhere.
WHAT DO YOU GET?
They are usually in a heavy paperback form with a good solid cover which has flaps like a hardback book might have. They are all in the same format with DY Eyewitness Travel at the top and under that is the name of the city or country, a photo below that and then a summary of the main topics inside the book is found at the bottom of the front cover.
Their catch phrase is, " The guides that show you what others only tell you." And that pretty much is true and summarises their guide books. You can buy them for cities and also for countries but sadly they don't cover all cities and countries, usually the more popular ones.
OPENING THE GUIDE
Inside the front cover of this one is a very simple map of Cracow ( Krakow) showing the main areas in different colours and this is how the book is broken up too, into the six main areas of the city. A photo , the name of the area eg Old Quarter and page numbers of where each different section can be found is also on this inside front cover so it is a sort of extra index too.
There is a proper index or contents page as well and as well as the area by area guide you find things covered like " Four great days in Cracow" and this section gives you a sort of suggested timetable of places you could visit during your four days including suggested restaurants to try. Beside each place they suggest visiting are further page references so you can then look this place up and see if you do want to follow their itinerary. Although we didn't follow this religiously we did do some of the things suggested such as "Walking the Royal Route" one morning and then another morning we vaguely followed their suggested itinerary for "Jewish Cracow". As we had no children we gave the " Family Day" a miss.
The maps in the book are really good. They have Cracow within its environs, then Cracow as a whole and also Cracow broken into larger scale showing streets of each area as you get to that section. What i particularly like about their maps of the smaller areas is that the sights to see of special interest are pointed out on the map with a small symbol ( picture) and around the outside of the map there are photos of these with an arrow pointing to where they are on the map. It is so simple a child could use it and it does mean if you take it out and about with you there is no difficulty map reading as they are clear and printed on sensible sized pages so you are not flipping backwards and forwards with flappy bits of paper that blow in the wind trying to read street names.
As well as the maps at the start of each area with a summary you will find at the back of the book after the index pages there are street maps of all around the main part of the city with very clear street names marked on there so you can walk street by street around the city if you want to. We made the mistake of not taking the guide one day and using the free tourist map of the city... big mistake as half the street were not named and of course we had to keep turning the map to different parts as we walked around.
A BIT OF HISTORY
Most people visiting a new place want to know a bit of history about the place and this guide gives a very good history run down explaining that Cracow was the capital of Poland for centuries until about 400 years ago. It takes you from 200,000 BC through other prehistoric evidence, also with photos and says where you can see prehistoric Cracow. It then moves to the Middle Ages and where you can see Romanesque Cracow in the city today, once again with summaries and photos around the outside of the page. We move through Gothic Cracow and it is this era which gives us the most interesting buildings which are important attractions in Cracow such as the Cathedral which is stunning. Renaissance Cracow follows this period and brings the Royal Castle and the Cloth hall in the main square amongst other things. Baroque Cracow introduces the reader and tourist to the Canopy of St Stanislaw in the Cathedral and also The Church of Saint Peter and St Paul which is one of the finest baroque churches in Central Europe. Moving on we then come to Cracow in Galicia followed by Modernist Cracow then more recent history brings us to the WWI and WWII which are pretty awful times for the city. The final double page deals with Cracow post 1945. At the bottom of each page is a timeline showing the sequence of events and once again there are small photos to illustrate the timeline as well as the rest of each page.
This is something you find in most of the DK guides,the top ten attractions to see in each place. There are some of their guides which are called 'The Top Ten of ....'. These often include top ten dishes, top ten churches, and top ten views and so on. This city guide just gives the top ten attractions and in DK guide's view these are: Royal Castle at Wawel, Cathedral, Kosciuszko Mound, Church of St Mary, Market Square, Church of St Anne, Collegium Maius, Remu'h Cemetery and The Cloth Hall. After each photo and name there is a page reference of where to find the attraction in the guidebook.
You then have a double page showing the best museums and galleries on a map of Cracow followed by pages telling you a little about each. The churches get the same treatment as do the cemeteries, and Cracow's famous personalities.
Finally before you get to the detailed area by area guide you have a few pages taking you through Cracow through the year and what happens in each month.
AREA BY AREA
This is the main part of the guide and the sections we used most while we were there include;
The Wawel Hill section which covered the Royal palace and cathedral which is show so well with details of what to look out for in each place and a bit about specific details that you may find interesting such as where to find the Dragon's Lair.
The Old Quarter which includes the Market Square. The guide has a double page 2D map of the square with photos once again. There are several churches of interest in this area and we did visit a couple. The information is detailed and once again there are plenty of diagrams and 2D pictures as well as photos of sights you can see.
Kazimierz Quarter which is the old Jewish quarter of the city so the synagogues are worth a visit. This section mentions Oskar Schindler and the factory that enabled him to save so many Jewish people from the holocaust is now an excellent museum.
The guide does also cover sights and information about places to visit outside the city. They are all within a short driving distance and had we had longer I expect we might have visited a few more of these. We did manage to visit the Auschwitz and Birkenau as well as the oldest salt mine in the area Wieliczka on one very tiring day trip. These are all covered in this section.
If you have not already got foot ache from walking around seeing all the sights there are a number of guided walks in the book.
OTHER ASPECTS COVERED
There are sections on where to stay, where to eat, shops and markets as well as entertainment so really everything you need to know is well covered. There are helpful tips and advice for disabled tourists as well as other practical pieces of information such as what the sign looks like for 'Tourist Information', where to find public toilets, what electricity plugs and voltage is used and a list of consulates and embassies. A tram map and instructions on how to use a public telephone and photos of what the police look like should you need one are also in the book.
How to get to Cracow and which airlines, trains and buses serve the city, how to get from the airport, using public transport and advice on driving in and around the city.
SO WHAT DO I THINK?
I think you might have gathered that I am a fan of this guidebook. It has everything you would need to know for a visit to the city set out in a simple, interesting and informative way. It doesn't bore the pants off you by long lectures on ancient history, it covers the main features and should you want to delve deeper then you can get the books on that subject to follow that aspect yourself.
I like the way the book is set out, broken into areas and different topic we find the maps are excellent. It is just so nice to be able to see what you might want to visit in a photo with an arrow pointing to where you can find it on the map. It makes it easy to plan what you might want to do once you get there.
It is also not too heavy so you can carry it around with you. I love the way it shows you photos so that you know exactly what you are looking for when you are somewhere. For example for the churches you get a sort of 2D diagram and photos which point out where to find each thing of interest and under the photo is a short piece about the item. This was especially useful in places where the information was only in Polish as my Polish is non-existent.
As I said at the start this is always our first choice of guide book as they are so very well written and have great maps and photos as well. It is informative without being too heavy going. I don't always want to know the entire history of something I am visiting, a potted version suits me. If you are student of history or architecture then you may indeed want to know more but there are other books you can go to for that sort of in depth knowledge it isn't need in a guide book in my view.
Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same user name.
DK Eyewitness Cracow travel guide will lead you straight to the best attractions this historic city has to offer. Packed with photographs, illustrations and detailed maps, discover Cracow district by district; from the cobbled streets of Grodzka to the tunnels, nooks and crannies of the Dragon's Lair. This guide provides all the insider tips every visitor needs from the city's best gothic landmarks to the best restaurants serving traditional Pierogi, with comprehensive listings of great hotels, resorts, restaurants and nightlife for all budgets. You'll find 3D cutaways and floorplans of all the must-see sites plus useful street maps to help you find your way around. DK Eyewitness Cracow explores the city's castles, museums and religious heritage, focussing on the determination of the Polish people which has shaped this impressive city. With up-to-date information on getting around by tram, bus, taxi or by foot and all the sights listed district by district, DK Eyewitness Cracow is indispensable.