Summer 2017: Krakow

Day Zero

There are a number of ways to get to Krakow from the airport – and of course the later the time gets, the fewer there are, and the longer they take to get to where you need to go to. I’ve narrowed it down to two: a taxi or the train / then a walk. The train only just wins out – there is only one cab company serving the airport and after a certain time they charge a flat rate of 90 zloty. The train on the other hand costs 9 zloty. The reason it’s a close run thing is that Angela had let me know it had snowed the previous day so the 20 minute walk across the old town to the Radisson Blu promised to be brisk and cheek-reddening!

It’s cute though: even at 11pm on a chilly Thursday night, Krakow is determined to show a good time. There are tourists meandering around and taxi drivers bustling near the night spots. Even the horse and carriage crowd are getting the odd customer. The buildings in the main square are nicely lit and the stroll across town is hard to begrudge with such picturesque surroundings.

Day One

We’d decided to go on two free walking tours to get a feel for the city – one would take us around the Old Town, including Wawel Castle, while the other would take in the Jewish district of Kazimierz.

Old Town Walking Tour

We’re to meet our guide in the main square outside the towering spire of St Mary’s Basilica, they’d be holding a red umbrella. Lo and behold we are introduced to Ela (easy to remember she says: Ela – umbrella), who takes us around the Old Town.

We learn about the old city walls and why there are only a few parts of these still around, we learn about the gates and how certain guilds were responsible for their upkeep. One of the best parts is at 11am when the trumpeter plays out each of the windows in a tower at the top of St Mary’s then gives us a wave.

It’s interesting to hear both how the trumpeters live in an apartment at the top of the tower and the legend behind the unresolved melody that they play. After visiting the University and hearing about Poland’s favourite son (Pope John Paul II), we head up to the Castle.

Ela’s English is excellent and what she says is a great combination of the legend and scepticism about the legends. unfortunately we’re too early in the year to visit the cave of the Dragon tucked away under the wall facing the Vistula River, so we head back to the Main Square instead to get something to eat while we wait for the next tour.

Kazimierz

At the appointed time we find a number of people under red umbrellas, and so after making enquiries, we find that Ela would be taking us through the Jewish district of Kazimierz. It’s a little bit of a hike from the centre of town, nestled between the Castle and the river.

Ela once gain regales us with interesting stories about the most famous of the Jewish residents who used to live here, my favourite is that of Helena Rubinstein – a woman who lived a fascinating life. As we get closer to the Ghetto, the references to Stephen Spielberg’s movie ‘Schindler’s List’ increases – the most photographed staircase, where certain scenes were filmed etc. The tour ends at Ghetto Heroes Square, which is only a five minute walk from Oskar Schindler’s Museum, so it seems fitting to head over and have a look.

Oskar Schindler Museum

Ange is a little hesitant because I had told her that it didn’t have much to do with Oskar and was just his factory. But the walking tour had featured so many scenes from the movie, and I think that tipped her over and so we went in. After our walk in the cold, we decide to grab a drink at the cafe before we head in to the Museum proper.

It was my second time there and while it was smaller than the Warsaw Rising Museum, it had the same attitude to multimedia supporting the exhibits, and is well worth the visit.


Afterwards we walk all the way back to the hotel. We could’ve got a couple of trams or a taxi but I was trying to get through the trip without getting any more cash out. While it’s a bit of a hike, the rain mercifully stays away despite the overcast conditions and it’s quite a pleasant stroll.

When we get back, because we’d visited so many of the sites in Schindler’s List, we decide it’d be a good time to watch the movie. We have a look through the room service menu, and discover that the Radisson has an all inclusive deal: for 66 zł you get a burger, fries, a beer, dessert and popcorn – perfect for settling in and watching a movie.

Day Two

We booked a tour to Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Our trip had been leading to this day for a while: we’d started our trip in Berlin where the Nazi machine was run and decisions were made. Then we’d headed to Warsaw to walk around where the ghetto had been, watched The Pianist and visited the Museum of the Uprising. Now we were in Krakow, had watched Schindler’s List, visited the ghetto and learned about Oskar at the museum, and so now we visited Auschwitz.

After we get back, feeling drained and emotional, we head up to our room and get a light meal from room service. We’d planned to go out and try some of the local fare but just don’t feel like going out.

Day Three

We arranged to go out to the Wieliczka Salt Mines – the other UNESCO World Heritage site.

After the more upbeat day we head out to a restaurant that Ange had found while I was in London – Restauracja Galicyjska. They serve traditional Polish food which appears to be game of various types, and I kick myself for being too slow off the mark to get a picture of the meat platter when one goes by – a chicken flambé being the pièce de résistance

We arrived before 6pm and have the place to ourselves before groups of tourists start filtering in. One half of the floorspace has been reserved for a banquet and we spend a good chunk of the night trying to decide whether its for a wedding reception or just a group booking.

I order the boar ribs in a honey sauce with fried cabbage and potatoes while Ange has the stuffed chicken breast with seasonal vegetables. We split a slice of the apple crumble.

Day Four

As we’d synchronised our separate departures by air (me to London, Ange to Vienna) we head to the airport via the airport train and I make the mistake of trying to buy tickets from the ticket booth downstairs instead of onboard, leaving Ange on the platform. I would have been better off just getting the tickets from the conductor. The train is very quick and it’s not long before we’re through security and waiting for our flights.