Krakow


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Europe » Poland » Lesser Poland » Kraków
September 22nd 2014
Published: September 25th 2014
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Sabbath, 20 Sep – Krakow

The rain and cold that was supposed to be in Vilnius has finally caught up to us. It started raining overnight so we slept in, had a lazy breakfast and then walked around our district, Kazimierz (the Old Jewish Quarter) in Krakow. There are a number of synagogues and Jewish restaurants all within the small suburb, although the businesses don’t all observe Sabbath as most were open. Since the Jews were forcibly relocated to the ghetto in 1941, other people moved in and have lived here ever since, so it is Jewish mainly in name. In 1987 some Jews started to return to the area however but they are still small in number and mostly older Krakovians.

After wandering Kazimierz, we crossed the river to what used to be the ghetto. There’s not much to see there now except a mix of old and modern buildings and a couple of fragments of the concrete wall that was erected to keep the Jews in. It reminded me a little of the concrete walls we see in Gaza - oh the irony that Israel is doing now what was done to them all those years ago. They say history doesn't repeat but it does rhyme. Still, we walked the streets and were astounded that over 15000 Jews were forced into a small area that before WWII had accommodated just 3000 people. Each apartment was shared by 4 families, and the unlucky extras had to sleep in the streets. You just can’t imagine it.

For dinner we splashed out and went to the “#7 of 843” restaurant in Krakow, according to Trip Advisor. It deserves its ranking. It has plush, modern surroundings with excellent waiters and white linen tablecloths. For starters we had cream of zucchini soup and smoked sheep milk cheese on baguettes. For mains we both had a plate of pan fried peirogi ruskie (potatoe & cheese) with thyme butter and to finish we shared a citrus pannacotta. The whole meal cost us 114PLN ($40), including drinks.

Sunday 21 Sep – Krakow

This is our most luxurious apartment on the trip. It’s costing us $80pn per couple, and it’s a 3 bedroom penthouse with balcony views to Wawel Castle. I wish all our accommodation was this nice!

Krakow is unique and beautiful. It is the only old town we’ve seen that has been completely unscathed by WWII. The buildings are original, as are the streets and walls. Wroclaw, which is only 2hrs away, had 70% of its city destroyed by the Soviets, but Krakow got lucky and the retreating Germans who were planning on destroying the city as they left were unable to do so. As a result, the architecture is a really interesting mix of styles as buildings were built through the ages. There’s classical style, gothic, baroque and the odd renaissance building so it’s unlike other old towns we’ve seen. There are bullets in lots of buildings in the Ghetto but not in the old town. I had planned to do a Segway tour here but it has been raining and since the roads were wet, Mum and Dad didn’t feel confident operating the machines, so we opted for a free walking tour instead. Our guide Alicja was excellent.

Wawel Castle (pronounced Vawvel) is most impressive and it was the seat of the Polish kings for centuries at its height in the middle ages.

Krakov has the largest market square in Europe. In the middle is the market building with shops on the outside and through the middle is a covered market, kind of like a bazaar. Either side of the market building are open air markets selling souvenirs, handy crafts and food. The main church in the square, St Mary’s, has a bell tower where every hour, a trumpet player plays a tune in every direction (north, south, east, west). He used to play to warn the inhabitants of invasion so they could arm themselves. These days it’s just for tourists. This tradition has been ongoing and unbroken for 650yrs – imagine how many hours and trumpet players they’ve been through!!

We opted to have lunch in the open markets, wandering and buying whatever interested us. Dwayne had a schlonking big piece of bread with sausage and onions. Dad will forever remember this trip for its lack of gravy – a travesty in his eyes! It rained on and off so we would duck for cover now and then in between the short but intense downpours. Once lunch was eaten we went to a little café where their dessert menu was insane, so we had 2 hot chocolates with ice cream (thick Italian style), a passionfruit smoothie, a coffee frappe, 2 crepes with Nutella and a sort of trifle, which came to only 56 PLN ($19.50). We’ve never eaten so much dessert at home as we have on this trip, but everything is so cheap that it seems a crime not to try the local delicacies. Just as well we did 20,000 steps today!

Monday 22 Sep – Krakow

The streets of Krakow are 5m higher than they were originally, because as people threw out their rubbish throughout the years, they would put a layer of sand over the top and pave over everything. Today you can do an underground tour which takes you through the old roads 5m below. Given it was still raining we decided this was a pretty good option. We went in at 10.15am and were expecting about an hour to look around, but it was so fascinating that we didn’t end up emerging from the tunnels until 1pm, much to our amazement. There were graves with skeletons, reconstructions of blacksmiths workshops and cut outs of the different layers of brickwork and cobblestone streets from the 12th century. All of this is upheld by a thick concrete slab where everyone on the market square walks above, mostly oblivious to the viewers below. Quite fascinating.

For lunch we had a local favourite, called Zapiekanki. It’s a 35cm open sub sandwich with a mushroom sauce and melted cheese as a base, and then there are various toppings to add. They only cost 8 PLN ($2.80) and we ordered two of them to try different ones, although I couldn’t finish all of mine. It was delicious enough that Mum and Dad want to go tomorrow (as they ate in today).

The afternoon saw a bit more rain and so we stayed in and then went out again at 6pm when it stopped, to get night shots. It’s a gorgeous town and I’ve really enjoyed my time here despite the fact it’s been hampered by intermittent rain.

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