Saturday, September 28, 2013

Kocham Krakow

A local character
I really enjoyed my time in Warsaw but I absolutely loved Krakow.  Whereas Warsaw had a more modern, edgy feel Krakow immediately made me think of all of the stereotypes about "old Europe".  (And this isn't a bad thing; in fact, I loved it).  We were still in Poland, just 300 kilometers from Warsaw but just about everything felt different in Krakow.  In Warsaw we stayed in a uber modern high rise hotel; our hotel in Krakow was quirky old, had thick walls, tall windows, and little heat and oozed a charm that immediately made me feel at home.

Krakow's Old Town is ringed by green space with grassy areas and old trees sharing space with pedestrians.  The crisp autumn air made it especially inviting to walk around the oldest part of the city.  And the Old Town itself is centered around the impressive main market square was truly old whereas Warsaw's, having been decimated during World War II, was painstakingly rebuilt. Flower vendors, horse drawn carriages, and musicians shared the square with the hundreds of pigeons and the hoards of tourists that I have come to expect when visiting European cities.  Restaurants and cafes filled the perimeter of the square with their outdoor tables, complete with heaters and blankets to ward off the fall chill, inviting people to stop and sit.  And we did, on numerous occasions, enjoying traditional Polish foods and warming beverages as we people watched.  People watching and absorbing the atmosphere is always my favorite part of any vacation and Krakow proved to be no exception.  There was just so much to see here that it made it difficult to leave the heart of Old Town but when we did, we were further rewarded for our efforts.

The main square at night

And a bird's eye view 
Off of the main square but still in the Old Town, we explored the narrow cobblestone roads that twisted their way between stately stone buildings that housed shops, hotels, restaurants, and residences.  (Old cities like this are organically "mixed use").  A winding alley might empty us into a vast square anchored by a stately church or one filled with fountains, pop up vendors and more pigeons.  Narrow doorways often lead into hidden courtyards that proved to be my favorite parts of the city since you never knew what you would find around the corner.  Here there might be small museums and historic sites or shops and restaurants that most tourists likely never see.  At the far edge of the Old Town was the Wawel Castle, an impressive fortress like compound sitting high on the hill above the city.  Getting our exercise, we climbed our way up the steep wooden stairs in the belfry of the cathedral where we were able to look down upon the numerous bells.  Unlike other parts of Europe where great structures are made out of marble and stone, massive wood timbers serve as the backbones of so many of Poland's old buildings.

The grounds of the Wawel Castle

And then there were all of the other things that makes Krakow so special.  From the street musicians, traditional crafts, and of course the food, I loved it all.  Our best discovery by far was a street festival filled with traditional foods and crafts.  The pierogi, kapusta and kielbasa we ate washed down with Zywiec beer reminded me of my grandmother's cooking.  Add in the polka music that caused feet to automatically start tapping and it felt as though we were in the midst of a Polish version of Oktober-fest.  Although this was my first trip to Poland so many of the sounds and smells were flashbacks to my childhood.  I felt like I was home.

Local pottery- famous the world over


  1. I'm a newcomer to your blog (stumbled across it on the expats blog website). I've enjoyed reading your last few posts about Poland, as I'm Polish and dream about some day visiting. Just wanted to say hello and that I enjoy reading!

    1. Thanks for visiting my blog. This trip to Poland was a dream come true for me and I can't wait to go back and see more.