‘Welcome to Poland’ the roads declared as we crossed the border from Germany – they became immediately unbearable. The whole bus rattled for miles, the road was pot-holed beyond repair and it became increasingly difficult to relax – I was so grateful that I could just plug into my iPod to cancel out the noise! Thankfully I arrived safely in Krakow with nothing more than a numb bum and managed to scout out my hostel with no problems at all.
At first sight my hostel seemed a tad dodgy… I had to walk up 3 flights of stairs with my massive backpack, the walls were covered in graffiti and the air stank of smoke. I did wonder what I’d got myself into… but on the plus side, there was a fabulous view of the lit up castle. Once I’d stepped into the hostel though I felt much better. It was really cool – had a decent kitchen, free wifi and a nice lounge to chill out in. I was put on the floor above, where no one else was staying that night – I basically had a massive lounge area, kitchen and 3 bathrooms to myself – what luxury. I started to think I wouldn’t meet a soul during my stay in Krakow, but I was so wrong. On the contrary, I had an absolutely fantastic time.
Day One – Exploring Krakow
Late start this morning, but it was a well deserved lie in after my action packed few days in Berlin. Now it was time to chill for a few days – and Krakow is a great place to do just that. Breakfast was served on the floor below, so I departed from my empty floor hoping to find some civilisation. I was in luck! I chatted to 4 lovely girls – from Germany, Netherlands and Latvia – who were enjoying a weekend break away from their studies in Prague. We departed ways for the morning – but I’d bump into them again later.
I headed out towards the Old Town and the market square – one of the biggest in Europe. In the centre there’s a massive building called the Cloth Hall, this kind of divides the square in two. Inside there’s a very touristy market selling lots of souvenirs at ridiculously cheap prices. On one side of the square there’s two Churches. St Adalbert’s is one of the oldest in Poland and is very small, the entrance is below the level of the current square, which reflects the original height of the pavement in the 11th century. Opposite to this but in the same side of the square, there’s the much larger St. Mary’s Basilica. This Church is very impressive, it’s incredibly colourful and very ornate. Every day at 10.50 they have a little ceremony to open up the incredible wooden altarpiece – I was fortunate enough to be in the Church at the time, along with a lot of other people (who had bought tickets haha – I’d entered via the prayer entrance). To be honest, it was a little disappointing -they simply play some tacky music whilst a nun opens the doors covering it – but the actual alter is rather impressive.
On the other side of the cloth hall there’s the Town Hall Tower and adjacent to this there was a market for some special event going on. I seemed to have come to Krakow at a good time as this had disappeared on my last day! The market sold lots of souvenirs as well as traditional Polish food and beer. It all smelled deliscious. I tried some grilles mountain goat cheese with cranberry sauce which was yummy, and also a sausage with a strange tasting beer -not a huge fan of that.
After I’d enjoyed my lunch I headed towards Wawel Castle. I didn’t fancy paying to see the apartments inside, but you could freely walk around the grounds and go inside the Cathedral. The Castle is made up of a mixture of buildings, some very old, and has recently been renovated. It’s quite impressive in places. The Church was rather dark inside and you have to follow the specific ‘tourist’ route. To be honest, I much preferred St Mary’s Basilica.
I then headed back to the Main square to meet up with the free (tip based) walking tour of the former Jewish district – Kazimierz. It so happened that the four girls from earlier were also on the tour, and lots of other travellers too. I met another girl called Julie who, though half asleep, was lovely – I’d spend most of the following days with her! The tour was interesting, although the guide’s Polish accent was very strong so it was a little difficult to follow at times, and the group was also massive. We toured around some important Jewish areas; including synagogues that are mostly empty now, the main square from the WW2 Krakow ghetto and also went to some of the areas featured in Schindler’s List. The guide told us that 68,000 Jews lived in Krakow before the war. There are now less than 100 practicing Jews remaining. The tour was really informative, but after 3 and a half hours of walking around trying to listen to a guide, it did start to get a little tiring.
After the tour I joined the girls from my hostel for dinner at a vegetarian place – the food was good and cheap! We headed back to the hostel for some drinking before hitting the Krakow nightlife. It took us a while to find a good club, places in Krakow tend to be underground and the air is hazy with smoke fumes as there isn’t much ventilation… But we eventually found a place playing some good music and it wasn’t too hazy. The club was a bit of a maze with loads of separate rooms and passageways leading into each other, but it was really cool. That is until the Polish guys just started to get a bit creepy so we hastily left. This was my first night out in many months -and my first of the trip – and I had a blast, I didn’t feel old either!
Day 2 – Relaxation and new friends
After the late night I enjoyed yet another lie in. I’d planned on going to the Salt Mines in the afternoon but after bumping into Julie in the square during lunch – we were both enjoying the culinary delights offered at the market – I decided to hang out with her.
We went to look at the dragon sculpture that breathes fire every so often -there is no logical timeframe – it’s not as amazing as I thought. We then headed into the castle grounds as Julie hadn’t been in the Church, but we took one too many photos and got there 1 minute after closing time. The guy was mean and wouldn’t let us in – he probably saw us taking a picture and couldn’t wait to refuse us entry.
After this bitter disappointment we headed back towards Kazimierz to meet some of her friends at an Israeli cafe; its a really chilled out place where its good to relax and read one of the Jewish books on the shelves. The tea and cake was delicious, I had an Israeli tea which is a little like Moroccan but slightly more bitter. We had to rush though and drink up within 20 minutes as they were closing the cafe for a private function – this took the enjoyment out of it a little!
Julie really wanted to try some hot beer, so after our rapidly devoured tea and cake we headed back to the main square to search for a place selling the said drink. This proved quite simple and soon enough we were relaxing at the bar and warming our hands on the hot beverage. I was a little sceptical about trying a hot beer, but it was actually delicious. They add some kind of syrup, along with a cinnamon stick and a slice of orange and heat it up – I definitely recommend it!
I was kindly invited to join them for dinner- my most expensive meal of the trip so far! We went to a delicious Indian restaurant – had some great food, awesome company and lots of laughs. It was a brill end to the day.
I didn’t feel like I did that much today, but it was just really nice to relax a little and hang out with some new friends.
(Please await my next update about Auschwitz, its proving difficult to write…)