We continued our aggressive Fall travel schedule with a 4-day weekend in Krakow, one of the most popular destinations in Poland.
Arriving in Krakow CityOur flight arrived under cover of darkness and we waited in the moonlight for the train from the airport to the Krakow City. The train station connects to a large mall with a bright pink 2-story cake on display. We exited Krakow's train station to a square lit by small lighted panes in the sidewalk. We passed beautiful ornate buildings bathed in light as we walked to our hotel in the Jewish quarter. It was almost 10 pm by the time we got checked in and settled at Hotel Columbus.
Dinner at SzaraWe were pleased when we got a special voucher for a welcome drink at Szara, a restaurant just a short walk from the hotel. We really enjoyed the food from the fresh bread to goat cheese and courgette (zucchini) starter. I got my first taste of creamy mushroom soup while my husband opted for pumpkin soup topped with seeds and pine nuts. For our main course, we were presented with two crocks. One side held wild boar stew and the other steaming dumplings.
Kazimierz at NightWe finished our meal and took a short walk around Kazimierz, Krakow's old Jewish quarter. While the Jewish population largely disappeared in World War II due to the Holocaust, signs of Krakow's Jewish history still remain here. We finished the night at Plac Nowy where a variety of vendors sell the Polish version of French Bread pizza. We were stuffed from dinner and weren't able to squeeze in a little late night treat. Next time!
SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Looking for other fun city break destinations in Poland? Why not consider:
Kazimierz by DayWe awoke refreshed the next morning and continued our tour of Kazimierz by day. We passed a wine bar with various offerings called out in handwritten Polish on the window. We returned to Plac Nowy to check out the weekend market. It was much smaller than we expected but was worth perusing for 10 minutes. The bulk of the market was dedicated to various antiques and communist era memorabilia. I enjoyed spying bits of stencilled graffiti on various facades. A colorful car caught my attention. We passed a whimsical store selling crafts with larger than life buttons/cogs marking the entrance. I also saw a fun poster for a local production. I learned later that Golo i Wesolo translates to Naked and Funny in English. Sounds intriguing... More colorful crafts were on offer through a nondescript courtyard. We stopped for a quick browse before continuing to Krakow's signature Old Town.
Old Town Krakow and Rynek GlownyDid you know that the historic centre of Kraków is a UNESCO World Heritage Site? We walked toward Krakow's Old Town (Stare Miasto) and stopped to admire the Fall foliage at the base of Wawel Hill. We entered Old Town Krakow and were impressed by the slightly shabby facades reaching for the clear blue sky. We spotted a garden of well-coiffed shrubbery outside a grand church. Statues stood on watch out front. We stopped in front of the Old Town Hall, situated on Krakow's Rynek Glowny, the largest open market square in Europe. A big metal head lolled at the base. An old and worn lion guarded the entrance to the tower. We paid a nominal fee for the privilege of climbing the tower. It was quite dim inside. The only light was through dark and worn stained glass. Leaning out the window, we got a birds-eye view of the Old Town Square. We admired St. Mary's Basilica and what looked like a nuclear power plant in the distance.
We stopped to listen to some fine jazz music in the shadow of the Old Town Hall. We stayed warm with some nice mulled wine purchased at bargain prices. We spotted a fancy carriage cruising the square. We popped into Kraków Cloth Hall which runs down the center of the Rynek Glowny. Names of Polish cities and their crests adorned the ceiling. The market hall was decorated on the outside with little heads. We spied a bicycle with a bespoke crocheted cover tethered to a pole near St. Mary's Basilica. We walked toward the far end of Krakow Old Town passing buildings adorned with colorful crests. We paused our journey at the tower just outside the Old Town as the rain made its entrance.
Lunch at Chimera Milk BarWe stopped at Chimera, a Polish milk bar in Krakow to get a bite to eat for lunch. Milk bars are inexpensive and healthy eateries. We got a main (stuffed pepper) with 3 salads for less than 5 euro. We also decided to try a green mystery smoothie on display near the till. That was the only poor choice of the day -- the smoothie tasted like celery...Yikes! The rest of the food was delicious and a great value. Chimera featured a larder stocked with fresh ingredients.
Along the River in KrakowWe decided to head for the river. En route, we passed recessed busts on the side of the concert hall. We also spotted some jack-o-lanterns staring down menacingly at us from a grand window. As always, we liked the little accents to the architecture. We passed a group of soldiers frozen in time from an unnamed war. I liked the contrast of a lone red rose against a dark brick backdrop. We finally reached the Vistula River with Wawel Hill sitting at a prominent bend. A number of swans and other water fowl loitered near the shore. I liked the sculpture of a faithful dog commemorated for his loyalty. He waited for over a year for his master to return after his death.
Dinner at Polakowski and Krakow JazzWe walked back to Kazimierz and by this time had worked up a bit of an appetite. We went to Polakowski, a self-service restaurant in business for more than 100 years. Again, a fresh and attractive larder instilled confidence. We opted to try 2 kinds of pierogi filled with meat and cheese. Dinner was served on fine china plates embossed with the restaurant name. Dinner was cheap, delicious, and filling. We headed into Krakow Old Town once more after dinner. We finished off the evening with a bit of traditional jazz at Piec'Art -- a fine end to a fine day of our weekend break in Krakow.
Dinner at Marmolada and Drinks at Tram barAfter returning from an emotional day trip to Auschwitz, we sought dinner in Krakow's Old Town. We tried Miód Malina but they were booked solid and referred us to Marmolada, their sister restaurant. The food was excellent and less expensive than Miód Malina. We tried zucchini (courgette) fritters and more traditional Polish potato pancakes smothered in creamy mushroom sauce. For our main course, we shared short ribs and a piping hot beef stew. The food was delicious and definitely recommended. We decided to walk off our supper and spent some time admiring the local architecture bathed in lights. We finished the evening at the Tram Bar in Krakow for a Leżajsk Beer. We sipped our drink and enjoyed the kitschness of the interior which was decked out like the inside of a tram car with plenty of tram related memorabilia. We were happy to end our evening well fed and on a more lighthearted note.
Podgórze and Schindler’s FactoryOn our final day in Krakow, we fortified ourselves with a big breakfast at Hotel Columbus. I had ham on a kaiser roll and cake with spiced cherry jam. The sun was shining full-on as we made our way past an elongated church to the river. A hot air balloon stood on the opposite bank. We walked along the footpath with the river on one side and a fine stone wall on the other. The leaves on the trees were just starting to change. We crossed the river via a pedestrian bridge and I started to notice the locks plied to the structure. They increased in number as we walked to the center of the bridge. The quality varied considerably but each had the name of a particular couple pledging their love and devotion. Some were actually formally engraved while others were simply done up with a Sharpie marker.
We emerged on the other side of the river into Podgórze. We spotted a mural which simultaneously seemed to be a bull horn and a liberty bell. Freedom of speech sets you free? That's my interpretation. We passed more stylized lights marking houses on a residential strip.
We emerged onto Plac Bohaterów Getta Square which commemorates the Jews of Krakow. Now numbering less than 1000, there were 60,000 Jews living in Krakow at the start of World War II. Continuing on, we passed an odd mural of some kind of fish man. We passed under a concrete tunnel bathed in light from above.
We arrived at Schindler's Factory which is now a museum. Again, we witnessed personal stories of those that suffered at the hands of the Nazis in World War II. Schindler's efforts to protect his Jewish workers from the Nazis was a small note of bravery during a very difficult time. The story is even more remarkable because Schindler was German. After our tour, we wanted to lighten our mood and stopped at cukiernia Józef Wilk for a piece of cake. We took it to go and ate it in a glorious urban park sitting in the shadow of a very large and imposing church. Pigeons sped by in a pack at dizzying speeds before landing on top of a florist kiosk at the head of the square. Rested and fed, we set our sights on Wawel Hill and its royal castle.
Wawel HillWe made our way back across the river from Podgórze and climbed Wawel Hill to see the cathedral and Wawel Castle at the summit. On the way up, we were impressed with the silhouettes of gargoyles and statues against the sunny backdrop. We passed through a grand castle courtyard (the interior parts of the castle weren't open because we had unfortunately timed our visit for a Monday). We sat for a moment inside the fortified wall of the castle. We walked around the perimeter and admired the whimsical structures. We decided to sit down and drink a beer outside despite the bracing temperature. Sitting in the shadow of the Wawel Hill towers was just too good of an opportunity to pass up.
We continued our walk around the perimeter and I noticed a scale model of Wawel Hill. I couldn't resist taking a picture of the scale model with a backdrop of the real thing. The pointy towers of the castle and cathedral were lovely to behold from a variety of angles. We managed to sneak our way into the cathedral by blending in with a tour group. Never mind that it wasn't an English speaking tour...We were in! We spent some time checking out the impressive interior (no photographs allowed) and then burst forth back into the sunlight. We smiled at the statue of Krakow's own Pope John Paul II just across from the cathedral entrance.
Our brief visit to Krakow was quickly coming to a close. We headed for Restauracja pod Baranem for our final meal in town. The mushroom soup served in a seeded loaf of bread was a highlight of the meal. We made our way once more under cover of darkness by train back to the airport and our return flight to Dublin.