europe · poland · Travel

Krakow, 2012 (Part 1) – A little bit of history, a little bit of vodka..

If we want to travel to far-flung countries with budget airlines then part of the deal is ridiculously early departure times from airports nowhere near home. That explains why we are waking up in a Bristol hotel before the dawn chorus with a taxi booked for 4am… Bleary-eyed and not fuelled by nearly enough caffeine, Mr Fletche and I join the other earlybirds for the 6:30am Easyjet flight to Krakow…

Up, up and away for the short two-hour flight – we’ll be in Krakow by breakfast surely! However, the Krakow weather gods are not respecting our imminent arrival and have shrouded Krakow airport in a peasouper fog that Victorian London would be proud of. Hence, a detour to Katowice. Where we sit on the runway. For two hours. With barely a whisper of news from the pilot or crew. There are rumours that we will all be piled onto a bus. The steps arrive and are connected to the aeroplane. Then there are rumours that the fog is lifting in Krakow. The steps are wheeled away again. Eventually, there’s a rumble of aeroplane engine, a flurry of activity from the cabin crew and we are airbound once more. As if an ungodly alarm call hasn’t made me grouchy enough, the two-hour delay has made me decidedly irritable. At least we have a taxi transfer at the other end…

Of course, Daniel from KrakowTrip.com has other taxi-driver like things to do – like actually drive people around… Ringing his number repeatedly, I am faced with his voicemail. The lip starts to quiver; the tears start to well on my eyelashes… we’re going to spend our wedding anniversary holiday at Krakow airport. Mr Fletche tells me to pull myself together. Daniel has received our twenty-five missed calls and is on his way to collect us now… Yay for Daniel! He rocks up ten minutes later and herds us into the car, mumbling about “crazy times” at the airport. Grateful that we aren’t abandoned to public transport, we settle down for the short journey into Krakow and to our home for the next three nights – the Queen Boutique Hotel

krakow
The Queen Boutique hotel (photo from official website)

This hotel was a fantastic base for our break, centrally located five minutes from Kazimierz, ten minutes from Wawel Hill and fifteen from Old Town and Market Square. Krakow is a small city, and easily walkable, but it’s still easy to rack up those miles – and those blisters – walking back and forth so it’s good to have a nice comfortable bed to sink into…

A quick emptying of our suitcases and our rumbling tummies remind us that we have been up almost twelve hours and we’ve only eaten a chocolate chip cookie kindly provided at check-in by our hotel in Bristol. We need food.

We venture out for our first proper glimpse of Krakow life, with no particular place to go. We head towards Wawel Hill and find ourselves wandering around the Planty. I know the magic of Old Town Krakow is inside this ring of greenery somewhere…

We eventually find a way in and we get our first glimpse of the impressive town square, Rynek Glowny.  Despite all good intentions of heading off the beaten track, we seat ourselves at the first touristy bar we see directly on the Square – Pod Sloncem. Our first taste of Polish beer – Zwiec – goes down well, and the ‘light snack’ we have ordered is actually two huge platefuls of piled-up food.  Looks like we are having a late lunch and early dinner all in one.  The sun sets over Cloth Hall; the bugler makes his hourly call at St Mary’s and the Fletches toast their arrival in Krakow.

krakow
Rynek Glowny – Market Square
St Mary's Basillica...the largest church in Krakow and home of the hourly bugle call
St Mary’s Basillica…the largest church in Krakow and home of the hourly bugle call
Cloth Hall - the world's oldest shopping mall
Cloth Hall – the world’s oldest shopping mall

We could sit here all evening, but we decide to head back to home base, layer up with some more clothes and explore our local neighbourhood of Kazimierz. Plac Nowy is the place to be so that’s where we head. Except it’s not where I think it is. In fact, we walk all way through through Kazimierz and end up walking along a main road. I’m convinced we have actually walked all the way out of Krakow. We finally end up back outside our hotel.  With our free wi-fi, we consult Google Maps. Which shows that Plac Nowy is right behind us. We walked past it. If we had looked right instead of left, we would have seen it.

We end up at Nova, a pleasant place for a beer or two (Tyskie this time). They also have an extensive food menu (still not hungry!) and a long cocktail list; however I am too tired to sample my signature Cosmopolitan tonight. The Fletches have been awake now for twenty hours… time for us to say “Dobranoc” and catch up our much deserved beauty sleep…

Schindler’s Day Off

Yesterday was a day of random rambling without a plan. Today – we hit the sights. I am armed with my research – Mr Fletche is now used to me travelling with reams of papers containing opening times, maps, menus etc. We fill up with a hearty hotel breakfast, drop a quick e-mail to Daniel to see whether he can accommodate us for a trip to Auschwitz tomorrow, and head off – in the right direction this time – through Kazimierz to the river Wisla, and then over to Podgorze, the Jewish ghetto of Krakow..

Podgorze is a world away from the touristy Old Town, and the hospitality and charm of Kazimierz – the context of this district and the atrocities that occurred here is reflected in the drab and dreariness of the neighbourhood. We stumble upon Plac Bohaterow Getta and its ‘Chairs’ memorial. It is inconspicuous and understated, bordered by traffic-heavy roads and tram stops. The famous pharmacy Apteka Pod Orlem is unfortunately shrouded by scaffolding and blue plastic sheeting. It is difficult to even picture how this square looked seventy years ago.

Plac Bohaterow Getta square - 'Chairs' memorial to commemorate the Jewish victims of the Holocaust
Plac Bohaterow Getta square – ‘Chairs’ memorial to commemorate the Jewish victims of the Holocaust

We follow the signs for Oskar Schindler’s Factory. The Fletches love the film, and I have also read the Thomas Keneally book on which the film was based. Eventually, we’re crossing disused and overgrown train tracks and heading down Lipowa. A handful of people are milling around outside; I stop to take a photo and Mr Fletche heads towards the entrance.

“What’s the date today?”

“The 27th. Why?”

Mr Fletche’s reason for confirming the date is taped to the front door:

“The museum will be closed on the 26th & 27th November for essential maintenance work”

Yes, we’ve walked all the way out here, only to find the museum is closed.  In disappointment, we trek back towards the river; the cobbled streets and ‘comfy but fashionable’ boots have conspired to give me a blister on each little toe and I am desperately in need of a cold drink.   We put aside plans to walk (limp) up to the Fort of St Benedict, purchase a bottle of Coke from a vendor and make our way out of Podgorze, leaving this grey district behind us.

Closed...
Closed…

And as we walk along the riverbank, away from the crumbling, grafittied buildings, the sun comes out and our mood lifts. So many cities make so much of their waterways; it is almost a surprise to find this beautiful wide river skirting the south of the city centre – separating the charming old town from its ghetto neighbour. We are fascinated by the balloon tethered on the bank of the river. We had spotted it the night before from our vantage point at Rynek Glowny and were mystified by this floating object that appeared and disappeared before our very eyes. Mystery solved. After the disappointment of missing out on Schindler’s Factory, only one thing will help. A balloon ride. We pay our 36 zlotys each and five minutes later we are ascending over a slightly misty Krakow. It’s a wonderful way to get a different perspective of the city… and much less effort than clambering up the Town Hall Tower or the Basillica Tower…

Tethered balloon above the River Wisla
Tethered balloon above the River Wisla
Krakow from above
Krakow from above
Krakow from above
Krakow from above

This trip into the skies has cheered the Fletches up immensely.

We cross the river at the bridge just before Wawel Castle, and walk past the pretzel sellers, souvenir stands and statue of Smok the Dragon, circumnavigating Wawel Hill. A bar on the corner looks like a good place to rest our weary feet and rehydrate ourselves with a warm drink. Their coffee and hot chocolate hit the spot and we venture back out. Around the corner, we spot a small sandwich place with a number of empty tables, so I imbibe my second hot chocolate in the space of ten minutes (this one infused with almonds…) and we enjoy toasted sandwiches for lunch.

Smok the Dragon - villain of Krakow folklore
Smok the Dragon – villain of Krakow folklore

Fully sated – and slightly overdosing on chocolate – we head for Wawel itself. With hoardes of tour groups and schoolchildren, we decide against purchasing tickets to any of the state rooms, exhibitions or cathedral, and instead wander around the exterior and the wonderful courtyard taking pictures and enjoying the surprisingly mild temperatures. We carry on from Wawel back up to Market Square. With the light fading, it is once more time for another beer, watching the world go by. I love that it’s the end of November, but we can quite comfortably sit outside under a heater, ensconced in cosy fleece blankets.

Cathedral - Wawel Castle
Cathedral – Wawel Castle
Royal Courtyard at Wawel Castle
Royal Courtyard at Wawel Castle
Maly Rynek -- 'Little Market Square'
Maly Rynek — ‘Little Market Square’

Sitting down is not the best remedy for my aching feet. Standing up again makes me wobble like a baby deer on ice, and tears spring to my eyes when I put any pressure on my toes. Still, I gamely hobble back to the hotel, and then reluctantly hobble on to Kazimierz. A hundred places to eat here and we end up back at Nova…The food is good and once again plentiful. We decide on an earlyish night so that I can rest my weary bones and aching feet.  One Daniel’s fellow drivers is picking us up at 9am tomorrow for our trip to Auschwitz and I want to be as prepared as I can for what is bound to be an emotional experience.

Look out for Part 2 here!

Many of the photographs featured here were taken by Mr Fletche – CPF Photography

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Krakow, 2012 (Part 1) – A little bit of history, a little bit of vodka..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s