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4 Nights in Krakow

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Jan 18th, 2014, 11:49 PM
  #1
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4 Nights in Krakow

I'll be in Krakow as part of a school study-abroad trip for 4 nights and have a fairly regimented schedule. We'll be staying less than 10 minutes (walking) from Market Square and will have two evenings free and one afternoon from 1:30 until 7:30. As we are in town studying the Holocaust/Shoah, we will be visiting many of the sites related to that including the Schindler Factory, Płaszow concentration camp, Auschwitz/Birkenau, Podgórze Jewish Ghetto, Kazimierz Jewish District, etc... During my off-time I'd like to do a bit of shopping and also wondered if I can swing a trip out to the Wieliczka Salt Mine. There is a tour that is offered in English at 3:30 pm. I have read that it takes about half an hour to get there via train from Krakow so I have plenty of time for the commute there. With that said, do I have enough time to do the 3:30 tour and get back to my hotel by 7:10ish?

Also, as far as shopping, I know that I want to bring back some Polish pottery, and a set of Polish nesting dolls, and some amber. Do the shops close at 5:00 or are they open later in the evening?

Thanks in advance!
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Jan 19th, 2014, 12:02 AM
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It's actually a bus that takes you out to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, and as I recall it's closer to 40 minutes each way between there and Krakow. According to my trip report (2012 - click on my name to read it), the tour itself was about 2.5 hours. And you can't just leave the tour if you want to skip the end - you are down in the mine in carefully controlled groups, and you have to ascend in an elevator that has limited capacity.

So you might make it back by 7:10 if you catch the next bus after your tour (and find the bus stop - I was disoriented after exiting the mine and couldn't quickly find it, as the stop going back wasn't exactly across the street from where it dropped us off; I ran to catch the bus when I finally saw where the stop was and also saw the bus coming).

There may also be a private mini-bus option of some sort (as I recall, obviously I didn't use it) to get to/from the mine instead of the public bus; perhaps that would be quicker and give you more breathing room to get back on time.
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Jan 19th, 2014, 01:16 AM
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Thanks for the quick reply Andrew. I did read that there is both bus and train option with the train being the quicker route (Dworzec Główny to Wielizka Rynek Kopalnia) so that was why I was figuring on using that. As for the private option, I have contacted a few but their departure/return times don't work with my schedule.

I enjoyed reading your trip report and your photos are beautiful...also we start our trip with 4 nights in Paris so it was great to read your trip reports for Paris - I've been to Southern France several times but this will be my first trip to Paris (I'll have a whole day free there so I'm planning to go to Versailles).

Sounds like you enjoyed your visit to the Salt Mine but don't recommend Auschwitz and it on the same day....for me that won't be a problem as we will be visiting Płaszow that morning - there are several memorials there but it was not preserved the way Auschwitz was.
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Jan 19th, 2014, 01:39 AM
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When I was in Krakow, shops along the main square were open until at least 6 or 7 and maybe even later -- but that could have been then, not now, or seasonal or whatever.

Whatever else you do while in Krakow, do consider visiting Leonardo da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine. She is very, very special.
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Jan 19th, 2014, 03:43 AM
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I went to the Salt Mine through a tour company (Crakow City Tours, I believe) and the trip was about 5 hours. You need to allow 2.5 to 3 hours in the mine. We had to wait about 20 to 30 minutes for the elevator to exit the mine.

If you do decide to visit the Salt Mine I would not wait for the 3:30 tour but get the earliest one you can. The bus would be the more reliable transportation. I know that you think the train is quicker but did you actually look at the train schedule? Are you familiar with how slow Polish trains are and how they are not usually on time?

What happens if you don't get back to your hotel by 7:10?

Shops stay open past 5:00, particularly in the Cloth Hall.
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Jan 19th, 2014, 02:00 PM
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Thanks for the kind words about my report, suzski.

I certainly prefer trains to buses and would have taken the train to Wieliczka if that would have been faster than the bus. But this was not mentioned as an option in my Rick Steves guidebook. I'm guessing the walk from the train station in Wieliczka to the mine entrance makes that a longer option than taking a bus that drops you right in front of the mine entrance. (The bus I took to Wieliczka left from near the Krakow train station, anyway.)

I think I appreciated the incredible achievement of the mine sculptures more than I enjoyed the long tour, in part because of the great effort to get there and see it all. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more had I gone on a separate day, but I still felt that it's a lot of time and energy to get out there and back - realistically half a day once you account for planning etc. I know many others loved their Wieliczka mine tour but I wouldn't put it in my list of highlights of visiting Poland or Krakow. Exploring the beautiful city of Krakow itself was probably the highlight.
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Jan 19th, 2014, 02:25 PM
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Your study trip sounds great, suzski. And I agree with Andrew: Krakow is very beautiful. I had five and a half days and didn't make it to the Salt Mine--next time.

Make sure you pop into St. Mary's to see the Veit Stoss altarpiece. I visited twice. Once to see it open, and then the second time to watch as they closed it at the end of the day. It's truly impressive.
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Jan 19th, 2014, 03:11 PM
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Thanks for all the responses. Due to my extremely limited free time and your thoughts I'm reconsidering spending it in a mad dash outside of Krakow and instead focusing on the city itself.

With that said, I'm open to additional suggestions on favorite places throughout the city to visit in the middle of March.
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Jan 19th, 2014, 04:21 PM
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You mention specific areas of Krakow but don't mention what you'll be seeing there so here is my list.

Krakow Under the Occupation Museum
Synagogues & churches in Kazimierz
Pharmacy Under the Eagle
Franciscan church
Collegium Maius University tour
19th century Polish art museum (Cloth Hall)
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Jan 19th, 2014, 04:31 PM
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In addition to the recommendations above, if you have time, the Collegium Maius at the Jagiellonian University is well worth a visit. You book a tour--takes around an hour. There are many gems in Krakow: churches, the castle complex, museums. You will be spoiled for choice.

And it sounds as if your study program agenda will give you a deeper understanding of Poland's painful history.
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Jan 19th, 2014, 04:39 PM
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It may seem obvious, but the big main square (Rynek) is really beautiful. It's the kind of thing I always made a point of walking through on the way to/from somewhere else just to see it one more time. It's also an easy walk from the square down to the castle area. To me, a big part of a visit to a beautiful city like Krakow is exploring it and enjoying the scenery. It's hard to do that when you are rushed trying to see an agenda full of sites.

One experience I enjoyed was visiting a "milk bar" - a government-subsidized cafeteria where you can get cheap (and surprisingly good) food. I savored a couple plates of pierogis there. Of course, you can get pierogis in restaurants all over Krakow, no doubt, but at a milk bar you kind of enjoy a local experience, too.

I really enjoyed "Krakow under Nazi Occupation Museum" (aka "Schindler's Factory Museum" - most of the museum has nothing to do with him except for his re-created office). But I see that is already on your agenda.
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Jan 19th, 2014, 04:51 PM
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Beet soup with dumplings is to die for. I could not imagine how good it is until I tried it. Yum. And mushroom soup. The Poles know their soup, that's for sure. If you're visiting in March you're probably going to want warming foods.
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Jan 19th, 2014, 05:01 PM
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@ Leely2 -- I didn't think it was possible for anything to make me hungry right now. Wrong! Thanks for there reminder!
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Jan 19th, 2014, 07:34 PM
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Thanks for all the suggestions!

I actually have a couple already on my agenda including the Schindler Factory Museum which is part of my tour (as part of my course I have to prepare a travel brochure for this museum - each student was assigned a different location during our trip and this was mine - so I'll make sure to point out the alternative name.)

I'd read about the Milk Bars and decided that I had to do this: a cultural holdover from the Soviet era and inexpensive? check! I love pierogis so I look forward to getting those there....I'm assuming I can try some of the Beet Soup with dumplings as well? (sad to say, I am not a cooked mushroom fan) - is there any one (Milk Bar) in particular I should look for or are they all run pretty much the same?

We will be visiting the Kazimierz district and will have dinner at a kosher restaurant there one night.

The Pharmacy Under the Eagle sounds fascinating Adrienne! Although I am a History Graduate student, others on this trip are taking the trip as undergrads looking at the medical side...while I think it would be a really neat perspective as a History student, it would probably be fabulous for them. I'll have to check with the professor and see if she plans to include this...if not, I'll check it out myself and make sure to let the medical undergrads know about it as well.

We will have a lecture with a professor at Jagiellonian University and I'm hoping that we'll get to visit the Collegium Maius during that time - when I saw "Lecture at Jagiellonian University...." I must admit I really had no idea of the history behind the university (Copernicus graduated from there?!)

Regarding the castle, should I or shouldn't I?
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Jan 19th, 2014, 07:55 PM
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In my trip report I noted that I visited the milk bar "Bar Mleczny on Ulica Grodzka south of the main square." This is the only one I even noticed (I was directed to it by my Rick Steves book) and I ate there twice.

I didn't go into the Wawel Castle, in part because I've seen enough castles inside and am not much of a "museum person." Whether you go in or not, be sure to walk around the castle hill and the nearby grounds. It's pretty.
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Jan 19th, 2014, 07:56 PM
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The Pharmacy Under the Eagle won't be very interesting to medical students as it's about the survivors who were helped by the pharmacy owner, a Christian, who was allowed to stay open during the occupation. It's on Ghetto Heroes Square and would not take very long to go through.

There is a Pharmacy Museum on Florianska, about a block from Rynek Glowny.

<< I'll make sure to point out the alternative name >>

There is no alternate name. The name of the museum is Krakow Under the Nazi Occupation. Many people call it the Schindler Factory Museum but it's not even in the factory which is not open to the public but located in the administration building. It's not about Schindler except there are videos about Holocaust survivors. It's about life in Krakow between 1939 and 1945 and it's very well done.

Calling this museum the Schindler Factory Museum is the same as calling the Warsaw Uprising Museum the Power Plant Museum or calling the Orsay Museum in Paris the Train Museum. Sigh.

<< Regarding the castle, should I or shouldn't I? >>

It will take a lot of time. You need to get tickets very early in the day or reserve them the day before. I thought there were more interesting things to see in Krakow.
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Jan 19th, 2014, 07:59 PM
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I believe there is only one Milk Bar in central Krakow (mentioned by Andrew) although there are other restaurants with typical Polish food.

When ordering perogies be aware of the portion size and do not be pushed into ordering more than 4 or 6 of them as they are very filling.
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Jan 19th, 2014, 08:01 PM
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I found the castle complex, its history and architecture interesting. The interior of the castle itself (part that you can tour) was fine, but not the best castle I've ever been to. I thought the cathedral was very much worth seeing.

I'd probably make a visit, but wouldn't necessarily tour the interior. Do go into the great courtyard, though.

I am a runner and was able to "see" lots of Krakow on early morning runs. May not be feasible in winter, though.

Try a potato pancake!
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Jan 19th, 2014, 08:11 PM
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I thought the cathedral at the castle very well worth visiting, along with the grounds (which include some Roman ruins). I did not tour the castle interior, instead only stepping briefly into the courtyard.
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Jan 19th, 2014, 08:43 PM
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adrienne: Calling this museum the Schindler Factory Museum is the same as calling the Warsaw Uprising Museum the Power Plant Museum or calling the Orsay Museum in Paris the Train Museum. Sigh.

And yet, it is commonly referred to as "Schindler's Factory Museum" in guidebooks, websites, and even the New York Times.

I assume that the museum, for better or worse, gets more visitors from American tourists because they remember the movie "Schindler's List" and associate "Schindler's Factory Museum" with a movie they enjoyed.

Like it or not, adrienne, "Schindler's Factory Museum" is a perfectly proper name for it. if you have a problem with that, take it up with the editors of Rick Steves's book, In Your Pocket, Lonely Planet, The New York Times, etc., all of whom refer to it as "Schindler's Factory" or "Schindler's Factory Museum."
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