Krakow with photos

Old Oct 3rd, 2014, 01:29 PM
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Krakow with photos

I'd been wanting to go to Krakow for years. Quite a few years ago I knew two people who went the same year and sent postcards, and ever since I thought it looked like a great place to spend a few days. But it's just so hard to combine it with anything else. Other than Warsaw, which I really wasn't that interested in, it's almost a full day train ride from anywhere. So when I discovered that I could actually fit it in between Norway and Italy (I know, not your usual combination) I decided to do it. Norwegian Air has direct flights between Bergen and Krakow, only once a week but it's only a little over 2 hours and €125. Getting from Krakow to Italy would have involved at least one change and taken the better part of a day so I decided to add in a few days in London - and there were fairly quick, cheap flights from Krakow to London and from London to Rome. And that's how I ended up going to Krakow.

I had five nights, so four full days, which was just about perfect. I did one day trip to Auschwitz, which took most of that day, and another trip to the Salt Mine, but that only took half a day, leaving me with two and a half days to see Krakow itself.

Tango House B&B Unbeatable location just steps from the main market square. You can hear the church bells and the bugler from the room. In an historic old building (the first public baths in Krakow), inside the room there are exposed brick walls but it has all been recently remodeled and it is modern and clean. Great bed, linens, shower, bathroom. Internet works, TV, kettle for coffee. The reception is on the ground floor but the B&B rooms are two flights up – interesting paintings on the walls in the halls. Very friendly reception. I had a flight schedule change a few weeks before the trip meaning I would land less than an hour before the reception was to close (open 8am-10pm) and when I emailed them about it they offered to have a taxi meet me. 20€ seemed reasonable not to have to worry about figuring out public transportation or getting there after reception closed. Breakfast (substantial: meats and cheeses, yogurts, cereals, breads, fruit, coffee, tea, etc.) not included but was only 5€ extra bringing the cost to 67€/night – or about half what I just paid in Norway.
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Old Oct 3rd, 2014, 01:30 PM
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Forgot the photos....

www.pbase.com/annforcier/krakow

Rest of report to follow shortly.
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Old Oct 3rd, 2014, 01:46 PM
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Fabulous photos, as always. I see you did the University tour (loved that) and the Pharmacy Museum. I don't remember seeing that painted wall in Kazimierz. Is it new?

Can't wait to read the rest of the report. I just love Krakow.
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Old Oct 3rd, 2014, 04:53 PM
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I am in Krakow right now. What I did was first fly to Wroclaw (stayed for 2 nights, could have easily stayed a week), and then I took the Polski Bus for 21 zloty total (less than $7 USD) to Krakow train station, and it was a 3-hour bus ride. The train actually takes longer. I am going to Warsaw on Sunday, and in that case I am going by train. Anyway, I love Poland, and I am glad to hear you had a great trip.
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Old Oct 3rd, 2014, 05:08 PM
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Another Poland fan here! Love your photos, Isabel. Looking forward to your next installment.

Enjoy your trip, WillTravel.
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Old Oct 4th, 2014, 08:18 AM
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The whole historic center of Krakow is nicely restored with beautiful buildings. It’s not large, you can walk from the main square to the castle in under 15 minutes, and in the opposite direction to the town gate in under 10 minutes. There are relatively interesting churches every few feet it seems. And the entire center is encircled by the Planty, a park which replaced the old town walls when they were torn down.

The main square, Rynek Glowny, is magnificent – huge, apparently Europe's largest medieval marketplace. The square is bordered on all sides by wonderfully restored noblemen's houses, many of which go back nearly 800 years, though they've been remodeled and refurbished throughout the centuries, depending on the style of the day. In the center is the Cloth Hall, also huge and beautiful, it’s a 16th century Renaissance style replacement for the original 14th century one which burned down in the 16th century. It’s still a market place, although now filled with just tourist stalls, half of them selling amber jewelry (but really nice stuff at good prices).

There’s also St Mary’s Church (on par with the ‘best’ European cathedrals) whose bells ring every hour on the hour, followed by a bugler who blows his bugle just after the bells ring. Apparently firemen staff the tower on 24 hour shifts and play the bugle as they’ve been doing since 1240. I could hear the bells and the bugle from my room. www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukTBBjirBvc

The church has a really pretty blue ceiling with thousands of stars. There’s also an adorable tiny church on another corner of the square, St. Adalbert’s. It’s from the 11th century, so older than the square. And on the other side of the cloth hall is the tower, all that’s left of the town hall, but the tower alone is impressive and it has some very cute stone lions guarding the entrance. You can climb to the top for 7plz (130 of the steepest, narrowest stones steps I’ve encountered – and I climb virtually every tower I can) but the view is only so-so.
The square is the center of activity in Krakow and the sounds of people, carriage pulling horses clip-clopping, musicians and church bells make for a very pleasant backdrop. The square is also full of pigeons and flower stalls and has a nice number of benches (something lacking in many squares). I walked through it and just sat and enjoyed being there several times each day.

The castle is the other main attraction. Wawel Castle sits on a small hill at the bottom of the old town, overlooking the Vistula River. It’s been there since the 10th century but what is there today is more of a ‘castle complex’ with an assortment of buildings from various centuries (oldest standing buildings are from the 16th century) rather than one big ‘castle’. The largest and most impressive building is the cathedral, which is really a beautiful building. The Italian Renaissance palace courtyard is also gorgeous. All the grounds, and the inside of the cathedral, are free but there are individual tickets if you want to tour the state rooms, royal apartments, tombs, tower, etc.

I spent my first full day in Krakow, a lovely sunny warm day, just walking all over the center – down to the castle and back twice. There are tons of small and large medieval streets, lined with beautiful architecture. Most of the center is pedestrian only.

There was a craft fair set up in the small square just off the main square and there was a stall cooking meats over an open fire. I had a fabulous meal of grilled chicken and mixed vegetables for 30 plz/$10/€7. Huge amount of food and delicious. Everything really is very inexpensive in Poland, especially if you’ve just come from the land of the $50 plate of seafood (Norway). (And I’m comparing two meals that are eaten off paper plates at picnic tables). A two scoop ice cream cone in Krakow is less than $2, in Norway it was almost $7 for the same amount.
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Old Oct 4th, 2014, 09:45 AM
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Your photographs are wonderful, I would love to get there one day.
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Old Oct 6th, 2014, 03:48 PM
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Thanks cathinjoetown


Krakow Day 2 Auschwitz

I signed up for the combined Auschwitz/Salt Mine tour figuring it would make sense to do them on the same day so as to have more days free in Krakow. I had read about a combined tour for 250 PLZ which included lunch and lasted from 9am-7pm so when the hotel offered to arrange the tour I figured it was the same thing (it was the same price). But turns out they are not all exactly the same – this one did not include lunch, and it returns to Krakow between Auschwitz and the Salt Mine to drop off and pick up new passengers. Traffic was horrible and it was clearly going to be closer to 9pm by the time it got back from the Salt Mine so I asked if I could do the Salt Mine the following day and they were very agreeable with that. I also noticed signs through out town advertising tours to both places for less than 100 plz each so if you shop around you can get a better price. But I’m still glad I opted to go with a tour rather than try to do it by public transportation. It’s not that expensive and you must tour both sites with a group and guide once you get there anyway. At least you do at this time of year.

Auschwitz is about an hour and a quarter from Krakow, although it took close to two hours to get back due to traffic. Once you get there the driver turns you over to an Auschwitz guide and you get headphones. There is no other way to do it. My tour included a very well done 50 minute video to watch on the way there that helped explain what you were going to see. The Auschwitz guide was also very good and although there were signs explaining what you were seeing, this is one place where the guided tour was worth it (I normally absolutely hate guided tours and do whatever I can to avoid them).

It was pouring rain the day I went, absolutely drenching, steady downpours. Huge puddles and mud everywhere. And it was extremely crowded – literally thousands of people being ‘herded’ around, one tour right next to the other. But I couldn’t help thinking that maybe this added to the experience. I mean, you aren’t supposed to ‘enjoy’ visiting Auschwitz. The prisoners endured far larger crowds and much worse conditions. I almost think I’m glad I wasn’t there on a nice sunny day with few others around. There isn’t much to say about the experience that isn’t in all the guidebooks. It certainly is moving and stays with you and despite the uncomfortable conditions I’m glad I went.

Back in Krakow I was starving given that I hadn’t brought any food with me thinking the tour included lunch. By the time I dried off enough to go back out it was 6:30. I went to the Bar Mleczny ‘Milk Bar’ on Grodzka. When I had passed it the day before it was crowded but at 6:30 on a rainy Monday it was almost deserted. I got a huge plate of pierogis in mushroom sauce, a salad (lettuce, tomato, cuke in dill cream sauce) and a delicious berry infused drink – all for 13,50 plz – which is $4.50 !!!! or €3.35 !! Incredible. It was delicious and very filling – I couldn’t even finish it.
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Old Oct 6th, 2014, 04:01 PM
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I was just chatting with the friend I went to Poland with last summer. I told her this summer I went to Rome and Paris and spent much, much more money. We marveled at how little we spent in Poland (and the Czech Republic). And we were not holding back on the splurging, either.
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Old Oct 8th, 2014, 03:46 PM
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I agree, one of the best things about Poland was the food and what it cost!

Krakow Day 3 The Wieliczka Salt Mine – The mine, a UNESCO world heritage site, is over 300 meters deep and has over 2 miles of touring route (which is only about 2% of the total mine). It gets over a million visitors a year, mostly to see the incredible statues carved out of the salt by the miners. But the history of salt mining is just as fascinating (ever hear the expression ‘back to the salt mines’). There is also an underground lake, chapels and many exhibits. The rock salt is naturally gray in various shades, resembling unpolished granite rather than the white or crystalline look that many visitors expect. The tour guide included all kinds of interesting facts about salt (it’s a great preservative, the wooden sculptures brought down there are hundreds of years old but look new, the guides are all exceptionally healthy because the air is better down there than on the surface), mining (ventilation systems, how they get rid of methane, etc.) and the history of Poland.

It took about a half hour to drive there from the center of Krakow. You can take a public bus but I decided since prices in Poland are pretty cheap it would be worth it to do a tour. You’d have to join a tour once you got there anyway, and apparently there are sometimes long waits for tours in English. The tours themselves are all about 2 and a half hours long and involve going down a lot of steps (total is over 800; 387 of them are at the beginning, then throughout the tour there are areas where you go down another 50-100 at a time so it doesn’t feel that bad as it is stretched out over the 2-3 hour tour).

There are apparently two elevator areas – an old one with two small lifts and a newer modern one that holds about 25 people, not the slightest bit scary. Total walking from where the mini-van/buses park, the tour and back is well over 3 miles and time from hotel pick up to drop off was close to four hours. Despite being an ardent tour group hater, this was definitely worth it, and lots more information than I had been able to find in guide books or on line ahead of time.


Back in Krakow
Also definitely worth checking out is the University (Jagiellonian). There are numerous buildings but the main one from a tourist perspective is the Collegium Maius, which has an arcaded Gothic courtyard. There are gardens off to one side of the building and there is a museum which can be toured, which includes the Jagiellonian globe, the first globe to depict the American continents. Copernicus (the guy who figured out that the earth revolves around the sun, in case you forgot) studied there. The museum is free on Tuesdays from 15:00-17:00
The 15th-century grand Collegium Maius, the oldest building of the Jagiellonian University, features ancient lecture rooms, communal halls, former professors’ quarters, library and treasury with the Gothic sceptres of rectors and the famous golden ‘Jagiellonian globe’. The exhibits include medieval science instruments, ancient globes as well as assorted paintings and other art objects, furniture, coins, etc.

Pharmacy Museum. ul. Floriańska 25, 9plz/ €2 Very interesting, at least if you have an interest in old medical stuff. There are about 8 rooms on 5 levels with all kinds of old equipment, it’s one of the largest pharmacy museums in Europe. There are laminated cards at the entrance to each room (in multiple languages) explaining what is in each room. The building is a beautiful 15th century townhouse. It includes all manner of exhibits from full-scale reproductions of ancient apothecary shops to some preserved animals which were used in medicines (like baby crocodiles) and, on the top floor, a really good display of traditional herbal medicines. Took about a half hour.

I liked dinner at the milk bar last night so much I was headed back there when another place (same street, just off the main square) caught my attention. Not positive of the name but it’s at 6 Grodzka and says ‘Pub Grodzka 6’ above the door. It’s a self service cafeteria type bar with a huge selection of meats, potatoes, pierogis, veggies, etc. which once you have dished up what you want they weigh it. Mine came to 12 plz – that’s less than $4/€3 !!!! Once you get to a table a waitress comes and takes your drink order (a soft drink was 6plz, so half the price of the meal, but still). This place was even better than the first one. Not sure if it was a ‘milk bar’ but whatever it was the food was great and cheap and the dining room comfortable and clean. No linen tablecloths or view of the square but for the food and the price it was so worth it.

Around 9pm I went out for dessert and dusk shooting. I got a waffle with ‘sweet and salty’ ice cream for 5plz/$1.75/€1.25!!! The square is beautifully lit at dusk and there was music in two different areas, lots of people out and about, the horse and carriages were still doing a brisk business and all the restaurants with outside seating were looking pretty lively. (Average prices were 20-30plz for pasta dishes and 30-50 for meat dishes).
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Old Oct 8th, 2014, 05:57 PM
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Thanks for the excellent report. Krakow is on my bucket list and your report moves it up a few notches. I hope to enjoy your same experiences.
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Old Oct 9th, 2014, 01:18 PM
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Enjoyed your pictures. Thanks for sharing your photos and itinerary--a wonderful trip down memory lane for me.
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Old Oct 9th, 2014, 04:10 PM
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My last day in Krakow I walked to the Kazimierz neighborhood – after misreading the map and going quite a ways in the wrong direction. Once I finally found it I was a little disappointed, thought it was rather dull. Probably if you were of Polish or Jewish heritage you would find the area more interesting. There were quite a lot of bus groups of adolescents in very frumpy clothes (not at all like your average European teen dresses) and a good number of people in Orthodox Jewish clothing. The Stara Synagogue, surrounded by restaurants featuring Jewish food and music, was small and mostly covered by scaffolding, and very crowded with groups entering. The Synagoga Temple a few blocks a way was more interesting architecturally, but didn’t seem to have any people around it. Other than that, Kazimierz was just a smaller, much more run down version of central Krakow. I did walk by Bagelmama, supposedly the only bagel shop in Krakow; the sign on the door said it was open but it certainly looked closed. I passed a number of restaurants advertising grass fed hamburgers and one or two shops selling trendy clothing but mostly that area, and between that and Rynek Glowny (market square) the stores were selling very ‘untrendy’ (frumpy) clothing.

Shopping in Krakow – other than a relatively small number of non-trendy/not very interesting clothing and shoe stores, most of the stores in central Krakow are stores selling tourist stuff or amber jewelry. I have never seen so many stores featuring the same thing. Amber jewelry is featured in many central European countries but it’s really popular here, and the prices are very good. Most stores have almost the same selection and the same prices, including more than half the stalls in the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice). But if you look hard enough there are some pieces that are different from the rest.

There are a few stalls selling Polish ceramics but the quality in the Cloth Hall is not that great. I found a couple of stores with much higher quality (and higher prices, but still cheap compare to other countries) on Grodzka down near the castle.

There is a huge modern mall, the Galleria, next to the train station, full of all the international chain stores.

Eating in Krakow – cheap!!! What great prices. The ‘milk bar’ and whatever ‘Pub Grodzka 6’ is had just incredible food at amazing prices. But even the restaurants lining the main square were featuring food at prices that you don’t find in most of Europe. Pasta dishes seemed to be between 5 and7€ and main meat dishes between 8 and 12€. Ice cream all over town is less than 1€ a scoop. Coffee prices seem to be about 2€. There are little blue carts selling Polish pretzels on practically every corner, for about .35€ but I found them rather dry and tasteless. Having just come from Norway where the prices were at least 3 times as much it was really a shock. So for comparison I looked into a McDonalds to see what they were getting for a smoothie - 2.40€ versus over €4 in Bergen, not as big a difference as I expected so I guess chain store food is less different). Can’t say if it was any good, I was just trying to compare prices.

Krakow Airport – In it’s defense I will say there is mega construction going on so in a few years it may be much better but for now it was small, kind of run down, and very confusing. When I arrived I expected to go through passport control but didn’t see it and just walked out to the arrivals hall. Apparently I missed it cause I did have to go through passport control on the way out of the country and the guard was very surprised I didn’t have an entry stamp/scan and asked me twice when and where I entered the country. I told her I had entered the same airport, five days earlier. She shrugged and sent me on my way. I didn’t get a stamp on the way out either. Kinda lax security. Also, the train to /from city center has been discontinued, at least for the next few years so your choices are a very slow regular bus (no dedicated airport bus) or a taxi which costs 85 plz/20€. So at over $50 to get in/out of the airport it sort of diminished some the savings on food and hotel. But Krakow was still amazingly economical.



Overall I really enjoyed Krakow. It was definitely worth the somewhat convoluted itinerary I had to put together to combine it with other destinations I was interested in. I would certainly do it again. If you are interested in other places in Poland I would think making Krakow the central part of the trip makes sense, but even if all you want to see if Krakow, it's worth it.
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Old Oct 9th, 2014, 08:28 PM
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sounds wonderful. On my list to go someday
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Old Oct 9th, 2014, 10:18 PM
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I really enjoy this trip report, but I have to disagree about Kazimierz. I stayed in the Jewish Quarter (at Hotel Eden) for my recent trip and I felt it was a great place to stay, and found the environs very interesting (along with Podgórze, the Jewish WWII Ghetto and Schindler's Factory area across the river). It might help to take the Free Walking Tour of Jewish Krakow to get a better sense of the history and current developments.

http://freewalkingtour.com/jewish-kr...1,9,10,40.html
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Old Oct 9th, 2014, 10:21 PM
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Although I did not see bus groups of frumpy adolescents, my guess would be that the young women might have been adhering to Orthodox Jewish standards of modesty (long skirts and sleeves).
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Old Oct 11th, 2014, 07:20 AM
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Well I'll admit it was a kind of drizzly grey day when I was in Kazimierz so that could have had an impact. Also, I say this all the time, expectations make a huge difference in one's perception of a place. I was really psyched to see this neighborhood so when it was just kind of 'eh' in my opinion I was a little disappointed. On the other hand I also had high expectations for the rest of Krakow and it lived up to them.

Also about the clothes. Where I live we have a sizable Polish population and the young people are extremely fashionably dressed in trendy clothes (for the most part) but the older generations are usually in really 'frumpy' clothes. So I just thought it was interesting in Poland to see so many of the same styles of clothes in the shops (but of course all the trendy stuff in the mall).
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Old Oct 11th, 2014, 07:26 AM
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Lovely report, a place I'd like to visit someday....great photos!
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Old Oct 11th, 2014, 11:17 AM
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I liked Kazimierz too, but it wasn't crowded (no tour buses) when we visited. And it was a hot, sunny day. I actually stayed outside the center, about a block out, on the way to Kazimierz. Liked this location because it seemed more workaday than the center.

We actually hung out in the Galleria for a couple hours one afternoon because it had AC and Krakow was baking when we were there.

Love Krakow! Thanks again for your detailed report and fab photos, Isabel.
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Old Nov 6th, 2014, 09:22 PM
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Enjoyed your photos of Krakow. Spent a week there in 2007 and your pictures brought back great memories.
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