Part 3 of the Poland series (April 2015).
By the time I got into Kraków’s city centre, it was close to midnight. I was definitely hangry. Within five minutes, I had managed to locate a 24 hour pierogie restaurant. That was the first sign that Poland would end up being one of my favourite travel destinations.
Unfortunately, pierogies don’t photograph well. Sorry Zapiecek, your food was incredible but didn’t make it onto the blog. So here’s a photo of Kraków’s iconic Main Square (Rynek Główny) instead. With a wealth of gorgeous historical landmarks, the Old Town is a vibrant and lively (and yes, touristy!) area of town, and a great base to start your exploration of the city. Just try to avoid the hawkers attempting to sell you selfie sticks.
If you’re into gothic architecture and castles, make your way to Wawel Castle. Initially built in the 1400s, it was a longtime residence of the Polish monarchy. Today, it’s an elaborate series of museums showcasing paintings, tapestries, period furniture, and other things that would probably be of more interest to someone else. I’m not really a “museum person” so I decided to skip it in favour of exploring the castle grounds and attempting to find hidden corridors.
In typical Mary fashion, I managed to get yelled at for climbing an unclearly-marked flight of stairs to get a better view.
However, Kraków isn’t just all gothic castles and medieval beauty. You’ll find stylish hipsters lounging in beach chairs enjoying food cart fare by the “Judah” mural in Kazimierz, a traditionally Jewish neighbourhood. While it’s no Portland, you’ll find no shortage of street food ranging from fish n’ chips (served out of a London red double-decker) to traditional Polish offerings.
While researching this post, I also learnt more about the “Judah” mural. “According to the artist, the image of the child represents fear, vulnerability and the inner child, and the lion represents the Jews’ struggle to survive and preserve their culture, as well as the strength to overcome their fears.” I’ve never been one for art interpretation but that sounds pretty cool to me.
The rest of Kazimierz is a series of contradictions, which makes it a fascinating area to explore for the day. During WWII, Jewish inhabitants in the area were forcibly relocated to the Kraków Ghetto, across the Wisła River in Podgórze. Today, you’ll find chic coffee shops side-by-side with old synagogues which still bear the scars of history. The city has moved on, but the past is not forgotten.
At this point, it would be a disservice to pretend that writing about travel, writing about foreign countries, their histories and present-day, is an apolitical exercise. We choose what we want to see, what we write about, and how we frame their otherness. In recounting my time in Kraków, I am struck — again — by how “never again” truly has been a hollow promise amongst the international community. War, displacement, ethnic cleansing are not distant, theoretical concepts. Governments are complicit once again, as they were over half a century ago, in closing borders and leaving innocent people to suffer. How will history remember us? What does it matter to politicians angling for re-election?
Kraków is fairly walkable. (At least, I walked everywhere and had no need for public transit, except for taking the bus from the airport to the hostel.) To be fair, I did mainly stick in the Old Town, Kazimierz, and Podgórze.
Dizzy Daisy Hostel: 24.50zł for a bed in a 10-bed dorm
Public transit (buses and trams): 3.80zł for 1 trip / there is a very in-depth price chart including tickets for 20 minutes, 40 minutes, an hour, and more.
Bus from airport to city centre: 4zł, more info here
Plate of pierogi at Zapiecek: 12zł
Night out at Pijalnia Wódki i Pjwa: 4zł drinks / 8zł food