PARIS is my comfort zone. I usually go there every six weeks. So this KRAKOW visit is an adventure,…. especially as I am solo. Although I love my husband and friends dearly, I desperately needed to get away on my own for a bit. Last week I decided i would GO!
So, this morning around 1000h, I found myself standing at the “station” at Krakow John Paul airport, where the shuttle bus from the airport terminal had dropped me…….hardly a train station, more like a rural stop in the middle of the nowhere. That was the first surprise. Then a super modern train pulled up and I got on. The conductor took my 10zlotys and I watched the fields roll by. It was a short journey, no more than 15 minutes, but unlike other cities we didn’t go through rows of scruffy tower blocks where the locals live.
When we arrived at the station and I made the short walk through the huge Krakowska Galleria shopping centre, (more of that later ) adjacent to the station, to the Red Brick apartments that I had booked at the last minute.
2nd pleasant surprise, I have been in worse 4 star hotels! Very pleasant staff, spacious, elegant and well appointed, but I will post a review later as I have not yet slept in the bed.
My apartment was not quite ready and I was hungry, so I got a very acceptable spaghetti carbonara from the Italian place in the same building. Very good price af 18 zloty, which would be around £4 50p!… remember I am used to Paris prices. This seems too good to be true.
I then discovered that the Red brick apartments are really well situated. Usually areas around stations are a bit tatty, but not this area and I walked round the other corner to a pleasant tree lined street called plac Matejki and at the end of this is the pedestrianised old town. No more than a 5 minute walk.
The weather was VERY hot and sticky. First I came across the Barbican. A lovely old redbrick kind of castle, that looks like it may have been the gate house to the city. It stands in a lovely, green, narrow park which I think was once a moat. encircling the old city walls.
Beyond this was a gate in the walls and an old pedstrianised street , Florianska, with shops cafes, bars and nightclubs …( I can’t get my head around these Polish street names.)
The 13th cenrtury street, Floorianska, with the amazing view of the Church of st Mary in front of me lead to the incredible large main square, Stare Miasto. Lined with cafes,amazing buildings and a flower market in the centre.
As it thundered and a short shower started, I took refuge in one of the many pretty cafes on the square under an umbrella, had a cup of tea, piece of apple pie, and people watched.
Every city had it’s character. To me, Paris has romance and chic, New York has energy and edgyness , London has elegance and formality . I was trying to decide what Krakow had. Stocism and joyfulness at the same time. and such a sense of history.
When the shower stopped I went to look inside the church if st Mary and noticed a man with a sign saying FREE WALKING TOUR Join us…..so I did
At 1500h the clock bell rang and the bugles blew, as they do every hour on the hour. ( glad I didn’t stay on the main square!) The guide explained that, to become a guide in Krakow, he had to study for two years than pass a very hard exam, which took him another two years. You cannot become a guide without this.
I joined the Jewish Krakow tour which took us through the former Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, with it’s synagogs, ghosts of the past, film locations, Jewish themed restaurants, shabby chic streets, but nevertheless a “vibe” to the area.
At one point I was embarrassed by the behaviour of some British men (they were not young) drunkenly threatening to “take over the tour” and jostling us. Fortunately they soon got fed up and went away, but I felt I had to apologise to the guide for the behaviour of my fellow countrymen!
The Polish guide, Maciek, detailed the history of the Polish Jews, adding little stories as he went. Some amusing, some sad. He really knows his stuff and the two and a half hour tour went by quickly.
We crossed the river to an area known as Podgorze, where the Jews were herded into a ghetto during WW2. We,soberly stood in the market square ( suppressing the urge to weep) where over a thousand Jewish men women and children were massacred in the final “Liquidation ” of the Krakow Jews. Empty chairs in the square serve as a powerful reminder of the people who never sat there. As an antidote to this, Maciek also showed us a remaining part of the wall where two Jewish ladies, who had escaped from the ghetto as children were reunited in font of him during a memorial walk.
The Schindler factory completed the walk as Maciek had pointed out a lot of the locations used for the film Shindlers list and also dispelled some of the myths around that story.
I gave Maciek a generous tip and caught a tram back to the apartment , paying the driver as I boarded, two and a half zlotys…..I bought some provision from the Carrfor supermarket in the Krakowska Galeria shopping centre, which I then realised must be one of the largest shopping centres I have ever seen!….. of course it is full of global brands, so could be anywhere, but also some Polish stores and the prices are unbelievably comparatively low. The Carrefor supermarket had everything you could wish.
This evening I again headed out to the main square. It goes dark soon here and by 2100h when I walked out the sun had set. It was still very warm.
The square was full of people in the cafes and restaurants, There was an open air concert from a group singing in French…now I felt at home! LOL! The square was buzzing and people were enjoying themselves , there were street performers and elegand horse drawn carriages everywhere.
I ate late in a michelin guide resaurant, “Jarema” in the street round the corned from the apartments. It was so pleasant to sit out on a balmy July evening on a this tree lined Matjki plac. I had a conversation with a friendly couple from Texas on a European tour.
At the recommendation of the waitress i had veal goulash with potatoe dumplings, and a nougat dessert. With two bottles of water and an amuse bouche of yummy garlicky cream cheese and bread. The bill came to 72 zloty for an excellent meal.
So, first impressions are that Krakow is a beautiful old city, witha very interesting history, which I look forward to learning more about. maybe a bit touristy, but it is obvious that the tourist industry has been very good for Krakow… not seen any dull soviet buildings yet!
So now I am going to try out the bed!
love from Krakow.