Around 2 hours after leaving Auschwitz we arrived in Krakow. Krakow has a great reputation as a beautiful baroque city with a buzz but we were interested to see how it would compare to Wrocław. To start with its huge and has a lot more campsites. We picked one at the end of a tram line which was in an interesting area. It seemed to be a little rough around the edges and the longer we stayed the stranger the people got; rummaging through bins for bottles and men visiting the womens bathrooms. The campsite was pretty empty too and we later found out that everyone else was at one of the campsites closer to the city centre. Evenso, we had what we needed and could get into the city by tram very easily.
The next morning, we took the tram to Wawel castle all ready for a day sightseeing in the city in the sunshine. First though we wanted to check when we could see the famous Wawel castle. Dressed in our t-shirts and shorts, we were fine until the clouds rolled in and pretty cold wind blew. Thanks to this and the lack of queue for the castle we opted to see the Wawel castle and cathedral and stay indoors. The castle is divided into 7 exhibitions of art and castle rooms. We chose to visit the armoury, tower and state rooms. Luckily for us the lady at the ticket office took us for students and gave us the reduced prices. We hadn’t realised how much of the castle had been destoyed by war and Austrian occupation but we found the random collection of paintings, tapestries, furniture and other artefacts from across Europe a little confusing. The restoration of Wawel has taken a long time but it hasn’t quite been restored to the standards of other castles. With this in mind, its worth a visit but maybe not worth seeing all the exhibits.
Within the castle wall lies the Wawel cathedral, a special place for Poles. The cathedral is where nearly all of the Polish monarchs were crowned and also the resting place of most of the royalty and historically important Poles. The cathedral itself is impressive and highly decorated with many chapels and sarcophagi. Many of the sarcophagi have been restored to their original condition and displayed, but we didn’t really understand the obsession with opening tombs, removing bodies and restoring their coffins. Some of this work was done just 50 years after the monarchs death and then again more recently. Even more impressive is one of the bell towers where you can almost climb into the huge bells, each weighing up to 12 tonnes and supported with an immense wooden structure. The famous Sigismund bell is only rung on special ocassions.
From the castle hill there’s a single road that takes you straight to the centre of the old town with the square Rynek Glowny and the famous cloth halls at its centre. The cloth hall claims to be one of the oldest shopping malls in the world but was once an important trade centre. It is a beautiful building surrounded by large baroque style houses. The large town square also has an interesting asymmetrical cathedral and monument to Polish independance. For us though Wrocław just about wins on beauty and Krakow comes a close second, partly because it doesn’t have any dwarves. After all the walking we decided to go for an early dinner on the recommendation of a waitress in a cafe. We walked down a street of restaurants and shops looking for U Babci Maliny and found it tucked away in a courtyard and down in a basement. The inside was decorated like a log cabin and the menu was huge. We chose gulash served in a bread bowl, mixed pierogi and chicken in a nettle sauce. It was super yummy and soo filling.
The next day we had a bit of a museum day. First we visited the old Jewish quarter Kamieriz which is now a trendy area full of nice bars and restaurants. We then walked towards Oskar Schindlers factory which is now a museum about life in Krakow during the war. We learnt a lot about the time just before the second world war began and how Krakow was abandoned by the Polish army when the Nazis arrived. There was also a wealth of information about how Polish people viewed the Nazi occupation and how the Jewish community were slowly moved further from the city and to the ghetto before being transported to concentration camps. We watched a film about Oskar Schindlers workers and how he saved them from persecution and death by providing work and a camp for them, as many people already know from the film Schindlers List.
Our second museum of the day was the Rynek underground museum. When the town square required works in 2005, the council gave permission for the excavation of ruins which had been identified by previous surveys. The ruins they uncovered revealed many aspects of life in medieval Krakow and also the history of the cloth hall and surrounding settlements. The museum is very popular and tricky to find. During peak times tickets need to be booked a few days in advance but we were lucky and got tickets for later that evening. Having read that some people had not been impressed but others had spent three hours underground, we weren’t sure what to expect. It’s safe to say we were impressed and after three hours of learning about how Krakow was the centre of trade in medieval Europe, we emerged back into the sunshine. The museum was well laid out and we could have easily stayed longer to watch videos if it wasn’t so chilly. We highly recommend a visit and if reading isn’t your thing, then there’s an audio guide or the chance to hire a guide. All that reading worked up an appetite so we grabbed some dinner before returning to the campsite.
Next morning we got up early and drove to Wielizcka and it’s famous mine.