【Travel】Krakow, Poland

Krakow: 3 – 7 Nov 2016

Our Itinerary:

Singapore > Berlin KLM, transit via Amsterdam
Berlin > Krakow Air Berlin, budget air
Krakow > Prague Leo Express, coach + railway
Prague > Singapore KLM, transit via Amsterdam

We hopped on airBerlin’s little propeller plane on a bright sunny morning, to head for Krakow, Poland. We had expected to land in a small town airport but instead, we were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves in a modern, chic, spacious, new airport. The friendly ladies at the tourist information counter also helped us a great lot in directing us to the ticket machine and the bus stop which was a short walk out of the terminal.

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We bought the 72-hour transport pass as we did not want to be worrying about buying tickets every time we hopped on and off the bus or tram, or not being able to get help as the locals might not be able to converse with us in English. If you do not mind the hassle, single-trip or short-trip tickets could save you a lot more.

Although Krakow was not quite the sleepy town we envisioned, most people we encountered could not speak English. If you do have any where you need to get to, make sure you have your address printed out or saved in your mobile phone, so that you can get the right directions that you need.

From Krakow Airport, we caught a local bus that went through a meandering suburban route, then hopped on a tram at Krakow Glowny Station to get to our AirBnB apartment near the Kazimierz Jewish Quarter.

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KAZIMIERZ, FORMER JEWISH QUARTER

After setting our things down in the apartment, we went for a walk around the Kazimierz area, the former Jewish Quarter of Krakow. It was a lovely, quiet district peppered with pre-war buildings and old synagogues.

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Hungry, we opted for a simple lunch at Plac Nowy Market. There were a few stalls to choose from, but we approached one that had a nice old lady who did her very best to describe to us, in Polish, what was on her menu (since everything was in Polish). We had Golonka (pork knuckle) with seared sour cabbage, a soup that had a sausage in it, and some bread. It certainly wasn’t the nicest looking nor best tasting of lunches, but it was very homely and rather fulfilling on a cold day with birds strolling all around our feet.

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Although there were many restaurants and cafes in the area as well, Kazimierz was so peaceful that we spent plenty of time just strolling around, looking at the cobblestone pathways, the overhanging streetlamps, the architecture… simply taking in the history of the place and how it might have been like before the war.

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Beautiful graffiti that we spotted from afar, of what we believe represented a Jewish family. When we went went closer to investigate, we saw a painted memorial plaque dedicated to the Jewish family who once lived there but were evicted in WWII, probably to the nearby Krakow Ghetto.

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HAMSA – HUMMUS & HAPPINESS

Also located within Kaizimierz near Remuh Synagogue, was Hamsa, an Israeli restaurant that we had discovered in our Airbnb’s host’s book of recommendations written by other travelers to her apartment. Being a huge fan of hummus, I knew we had to try it out, and we were not disappointed. The food was absolutely delicious, portions generous and the service was impeccable, we highly highly recommend a meal or two there if you are in the area.

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As it was our first time in a middle eastern restaurant and we were quite overwhelmed by the choices in the menu, we got plenty of help from the waitress. She recommended that we get a mix of appetizers, including two types of hummus, fried chickpea balls and loads more yummy stuff that I can’t remember what they were called. It came with bread, chillis, cornichons and olives. It was so so so so good! And filling too, because we skipped dinner entirely after that meal.

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I was also pleasantly surprised at how good the hot cider tasted (it was infused with lemon and cinnamon). I would so love to have that meal all over again.

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KRAKOW GHETTO

Just across the river from Kaizimierz, is the former Krakow Ghetto in the Podgórze district where during the war, 15,000 Jews had been forcefully crammed into an area previously inhabited by 3,000 people. The Ghetto was created in March 1941 and liquidated in March 1943.

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At Plac Bohaterow Getta, we found the Ghetto Heroes’ Square. During the Second World War, this square was the point of departure for thousands of Jews from the Krakow ghetto to various camps. The huge bronze chairs that line the square represent the Jews who have been murdered, and each chair is said to represent a thousand people. It is a pity though that there aren’t any information boards explaining the significance of the monument at the square.

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We noticed a lonely yellow lamp sitting on one of the chairs. We looked it up later on and realised that it was Jewish tradition to light a yahrzeit candle in memory of the dead.

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RYNEK GLOWNY

Rynek Glowny is Krakow’s old town square that dates back to the 13th century, but a square that is still bustling with activity today with street vendors, horse carriages and flocks of birds. Within the medieval square, you will find the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice), St Mary’s Basilica and other historic townhouses.

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And there were tons of birds everywhere around the square. It was always a spectacular sight whenever the birds were sent into flight, and they would circle round and round the square, sometimes soaring above the towers of St Mary’s Basilica.

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We call him, the Birdman.

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The magnificent St. Mary’s Basilica stands adjacent to the Cloth Hall. We took a walk around the perimeter of the church to admire its beautiful red brick architecture but did not pay for tickets to visit the interior.

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The Cloth Hall was definitely the highlight of the square. There is a market on the main floor that tourists can shop at for souvenirs, but it just wasn’t quite for us.

Instead, we opted to visit the Rynek Underground Museum, which to our most pleasant surprise, featured an actual archaeological site of excavated old market stalls, cellars, cobblestone paths and even graves. And we absolutely loved it! You would need to purchase timed tickets to visit the underground museum, so we suggest that you grab your tickets before you take your time to walk around the market square. This is a must-visit if you are an archaeology buff.

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Looking up from the Undeground Museum to the town square (and more birds) above.

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WAWEL CASTLE

From Rynek Glowny, we took a leisurely walk towards Wawel Castle, just a short distance away. The trek up the hill takes a little bit of time and effort, but the view was worth it.

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The colours of autumn.

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Finally, at the top of Wawel Hill. The cathedral and palace grounds in the distance.

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The 900-year old Wawel Cathedral was quite a sight to behold as it had really interesting architectural contrasts of shapes, textures and colours.

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The courtyard of the Royal Apartments. We had come to see Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine but had unfortunately missed the cut off time for purchasing tickets. We came back again on our last day in Krakow and to our surprise, we got free tickets which included entry to the royal apartments.

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Being able to see the Lady was worth all the effort of climbing up the hill a second time, and it was the third Da Vinci masterpiece we have ever seen. We later sat down at the courtyard to do some sketching before it got so freezing cold, we had to make a run for the heated ticketing office.

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POD WAWELEM

Pod Wawelem, is located not far from the foot of Wawel Castle, at Gertrudy 26-29. We had some trouble finding the place at first, but if you are in the area, locate the park and you will spot the adjacent restaurant almost instantly. The setting was fantastic, and the place to go when you are famished and need a good, affordable local mea.

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As we walked in, we realised how huge the restaurant was. It also had the most unique, quirky decor, with the staff some dressed in traditional Polish wear, and some dressed like medical doctors. There was a gigantic indoor area, but we were there early, so we were lucky to be shown to a table at the ‘outdoor’ seating area with a sky roof. I think that alone, topped the whole dining experience.

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We had skipped lunch and were there for linner, so we ordered to our hearts content.

* Bread and pickles
* Polish Beer and White Wine
* Pierogi (Polish cheese and pork dumpling) with sour cream
* Raw Herring marinated with onions
* Officer’s Platter (beef, pork, chicken and various sausages)
* Polish Trout

Best of all, these huge portions of food plus tips, only cost us SGD40!

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OSKAR SCHINDLER FACTORY

Having watched the movie, “Schindler’s list”, the Oskar Schindler Factory situated at 4 Lipowa street, was at the top of our list for this trip to Krakow. The now museum is the former enamelware factory where Schindler, who was a member of the Nazi Party himself, used his unique position to hire thousands of Jews from the nearby ghetto, saving them from persecution.

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However, if you are expecting a musuem fully dedicated to Schindler, you might be slightly disappointed as majority of the exhibits in the factory are focused on the history of Krakow during the war. The exhibits are noteworthy though, as it seemed to have been put together and detailed with lots of heart. There was even a full scale replica of a typical room where families would have to share at the expense of privacy, and also ghetto walls which you could walk through.

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Aside from the introductory film (which was rather long), the history and details of the enamelware factory was only confined to two small rooms, which included Schindler’s work desk and his secretary’s desk. The progression of the exhibits towards the two rooms was also slightly abrupt, as we were surprised to suddenly find ourselves in the secretary’s office.

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His rather humble looking office and work desk was in the next room, together with a wall of enamelware that the factory produced, with the ‘Schindler’s list’ of names inside. We really would have liked to see more about the factory and Schindler’s efforts.

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SKWER JUDAH

We chanced upon this little food truck square at św. Wawrzyńca 16, called Skwer Judah, named after the graffiti on the wall. As we just had our lunch that day, we decided to come back another night.

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When we returned another night, it was terribly chilly, so the park was empty, with just a few people buying and taking their meals away. We had a quick cup of cappuccino each before we ran for the warmth of the Big Red Bustaurant, which was a red double decker bus that had been converted into a restaurant.

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We weren’t especially hungry so we had a plate of grilled fish and roasted vegetables to share. It was a really apt and comforting meal for a chilly day. Although it was strangely quiet at the park, we loved the refreshing experience and the idea of congregating food trucks in a permanent area.

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Continue to read about our visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau:
http://crazyworldcafe.com/index.php/2016/06/10/travel-krakow-poland-auschwitz-birkenau/

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