I really do love Krakow it is such an amazing city I am so happy I decided to visit it rather than Warsaw. This apparently would make many folks in Krakow happy because they hate Warsaw, one of the translations given to me in a pamphlet was “I don’t like Warsaw”. Krakow is full of history and not all of it so nice, I took a day trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau and I will do a separate blog post about that specific day later. However let me tell you about this amazing city!
Krakow has a very long history and it has remained the Polish cultural capital even if Warsaw is the political capital of Poland. At one time it was a fortress town surrounded by a large wall and topped with a castle. They removed most of the wall only a few small bits remain and only one gate remains. The area where the wall was situated was turned into a large park with gardens that encircle the Old Town. It was refreshing to see green-space rather than more roads. In Budapest when they removed the town walls they became roads.
Krakow I was shocked to see has a very modern railroad station, the most modern I have seen on my adventure, it reminded me of an airport terminal. Attached to the station is a large three story shopping mall, it was just a mega centre of transportation and shopping! Public transportation was very effective, I never took any but from what I observed, most streets had tram lines running through them and very few buses were utilized. It’s interesting to see how much tram lines are utilized in Eastern Europe. They also don’t like to seem to get rid of old trams and rather than replace the entire fleet they replace as required. Krakow had a mix of very modern Bombardier trams to others that look like they are strait out of the communist era.
The heart of Krakow is in the main square in the Old Town. So much stuff goes on there it is crazy. One day there was a large crafters market going on on one side and the other a military parade. While at the same time a cell phone company had set up this large display with grass and lawn chairs and a stage was set up for live music. There was just everything going on here, not to mention the dozens of restaurants around the edges with there patio seating. I have yet to mention the trumpeter in St. Mary’s Basilica that sounds off every hour after the clock tower sounds.
Krakow’s main church is St. Mary’s Basilica and it is located in the main square of Old Town, it has two towers one higher than the other. In the highest tower a Krakow firefighter is stationed to sound off a trumpet call every hour on the hour after the clock tower on the other side of the square tolls. The interesting part about it is that he never finishes the call, it always ends with a high note and just ends. The legend is that a trumpeter began sounding an alarm while the Moguls were preparing to attack the city and that while mid call a Mongol archer shot him in the neck. As with many of the things I was told in Krakow that is only legend.
It is very interesting to note that like Budapest the Jewish Quarter in Krakow is now a hot spot for dining and night life. Now it did not have ruin pubs like Budapest because much of the architecture has remained intact. They are regular bars, pubs and restaurants and they have some varied themes. One bar was called Alchemy and it is located in a basement and it looks like a mad scientists lab. The types of restaurants are also varied almost every kind of pallet could be satisfied. Near the synagogues there are a few kosher restaurants.
Polish food is very hearty, much like a lot of Eastern European food. Real perogies are amazing, and the borscht was great. I did not eat anything in Poland that I did not enjoy, and the best part it was cheap! The exchange rate between Canada and Poland is great for Canadians! When I first went to the bank to withdraw money I thought maybe Polish money was like Hungarian money, just lots of zeroes. Well no it wasn’t, I withdrew 1,000 PLN and it was a lot in their money, in Canadian it cost me $330! It lasted me the entire stay in Krakow, it paid for my day trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau, tips for my free walking tour guides, all of my food and drinks and I still had money to spare afterwards that I burned off on gifts.
In the southern part of the city is the location of the former Jewish Ghetto. It no longer looks like it did after the war, it has been built up and just looks like a regular old place. There is a monument located in the square where Jews were organized and put on trains to be sent to the camps. The monument is 65 chairs pointing at different significant things, like Schindler’s Factory. Each chair represents 1, 000 Jews killed in the holocaust.
Before WWII there were approximately 68, 000 Jews in Krakow. By the end of the war only 3, 000 survived and of those 1, 100 were saved by Oskar Schindler. Now the Oskar Schindler we like to believe existed is not fact. Liam Neeson played an altered version, but hey that’s Hollywood for you. Schindler is noted as being a drunk, ladies man and not overly interested in the Jews he employed as long as he could make money.
However he did save a large number of lives and it should be commended regardless of why he did it. The factory museum really isn’t a museum of the factory because leading up to the end of the war Schindler realized the Nazis were going to loose. He moved his factory and his workers to what is now modern day Czech Republic to be closer to the allies when the war ended. The museum shows you how the Jews of Krakow suffered through the war. The only original piece of the factory is Schindler’s office.
Well that’s my writings about Krakow! I hope you enjoyed. I am leaving Prague tomorrow for Berlin and I hope to be able to write up a post for you guys about my trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau and then eventually one on Prague of course.