Krakow is one of my favorite places on earth. It is a medieval city full of young people. A wonderful, striking combination. – Jonathan Carroll
If you’ve been following this blog for the past few years, you’re certainly well aware that I have somewhat of an obsession with trying to visit multiple countries within a timespan of only a few days (i.e, last year’s trip to the Caucasus, or the one day Croatia-Bosnia-Montenegro run of ’05, a current personal best). It’s like an episode of the amazing race, only with more landmines and disgruntled Kalashnikov-carrying border guards.
I didn’t think that we needed to spend an entire week in Kiev, so I pulled up Google Maps and made a list of nearby countries that I hadn’t visited yet: Romania? Moldova? Slovakia? Belarus? Poland? Poland, as it turns out, seemed the most cost-effective travel wise, and Krakow was a city on my “to do” list that I had missed while studying in London (Yes, I did occasionally have to go to class). So, after spending four days in Kiev, Laura and I caught a flight to Krakow while Ryan hopped a train to the Crimea.
On our flight leaving Kiev, I was seated next to a young Ukrainian couple, who, I surmised, had never flown before. They clutched each other’s hands tightly, and as our plane gained speed for takeoff, the girl shut her eyes and repeatedly crossed herself. Fortunately, the flight was uneventful and divine intervention was not required. We switched planes in Warsaw and finally landed at Krakow’s John Paul II International Airport, named after a former local priest turned international Catholic superstar.
Our apartment was located near Market Square in the Old Town section of Krakow, an incredibly beautiful historic quarter composed of cobblestone streets and buildings dating back to the 15th century. Market Square is an ideal place to sit at an outdoor cafe and sip a cappuccino or glass of Żywiec beer with a shot of grenadine.
Yes, beer and grenadine. I was puzzled when I flipped through the drinks menu and saw a list of syrups displayed next to the beer choices. “So, uh,” I asked the waitress, “you add syrup to the beer?!” She looked at me like I was an idiot. “Yes, syrup for the beer.” Well, I like beer, and I like flavored syrups, so maybe they’d be good together. The end result was something that looked like a Shirley Temple, and tasted, well, good enough.
Cloth Hall in Market Square
We really only had one full day of sightseeing in Krakow, but managed to cover a lot of ground despite the cold temperature and steady downpour of rain. We spent the morning touring Kazimierz, the home of Krakow’s Jewish population until the Nazi invasion of Poland in World War II.
A courtyard used during the filming of Schindler’s List
Shortly after the Nazis invaded Poland, they forcibly removed all Jews from Kazimierz and placed them in the Krakow Ghetto. Conditions in the Ghetto were grim, with 15,000 people living in an area formerly occupied by 3,000 residents.
Memorial to those killed
The pharmacy run by Tadeusz Pankiewicz, a Polish national hero.
The entrance to Oskar Schindler’s factory
Site of the Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp
Former mass graves
We spent the rest of the day at Wawel Castle, the former residence of Polish royalty. To be honest with you, I found it to be a bit boring. Beautiful architecture, but after a while all the castles start to look alike.
Obligatory “American” pose
The following day we toured Auschwitz and the Wieliczka Salt Mines. More on that later.