Zakopane has always fascinated me, more than any other mountain village I visited. Part of that fascination is that typical style of the wooden houses, rich in ornaments. I noticed today that two of the more beautiful exponents of that style are actually created by the same architect (annex painter, writer,…) Stanislaw Witkiewicz, who in late 19th century mixed traditional mountain-style with Art Nouveau.
Krakow is a city of contrasts, it’s well off population versus the homeless in the parks, the clean(ed) streets versus the omnipresent air-pollution, its cruel past versus its peaceful party life today, the old rundown buildings versus the beautiful renovated, and finally, its rich historical patrimonium versus the hyper-modern project developments, so stimulated these days.
In next weeks, months we try to visit (and document) some of the historically significant placges. Places where you feel, you breath history. One of the more appreciated is ‘kawiarnia’ Europejska. Competing with neighbour Hawełka for title of oldest restaurant on Krakóws market square, it features the interior of an English bar, a breakfast inviting to read the daily papers and a solid Polish lunch / dinner menu. Comes recommended.
Once the political, economic and cultural hub of the Polish Kingdom, Kraków’s never fails to wow visitors. At its centre is the great Market Square (Rynek Glowny), the largest of its kind in all of Europe, and a veritable hub of local life that teems with flower sellers, crafts shops and sprawling café terraces.
Things to do during your stay:
Strolling around the old town, follow the green belt and run into the great Barbican fortress;
You will find lots of banners for organised tours to the marvelous Wieliczka Salt Mine (with a church carved out in the salt) and the most infamous of the extermination camps: Auschwitz-Birkenau, now a memorial and museum, in the town of Oświęcim. We visited both and highly recommend, however we never took the busses so can’t comment on those. Will try to get info on those.
Visit Kazimierz. The old Jewish district and walled ghetto during WWII is today the place to be for the wackiest, most stylish independent stores, art galleries, bars and clubs in Krakow. Small, beautiful streets with lovely cafés and restaurants, Lonely Planet recommends Miejsce & Mleczarnia bars, our favourite is Eszeweria. For a visit back in time you go to the market square, in front of the Old Synagogue (worth a visit) and have a coffee at Dawnu Temu. We did check out the renewed Galicja Jewish museum and appreciated.
For an overview of the city museums, check out their website;
There’s an excellent article on Culture.pl which gives a comprehensive introduction to the Polish kitchen. A kitchen with a very rich tradition, however crippled by the ‘somehow more limited possibilities’ during communism. You will find most interesting restaurants situated in Kazimierz. We are personally rather enthousiast about Zazie (reservation recommended), but you might also want to check out Old Town or Starka. For hummus you go to Hamsa. If all of them are booked, Tripadvisor offers some alternatives.
If you are looking for alternative city guide, (with offline map & audio) and you happen to be an iphone / ipad-user, do check out the Infamous Cracow App. There is also a Facebook page, which includes links to stories in English about the tales in the app.
While checking out my visitor stats on Flickr, noticed that last two / three days showed an interesting peak in new visitors. More specifically for the pictures of a road trip through Poland I did some one and a half year ago, and in that set, especially the pictures of Hitlers Wolfschanze amassed the majority of hits. The site, close to Gierłoż in Eastern Poland, was recently brought under our attention again in Valkyrie.
Still, had no idea on the reason for the attention of the last days, but Google has. Apparently the Polish government is planning to lease out the site to some investor who wants to turn it into a a tourist attraction. Seeing how the Polish treated the former Oskar Schindler factory in Krakow or the Auschwitz / Birkenau site next to the current Oświęcim, I guess we can trust them in making it something worthwhile to visit with respect for history.
Below the pictures. As I arrived quite late on the day, walking through the woods, with the darkness falling in left quite an impression. If you’re ever around there, don’t hesitate, it’s definitely worth the visit.
Promo-video for Wrocław, in the race for European Capital of Culture in 2016. In the video, it’s trying to make it easier for us foreigners to pronounce the name Wrocław by splitting it into two easy-to-remember bits: Vrots and Love.