European Travelogue #11: Krakow, Poland
Krakow is located in the south east of Poland and was once the capital, although it still retains it’s claim as the cultural centre of Poland. It has remained reasonably intact through the ravages of the 20th century warfare and you can still marvel at it’s architecture and history. Poland also claims to be the inventor of that wonderful spirit called vodka, although surrounding countries challenge that belief.
Bastards-R-Us took the train from Prague but it is a night train so be prepared for a sleepless night, as the border is reached at about 2am. Also, make sure you are in the correct carriage as the train gets split at the border town of Zebrzydowice, where the carriages are isolated and the passengers checked by both Czech and Polish customs officers.
Poland does not have a very good coverage of air transport, so road or rail is your best bet (and cheapest form of travel).
Make sure your passport and visa is in order…..sometimes the border guard needs a little incentive to let one of your mates complete a visa application on the spot!
The train trip was fairly uncomfortable and we arrived in Krakow at five in the morning – tired, hungry and totally lost! All was not lost however, as Philme Upbar-Tender stumbled across a kiosk and bought a little booklet called Krakow-In-Your Pocket (KIYP). We navigated our way around quite easily with this helpful guide. A good buy at 5 zloty (about $1).
Jump on a train (don’t leave your bags / passport / money on the train and stand on the platform for a smoke! – there are no departure announcements. One of the Bastards had an interesting time over that one). We took the train to Berlin (about an 8 hour journey) and enjoyed schnapps, beers, pretzels and card games.
Watch out for the German Customs officers when the train crosses the border. They will check your duty free allowances (1 carton cigarettes and a litre of alcohol). Booze is dirt cheap in Poland, especially vodka in all its’ flavours.
Where to Stay
On arrival in Krakow I asked directions to our hotel in Russian (That drew a few stares!) and we trudged our way to the Ibis Hotel about Ã¯Â¿Â½ mile from the train station only to find that our travel agent had cocked up the reservations.
After a few long distance phone calls to Sydney, we discovered our hotel reservations were for the Hotel Dom Turysty PTTK, which is about 150 metres from the train station! It is a refurbished hotel that is budget based but only 2 minutes walk from the centre of the old town. The close proximity of our hotel to the watering holes in the centre of town had all of the Bastards-R-Us foaming at the mouth…..
Bastards consulted KIYP and decided on a restaurant called Krew-I-Rosa. This place on Grodzka 9 has paved floors, battle-axes on the walls and a great medieval feel to it. We loved it! You get a complimentary selection of breads, cream and lard to whet your appetite and the Polish fare is interesting and filling.
I can recommend the roast lamb and vegetables – it was pure heaven. I liked this eatery so much that I went back the next day. The waitresses (all of them are stunning!) speak a variety of languages including English and the service is great. Have a laugh, a big meal and a few of the local beers (Okociem).
Also try the Bombaj Tandoori, an Indian restaurant that has stunning waitresses, good service and great tasting Indian food.
I tried lots of pubs in Krakow (I celebrated my birthday in this great town), but my favourite was Music Bar 9 situated on Szewska 9. This place rocks and is packed with dancers, characters and serious drinkers – Bastards-R-Us fit right in. The language thing wasn’t a problem as the place is packed with uni students, most of whom speak English very well. I can’t remember how many Zywiec beers I downed here, but it is the place to party! You can have a lot of fun in a place like this learning local language and customs from the patrons.
The surrounding areas of Krakow are littered with castles, churches and the like. You may also want to visit Auschwitz if you are so inclined. There are also boat trips on the Wisla River and visits down the salt mines. Contact your hotel and they will arrange the trip for you.
Internet cafes are all over Krakow – The place is a university town after all. Bastards frequented a place called U Louisa at Rynek Gowny 13 (email@example.com) which is in a pub underground charging 6 zloty/hour. You can have a smoke and a beer while you surf (Bastards-R-Us spent a lot of time there!).
Money change facilities are everywhere in the main square, Rynek Glowny, but shop around for the best exchange rate.
The building in the centre of Rynek Glowny houses street traders that sell every sort of souvenir you can think of. A great place to shop.
There are lots of shops and restaurants but the best advice I could give would be to buy KIYP as a guide.
Unique to Krakow
If you are in Krakow old town, you will notice a trumpet call sounded on the hour, every hour from the tower in one of the Churches. This is a tradition that has gone on for a few hundred years. Apparently the story is that one morning, around 1400AD, a lone guard in the tower spotted some invaders as they approached. He played a tune called Hejnal to warn the people of Krakow. He was shot in the neck, by the invaders, with an arrow, but the town rallied and defended itself. The Hejnal has been played, broken in the middle in memory of the guard, on the hour every day since!
We spent a long weekend in Krakow and I for one, partied every day/night. I didn’t sight-see as much as I should have and I could have easily spent 2 weeks here. Friendly locals, a fantastic array of restaurants and pubs, and beer that is the best I have tasted all convinced me that this is a must see for any traveller passing through this part of the world.
Rynek Glowny is a popular place for the locals and it is always packed. Street theatre at night and market traders by day made this square one of the more memorable parts of my tour of Europe.
Get to Krakow any way you can – you won’t be disappointed!