Despite only being two months ago, it feels like forever since I last went away. So the anticipation in the build up to this trip to Kraków has been very high. However, before we get to that…
Despite having some genealogical roots in Poland (more specifically the Silesia region in the South West) this is my first time visiting. This really has been a long time coming seeing how I enjoy eating Polish food, watching Polish movies and, more importantly, it’s a pretty cheap holiday. Then again, after my last new EU country (Sweden) anywhere is going to feel pretty cheap.
The journey to Kraków itself was pretty uneventful, although we did have a fantastic breakfast where we polished off the extra Belgian waffles that I had in the freezer.
I know I have said it already, but it is worth repeating, as a Londoner I cannot get over how inexpensive everything is over here. We had some problems with getting an Uber to our hotel (turns out that it was because of our hotel’s proximity to the Old Town and Uber drivers are not allowed to operate there) and we just missed the train (the next was in 90 minutes) so were getting a bit annoyed because we ended up splashing 89 zloty in a cab. Please note – this is about £20 between three people, it’s just that 89 feels like such a high number.
Our hotel is in the perfect place. It’s like having our own little apartment 5 minutes walk away from the old town and we’re close enough to some small supermarkets that I am going to be able to make breakfasts with some local ingredients as I actually have a kitchen to play with!
At about 6 in the evening, we set out of the hotel to get a first impression of the nearby areas of Kraków. The first thing that really struck me was just how much greenery there is, in fact the entire central part of the old town is surrounded by a park that also happens to contain statues and a number of water features. It would have been rude if we hadn’t taken a slight detour to get to know this area a bit better before heading to the main attraction.
This main market square of Kraków is huge. It’s one of the largest medieval squares in Europe, to the point where the middle contains the large (and old) Cloth Hall, which now houses a small museum and a lot of small shops. Being so large and existing in 360 degrees, it is really hard to take pictures of the square at ground level that do it proper justice.
Size and impressive architecture aside, the energy you get from this square feels pretty unique. Its like a larger and less crowded version of Covent Garden that also has a lot of historical significance. It was the moment that I first stepped onto the square where I realised that Kraków feels like a special place. Also, this square is going to be one of those places that we keep finding our way back to during our stay.
Being out first night, it only made sense that we did the really touristy thing and had dinner on the square itself. So, we went to Restauracja Sukiennice which is actually attached to the Cloth Hall in the centre. Honestly, it was the pictures of the schnitzel on their menu that won me over.
In any other city, the mark up would be so horrendous that we’d have to get one of the cheaper things on the menu to prevent us from losing all our currency. However, this is Kraków where we ate like kings and it only cost £10-12 each. I mean we all had huge (and really well done) schnitzels, a few drinks and we shared this huge and amazing meat and sauerkraut thing that came in a huge bread bowl… and it was still so cheap. Part of me wished that we had room for dessert, but I don’t think we stood a chance after the sauerkraut bread bowl.
As the sun began to set, we started to walk off dinner with a bit of an explore of the southern parts of the old town. It really does feel like a less imposing version of Vienna, or at least a Vienna that never became an important imperial capital. There really is something about the architectural style and the ever present theme of classical music that makes Kraków feel grand and cultured, yet it feels remarkably young at times as well.
Already I can also see that we’re going to be having surprises around every corner. For example, on this walk, we randomly came across a small market (with many many food stalls selling everything from smoked cheese carvings to alligators made from nougat) that has been temporarily set up to celebrate a big football match (that Poland has no stakes in).
We headed back as the stag nights began to start. On the walk back to the hotel we began to get a lot of people coming up to us with the promise of cheap beer and attractive women. Seeing how I am gay and teetotal, they could not have picked a worse mark. We also began to see some of the stag and hen nights begin to drag themselves into town… to do whatever it is they do. It kinda sucks that, because we’re three guys and none of us look native, the assumption is that we’re here to get drunk and objectify women. Whatever, it’s Sunday tomorrow and that means we can be fresh for our first full day.
So that’s the end of the first day where, already, I have been able to tick off one of the four (yes, four) Lonely Planet suggested sites that I plan to visit whilst I am in Kraków. What are the other three? See you next time where I’ll be visiting the second of four.