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Review: Krakow

City/Town/Region/Island

Poland

A polish surprise

  • By SilverTraveller beauregarde

    1 review

  • Jun 2011
  • Wife

14 people found this review helpful

"How about a few days in Krakow?" my wife suggested, completely out of the blue. "Krakow, in Poland? Why would we want to go there, it seems to me that most people in Poland are trying to come here." I smartly replied. This didn't stop her however; she reminded me that our elder son, when on a student trip around Europe a few years ago, had really waxed lyrical about Krakow. She went on to say how her pal Sue loved the place and had been there three times and that if we got a move on we could have it all booked for next week, etc etc. Quiet, satisfying visions of a week spent pottering in the garden, occasional visits to the gym and, most importantly, my own bed, faded from view and it seemed no sooner had I grumpily acceded to her suggestion than I found myself being deposited in Krakow airport from the early morning Bristol flight.



An hour or two later, seated in an outdoor restaurant in the Jewish quarter and with largish glasses of the local beer in front of us, things did appear to be looking up.



In the meantime we had booked in to the Hotel Spatz, situated about one hundred yards from where we now found ourselves and itself a part of this area. We had liked the hotel from the moment we entered, probably because of the warm welcome we received from the staff at the reception desk. The room was good too, largish and attractive with nice furniture and a big walk-in shower. It was kept spotlessly clean and the towels were changed daily if required. It did have some shortcomings, for example loads of steps up to it, but a nice young man carried our bags up and we hoped that climbing the steps would help to mitigate the effects of the, as we were soon to find out, delicious Polish food and beer. Neither did the room have a fridge or a safe but one of the very nice girls on reception assured us our passports and money would be safe in the room which turned out to be the case and as there was a chilled water dispenser on our landing we didn't need a fridge. The room did have a kettle and crockery and we bought a jar of coffee and creamer from a deli three doors up and used that.



After that first lunch we made our way past Wawel Hill and the castle along Grodzka Street to the Market Square, the main tourist centre in Krakow. This was about a fifteen minute walk from the hotel and it soon became one of our favourite places. It is extremely attractive, very large but also very tasteful, not a neon light in sight and with stylish buildings all around the perimeter and the gorgeous Cloth Hall in the centre. It is lovely by day but even nicer at night when it's all lit up and the restaurants and cafes surrounding it are full of people enjoying themselves. We returned there several times and one evening attended a Chopin concert in an erstwhile palace in the square which was quite magical. There were several other concerts in churches we could have attended too. We didn't eat in the Square as we could eat so well and so cheaply nearer the hotel but the restaurants did look tempting. We also didn't manage to eat on one of the restaurant boats on the Vistula but afterwards rather wished we had.



Our first evening, a Sunday, was spent walking along the banks of the Vistula with what appeared to be most of Krakow's residents but it wasn't at all crowded and the atmosphere, which was typical of all of the city, was of quiet enjoyment, friendly and totally unthreatening. We noted that women of all ages were out and about alone at night and we too felt totally safe all the time we were in Krakow. The city has, within and nearby, plenty of things to see and do but it was its ambience which really endeared itself to us, even me.



During successive days we visted the castle, the Schindler museum, the Eagle cafe where a brave Polish chemist gave help to the Jews who had been forcibly moved into the Ghetto by the Nazis, and lots of local restaurants and cafes. We also went several times to the bridges crossing the Vistula where one in particular was interesting because it had several hundred padlocks attached to it. Closer inspection showed that each padlock bore two names, painted or engraved, one male and one female and most were dated . We thought it must be a quaint but romantic way of delaring togetherness and if (when?) we return my wife wants us to take a padlock with us.



My wife also declared her intention to visit Auschwitz, with or without me, as it was on her "bucket list". Once again I capitulated and I must admit it was a most moving experience though very sobering. We booked through the hotel and the whole trip was extremely well organised. A guide, a lovely Polish young woman, met us outside the hotel and esorted us to a new, plush, air-conditioned small coach. We picked up about 20 other people, not all British but who apparently all spoke English, from various locations around the city and very soon we were on our way through the charming Polish countryside to Auschwitz which was 70 kilometres away. My first surprise was the driving. My past experiences of mini buses and similar vehicles abroad are of being hurtled through the landscape at an alarming speed where all I could do was to hang grimly on to my seat. This was totally different; the young Polish driver went quite slowly and very carefully and I enjoyed the journey -surely a first! The bus was met by one of the specialist guides who gave us a harrowing but very full on tour of the main camp and then the coach went on to Birkenhau, the actual death camp, and she showed us around there also. A very quiet, dignified atmosphere was maintained throughout, but once back at the cafe and then the coach we all loosened up. The drive back was as delightful as the outward jouney and driver and guide were so obliging – we could be dropped more or less anywhere we liked and many people debarked at different places to where they had been picked up. I also noted that no suggestion was made for tips for driver or guide though in truth I thought they deserved them. It seemed that all too soon our holiday had come to an end and we had to leave warm, sunny Poland for the windswept, rainy Bristol we had left just under a week before. We telephoned family and friends to let them know of our arrival home and, in answer to their questions, I stated we had had a marvellous few days and yes, I had really loved Krakow. I am pretty sure the wife was listening but she didn't say a word!

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