48 hours in Krakow.
Poland's secret capital opens up a world full of brave knights, dead dragons and... meatballs.
It was Thursday evening, and we landed at Kraków–Baliceat International Airport. From there we took a taxi to the city centre, to the Stare Miasto – the old town of the second largest city in Poland. Krakow is viewed as the secret capital of Poland. Our hotel was in the old town – the Orlowska Townhouse, where
we were given a warm welcome. It is a building from the 17th century containing a number of different apartments. We were able to choose from the Boudoir Room, the 1930s Room or the Poets' Room, among others. We plumped for early 1930s interior design.
Trumpet sounds at
the Dachshunds' Parade.
We spent the next two nights among antique wooden furniture, old photographs on the walls and Persian carpets on the floor. But we did not want to waste time, so we headed straight for Rynek Glowny, the central market square. There, the annual Dog Parade is held: a procession attended by thousands of dog owners with their sausage dogs in fancy dress, a sort of Love Parade for dachshunds. Unfortunately, this year's Parade had already taken place, so instead we just inspected the historical town houses, palaces and churches more closely. Another highlight is the famous Cloth Hall. Brisk trade has always been conducted here, in what is to a certain extent the oldest shopping centre in Krakow. There you can buy souvenirs, arts and crafts, in a location where English and
Flemish cloth used to be traded. Here we made the acquaintance of one of Krakow's many legends. Every hour on the hour, a trumpeter sends a wake-up call, the so-called Hejnal, in all four directions of the compass.
Paradise for bookworms.
In 1241, a trumpeter's playing was abruptly ended by a Tartar's arrow. The warning saved the town from attack, but the trumpeter's throat was pierced by an arrow. To go into Krakow's history in more depth, we headed for "Massolit Books". The bookshop with an integrated café is very cosily decorated and is a really tempting invitation to sit down with a book and a cup of coffee. 50s armchairs, ceiling-high shelves filled with books and beautiful old lamps. Massolit Books was founded in 2002 and has since provided Krakow's readers and tourists with English-language literature. Robert, a sales assistant, told us about Chakram, a mysterious stone with unusual powers which has made Krakow one of the seven holy places in the world.
After having trodden the classic tourists' paths, we felt drawn to the other side of the Vistula, to the Forum Hotel. A typical representative of socialist architecture. In 2002 the hotel was closed and initially the building was empty. But by 2013 a group of young, creative Cracovians had turned the place into one of the most desirable addresses. During the week, the Forum Przestrzenie is a café & bar, at the weekends it is a party location, and on Sundays it offers children's workshops to start off the family day. Without doubt more creative people will find their way there. Another location in Krakow with an emphasis on culture is the Pauza – and that was our next destination. The "Cultural Centre" is hidden in a back yard in the middle of the Old Town. It combines a bar, a club, a cinema and a gallery on several floors. At alternating
exhibitions the focus is on Polish photographers whose works are exhibited in the gallery or the café. However, after all that art and creativity, it was time to try out the famous Polish cuisine.
A predominance of meat.
The Morskie Oko is a rustically furnished restaurant with lots of wood in the interior and even more meat on the menu. Somewhat daunted by the predominance of cabbage and meat on the menu, we asked for a recommendation. We decided on the national dish: sauerkraut and white cabbage casserole –
with a variety of meats. However, we extended this starter with marinated herring in oil, and we rounded off our meal with a meat platter for two. But we decidedly overdid things! We needed the Polish national drink – vodka – to settle our stomachs before we set off back for our apartment.
Coffee and "beygl".
We started our second day in Krakow with coffee and bagels. This is where one of the many legends comes into the fray. Back in the 17th century, the "beygl" was given to midwives and women in childbed because it was believed to bring good luck. Strengthened with this information, we swallowed down the bagels and went off to "Idea Fix". It is a concept store that only sells products by Polish designers. The store is situated in the old Jewish district of Krakow, the "Kazimierz". About 100 designers from all genres are represented in the store, and it is astonishing how big the selection is. It was not easy deciding what to take. However, we had to do it, and quite honestly, there are much worse tasks. After we had filled our shopping bags, we set off again and headed for another of Poland's institutions – the milk bars.
Showplace of Cracovian legends.
Their name comes from a time when these widespread self-service restaurants mainly offered food made from milk, dairy products and vegetarian dishes, above all fast and at a reasonable price. A group of English people recommended we try either lentils or the mushroom soup with noodles and meatballs. We ordered and enjoyed our food. After the meal, we wanted to visit a very special place. We could not leave Krakow without having been to the Wawel. It is the most famous city landmark. The former residence of the Polish monarchs is situated on a hill above the Vistula. Together with the Old Town of Krakow, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. How could it not be, as Wawel hill and the castle are the scene of Cracovian legends? For example, it is said that long ago a dragon was
said to have lived on this hill which was later outwitted and killed by a knight called Sir Krak. After that day, the town of Krak was founded on the hill – in memory of the brave knight.
On the other side
of the Vistula.
Hanging in chains at the entrance to the cathedral are the remains of a whale, a mammoth and a rhinoceros. They were found on the banks of the Vistula in the 12th century. The inhabitants of the town thought they were a giant's bones, attributed magic powers to them and hung them up to protect the cathedral from evil spirits. The story this far is believable. However, the legend says that the end of the world will come as soon as the bones fall to the ground. When we visited them, everything looked fine, and the bones were still hanging there, so we happily went home again. Whether legends, holy places, meaty meals or design shops – Poland's secret capital has a great deal to offer and is definitely worth a journey. We will come again, preferably to see the Sausage Dog Parade.