Krakow. Sorry about the sad excuse of a pun, but the highly correct statement that ‘it’s like a European city on crack’ is seemingly the perfect way to describe this city in my weary state.
Krakow sits in the south of Poland, toward to Czech border, fixing it on the common route of the Budapest/Krakow/Prague triangle for those time poor (or those that find Contiki to be the most fulfilling way to see a continent, a matter on which I shall not comment). Needless to say, Krakow is no secret- it’s brimming with tourists.
Arriving here via train I was greeted by a particularly cosmopolitan ideal; a glass clad shopping centre stacked with the consumerism and gluttony of our generation, my ignorance allowing me to be slightly surprised by the extreme modernity I assumed Poland to lack, my mind stuck on the image of dreary days and endless grey.. The evening sky blanketed the beauty of this place and instead illuminated the faces of this bustling city, be it the tired locals retiring from a days work or the high spirited backpackers gearing up for usual backpacker night almost certainly featuring both stupidly cheap and delicious Polish vodka (and that is coming from someone who hates (hated) vodka).
Fatigued by yet another ‘travel day’ Krakow remained a mystery to me until sun broke the following morning and I ventured into the boundaries of the old town upon the early light, the streets still sleeping from the night before.
Krakow is magical to have to yourself. The quiet streets hum the subtle beat of footsteps and muffled preparations hidden behind shopfronts and cafes. The streets feel wider when you don’t have to dodge the others equally wonderstruck by the surrounding architecture or indulging in the typical tourist treat of a horse and carriage ride. The buildings impose over the daily life below but Krakow beats a sound of energy, excitement, enchantment.
Enticed here by history, beauty, food and often that added bonus of the ‘idealistically cheap’ cities upon the European trail it is a place not to be missed or underrated, it is so much more than a one night stopover.
Krakow spills out in every direction from its heart; the Old Town Square, one of the most vibrant and spectacular Europe over. The towering St. Marys Basilica dominating the skyline, buskers (babes) entertaining the crowds below.
The Latin Quarter is home to the vibrant nightlife this city is associated with. Sitting a 20 minute walk out of the old town centre it is also more favoured by the locals, and subsequently less of my personal hatred- pub-crawls. The restaurants have amazing food and for less than $20 you’ll be sorted for dinner and drinks. For the tight budget travellers the inner rotunda will allow you to indulge in overtly cheap traditional Polish carbs, you enjoy working them off when you return home.
There is a phenomenal amount to do here; I adored the churches, the castle, the ghost tour as cliche as it sounds is insightful with the brutal medieval history and the underground cafes and club see every beverage need catered- caffeine/booze/caffeine/booze repeat. Eating your bodyweight in perogi and donuts is also a very good idea.
The very obvious, and very impacting day trip from Krakow is Auschwitz. One of the darkest periods of European, and even more simply human history Auschwitz is an important place to visit. The understanding you gain of the tragedy that occurred here is something that cannot be understood from books or shaken from your mind. I can also only hope that people stop treating this as a tourist attraction. It’s not a place for photos, happiness, or ignorance. It’s a place for remembrance and respect for the victims of the horrible crimes that took place here, and throughout the many concentration camps of the time.
You can get lost for days in Krakow, and so you should.
Let’s not pretend the vodka isn’t the most important thing though. Drink your bodyweight in both hazelnut and fig vodkas. It’s acceptable to start pre-noon. Great.