Market Square in Krakow

Getting to Krakow was fun. But not. It takes a ridiculous amount of time for the relatively short distance that is covered. It was two trains and the first one left Vienna at 7am. The good thing was although the entire journey is two trains, the first leg was about 6 hours of the 7.5 hour journey. First train stopped at a place in Poland called Katowice, or ‘shit hole’ as I prefer. Its the worst train station ive come across. All of the signs above the platforms don’t work, and some showed trains coming from who knows how long ago. I went to the platform that my next train was scheduled to leave from, and thats the first problem. They have platform numbers, and then a separate number for each side of the platform, but the timetables don’t tell you that number, just the main platform number. So there was a train sitting on one of the sides, but I had no idea where the hell it was going so thought it best to just let it leave so I don’t end up in Warsaw or something. Read the timetable for the next train coming, found some others trying to get to Krakow, and 30 mins later a train came that we hoped went to Krakow. Luckily it did. The problems didn’t end there. Arriving at Krakow station and the place is a maze. There is hardly any signage, and what signage there is makes no sense to an English speaking tourist. Eventually found my way out, then followed directions to my hostel.

Krakow is fast becoming, and sort of already has, a must see city on travellers itineraries. The place to go used to be Prague, its now a combination of Krakow and Budapest, always cities that have had shit thrown at them by everyone over the years. And its not hard to see why they are so popular now. I actually originally only booked to stay four days and ended up staying seven. Everything is extremely cheap, and its good. The hostels are about $20 a night, and the one I was in offered free breakfast and dinner in that price. The food even from a restaurant is cheap. I ate out quite lavishly one night, ribs and beer etc, and it was about $20. Theres also a lot of things to see even though the city is quite small. And then theres the women. Oh the women. It is just insane and just plain mean how good looking they are. And I mean all of them. Every woman in the city could be a model. They all look quite fit too, no fatties anywhere. And being near winter and it being cold they are all wearing awesome boots and tights and other distracting items of clothing. And if they’re young then they’re English is really good and they’re super friendly and don’t mind using it. There were many poles that I nearly ran in to whilst checking out this walking scenery (HA! get it, poles and Poles).

Oh and the vodka. Theres a long standing argument between the Poles and Russians on who made vodka first, but obviously the Poles think they did. Whether they did or not, they are pretty damn good at making it regardless. You can get every type and flavour of vodka you can think of. Me being a vodka drinker, was in heaven. My favourite one is Krupnik, which is honey flavoured vodka. And it tastes just like it. You can drink it straight like its cordial its that ridiculously good. And dangerous. And so cheap! A bottle of that runs for about $15. Can be a problem though because its so cheap its easy to start mixing it with beer and then thats not good.

The first day I was there I did the free walking tour. Its not the same company as the free walking tours in the rest of Europe, but its the exact same concept. Pay if you thought it was good and don’t if you’re a tight arse. Being a small city its pretty easy to cover most of it in the three hours. Starts off in the market square, which is stunning. Its the largest one in all of Europe. In the middle is the cloth hall, and just outside is the tower from the original town hall. Also in the square is a giant hollow head sculpture. A few years ago the entire square was full of these sculptures by an Italian artist, then when the exhibition was over he gave it to Krakow as a present. They don’t really want it, and it looks weird where it is, but they cant throw it out either. The tour then goes all around the place, eventually towards the only remaining tower checkpoint thingo that was part of the original defensive walls. Visited the place/window that Pope John Paul II waved out of all those years ago. I didn’t even know he was big in Krakow, let alone even Polish. Theres something like 15 statues of him in the city scattered around. After that we go up to the Wawel Royal Castle. Not like a lot of other castles ive been to. Inside its all just a massive open space, you wouldn’t think you were inside a castle. Theres also a cathedral up there but it costs money to go in so yeah I didn’t do that, ive been inside enough cathedrals that were free. Just outside the castle walls down near the river is a giant steel dragon, which is part of a super old Polish folk tale. Its pretty cool though because every so often it blows fire out of its mouth. And thats where the tour ended. I suppose you don’t really have to do the tour as the place is so small its easy enough to see on your own and not get lost, but you learn a few things.

The other tour that the same company offer is a tour of the Jewish area of the city. During WW2 Krakow was one of the cities where the Jews were herded into separate walled off parts of the city, known as ghettos. This particular tour takes you around this entire area. However its not what you really think, there aren’t thousands of Jews living there and walking around everywhere. I don’t think I actually saw one full orthodox Jew the entire tour. There are however many relics from the past. There are quite a few synagogues for quite a small area, there is a Jewish cemetery, a lot of Jewish influenced places to eat, etc. One piece of food which was just amazing and the best was found in the Jewish area was ‘zapiekana’. Its a long roll, cut in half, with finely chopped mushrooms and grilled cheese over the top. Then on that is whatever you really want. I had one that was ham, salami, pickles and a mayo kinda sauce. Ordinarily I hate mushrooms, I avoid them like the plague, and im not too fond of pickles either, but I devoured this thing like it was a McChicken. So yea the tour just walked around the streets with the guide pointing out various buildings, such as the ones used in Schindler’s List. Honestly it wasn’t that great of a tour, not because of the guide though, he was quite good. I just didn’t find the material very interesting.

One thing that isn’t that well known, and ill admit I didn’t know it was here, is Oskar Schindler’s factory. The factory today doesnt actually exist anymore, only the administrative building and the gate that lead to the factory. The administrative building is what now houses the museum. The outside was recently renovated so it kind of looks too new now and you wouldn’t think it was the original building. Although the museum is where Schindler’s factory was, only a tiny fraction of the museum exhibits are about him. The museum covers everything about the German occupation of Poland, and specifically Krakow and its Jewish population. Like the House of Terror in Budapest, this museum was designed in a way that you do everything in a very specific order so the events flow in proper order. The entire place is fantastic, its definitely a must see for people interested in WW2 history. I must have spent nearly four hours in there.

Apart from the organised tours and Schindler’s factory I didn’t really do much else except for walk around and just take in the city. Couple of the days I was super hung over and didn’t really move till midday. One thing I did was visit the underground museum thing in the market square. Its a brand new museum thats underneath the market square. The height that the square currently sits at is about 7m above the original, because back in the day it used to just be wooden planks on the ground and when they wore out they just put new ones on top. So eventually that ended up being 7m. The museum underneath is at the original level of the square and showcases the excavations of the original shops etc. Kinda cool I guess…but a little boring. One thing I always found funny was the school groups of young kids being led around the place, their parents had obviously dressed them up for the cold and they had jackets and beanies and everything you can imagine so they all looked like miniature staypufts from Ghostbusters. There is also a shitload of pigeons around. I was told by a tour guide that its actually illegal to kill a pigeon and you get fined on the spot. People also feed them, a lot. Kids stand there with bread in their hands waiting for the pigeons to eat it.

The last night I got talked in to going out on a pub crawl, and it wasn’t even by a chick. I kind of have a rule that I never go out the night before a travel day, but that clearly went out the window. Drank a few beers beforehand. Then we hit the pubs with quite a few free vodka shots. One of the pubs we went to they put a tall pipe on your table with a beer tap at the bottom of it, and inside the pipe is 5 litres of beer. Good times. Eventually we ended up at some underground club place. Pretty much all the clubs are underground, inside what used to be the buildings old cellars. This place was a maze. Had rooms and hallways going off everywhere and multiple DJ and dance floor rooms. It was pretty epic. Was at the bar and one of the dudes I was with bought me a vodka shot. This thing was like jet fuel and I coughed straight away and it made me…spew…right there…blarghhhh. So I basically kicked myself out as I knew I was going to be anyway. Door security were told to not let me back in. I wasn’t even that drunk yet so this was annoying. I was also getting along with the Polish leader of the tour because im awesome. So I walked down the road to an Irish pub, had a beer, sat there for a while. I then put my second shirt on over my other one and put my beanie on. Walked back to the club and BAM went straight in past security. Walked back to the dance floor where everyone was and they all looked at me like i was Houdini. The night partied and danced on till about 4am when we stumbled back to the hostel. Apparently I went in and out of sleep on the couch at reception for about an hour. Saying I was going to bed only to walk back to the couch 2 minutes later. There is people at reception 24hrs so I had lovely conversations with them for a while.

The next morning, I felt like death. Surprising, I know. I had to check out so my alarm was for 9:30am, hopped in the shower straight away, packed quickly, and I was still feeling fine. As soon as I stopped having to rush to check out, it was like kaboom inside my head. I went downstairs to the common room and flopped on the couch. Woke up a couple of hours later. Went upstairs to the couch. Then back downstairs for another sleep. It was about 1pm now so I thought I should probably check what time my train leaves. I was originally going to catch one at 10am but that obviously wasn’t going to happen. There was one at 4pm so I left the hostel at 3pm to make the journey there at a snails pace. It was probably 10 degrees outside but it felt like it was about 100. Managed to get on the train so allllll good.

So yeah Krakow was pretty awesome. Definitely lived up to my expectations. Would be a crazy city to hit up with a bunch of mates, be a lot of epic nights. Auschwitz was probably the highlight, having wanted to go there for so long and it being everything I thought it would be made me happy.