Kraków, in Lesser Poland is approximately 980 km from our home in Munich, Germany. Our colleague and friend, Peter made preliminary preperations for our visit to the UNESCO World Heritage listed city by engaging the services of a guide and planning what we should be seeing with the guide. The drive, which commenced at 4.55am took us to Görlitz, 560km from home at the border of Germany and Poland. The journey on the way to Görlitz took us past the city of Nuernburg (for automobile lovers, this is where the famous Nuernburgring is where BMW do high speed road tests on cars they are about to put on the market) and Dresden.
The border police examined our documents with greater care than the ones at the Czech Republic. They required our passports, the vehicle registration certificate (a Zulassungsbescheinigung), German drivers license (a führershein) and a confirmed reservation at the hotel or home in Poland. The latter will be recorded and checked. After a 30 minute delay, our passports were stamped and with a happy smile, the Polish border police thanked us and wished us well on our way. The 416km drive to Krakow took us another 6½ hours, thanks to traffic jams brought on by roadworks between the town of Katowizi and Kraków. Of course, not having a legible map didn't help either. The BMW navigation system did not extend to cities in Poland, just the main highways. This was where google maps helped a lot.
Kraków was one of the cities which bears the dark past, the infamous extermination of jews by Nazi Germany. The Jewish Quarter of Kazimierz, was once a city bussling with a community of 65,000 jews who were moved out from central Krakow to make way for universities. During the Nazi occupation in 1939, Jews were brought to Auschwitz or Birkenau to be killed. Some 1.1 million people were murdered here out of the 3 million killed overall in Poland. Being technically minded, one can not imagine once you go into the detail of what rate of deaths that has to be achieved in order to murder that many humans - simply unthinkable.
Thankfully, Kazimierz has a better ife today with restaurants, nightlife and tourists returning to this side of town. Walls, ridden with bullet holes from 1939 now have human outlines chalked out by university students as a rememberance to ones who have fallen in the past. One synague remains in operations, while old houses and shops are gradually being replaced by modern ones. Kazimierz was the place brought famous by Steven Spielberg"s movie, Schindler"s List because it was made almost entirely in Kazimierz.
Poland boasts a rich Royal heritage as its land included that of Hungary, Belarus, Lithuania and Ukraine. Quite fascinating the hear, the first king of Poland was King Kazimierz, who built many cities through to a female King. We were advised that the 12 year old was a monarch in her own right and is not a queen consort. She died at the age of 25 from complications after childbirth but was later named a Saint by Pope John Paul II who recently passed away.
Walking within the city limits, which boundaries were expanded throughout the years, is very interesting. First, there is the ancient city which dates beyond 1,100 years. Now that I mentioned an ancient city, there must obviously be a "modern" city , which dates some 700 years. Wawel Hill is where the medieval castle is, witjhin that a beautiful and historic cathedral, burial chambers, an auspicious bell tower (with panoramic views to suit) and a dragon's liar.
In medieval times, the cities and wawel castle was fortified and further protected by a moat which surrounded the fortification. We were advised that the depth of the moat can be up to 30 metres deep. Today, only remnances of the front gate remains of the fortification - called the Florian Gate. The city boasts a long history of wars with the fortification protecting its citizents on many many ocassions. This gate was the only means of getting in and out of the city. .
Today, this arrangement of the two cities and Wawel Hill is called the Old City and is listed as a World Heritage SIte by UNESCO. UNESCO also listed the nearby Wieliczka Salt Mine, the Auschwitz and several other church districts nearby Kraków.
Renowned astrologer, Nicolaus Copernicus was Polish and he studied in the University of Kraków as it was famous for its mathematics, philosophy, and astronomy curriculum. He theorised that the earth spun on its own axis and of the planetary configuration circling the sun.
Pope John Paul II was formerly, the bishop of Krakow for 25 years. Today, the bishop of Krakow is Bishop Stossmayer, who was the private secretary of Pope John Paul II while he was the bishop.
The Jagiellonian University in Krakow is the 2nd oldest university in Europe, with the University of Prague taking the honours.
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Images from Krakow
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Old City Krakow
View of the beautiful inside of
St. Mary's Church in Kraków
Jeanette with St. Mary's Cathedral in the background
The main square and hive of activity in Krakow, the Main Square is where St. Mary's Church, the Cloth Hall and the City Hall tower is located. There are cafe's, restaurants, stores and commercial buildings lining all sides of the square. Really pretty... not to mention the hundreds of death defying piegons (either that, of they are really stupid ones!)
Kosciok Mariacki - St. Mary's Church
Perhaps the tallest structure in Krakow, two towers on the outside but one beautifully decorated building on the inside. We were told this church is the most beautiful in Poland, posing a serious challenger to the ones we've seen in Italy. Fortunately, we were allowed to take some photographs
Sukiennice Cloth Hall
An imposing building smack bang in the middle of the Market Square, the Cloth Hall was so named because this was used in ancient times to trade all sorts of textiles. Today, the Cloth Hall is a tourist zone lined with stores selling Polish jewellery (the Baltic Sea Amber can be seen throughout .. and for those who cant picture what an Amber is, its the bit where the mosquito got preserved in, in the movie Jurassic Park), Polish Crystal tablewear, leather, woodworks etc. Cafe's we abundant on the outside of the Sukkiennice.
Wawel Royal Castle
Located on Wawel Hill at the very south of the Old CIty Kraków is the Wawel Royal Castle. The complex is made up of several buildings and gardens. We visited the Catherdral (with The Bell Sigismund and Royal Tombs), the State Rooms and Royal Private Apartments although we understand that there were still the Dragons Den, Oriental Art, Crown Treasury and Armoury still to go. Our guide gave us a detailed overview of the Royal Family and their development through the ages, which made the trip really exciting and interesting.
A very nice people. Friendly, calm, protracting an image of safety although small teams of pickpockets can be seen littered throughout the Market Square. We would rate this 4 out of 5.
Service oriented, smiles, good manners, speaks English wherever possible. Whilst you don’t get the smiles as you do in Thailand, the atmosphere is described as friendly and warm. I would rate this 3.5 out of 5 for Service.
Solid history, although unfortunate, dark and medieval at times. Lots of well maintained artifacts to see, learn and appreciate. The existence of the Jagiellonian University with plenty of young folk around suggests that higher education is widely practiced here. The Polish history of scholars, professors, scientists etc.. which was exterminated by Nazi Germany suggests that higher education is a way of life. You are able to occasionally see people in traditional costume playing music to entertain the crowds. We would rate this 4 out of 5.
Yes, we would come back although the distance for us is a bit of a killer. The city is indeed very pretty, people are friendly, service is good and we feel very calm, relaxed and generally happy here. Not knowing the Polish language does not hinder us from enjoying ourselves here. We would do this trip again on the way to say, to Warsaw the capital of Poland. We would rate this 4 out of 5.
Unfortunately, we were not accustomed to the local “peasant” food of dumplings, soup and sauerkraut. The Pierogi, Polish dumplings akin to the Chinese Mantao or Korean mandu. I tried 3 different varieties: the Russian with sauerkraut and cheese, a potato and cheese variety and one variety with meat, sauerkraut and mushrooms. The latter was delicious but the others I would prefer (and did) leave behind. Jeanette had the Golabki, a kind of Singaporean “Popiah” with a cabbage skin filled with a mixture of beef and rice, chopped onions and special seasoning, steamed in spicy tomato sauce. She says that it was quite good.
Restaurants serving “normal” European meals and some Asian cuisine are plentiful although we found the prices of the Japanese Sushi a bit on the expensive side. Seafood was not abundant. We would rate this 2 out of 5, sorry.
Our apartment was priced at €74 per night which for central Europe is pretty good. Some 3 and 4 star hotels are around. Although part of the European Union, the currency will be harmonized to the € by 2012. Currently, the Polish Zloty (PLN) is used. €1 is equivalent to 3.82 PLN during our visit. Premium Unleaded 98 RON petrol was priced at 4.59 PLN per liter during our visit. We visited a nearby indoor shopping mall and found the prices of clothes pretty good… just don’t go for brand names like Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren etc.. We would rate Poland a 3.5 for cost.
Again, in the absence of a perfect science to perform an overall rating, our “emotional” rating methodology should suffice. Purely by emotional traits, we would rate Krakow , Poland 4 out of 5 placing it ahead of all Italian cities, the Netherlands and even Czech Republic!
Big Mac Index
ref: Jul 5th, 2007