A depressing yet important part of history took us to the surprising city of Krakow. Surprising because, the city amazed us with its array of unique sights for which even a 4 day stay felt less.
After landing in the Krakow’s John Paul II airport (Be prepared to hear the Saint’s name all over Poland at every corner), we made our way to the Puro Hotel, which is situated just at the outskirts of the Old City.
There are no complaints with the room & hospitality of this newly built hotel, but I would strongly advise to book an inferior hotel inside the Old City rather than at just 10 mins walking distance from the Old City.
You need to stay inside the Old City to feel its old world charm and having the luxury of having the hotel’s doorstep inside the Old City was one thing we sorely missed.
After having rested the early part of the day, we headed to do the Free Walking Tour of the Old City. The assembly point for this walking tour was outside the St Mary Basilica in the Main Market Square inside the Old City.
Walking through the cobbled streets of this ancient city, just keeps the smile on and the fingers pressed on the camera. With the regular trappings of a tourist city, the Old City is still a best escape when you don’t have any activity to do.
Since it was a Free Walking Tour, there were 30 odd people in the group handled by a single guide. Nevertheless the guide was funny, audible and had interesting facts to keep our interests alive. The guide showed us the different architectures of the Main Market Square, the Basilica, The Church of St. Francis, and residence of the revolutionary John Paul II, fondly called as JP II in Poland.
It was a tiring 2.5 hrs walking tour, but the energy and dedication shown by the Polish guides were commendable. We enjoyed the tour so much, we did their Jewish Quarters tour the next day.
There was an open market in the evening at the Market Square with most of the stalls selling tidbits to eat. We tried the vegetarian dumplings called Pierogis, and the vegetarian open flatbread called Zapiekanka. Still relishing these roadside snacks and trying to find similar ones in Hong Kong.
A 30 minutes ride from our hotel took us to famous Wieliczka Salt Mines. Descending into the underground labyrinth just astounds you with the sheer achievement made in the 13th century. When the guide narrates you through the wireless headphones plugged in everyone’s ears, you are lost in figuring out how this amazing feat was achieved then.
This again involves a lot of walking through the mining tunnels, but a very well developed attraction. A MUST SEE ….
After coming back to Krakow we did the Jewish Quarters Walking Tour, and we visited the Old Synagogue , Ghetto Heros Square, the confined Jewish Quarters, the Lovers Lock Bridge, etc. Honestly I found the Jewish Quarters tour a little boring as we were also tired, so we left midway without visiting the Schindler’s Factory.
We had pre booked this particular restaurant Wierzynek known for its Polish cuisine and Polish ambience. The restaurant had an amazing view of the Main Market Square and the St. Mary Basilica. They had quite a few vegetarian options, but the Mushroom Cappuccino was one of the best thick soups I ever had.
We left early in the morning for Zakopane, a city south of Krakow on the Polish-Slovakian border. It was an approximately 2.5 to 3 hours chauffeured drive. Zakopane is an interesting ski resort in the Tatra mountains with various touristy shops, flea market, and different architectures.
Between Krakow and Zakopane we made various stops at some beautiful churches with tongue-twister names recommended by our driver. The only name I remember is Chocholow village, which was all low houses made with local timber.
Since we were on the border, we went to the other side of the Tatra mountains into Slovakia. After driving for 20 minutes in Slovakia, we found ourselves in a tiny village called Zdiar. We took some snaps against the Tatra mountains, collected some souvenirs , and headed back to Krakow.
We saved the supposedly main attraction of Krakow for the last — Auschwitz. Initially we could not find a guided tour for all four days because of the Easter holidays, so we went around on our own reading the directions and information printed at the site.
For those who don’t know about Auschwitz camps, German Nazis under Hitler set up such camps during World War II , to capture Jews and commit atrocities upon them.
Auschwitz I was the original camp set up by Nazis, which is now converted into a museum to remind us of this horrific part in the history. When Auschwitz I was not enough for the captured Jews , they built Auschwitz II — Birkenau.
Walking through these two sites, reading in detail about the pains inflicted by a human on a human was numbing.
It takes a good 4–5 hours or more to walk through this site, even on your own. By the end of it, you are walking with a heavier heart than tired legs.
I read a quote in Auschwitz by George Santayana — “Those who do not remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.”
This summed up very nicely of why you should visit such a sad but an important chapter in history.
To understand better, one should watch the movie Schindler’s List before visiting Auschwitz. You would need a strong stomach to swallow this.
Visiting Krakow led us to one of the best vegetarian restaurants I ever ate in , Pod Norenami. It serves Japanese , Thai , Chinese but its highlight being its wide menu of Sushi Rolls.
One of the innovative ones we had were the Mexican Sushi with crunchy nacho chips sprinkled on the top. Do visit this restaurant at least twice to enjoy its wide vegetarian menu.
One of the sights which I wanted to go ,but could not because of lack of time was Black Madonna of Częstochowa.