I enjoy taking people's recommendations on cities to visit, places to eat, bars to drink at, sights to see… but I can't say that any of those recommendations have turned out quite so well as when my colleague Voy told me I had to visit his hometown of Kraków. His recommendation contained a lot of 'It's awesome', 'My friends are awesome - and they'll look after you!' and 'the Vodka is awesome!'… 'Just do some research on what you want to see'! Instead, I decided to just enjoy the city and let it show me what was so good about it. So, mind open, taste-buds ready, liver prepared and feet itching to explore… Off I went, to Kraków, Poland.
Almost from the moment I stepped off the airport shuttle bus in the city centre, I had an impressed smile on my face. It was night time, but you could feel the life there! By the time I had walked the five minutes to my accommodation and met my hosts, the gorgeous Basia and her partner Luca - they only needed to mention 'Pierogi' (Polish dumplings) and not only mention it but couple it with the word 'festival' and my smile was a full blown stupid grin! One that didn't leave my face - except for a few decent hangover hours - for almost my entire trip. Basia and Luca told me about the beautiful city as we walked through. The city is so old, but with recent restoration work on most of the old city buildings, it was strangely modern - like walking onto a pristine movie set about old Europe - but with much more warmth and character. From Pierogi stand to Pierogi stand, we wandered around working out which of these 1.50zł (€0.40) treats we would try. I ended up going with 6 steamed and 4 fried… with almost every filling: goats cheese, mushrooms, beef, spinach, duck, and more I can't remember. Every one was worth it. We ended the evening with a beer at one of Kraków's countless underground clubs - something that it is well known for. By day the city is bustling with people, by night everyone dives underground for the music, dancing, beer and great vodka.
The second day, I was lucky enough to meet Voy's friend Andrzej. (Of course he took me to a number of the food places that were Voy's favourite… so I got to tease the hell out of him sending photos of all his favourite Polish foods… this lasted my whole trip!) We had a great day walking around the old town, in and out through the different areas, different churches (there are literally hundreds of them!) - the highlights being:
- Sukiennice (Cloth Hall) - the centre of the main town square, and the tourist and cultural heart of the city!
- Eating Zapiekanka - Kraków's amazing equivalent to the Kabab: toasted baguette with mushrooms, cheese, chives and sauces… Mmmmmm
- Pigwowa (Quince) vodka - that stuff is seriously tasty! And you can't fault €1 shots!
- The Professor's Garden (part of Kraków University)
- The beautiful Planty (a park planted around the old city in the 19th C, in place of the demolished medieval defence walls)
- The small bronze sculptures outside most of the impressive city monuments - each replicating the towering buildings standing next to them.
- And, generally walking down the narrow alley ways that led into the central courtyard of almost every city block.
After leaving Andy, I went back home to relax a little before going out with Basia and Luca again - this time for an ENORMOUS schnitzel dinner with some nice local beer. I went to bed extremely happy to have taken Voy's advice and come to this incredible city!
Day three saw me at the breath-taking Wieliczka Salt Mines (another blog) and my first proper 'fellow-tourist' meetings… the stuff I love! Hearing their stories, finding out their travel plans, sharing suggestions on places to see. To me, this is the best part of travelling! That afternoon, I was lucky enough to meet two others staying at Basia's place - Matthew and Jihye (an American and Korean couple, living in South Korea, teaching English) on a year's trip around the world (I'm a little jealous of their adventure - even having a great one of my own!). So with Basia in tow - we headed out into the night for some beautiful local food and more Pigwowa vodka! Those random nights when you don't really have a plan, are such fun! And the four of us had a really nice, relaxing (verging on tipsy) evening.
Day four had me heading to Auschwitz-Birkenau - the infamous Nazi concentration camp where over 1.1million people lost their lives… also a story for another blog entry. But that night, the shockingness of the day was washed away with good food, great vodka, and amazing people… and we had our dancing shoes on…............ Stay tuned for Part 2!