Of all the places I’ve visited, Krakow felt the most surreally historical. It was also a place I would love to live in for a couple of months and just explore.
We arrived in Krakow at about 4:45am Easter Monday and had a lovely time waiting in the train station for something to open up (unlikely since it was a holiday), and then headed over to Schindler’s Factory, one of the few things open that day. I’m really interested in World War II History, so visiting this important site was a must.
The day we visited, tickets were free so naturally, there was a huge queue out the door. Be warned as well that they close the doors well before the displayed closing time (I think they had a quota system), so get there early! The museum itself focuses more on Krakow during World War II rather than Schindler himself, but it was still fascinating.
The designers of the museum did an incredible job showcasing life under the Nazi regime in Krakow and just how oppressive it was. I won’t go into details here, but it is a must-visit while in Krakow.
When we finished at Schindler’s Factory, we grabbed a quick bite at the only open restaurant we could find before heading over to the Jewish District of Krakow to visit the Galicia Jewish Museum. It exists to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust and to celebrate the Jewish culture of Polish Galicia and houses internationally claimed photography exhibitions. The photos were very emotional and stirring and definitely gave us a better idea of Jewish life before, during, and after the war.
We then spent a little more time walking around the Jewish Quarter and came across this really cool mural.
And then headed back to the train station to get our bags and head to our Airbnb. Our host was very nice and our room was very cute. We relaxed for a little, connected with the outside world, and then wandered to the centre of town to find some dinner by picking a random restaurant in Stare Miasto (Old Town). I had, of course, some goulash soup and then some thin potato pancakes. Thanks to the conversion rate, we could eat like queens!
Despite the unusually cold weather and the sleet we got earlier in the morning, the sky was doing beautiful things at night, so we walked around a little more before heading to bed for our early morning. We visited Auschwitz the next day (which I will write on in a separate post), so the following day we got to see the rest of the stuff on our list before heading out on a night train.
We started off the day by wandering around the Old Town a little more. The colourful buildings and cobblestone streets really felt like a step back in time. It might have been the time of year, or the fact that it was the beginning of a week after a holiday, but Krakow was virtually free of tourists. It was a nice change of pace from most of the places I’ve visited (and lived in).
What I liked about Krakow was that the Old Town was surrounded by a park. So we strolled through that, found a funky sculpture, and then proceeded to Wawel Castle to get frustrated with the ticket lady when she didn’t believe I was a student (even with my student ID and student visa….). She was also slightly angry that we spoke English and not Polish because that meant she had to add two people to a tour of the interior instead of just sticking us into the Polish version (which we offered to do). I also definitely gave the ticket lady my Davidson student ID and she never gave it back. Fun stuff!
We got to see Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine” which was definitely more impressive than The Mona Lisa. Maybe because there weren’t hoards of people trying to snap a selfie with it…
We then took a tour with an English guide and some slightly quirky people and learnt that the castle itself was actually modelled after Italian castles. We also learnt more about Poland’s complex and long history. I snapped a picture of the throne room :)
More than 80% of Poles are Catholic and more than half of those Catholics are practicing. Contrast that with countries like France, which are largely non-religious, and you’re in for a shock when you try to enter churches and find out that they’re packed with people of all ages (not just elderly women) getting mass on Wednesday. That made my church visiting much harder, so we settled for St. Mary’s Basilica (exterior pictured earlier). It was beautiful inside (despite the loud pre-teen students who were “too cool” to respect the grandeur of the house of worship), slightly gaudy and full of gold, but mesmerising nonetheless. The ceiling, a deep blue painted with gold stars, captured my attention for far too long. Unfortunately, my pictures are blurry, but I’m still posting them just because it was so beautiful! It reminded me a bit of the church we saw in Budapest.
St. Mary’s Basilica marked the end of our stay in Krakow. We said goodbye to our Airbnb host and headed back to the train station/mall to walk around a bit, grab some dinner, and wait for our last night train of the trip!