Krakow – the most popular and one of the most beautiful cities in Poland, was my destination for a June weekend. I had already been there before, but for less than a full day and it had rained that whole afternoon. I finally went back after more than a year excited to see more of Krakow.
Krakow, or Cracow in English, is a historic city, which formerly used to be the capital of Poland. It lies on the south and is famous for its castles, old town and other historical and cultural monuments. The weather was perfect, and the drive from Lodz wasn’t that bad at all. We had booked a hotel in the outskirts of the city in an amazing price. None of us were from or had ever lived in Krakow, so we were looking forward to full sightseeing and enjoyment.
On the first evening, we went to the center and had some delicious Indian meal for dinner before heading to the old town square. I, being the smartass I annoyingly am sometimes, ordered for “ostry ostry ostry” (hot, hot, hot) Indian food, deceived by the looks of the Polish waitress but when the other Indian waiter brought it for me with what was really Indian hot, hot, hot version, I was in tears after a few bites. It was impossible to finish it.
Since I am used to living in the not-famous-but-nevertheless-big city of Lodz, the number of visitors I saw in Krakow was overwhelming. It was a particularly lovely summer weekend, and hence the number of visitors were extremely high. I heard a lot of English on the streets, along with German and even some Finnish, among other foreign languages. In the evening, after touring the old town, we met some friends for drinks. One of the things that I really need to work on is my reluctance to use public restrooms especially in packed bars, and hence I limited my drink to just one beer. We moved on to another place. A posh, but empty, music club and enjoyed an entire little room to ourselves. Nobody was in the mood as the dance floor was practically empty. We returned soon after to our hotel and made a Polish vodka party in the room with snacks.
The other day, we had planned to visit the major attractions: the old town square which has many historic Polish landmarks, including St. Mary’s Basillica, Krakow cloth hall, Wawel castle, St. Peter and Paul church etc. Remember that all of those are English names, and I cannot seem to remember the Polish names right now. In the evening, we visited one of the most impressive museums I’ve ever visited (haven’t visited that many though): Rynek Underground permanent exhibition. The underground museum holds versatile items found from excavation of the old town hall area which was done 10 years ago and brilliantly illustrates them using moving visuals, graphics, sound and information cards. I enjoyed the museum very much, and was awed by the historical, real items that were on display, like 13th century cobbled streets, the houses and utensils that were used in middle ages, the history of the city and its links with other Europeans cities etc. I recommend anyone to visit it, unless you really don’t care for history. The museum requires prebooking as the number of tickets are limited, and hence it’s a good idea to book the time and tickets beforehand. Speaking of sightseeing, we also climbed to the top of the tower at old town and enjoyed the views, went to the famous Jewish district(Kazmierz Dolny) where I visited a Jewish synagogue and cemetery for the first time and went to the infamous Austzwitz death camp. (In short, it was a surreal experience and I am absolutely appalled by the actions of the Nazis that systematically murdered so many innocent people. The visit is worth it for an educational trip. )
On the second, day something fantastic happened. We discovered a fantastic artificial lake practically in the city by chance. The friends that we had met the night before had told us about it and none of us had a single idea how the lake was like. Turns out that it’s BLUE AND STUNNING! Who would have thought! It was initially a quarry where the beloved Polish pope had also worked, and was later turned into an artificial lake. The lake is pretty big, surrounded by cliffs with forests and has glistening blue and clear water, like the Mediterranean. It was surrounded by fences and wires , but there were so many marks of entry to the cliffs, that it was apparent that nobody cared. There were many people lounging on the hills overlooking the magical, serene blue lake. I was absolutely awestruck that such a beauty was in such proximity to a major city. Although we all DEEPLY regretted not bringing swimsuits, we had at least brought a use-and-throw grill and delicious Polish sausages (kielbasa – absolute favorite of mine) which made up for the regret. I really enjoyed the outing and the surprise that the gorgeous lake had brought to us on a sunny, blissful day. Diving can also be done at the lake through the diving company at the site. Not only the deep waters, but also some remains from the mine, remain underwater for the divers to explore. I have still not figured out if swimming in the lake and sunbathing at the cliffs there is legal, but looking at the number of people, it was evident that nobody cared about the rules.
Although we didn’t have time to visit the historical Wieliczka salt mine (make sure to prebook the hour as only guided tours are allowed), we enjoyed the short getaway to Krakow very much. Krakow is definitely a place to visit for culture, history and even nature lovers (short distance from the beautiful Tatra mountains).