Here comes my first entry about Poland! Carl and I visited the UNESCO World Heritage sites of the entire old town of Krakow, the Auschwitz Birkenau German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp and the Wieliczka Salt Mine, as well as the Krakow Zoo, as means of celebrating our 1st wedding anniversary last Easter. Krakow is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and a starting point to visiting some of Poland’s tourist attractions. It is rich in history and culture, and we were quite amazed to see Catholic/Christian influence scattered all over the city. Poland is predominantly Catholic, and the city of Krakow is often dubbed as the Little Rome due to the presence of more than a hundred churches!
We flew via Norwegian and arrived at John Paul II Krakow-Balice International Airport early in the morning, and took the train to the city centre. Carl had been to Krakow before, so he was quite familiar with the public transportation and other practical stuff. But he went there primarily to visit a dentist, so he still had plenty to see this time. Krakow gave a gloomy kind of impression to me, with the first photo showing a brownish, empty, and foggy land terrain.
We planned to stay in Krakow for 4 full days, departing on the 5th day. As soon as we arrived at the hotel, we settled in and went out to sightsee! The first interesting work of architecture we saw was the Barbican, a 15th century fortified gateway meant to protect the city during the medieval times. We were amazed by how good the structure was preserved, with the ca 3 meter- thick walls and bright red facade. (Read more about the Barbican here.)
Lucky for us, the heavens started to drizzle. However, it didn’t stop us from exploring the impressive old town. I couldn’t remember how many churches and Christian displays we passed by, but they were very visible all over. There were also groups of children walking together, pretty much like the same system they use in Denmark, where children go together to sort of protect each other on the way. And of course, the throngs of tourists going in and out of shops and restaurants.
Florianska street led us to the one of the most beautiful squares I had ever seen! Prague also has a beautiful square, with an astronomical clock and all, but Krakow also showed its sweet spots. Rynek Główny is actually one of the largest medieval squares in Europe, measuring 200 square meters. It was surreal, surrounded by beautiful buildings and churches and halls! And you can hire a horse-driven carriage to show you around, or an electric mini-car, if you prefer a faster version.
The square was designed in 1257, and at the center is the beautiful Cloth Hall, built in the 14th century and thus, the first ever shopping mall in the world. Inside were booths selling creative handcrafts and artifacts!
Another interesting installation in the square is the Head, yes, the Eros Bendato (“Eros Bound”), by the Polish artist Igor Mitoraj (1944-2014). It was actually cool — you can crawl inside the hollow structure!
We went back to the Old Town Square after visiting the Salt Mine two days later, but more about that later. For now, let’s continue the city exploration. We walked along Grodzka street, and stumbled upon and amazing church — the Church of Sts Peter and Paul. Built in the early 1600s, the beautiful facade where statues of the 12 disciples of Jesus caught our attention in an instant!
St.Andrew’s Church, built in the 1000’s, sits just beside the Church of Sts. Paul and Peter, but it was under renovation, so we didn’t spend much time there, unfortunately.
Moving on, we finally reached the highlight of the city, probably, the Wawel Royal Castle. Among the buildings that compose the castle complex are the castle itself, the Cathedral and the Treasury. It had undergone many changes throughout history. 35 rulers were crowned here and chose Wawel as their residence, until the capital was moved to Warsaw in 1596. It was then used as a military hospital by the occupying Austrians, and as the headquarters of the Nazi Governor General, Hans Frank, during WWII. (Read more about the castle here.)
According to legend, Krakow got its name after Prince Krak, the slayer of the dragon of Wawel and the founder of the city in the 1100s. And thus, the statue of the Wawel Dragon (Smok Wawelski), as well as the Dragon’s Den, are two famous features of the Hill. (Read about the famous legend here.) The bronze statue of Smok designed by Bronisław Chromy and unveiled in 1972, breathes out fire! A spectacle!
Krakow is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful European cities. There was too much to see and explore! Carl & I walked back to the hotel to prep up for tomorrow’s itinerary. It was also starting to rain, so we hurried up. Two days later, we went back to the Old Town Square, only to find ourselves in the middle of a huge market! People were all having a fantastic time, with the sun out and the last traces of winter disappearing. There were street performers, and oh, drunk men! SO watch out. 😉 And what more? Krakow is super cheap! 😀 Until next time!