I sheepishly admit that I had never heard of Krakow before I started planning our trip! Yes I also admit that I hadn’t watched Schindler’s List and watched it a few days before going for our trip to be better equipped for this city which is often considered one of the best cities of Europe for “cheap” travel! I start this travelogue with these 2 honest confessions!
It is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Situated on the Vistula River in the Lesser Poland region, the city dates back to the 7th century. Krakow has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, cultural, and artistic life and is one of Poland’s most important economic hubs. After the invasion of Poland at the start of World War II, Krakow became the capital of Germany’s General Government. The Jewish population of the city was forced into a walled zone known as the Krakow Ghetto, from which they were sent to German extermination camps such as the nearby Auschwitz never to return. And this is what makes this beautiful town infamous.
I had planned 4 days to explore Krakow including 1 when we had gone to the Auschwitz and Mine tour. The city is quite big and diverse to dedicate atleast this much time to have a busy yet not so exhausting time.
Saturday 11th July 2015 ||| Warsaw to Krakow
We reached Krakow from Warsaw after a 3 hours high speed train journey and reached the Krakow Glowny Train Station which is the biggest train station of this city. I had booked an apartment in a property named Nobel Suites which was at a walking distance from the station.
The USP of this property is that each of the apartment is named & styled on a Nobel Prize Winner. It had apartments named on Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein, Dalai Lama, Earnest Hemingway, Madam Curie amongst others. We checked into our 1st floor apartment named on Lech Walesa at around 1:30 PM. Lech Wałęsa is a Polish politician, trade-union organizer, philanthropist and human-rights activist. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983, and served as President of Poland from 1990 to 1995. It was quite a huge space with 2 bed rooms, a kitchen and a living area. Perfect for a long term family stay!
The next PoA was plain and simple as you would expect. We went for a late lunch which I had booked at a Mediterranean Restaurant named Destino. It served cuisines from Spain, Italy and Portugal. The location of this place was perfect for a late afternoon meal; our table was on the main street with the world passing us by. Marinated vegetables salad – Onions, lettuce, sun dried tomatoes, artichokes, zucchini and olives; Spanish lamb soup with olives and capers; Risotto with Artichokes; Provincial chicken stewed in white wine with bean puree and sugar snap peas plus got freshly baked bread with artichoke & garlic paste complimentary. The food was delicious and very well priced too.
Our order took a lot of time to come not that we were in hurry as we were enjoying the sunny day in full glory. Abhay had his share of outdoor fun after having spent 3 hours enclosed in the train! Infact in the middle of our meal I had to take him for a walk as he just didn’t want to sit on his chair! And we had loads of fun together playing with my cap! As they say in Hindi “Abhay ne mujhe topi pehna di”!
Our hotel was at a walking distance from the Old Town Centre which made it very convenient for us so we decided to head back for an afternoon siesta and come back in the evening to explore that area in detail. We came back at 7 PM and the place was full of tourists enjoying the chill of this city.
The Main Square of Krakow is the principal urban space located at the center of the city. It dates back to the 13th century, and at roughly 40,000 m2 is one of the largest medieval town squares in Europe. The main square is a rectangular space surrounded by historic townhouses, palaces and churches.
The center of the square is dominated by the Cloth Hall), rebuilt in 1555 in the Renaissance style. On one side of the cloth hall is the Town Hall Tower, on the other the 10th century Church of St. Adalbert and 1898 Adam Mickiewicz Monument.
Rising above the square are the Gothic towers of St. Mary’s Basilica which are the most prominent part of this area.
We had a lot of fun walking through those streets and we also witnessed some sort of a parade with lots of noise, music and dance!
There were lots of beautiful flower bouquets and wreaths for sale as there was a cathedral nearby. I could not resist myself and clicked many pics of them.
For a change we had street food which we enjoyed sitting on the stairs of a closed shop. It included a HUGE Turkish Doner Kebab and a Polish fast food delicacy known as Zapiekanka.
We came back to our hotel at 1 in the night and Abhay had finally slept off which was quite an achievement in itself.
Sunday 12th July 2015 ||| Exploring Krakow and celebrating Bandita’s Birthday!
Today was a special day for us. It was Bandita’s birthday and none of us had ever imagined that we would ever get to celebrate this in Krakow! I had planned a lot of things for this day.
The first agenda was a 3 hours city tour on a battery-operated vehicle which I had booked a day before. Our tour partner was a Ukrainian young man named Dmytro Pavelko who was quite an industrious man; he had come to Krakow just 6 months back and in this time he had learnt Polish and the history of Poland & Krakow in somewhat detail. He was quite an energetic and fun company to explore Krakow. He came to pick us from Nobel Suites at 11 AM after we had a lazy breakfast in our room.
Our tour comprised of a drive though the Old Town, view of the Wawel Castle and a tour of the Jewish ghetto plus which included the market area, old houses, memorials and the Schindler’s Factory. It was quite an informative tour plus the best way to explore these areas though not much in detail which we were absolutely fine with.
Once we finished our tour and bid a goodbye to Dmytro it was the perfect time for our lunch; Italian is Bandita’s favourite cuisine so I had every reason to plan her birthday lunch at an Italian restaurant named Bianca. We ordered Fresh mozzarella cheese served with dried cocktail tomatoes; Gazpacho which was the soup of the day, Spinach tagliolini with prawns topped with fresh parsley; Sea food special – Squid, calamari, prawns, mussels and fish cooked in garlic and tomato sauce.
For desserts we ordered Panaccota with raspberry sauce and my favourite videshi dessert – Tiramisu which for me was the highlight of this meal! And Bandita did a small “panaccota” cutting ceremony too!
After this filling & delicious meal we explored the square and also went to the Cloth Hall which housed many shops selling obscenely high priced antiques and memorabilia. There was a Pervian artiste who gave quite an amazing musical performance with his antique Inca musical instruments. We simply loved him.
There were a lot of people roaming around aimlessly like us and we witnessed the great old Indian “suspended” Yoga Trick too being performed by a lady dressed in Indian yogi robe!
We also went inside the St. Mary’s Basilica and were treated to one of the most beautiful designs we had ever seen; the interiors were so damn amazing! It blew us away!
We went to the central park to relax and chill but then the sleep demons hit us and we walked to the hotel for a siesta to get ourselves prepared for the special birthday dinner which I had kept as a surprise for Bandita.
But the manager of the FAB Fusion restaurant had some other plans which ruined all my planning and the surprise element! We reached after a 20 minutes’ walk and when I asked about the special treat I was told that the previous manager had left abruptly without informing anybody else about our plans! I had planned a special customized menu, a special wine and a birthday cake for Bandita after multiple e-mail exchanges with the manager but disappointingly there was nothing in place! We were not in a mood to go to another place for dinner so decided to have our dinner there itself.
And the impeccable service of the staff made up for all the disappointment plus the food was lip smacking too! The Free ka maal also included freshly baked bread and a brown paste which was simply awesome, it was chicken liver mashed with garlic & pepper with a mind-blowing taste! We had ordered Minestrone soup with fresh veggies and red lentil; Zucchini stuffed with mozzarella and served with pesto sauce; Baked Salmon served with sautéed beans and mussels plus celery paste; Polish dumplings known as Pierogi stuffed with spinach-cottage cheese and feta cheese-potatoes. We got the Lavender Crème Brule with black currant sauce complimentary from the staff.
By the time we finished our dinner it had started drizzling so we decided to wait in the reception area and our attendant served us Champagne as well! Those guys were clearly embarrassed for screwing up our special treat! But then it was not their fault and my frustration had also withered away thanks to their service and the food!
Even though the day didn’t end as per my plans but even then it was quite a fun & memorable one. Thanks to God for all the wonderful memories and hope we can enjoy many more such fun birthdays together!
Thursday 16th July 2015 ||| Zakopane – Krakow
We drove from Zab for around 100 kms and reached Krakow at sharp 10 AM as we had to return our rental car. We dropped the car and went straight to the Glowny railway station to leave our luggage in the cloak room; it was quite economical too thankfully and quite well organized.
We had to board our Krakow-Prague train at 10:20 PM and got our tickets attested as well. We had full 12 hours to spend in Krakow and that too without a hotel to stay in so we had to find ways to spend our time. We started with some window shopping in a mall named Galeria Krakowska which was quite a huge space bustling with people! Bandita bought a dress from Mango where a discount sale was happening and we spent almost 3 hours in the mall doing nothing much. It was quite hot outside and we were in mood to get sunburnt for a change! I also bought an e-cigarette kit.
After getting adequately rested and bored we ventured out towards the Old Town Square to do some walking and eating! We had our lunch at a very small restaurant named Youmiko Sushi which is rated amongst the Top 10 Restaurants of Krakow. It is operated by 3 young Czech guys who learnt the art of Sushi in Japan while studying there and now run this small boutique place tucked away in a small building with no notice board on the main road! Thanks to Google Maps for taking us there! They make fresh Sushi only after the order is placed and right infront of your eyes! Seeing them making Sushi with so much love and devotion was such a sight! Our meal lasted for almost 90 minutes and we tried a lot of styles. We had Miso Soup, Hosomaki, Nigiri, Futomaki, Uramaki along with Wasabi paste and soy sauce. We loved the simple flavours and had a very satisfying meal indeed. Another gem experienced thatnks to my Trip Advisor research! And our first European Sushi experience!
After this long & lazy lunch we headed towards the Central park area to relax a bit more while Abhay ran behind pigeons entertaining everybody around us! Finally after playing for an hour he dozed off and we enjoyed some peaceful moments while watching people passing us by.
We did another round of the square while enjoying live performances of various artistes. Abhay had a ball running behind pigeons once again and with fellow kids; he was completely in his own groove! We had a street food dinner that night too as we wanted to keep it simple for a change! We reached the train station at 8:30 PM and waited to board our Prague train.
I also spotted a man wearing different coloured shoes! That was one hell of a shocking sight for us. Maybe it is a European thing! Yellow shoe in one foot and red in the other!
We boarded our sleeping compartment and checked into our large coupe. I had booked 3 berths for us. Our coupe had a wash basin too! It was quite a comfortable place to spend the night journey! It was a completely new terrain for Abhay and he was giggling his way to glory!
Travellers could also buy alcohol in the train at quite economical prices! The compartment attendant was a young Czech student who was doing this job in his summer break. He took our order for the morning breakfast and we had a peaceful night of sleep in our first overnight European train journey!
Krakow was loads of fun and we had a real awesome time in this vibrant city. And we enjoyed this much more than Prague too! It had a lot more exuberance than its big European cousin! Plus it was much cheaper too!
So till the time we meet again…
Cheers to life…
Till then ride safe and have safe sex…
Hasta la Victoria Siempre…