Running out of Old Towns

Trip Start Jul 11, 2005
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Trip End Apr 04, 2006


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Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Krakow, Poland
Prague time +0hrs
Days to get to Prague - 2


When you are everywhere, you are nowhere. When you are somewhere, you are everywhere

- Rumi

Krakow - Poland's past
Remember how, in the last entry, I said Poland was used a battleground during World War II and how most of its cities were badly damaged as a result? Well, scratch that where Krakow is concerned. It's probably Poland's most cosmopolitan, and definitely its best preserved, city having miraculously survived WWII unscathed. The city boasts a wealth of churches, baroque architecture and of course, a medieval Old Town. It also boasts Poland's biggest tourist attraction, Wawel Castle and Cathedral. The city was founded in the 7th century by Prince Krak, who, according to legend, secured its prime location overlooking the Vistula river after outwitting the resident dragon. The city flourished as the medieval capital of Poland, and the kings ruled from Wawel Castle until 1596. Even after the capital was moved to Warsaw, Polish royalty continued to be crowned and buried at the Wawel Cathedral.

Disorientated
We arrived in Krakow bus station off a stuffy and uncomfortable bus from Warsaw. It was just after 4:15am. Thanks to my CK fleece, which doubled as a pillow, I actually managed to get some sleep on the trip. But not Henk. He was too busy sewing his pants back together. Not quite sure what happened there. Oh, the life of a backpacker. After giving out about arriving in Warsaw at 7am you can imagine how 'inconvenient' it was that we found ourselves wandering the streets of Krakow at 4:30am. Frustrations began when we couldn't find our bearings with relation to our location on the map (street name signs would have been dandy) and boiled over when, after loading up our bags and sitting into a taxi, the driver refused to bring us to our requested hostel for less than a ludicrous 25 zloty (€7). Eventually we got assistance from a local (there wasn't too many of them around at that time of the morning) who pointed us in the right direction and after some more "where-the-hell-is-it" frustrations we eventually found the Dizzy Daisy hostel. After some sleep and breakfast we hit the streets to investigate our options for getting to Prague, our next, and my final, stop. It didn't take long to realise there weren't too many options; the only way to get there was via overnight train. And with a monopoly on the route you can imagine the price was a budget buster; the cheapest ticket (a seat berth) cost an extortionate 167 zloty (€45). Transport options haven't been cheap recently. Not good for the budget, which, a few days from going home, was, within reason, pretty much discarded by now. Thankfully I already had my flight from Prague paid for.

Sights
Anyway, with the logistics of finding accommodation and purchasing onward train tickets completed we proceeded to have a good look around the city. We decided to do this separately and reacquaint later that evening in the hostel. I spent a few hours touring the Old Town which started with a walk through the Old Town walls at the Florian Gate before passing down Florianska to Rynek Glowny (Market Square). From there I continued south on Grodzka, passing some nice churches (the Franciscan church, Church of SS Peter & Paul and St. Andrew's Church) before getting to Wawel Hill, the hill crowned by Wawel Castle and Cathedral, both iconic symbols of Poland. Continuing further south I explored Kazimierz, the Jewish sector of the city, brought to attention in the movie Schindler's List, which portrays the story of the 65,000 WWII Krakow Jews. See my attached pictures for my complete take on the city.

Gruzinskie Chaczapuri
With the sightseeing out of the way myself and the Henkster went looking for some sustenance. We hit gold as we found a gem of a restaurant, Gruzinskie Chaczapuri, which is a chain restaurant serving cheap but hearty meals.... and draft Okocim beer. It was so cheap, and we were so hungry, that we both ordered two, appropriately enough, traditional Polish dishes. This prompted our waiter to recommend to us that he have the kitchen prepare one dish at a time, hinting one dish would be sufficient to quell our appetite, however big it may be. He obviously knew how large the servings were and had doubts about our ability to polish off two of them. He was right. We managed one dish, all the while drinking to his impeccable service, before wobbling out of the place nicely stuffed and promising to return the next evening to order the second dish the kitchen never got around to preparing and we never got around to sampling.

And that was Krakow in a nutshell. The next day we left the city for a trip to the nearby Auschwitz Concentration camp (see next entry), before returning and catching the last of our transports, the (expensive) overnight train to Prague.
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