I spent the first two weeks of August 2022 on a road trip through parts of Poland and Austria. Left Bucharest, Romania, went through Oradea, Romania with the first destination being Krakow, Poland.
The road trip itself was an interesting experience as it was done with a fully electric car and the time spent in parking lots of gas stations, shopping centres, and McDonald’s-es to charge it… well, let’s just say, I’ve never had that many long “pit stops” in my life. Other than that, I totally recommend electric cars 😀
We stayed far from the city centre, at Hotel Apis. Luckily, we had a bus going from near the hotel to the heart of the town. Besides, the hotel was great, with a very good breakfast.
TIP TIME: In Krakow, but also in Warsaw and Wroclaw, you can buy bus tickets from the machines inside the bus(tram) or through mobile apps.
The bus left us in front of a shopping centre which despite being open had all its stores closed. And that was how we found out that in Poland, all stores are closed on Sundays. The only exception are small private-owned shops. The reason behind it is owners are not allowed to ask their employees to work on Sundays.
But, before judging me for wasting my precious tourist time on shopping centres, I do have a good excuse for it: I left Bucharest, Romania at 40 degrees Celsius and my first day in Krakow was rainy and windy and 16 degrees Celsius. I needed an extra layer. Luckily, I did find a scarf in a small Indian shop in the old town.
The old town is surrounded by greenery and we entered it at the Saint Florian’s Gate Tower, a medieval gothic building, adjoining the city’s fortified walls. Immediately after, one can visit the Barbican Gateway, now part of the city’s Historical Museum.
From there, you’re officially inside the old town. You enter cobbled streets, flanked by old buildings with tiny shops on the ground floor. The entrance to the shops is usually fairly narrow, making you think the space is quite small, when in fact, once you’re inside it seems to expand in length like some sort of magic tunnel with no end-light in sight. Luckily, the effect is to make you want to go further and explore, rather than run out screaming. Which is exactly what I did, when I entered a candy store, called Castle Sweet and only left it half an hour later with a bag full of sweets.
By the time we reached the main square, it’d started drizzling, so we took refuge inside the Cloth Hall – a market hall with stalls selling traditional Polish trinkets and the largest amount of amber I’ve ever seen. So, if you’re a fan of amber, Krakow is the city for it. The Cloth Hall also holds at least one museum in its walls and underground. Besides this building there are three other noteworthy structures in the Main Square (Rynek Glowny): Saint Mary’s Basilica, a big red-bricked, two-towered church in one corner of the square, the Town Hall Tower, and the Church of St. Wojciech, a small, 11th-century church, that looks like it doesn’t really belong here, sort of like a lost child in a crowd of adults, which is weird, considering it’s probably the great-great-great grandma of the buildings around.
The old town ends in a crowning glory with, you guessed it – a castle. The Wawel Royal Castle. It’s a museum you can visit, but I strongly suggest you buy your tickets online and pay close attention to the timetable of the tours. We didn’t, and we were supposed to wait another almost two hours for the next tour, so we decided against it. Instead, we enjoyed the pouring rain and views over the river, then went down through the Dragon’s Den, a cave at the mouth of which the dragon itself awaits, breathing fire at regular intervals. Fun!
After walking a bit along the river, we had a very good lunch at Karakter, a very nice restaurant with delicious French-style cuisine.
We then explored a bit more of the part of town called Kazimierz, the historic Jewish quarter, saw the street famously known as Schindler’s List Passage (from the movie), then visited the Museum of Engineering, particularly the barn full of vintage trams, which concluded our first day in Krakow.
On the following day, despite initially not planning to go, we decided to visit Auschwitz – very last minute. Which meant there weren’t any tickets left for the English-guided tour, so we ended up going on the Spanish-guided tour, which actually turned out all right. But the point is: don’t make up your mind about it at the last minute and make sure you book your tour in advance. Other than that, it’s difficult to describe the experience of visiting this place, so you’ll forgive me if I don’t go into details. I would say it is worth the visit.
After coming back from Auschwitz, we spent the evening on the other side of the river Vistula in the Stare Podgorze, visiting the Saint Joseph Church and its surroundings, which I was very impressed with. The church’s architecture is neo-gothic and has a striking, embellished appearance. But what struck me more were the sculptures around it, representing scenes of Jesus’s way to Golgotha. The sculptures are exhibited on a cliff surrounding the church. If you follow the scenes composing the story, they will take you up some stairs and into a small, but beautiful park, where you can stop on a bench to rest and admire the beauty of nature and church.
Being in this neighbourhood, we also made a stop at the Jewish Ghetto Memorial, a big square filled with giant metal chairs, representing the abandoned possessions of the Jewish people who were gathered in this square before being deported.
Overall, this day revolved around the story of the Jewish people and their oppression which made it a rather sad and introspective day. Nonetheless, an interesting one.
Next stop on my journey and story: Warsaw, Poland.