The other side of Krakow
If monuments and museums were all you thought Krakow had to offer, think again! Flaunting its splendid architecture, treasures of art, varieties of bars, pubs, clubs and restaurants, the former Capital of Poland has grown into a lot more in the recent past.
Why go First and foremost;
Why go Krakow when the rest of Europe appear to be more promising and attractive? I was haunted by the same question before leaving for Poland but like Frost said sometimes one should just choose ‘the road less travelled by’ and so after my return from the historic city, I can now cite numerous reasons to visit Krakow. If you have been that inquisitive historian at heart who is interested in the happenings of the world wars and their aftermath, Krakow stands out as a classic case study! The lucky city survived the harsh atrocities of Second World War and when the Nazis decided to make Krakow their base; the old city was preserved while the rest of Poland was bombed mercilessly. Even today the streets of Krakow stand witness to the mad bloodshed at the hands of Nazis and its historic monuments resound its struggle for freedom. Almost seventy years post the decline of the Nazis, the city reverberates with the spirit of freedom, lulling its visitors to a state of self-possession in the old Capital. Start with Wieliczka salt mine, listed under the UNESCO’s World Heritage, it is the only mining site in the world that has been running since the middle ages. Just one and half hour drive from Krakow, lies Oswiecim (Auschwitz), which was once the concentration camp of Nazis. After the end of the war, the site has been kept as a museum and memorial, receiving over a million visitors every year. Then there is this epic ‘14th century St Mary’s Church and its two uneven towers’, which ring a bell at the closure of every hour. The medieval houses are a blend of history, telling their tales through the marvelous architecture. The 11-kilometer long royal route, Wawel hill, castle, Kazimierz~ Krakow’s historical Jewish district, have all had had settlers since as early as the 15th century. Of course, it rose to the heights of its popularity after the Oscar-winning Schindler’s List was filmed here. Schindler’s factory, cobblestone streets and the clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages, all add to Krakow’s charm.
What to do
The best way to start exploring the city is by foot, starting from Market Sqaure ~ the most bustling part of the city. Walk through the cobbled street dotted with trendy cafes, buzzing bars, restaurant with outdoor patios, several high end brands, souvenir shops, flower shops and clip-clop of horse drawn carriages and several century old buildings. Then, at any point during yoiur exploration ~ pause and just take a look of 360 degrees, you will find historic buildings encompassing all around you. At the Centre of the square is Gothic-styled, 14th-century St. Mary’s Basilica, across which is a 14th-century Cloth Hall, now a market which sells traditional crafts and food. On the ground floor they have the traditional crafts and food while the upper part is for an exhibition of Polish artwork. Want a spectacular view of the Vistula River? Head towards Royal Castle and Wawel Cathedral on the Wavell hill. Want to mknow more about the famous scientist Copernicus? Take a walk down to Jagiellonian University where he studied in the 15th century. The best place to spend the second half of your day is in salt town ~ Wieliczka Mine, just a half an hour drive from Krakow. Based in the 9th floor down the ground level, the mine has chambers and pits that are interlinked by serpentine, well-illuminated passages carved out of ancient slabs of salt and the mines. There is almost a city inside, complete with a lake, churches, restaurants, a ballroom and passages that run for a 300-km stretch! Keep your next day free for Auschwitz-Birkenau, one and half hour drive from Krakow. It’s not a happening or cheering place like others but it is actually a tour of death camp. Of course it can be quite uncomfortable for many witnessing rooms filled with suitcases, babies' clothes, false limbs and women's hair ~ remnants of the concentration camp of Hitler. The evening could be spent well in Kazimierz, once an abode of 65,000 Jewish residents, now houses Krakow’s trendiest enclaves, full of bohemian cafés, hipster-populated bars and clubs that go on all night.
Room & the roof
Krakow offers endless places to stay, both budget as well as luxurious! We stayed at Pod Roza (Florian'ska 1; podroza.hotel.com.pl; doubles from 650 zloty/₹11,387).), situated in the heart of the city, Main Market Square. Just a five minutes walk from hotel will lead you to Market Square. Rooms are cosy, bathroom included a heated flooring, a Jacuzzi bath, lovely granite décor, the sloping roofs and large windows of the hotel look out on to the red roofs and church spires of the Old Town. Another option could be in Old Town, quirkily designed hotel Puro Krakow, with trendy, pop-coloured furniture, free Wi-Fi, bicycles, coffee, and a roster of in-house events (Ogrodowa 10; purohotel.pl; doubles from 419 zloty/₹7,340). Family-friendly and modern, Hotel Kossak is situated close to the Jewish district of Kazimierz and has great views of Wawel Hill (Plac Kossaka 1; hotelkossak.com; doubles from 573 zloty/₹10,000).
Tongue & taste
Along with the cultural hub, Krakow is also a hub for the foodies. Begin your day with sumptuous breakfast at Hotel Pod Roza’s restaurant, which is also called Pod Roza. For lunch try some authentic Polish cuisines in Wesele (Main Square 10; +48-12-422 74 60; weselerestauracja.pl; meal for two around 140 zloty/₹2,453), in Market Square. Sit here for another half an hour to witness the full enthusiasm of the town. One can have a clear view of bustling square from their glass frontage. For dinner don’t forget to visit Piano Rouge~ the oldest restaurant of Krakow. Live Jazz performances transport you back to the ’40s while you order from the extensive wine list. The menu features everything from citrus-doused prawns, to mini meat-stuffed samusas, pork tenderloin, and Polish specialties like grilled sheep’s cheese (Main Square 46; www.thepianorouge.com; meal for two 280 zloty/₹4,905). If you are a fan of the spicy Indian cuisines, why not try Ganesh, who sits on the corner of Tomasza and Florianska Street, just a stone throw distance from the Market Square. They offer mutton and seafood entrees to 'sizzlers' served on a hot plate, and like most Indian establishments. Hurry up In the last ring of your visit? Must head to the old town with many buildings dating back hundreds of years, major sites like St. Mary’s Basilica and the massive Cloth Hall, and up on the hill 14th century Wawel Castle. Trip tip Don’t forget to bag their popular Vodaka from Krakow.