When I arrive at any airport, the situation is always similar. I don't look up stuff in advance. I'll just find out when I get there. This time, I went to Poland with two friends, Jasper and Perry. We didn't even know the value of the Polish currency, the Zloty (I guess that's how you write it in English). Some fellow Dutch people told us to divide it by 4 to get a close estimate of the value in euro's.
I didn't really search on the internet for things to do in Krakow. When I do that, I get high expectations. When expectations are high, the whole thing can turn into one big dissappointment. I get there, I know nothing. Afterwards I know a little more than nothing. That's how I 'roll'.
But first we had to find out how to roll... There was a bus stop, probably leading to the city centre or somewhere close to it. The damn thing didn't accept cards... BURN!
In our search for ATM's, buses, trains, ticket machines and hostels, I found out some interesting things about Krakow!
A) I have to admit, most of my experience with Polish people comes from the guys who come to the Netherlands as workers. As far as I know, they are fairly good at refurbishing bath rooms for a low price. In the evenings, they drink vodka, or cheap beer. I only meet them in the supermarket just before closing time. I am completely aware of this stereotypical biass. When I arrived in Poland, one thing occurred to me. Every single person looks grumpy! Everyone!!! I don't know why. In the supermarkets, in the ticket office, in the hostel, in the bars, everywhere. Don't they like being in Poland? A second thing that I noticed was that they were all incredibly friendly! It takes only a few words to change the grumpy face into a smiling one. What a contradiction.
B) Polish people, at least the ones in Krakow, could put more effort in tourism and marketing. If done properly, they could attract so much more traffic to their museums, castles, nature. When you arrive in Krakow, two things will occur to you. People want to show you the city in a wagon pulled by a bunch of beautiful horses. Other people want to drive you around in golf carts. Rubbish!! I would call these people the worst type of city pollution! You can't give a tourist a proper city tour while racing around in a golf cart. Give people walking tours. Walking is healthier. Or start bike tours, also better for your health!
During my stay I tried to ignore these city tours. In stead, we saw some great things. On the main square in the old city centre. There's a beautiful building filled with souvenir shops. What you don't see from a small distance, is that there are two museums situated in and beneath this building as well. No advertising whatsoever. There's an art gallery upstairs and 'Krakow's vaults' are downstairs. Especially the latter one was impressive. It was an archaeological museum, revealing parts of the Medieval market square and the history attached to it. Both museums were very cheap to visit. Don't miss them.
C) What's really hard to miss when you are in Krakow, is Schindler's factory, Auschwitz and the WWII history. What I found really hard to understand is that they turned these sites into tourist attractions and lots of people are drawn to it. We had plans to visit Auschwitz, I had expected a regular bus line towards it and lots of people, but after seeing so many golf cart guys happily selling Auschwitz trips, we decided not to go. I think it's a strange way to remember all the cruelty that has happened in these camps. We did go to Schindler's factory by foot, but since it was closed in the evening, there was nothing to see, really. The factory seemed to have been fully rebuilt. It didn't feel like 'history'. It's weird to see that 'Schindler's List', of course based on true events, gave rise to this tourist attraction. Without the movie, the story would probably have gone forgotten...
D) Kebab must be a Polish dish. They serve it EVERYWHERE!! If you like meat, visit Poland. It is hard to stick to vegetarianism when you see, smell and want all these delicious meat dishes. Not only the kebab is great. Try the kielbasa, some kind of spicy saucage. Especially when you are in the Jewish Quarter in Krakow, visit the grill bars around the kebab stands in the middle of the square. In one of these grills works an elderly couple which I fell in love with. In a family way. Even though there was a huge language barrier, there was love through food. I ate delicious shaslicks, saucages, kebabs, all served with a nice piece of bread and pickles. They should be my grandparents and serve this food every Sunday! Oh, how I miss them... Another option is zlapiekanka (again, it was something like that... my Polish is worse than my Spanish), it's a huge - and I do mean huge - piece of bread topped with pizza style toppings. They are served in many combinations. They are great.
If you want to eat really healthy, go to a supermarket, or stay home...
E) Polish people do not recognize Dutch people. We were told by several Polish persons, that Dutch visitors or tourists are rare in Poland. Our hostel, Good Bye Lenin Hostel, was probably 50/60% Dutch. The problem with Dutch people is... well... one group is enough! Maybe more than enough. I mostly try to avoid other Dutch people. It didn't work!
F) If you ever get the chance to visit Krakow, and you see a silver-painted juggler on the market square. Kick him in the groin. Kick hard! Watching him for 1 minute will be all the explanation you need...
G) Krakow has a botanic garden. As a biologist I felt the need to visit it. The outside area was a bit disappointing. Many plants seemed to suffer from the dry period and the hot weather. Inside the greenhouse though, it was beautiful! Hot, but extraordinarily beautiful. Entrance, again, was very cheap, 6 Zloty per person. The greenhouses are worth a visit! The water lilies were amazing.
H) Next time, I am staying longer! There is so much to do. The weather is usually very nice. Food and drinks are cheap! There are definitely very nice places to go out. During the day, the square in old town is nice to have a drink or grab lunch. During the evening we went to the Jewish Quarter several times. Especially Alchemia was very nice. Great music in the basement as well. When you are staying in a hostel, I'd definitely recommend Good Bye Lenin (the one in the Jewish area). It's a nice hostel, kickass breakfast, cheap stay, cheap bar, 24/7 reception and huge lockers in the rooms. Poland is so much nicer than I had ever imagined. I wouldn't mind staying there again!
I'll finish this post by showing a selection of the pictures of our stay in Krakow. Enjoy!
Follow me on Twitter!
|Nice old beer transportation device|
|Jasper taking pictures of doors (his mom is a collector)|
|Oh my god, a doorception!|
|Houses are crooked in Krakow, but they still look great|
|Church on the market square (visit the vaults and you'll get to know more about it's appearance)|
|The market hall with artists, souvenir shops and museums|
|Statue in the art gallery - they're not dancing, she's being kidnapped|
|Market hall, beautiful building - in front you see the annoying juggler - KILL ON SIGHT ;)|
|Beer & Sprite, it's okay, but don't drink too much of it, you'll explode|
|Inside the market building - these are the souvenir shops|
|Part of the old town wall, I believe this is a guard tower|
|If you are affraid of pigeons - stay far, far away|
|Someone had a good time here|
|Did I mention it was 30C +? Great respect to these beers|
|Royal family castle|
|Believe it or not - these were in the armory section - with fake moustaches - impressive!|
|Staircase tower - led to a cave guarded by a fire breathing dragon|
|Water lilies at the Botanic garden|
|Nepenthes sp. carnivorous plants|
|Victoria amazonica water lily - these leaves can hold the weight of a baby! Awesome plant|