And finally… Kraków

We finally became aware our trip coming to an end when we were on our way back to Poland where it all started eight days ago. Our last hotel was in Bielsko-Biała. It was quite a long way there from Vienna. It was an average Polish hotel but the elevator there has to be seen to be believed. You actually have to lock yourself out by busting open a metal door. I’ve been got stuck in an elevator in my life but I thought that was going to be the first time I had… Luckily, we got up to our room safely. Over the course of our trip we got so used to packing and unpacking that we couldn’t believe that was actually the last we had to go through this routine during this trip… It was a quiet evening and I think at that point we were getting nostalgic and got back in our mind to the trip we were missing so much before it was even over. We just couldn’t get our heads around the fact that was almost it and honestly didn’t have our hopes high about the last day of the trip…
Next day we were Kraków bound. It was a couple of hours’ drive outside Bielsko-Biała. We were not buzzing so much about this drive around the South of Poland and it was sad to realize that was now something we had previously seen when we set out on our trip. We were about to experience one of the oldest cities in Poland, one of the country’s major cultural and economic hubs. It used to be the capital of Poland from 1038 to 1569 when Sigismund III Vasa relocated the court to Warsaw. I took a quick nap on our way to the city, I think that was a sleepless night in the city of dreams catching up with me… The weather was cloudy again…
First we made a quick stop for souvenir shopping. Luckily for us, the crowd instinct didn’t take over and we didn’t join the rest of the group in flocking one single shop which immediately got overcrowded with our tourists. We went to a shop nearby and had a bit of a shopping spree because that was one of those rare occassions when we didn’t care to save up because we had a lot of złoty left to spare. I thoroughly enjoyed my shopping experience and thought I actually might be over my limit with everything I got but the money we had with us was just enough to pay for everything. Poland is a place where you get the best deals (at least for food and souvenirs).
As we were waiting on the rest of the group, we took some snaps of the Kraków Barbican which is a fortification of teh city walls that leads into the Old Town (Stare Miasto) of the city. We saw some pastry on sale just around the corner at ridiculous 1 zł. As we found out later that was a symbol of Kraków called obwarzanki (bagels), a kind of bread ring. It’s a shame we didn’t try one. It’s so hard to make up your mind on the go when there is so much going on.
Our walking tour of the city began near the Grunwald Monument which honors the Battle of Grunwald of 1410 during the Polish-Lithuanian-Teutonic War, one of the largest battles in Medieval Europe. It marked an enormously important victory for Poland and its allies. That was actually one of the first sights of Kraków which I saw long before I came here. My Mum was in this city years before I was born and I remember one of my favourite things to do growing up especially when I had to stay home alone to keep me busy was looking through lots of old photos and one of those was of Mum near that very monument. It was surreal I was standing there, some thirty years on.
We had a lovely and friendly guide whom I instantly liked even despite of her heavy accent. She really seemed to be trying to make us welcome in the city which I think is what a guide’s job is all about. It looked like it was just about to start raining and we were ready to brave rain again. The city had a distinct medieval feel to it and despite the nasty weather, I was feeling at home there… We were taking a nice relaxed stroll of some of the streets with a running commentary of the city’s history and got to the entrance to the Barbican. I loved this massive wall and there were some nice photo opportunities there. There were some buskers playing some national music and I wanted to have my picture taken near one of them and this man was willing to pose with me with a happy smile on his face.
At some point it started really pissing it down and the guide said they get lots of rainfalls here probably just as much as in London. I really loved the reference to this city I was dying to visit one day. I felt my feet soaking through but I didn’t really care maybe because for a second I pictured myself walking the streets of London in a soaking rain and got carried away by my little fantasy. The streets of Kraków are arranged in some intimate way and with the rain pouring it felt that it was just me and the city and the time stood still… We were shown one of the buildings of the Jagiellonian University, one of the oldest universities in the world and the rain was playing a nice lovely tune as if that was me making for Vienna where I didn’t get to hear any music playing…
The rain stopped (it seemed it had been raining for ages) and I understood why we saw so many rain ponchos on sale… I thought about London again… We took a stroll along Floriańska Street lined with many cafes, restaurants where you can stop for a drink and watch various people go by… I was loving the vibe and the crowds… There were lots of horse-drawn carriages ridden by some young people and lots of tours to Auschwitz on offer. I used to be into the history of the WWII and I’d love to take a tour of an extermination camp even though I know there are lots of disturbing views there and such trips can have a negative emotional impact especially on faint-hearted people…
We made our way into Main Market Square (Rynek Glowny), one of the largest medieval town squares in Europe. It felt that architecture and history was just a step away and the square was magnificent. There were lots of beautiful flowers on sale here but it is considered illegal to export flowers from abroad so we decided not to take risks… We knew Mum would have been so happy to get some though… We also got to listen to the heynal played each hour from the tower of St.Mary’s Church. According to the tradition, we were waving at a man playing heynal and that made the entire experience even more magical.
We were now to go up Wawel Hill consisting of many buildings including Wawel Palace and Wawel Cathedral. Before that we made a quick stop at some Italian-style court and saw some newly wedded couples here. While there was a brief pause, the guide took a phone call and it was fascinating to do some eavesdropping and enjoy some Polish and hear her say the word dziękuję,(thank you) which I struggled with at the beginning of my trip… As we were going up Wawel hill which is pretty steep, according to an odd Russian tradition, we seemed to overlook the fact there were lots more people except us and we were obviously taking up too much space and that poor couple with a stroller had to say przepraszam (excuse me) for us to make a way for them… We saw some dancing festival taking place outside the Wawel Cathedral. It is a Polish national sanctuary which holds the tombs of Polish kings. We got inside it and it was really spiritual and beautiful. Kraków is also called the city of churches. We were shown the tombs of some of the Polish kings and those tombs looked a bit scary due to human figures laying in rest on top. The guide pointed to the exact place where our president at the time was sitting during the funeral of the President of Poland Lech Kaczyński who along with many more members of the political and cultural elite were tragically killed in a plane crash in Smolensk on the way to some ceremonies to celebrate the Katyan massacre. That event was a subject of speculation and controversy in the media. Whilst in Europe, I had those moments when I totally forgot where I was from and I’m ashamed to admit that remark made me giggle a bit… I didn’t really care about our President at that point even though I was somewhat delighted to see him on TV in Prague a couple of days ago… At the end of our tour we visited the burial place of Lech Kaczyński and his wife Maria. The atmosphere in the room was somber and there was physically hard to breathe… I felt it wrong to be taking any pictures in there…
Sadly, that was almost it for us in the last city of our trip… After we were done with a lovely delicious dinner, the sky was clearing up but it was time to say goodbye to what I think was the most tourist-friendly city of our trip… I really felt we were welcome there in a royal style. This city is absolutely well worth a longer visit. There are lots of things to do and see here and so much history to be explored… Dziękuję, Kraków – you were a perfect end to my trip! I promise I will try to be back to enjoy more of your charm and hospitality…

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