Kraków

Kraków is the second largest city in Poland and dates back to the Stone Age. It is situated in the south of the country and has the Vistula River running through it.

I spent four days there in November 2013 which, was enough time to explore the city and do a couple of day trips outside of it.

There are two main parts to Kraków – the old town and the city centre. As the name suggests, the old town is very historic and has architecture dating back to the Renaissance and Baroque eras. It is largely built around the main square which features the Cloth Hall – an old market/ trade centre. In the present day, it has a selection of shops below and an upper floor museum.

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There are quite a few traditional restaurants around the square, which were very reasonably priced. I tried Polish dumplings and a sort of pie which substituted pastry for cabbage with my friend. Both we extremely tasty and with a pint on the side, the whole meal came to £7 each.

img_3671If you’re looking for something more modern, there is an amazing burger restaurant called Moaburger where you can get a really fantastic burger for around £4. There are a range of sides and sauces and you can eat in or takeaway.

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One of my favourite parts of Krakow was Wawel Castle, located on Wawel Hill. It was once a residence but is now a museum. You can walk around the grounds for free but the exhibition halls have an entry fee.

As you walk down to the river from the castle, you will see a giant dragon structure. Legend states that the Wawel Dragon appeared before the arrival of Krakow and lived in a lair under the castle, next to the water.

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Being a city heavily affected by Word War II, Krakow has a lot of reminders to this time in history. Obviously, you can avoid these areas if you want to but I felt it was important to seek them out and learn more about how the people of this great city were affected.

First off, there is the Schindler Museum which opened in 2010. It is made up of multiple rooms and moments in time which have items, photographs and videos to view. It took around an hour to go round and costs just under £4 to get in.

Second, there is a humbling art installation placed just over the road from the Schindler Museum, known as the Ghetto Hero Square. There are 70 spaced out chairs paying respect to the millions of Jewish people taken in the war. The chairs are used by people waiting for public transport today, suggesting metaphorically that anyone can be a victim.

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I didn’t spend much time in the city centre as I wanted to explore more of the old Krakow but I will say it had an amazing selection of bakeries. The cakes and pastries were so good (and very cheap) but if you want something to nibble on-the-go, look out for the pretzel stands dotted around. They are about 20p and have loads of different flavours.

Outside of the city, I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau on an organised trip. It is something that has stuck with me ever since I went and I can still remember how cold and insignificant I felt walking around the two camps. I won’t type out the detail of what I saw but I would recommend a visit. Some things should never be forgotten and sometimes you need to experience what happened first hand, to truly understand what people went through.

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Overall, my favourite part of Krakow was a visit to the salt mines, just outside of the city in Wieliczka. It is one of the oldest salt mines in the world, making table salt up to 2007. Now, it boats dozens of statues and chambers made entirely out of salt. As the chambers mover over time, they open and close to reveal new passageways. It was absolutely incredible and I’d love to go back.

The most stunning room of all was the St Kinga Chapel featuring grand salt chandeliers that lit up the giant room. It had such good acoustics that events, orchestras and even wedding are regularly held there.

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Lastly, Kazimierz – the old Jewish district is well worth a visit for shopping, cafes and bars. It is again built on a square and has a mini market place in the middle where you can get zapiekana – a type of French pizza bread that is delicious.

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