I must just write a more cheerful account of my visit to Krakow to counter the gloom of the previous post. Krakow is indeed a beautiful city and a fabulous place to visit. It is so easy to get to from Bristol Airport taking just 2 hours and 10 minutes. Once in Krakow it is very easy to catch a bus right into the heart of the city. Bus tickets are very cheap as is most transport. We travelled on trams which are spotlessly clean, very efficient and very frequent. Once in the heart of the city though it is best to just wander. There is so much to see and it is easier on foot. If you really want to be a tourist however there are little vehicles which go to all the main sights, or the open carriages driven by a pair of beautifully groomed horses.
There are 10 world class heritage sites in Krakow and I think I saw them all! I really did walk my feet off but it was a pleasure. There was never any problem with language as most young people speak very good English and older people are so lovely and friendly that we got by with maps, smiles and pointing! Most of the time though we were shown around by Ben who speaks Polish like a native having lived and worked there for some time.
I suppose I could split my photos up by the days we were there or by the things that really interested me. I have covered the unmissable Jewish Quarter and (unmissable for me) the Papal connection as well as the Black Madonna Icon. Apart from those there was the great food, the lovely people, the superb buildings, and the sensational art nouveau stained glass windows of Stanislaw Wyspianski. I missed the famous salt mines, the oldest in the world, with their breathtaking chapels hewn out of salt but will definitely go there one day.
I spent very little money as we were so well looked after by Ben and Kasia but I wish I had bought some of the amazing amber jewellery. Amber is called the Baltic Gold, it is not a precious stone but is an organic substance – fossilised tree resin. The largest deposits and some of the oldest are found around the Baltic shores. Imagine, it was formed 40-60 million years ago! I just love its purity, timelessness, richness and sheer beauty. There is a shop in Krakow which has the most amazing display of amber. Below is a picture of a sailing ship made entirely of amber that I would love to give house room. I walked past it many times just to drool!
The meals we had were all superb. The portions were so big that we had to share! Krakow is full of wonderful cafes, restaurants and hotels. Unlike in UK we felt that we could linger for hours over lunch or tea. In fact there are cafes with WIFI where you can just sit and work or read for hours over a drink without anyone bothering you. It is part of the cafe culture to encourage artists, writers and academics to spend time together and it is certainly inspiring.
There is a fun side to Krakow too as seen in the Dragon’s Den and the statue of the dragon by the River Vistula. I had heard the legend of the dragon that used to live in a cave beneath the castle walls waiting to eat sheep or fair maidens. But I was not prepared to be scared out of my wits by it! I took little Maja for a walk along the river while my friend popped to the loo. As I passed the dragon it suddenly roared and belched out a huge jet of smoke and flame. Apparently it does this every so often – but no-one had told me that!
I also had lots of fun trying to catch a photo of the bugler who plays the Hejnal from the upper windows of St Mary’s Church to the four quarters of the world. I always seemed to be looking in the wrong quarter! The Hejnal is the musical symbol of the city. It was played in medieval times as a warning call. It is now played daily every hour and at midday on Polish radio.
The market square and cloth hall are fascinating places where tourists can buy any manner of things. I bought a beautiful palm for Palm Sunday. I watched the young girl make it from ears of wheat and dried flowers with palm leaves interwoven. I was surprised by the abundant flower stalls as there did not seem to be any flowers growing locally. In fact, after a harsh winter when even the Vistula froze over, there was very little greenery around. I suppose the flowers, huge roses and daffodils, are grown in greenhouses somewhere but they really are beautiful.
So I came home with most of my spending money still in my purse! The currency is the Zloty (zl). It is pronounced zwo-ti and is divided into 100 units called grosz (gr). The notes feature Polish Kings. I should have changed my sterling in Poland as I could have got about 5 zlotys to the pound there. In the UK I only got 4 which is a terrible rate. But as I didn’t spend most of them it is academic really.
Below are some of my photos, if you want to see the other 600 you will have to pop round!