Our most recent continental escape took us to the ancient city of Krakow, in Poland. Ancient, and tragic. Yet it’s an upbeat city with a lively atmosphere. It doesn’t hide the dark moments of it’s past, and neither does it hide its ambitious hopes for a brighter future. Business and tourism seem to be booming. There’s an atmosphere on the streets of Krakow that’s positive and vibrant. There’s plenty of recognition for what has gone before. But without the bitterness. I guess, perhaps, that when a city has experienced what Krakow has, you can only move on. And up.
Visiting in early March is a risky proposition weather wise. Central European countries bask in beautiful hot summers, but suffer harsh snowy winters. We were a little lucky. Cloudy and bitter on our first day there, but sunny and bright with blue skies for the second and third day. Small piles of shoveled snow lay here and there, stubbornly resisting the rising spring temperatures were reminders of what we just missed. I imagine that the city is beautiful in summer, once the trees have a bit of green, the grass a slightly lusher shade of green and the flowers are in bloom. It was beautiful anyway. And clean. Much cleaner than most cities I’ve been through.
Krakow is a very walk-able city, but if your legs tire or you want to go a little further into the suburbs, then cheap trams will whisk you there quickly and comfortably. Tickets are about fifty pence for a twenty minute ride and can be bought at some stops or on the tram itself. We treated ourselves to a tram ride a couple of times. But to get around all the main spots in the city centre, feet do the job just fine. Our hotel was towards the edge of the main tourist area, just metres from the Vistula river. But even from our abode, the castle was just a ten minute stroll and the main square another ten minutes from there.
Those seeking gastronomical satisfaction won’t be disappointed. Prices can vary, as in any city. But find a good Milk Bar (Bar mleczny in Polish) and you can eat a tasty, filling meal for next to nothing. Milk Bars have been going more than a century, although they seem to have a strong connection to communism these days. They are the equivalent of an English cafe, or Mexican fonda. Good home style cooking on a budget. They rely on government subsidies, and have had a tough time since the fall of the red peril. But it’s a great way to experience real Polish food and a bit of their history at the same time. Happily, Milk Bars have their fans and are making something of a comeback. Sort of.
We really enjoyed our three and a bit days in Krakow. It has something for every one. Oodles of history. Food. Culture. Art. Street life. All with a tragic streak running through it. And a healthy sprinkling of optimism. Best of all, it can be done without spending a fortune. Flights from London can be had for about £40 return per person. We stayed at the excellent Secret Garden Hostel in a studio apartment – it even came equipped with an oven, microwave, fridge and decent heating. It’s definitely one of the best value tourist destinations in Europe today. Photos? Of course. Click here and here and see them all on Flickr.