Krakow: advantageous stays available in this beautiful historic city

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Krakow is truly one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and now is the perfect time to visit. Sadly, their tourist numbers have plummeted not only due to Covid and economic uncertainty in Europe, but also due to the Ukrainian war – despite being 816km from the Ukrainian border. Unfortunately for Krakow, however, its appearance on television as a transport hub for many refugees has implanted itself in people’s minds as being right next to the war zone; it’s not. It’s like comparing London to Zurich.

To trick you into ignoring these myths, the Polish tourism and hotel industries have come up with some amazing deals. And, as an added incentive, you will no longer feel the chill of the idea of ​​Iron Curtain hospitality, Poland – especially Krakow – is now on equal footing with any Western European city. , with Michelin-starred cuisine and beautiful hotels at remarkably reasonable prices.

I stayed at the impressive 5 star Balthazar Hotel Central, right in the center of where you will want to be. This boutique hotel offers large rooms decorated with impressive works of art and large beds, covered in luxurious fabrics. Regular room rates from £200 will now get you checked in for the bargain price of £115, including a breakfast that will last you most of the day.

Prior to Warsaw, Krakow was the capital of Poland and for half a millennium it was the residence of Polish royalty, as beautifully illustrated by the city’s grand architecture.

The center of Krakow is full of palaces, churches and beautiful houses dating from the 17th and 18th centuries.

The prestigious 14th-century Jagiellonian University – Alma Mater of Pope John Paul II who studied medicine there in the 1930s and 1940s – takes up much of the city center. As you explore its courtyards and cloisters, you will quickly understand why, in 1978, UNESCO placed Krakow on the first list of world cultural heritage sites.

Fortunately, unlike Warsaw, the city was lucky to escape the damage of the Second World War, hence the 6,000 buildings of architectural interest and the 2.3 million works of art that remain today. today to enjoy.

I’ve been to Krakow several times, but I’ve never carried a wheelchair. My (hopefully) temporary disability provided an interesting challenge but in fact most of the places I wanted to visit were wheelchair friendly and the locals were always more than willing to lend a hand. Unfortunately, in my hometown, I didn’t fare so well.

After waiting half an hour at Edinburgh Airport for someone to push my wheelchair, I finally gave up and sabotaged it on my kickstand for fear of missing the flight.

On the other hand, the wheelchair service at Krakow’s beautifully modern airport was exemplary.

There’s a positive overabundance of notable art and architecture in Krakow, so getting through it all you might appreciate a few pointers. Advance my eminent guide (and wheelchair pusher) Simon Gatlik, who also runs his own travel agency through the facebook page krakowfoodandtravel. You won’t get a better guide than this walking wikipedia to all things Krakow. It was he who took me to a museum I had missed on all my previous trips – The Museum of the Czartoryski Princes – one of the oldest in the country, dating from 1878.

The most famous painting here is one of Leonardo da Vinci’s best-known works – Lady with an Ermine. Other highlights include two works by Rembrandt; several antiquities, including sculptures; Renaissance tapestries and decorative arts; and paintings by Hans Holbein the Younger.

If you’ve had enough of the antique and want a taste of the contemporary, enjoy the indoor craft market in the bowels of the town square – the largest medieval town square in Europe.

You can buy beautiful hand-carved wooden chess and backgammon sets there for around £5, and genuine amber beads for not much more. Other good buys are crafts worked in leather and silver.

With a student population of over 70,000, you don’t have to worry about nightlife (or pubs with their famous 15% beer). And, just like in Prague, a large number of musicians and dancers fill the streets day and night, bringing high-quality fun and entertainment to the city center.

A wacky but fun excursion is a Nova Huta tour with Mad Mike (see crazyguides.com). I didn’t twig when this stranger – with suspicious facial hair – crouched down next to my table and opened a massive £1.99 carry bag to reveal (and try to whip me ) a bright pink or blue suit. But there, it didn’t really upset me because I had just gone to lunch at Karakter where the menu had among its choices ‘horse sweetbreads sweet and spicy sesame sauce with spaghetti with green olives, served with lettuce in double cream with pepper and hazelnuts”. Or ‘Raw horse tartare with ostrich eye fillet in brioche, followed by spinach ice cream’. All I needed was LSD…..(the chef obviously got his share).

This will definitely get you in the groove for an hour or two into the world of Soviet Krakow and the 1970s. wheelchairs, but it had to be done….

Their Crazy Trabants are “masterpieces” of communist engineering, even if they can occasionally drop an exhaust pipe; having the heater fail or blowing out a spark plug, but hey, pushing the car is always fun, isn’t it?

This company also organizes anything from a Kalashnikov shoot to a luxury communism tour, which delves into the delights of Nowa Huta – the communist quarter, and includes a guided tour of the abandoned HQ of Lenin’s former steelworks. During this tour, you’ll also have the rare opportunity to eat lunch in an old-fashioned Milk Bar staff canteen and try pickled cucumbers with traditional Polish vodka shots (I did).

When it comes to more traditional tours, visitors turn to the towering Wawel Castle – the seat of Polish kings for over 500 years.

Here you will find a cathedral, the Treasury and the vast royal chambers, which all date from the 14th century.

South of Wawel Hill is the Jewish Quarter – Kazimierz – an area that has enjoyed enormous popularity ever since it featured in Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List. Until 1943, when almost the entire population of this Jewish ghetto perished in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps, it was one of the largest Jewish settlements in Europe.

Some synagogues remain and can be visited, but the Jewish population is now very small. There are still great Jewish restaurants with live music. Cafe Ariel at Szevoka 17 is worth a visit for a lively dinner.

For those familiar with the movie Schindler’s List (and even those who are unfamiliar), a visit to the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow is an absolute must.

There is a permanent exhibition here of Krakow under Nazi occupation 1939-45 and it is absolutely excellent. Located in the current factory of Oskar Schindler, it presents the history of the city through the eyes of its inhabitants, Polish and Jewish. Here you can see all sorts of memorabilia from Schindler’s time, and if you’re planning on visiting nearby Auschwitz, this is a good introduction.

There is another excursion that you simply must do in Krakow – and that is Auschwitz. It won’t be a fun day, but it’s an important part of the history of this city and region, and it’s also one of the most emotional places you’ll visit.

Known as “Ozwiecim” in Polish, much of the concentration camp is as the Nazis left it in 1945: the railway line and the junctions where people descended from cattle trucks, as well as mountains of clothes, trunks, shoes, brushes, dentures and glasses make you shiver. You can tour the prison’s cell blocks which now contain historical exhibits ranging from photos and maps explaining the camp’s role in Nazi planning, to a veritable mountain of hair – 154,322 pounds – shaved from prisoners before they not be gassed – a sight that left men bursting into tears.

It takes about an hour and a half to get to Auschwitz. There are daily tours, or you can hire a car for around £40 a day.

It is the year of solidarity with the Poles and the generous inhabitants of Krakow who massively opened their homes to Ukrainian refugees. This beautiful city is easily accessible and represents all that Europe has to offer. Go ahead and enjoy it and just be thankful, this year especially, that we can.

FACTBOX

EasyJet and Ryanair fly from Edinburgh to Krakow with prices from £70 return.

For more information about Krakow, see https://visitkrakow.com/

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