Sunday, October 13, 2013

Krakow recommendations you might not find on TripAdvisor.

Look. Everyone who goes to Poland goes to Krakow. We know this, so we won't bore you with how fun it is to sit in the Market Square and people-watch or window-shop in the Cloth Mill. We won't go on and on about the beautiful riverside on a clear day or the picturesque Market Square at night. We won't detail every single gorgeous church and cemetery. We won't tell you about the bugler... But!

We will tell you that the parks in the area are totally worth it on a clear day.

slowly enjoying Krak Mound

slowly absorbing Parc Jordana

We will insist that you check out the various open markets. Of the more known markets Stary Kleparz was our favorite...

so much fun to browse

... but we also ran across Plac na Stawach near Parc Jordana one morning where we were treated to absolutely ginormous free samples of delicious pastry treats by one of the shop owners. And on Saturday morning we went to Hala Targowa's flea market in search of a warm sweater for Patrick - no luck with that, but if we'd been looking for socks, pirated DVDs, or antique dishware we would've totally been in heaven.

We will highly recommend the free Jewish quarter walking tour. (OK, this one is on TripAdvisor but bear with us.) We also did the general free walking tour our first morning in the city, which was interesting and a helpful introduction, but we got much more out of the Jewish quarter tour led by one of the 200 self-identified Jewish residents living in Krakow these days. The tour will take you through the Kazimierz district and Krakow's ghetto - we wish we'd done it earlier in our visit, instead of waiting until our last day to explore these less touristy neighborhoods.

If you do any of the free walking tours, we will suggest you seek out some of the street art highlighted on the free map. Most of the art is outside of Old Town, and it's a great way to see Kazimierz if you don't get to the Jewish quarter tour.

anti-corporate scrabble aht

anti-communist mural aht

anti-television stair aht
(steps lined with famous quotes)

On Auschwitz-Birkenau... yes, everyone who goes to Krakow tours these camps and yes, we did too, and no, words can't possibly express how we felt during and after the whole experience.

What we will say is that we did a self-guided tour around Birkenau before visiting Auschwitz, and we recommend that order vs the opposite. That wasn't really our original plan but you can only visit the Auschwitz museum tour-guide-free before 10am and after 3pm (guides are about $20/person and it sounds like they rush you through it so we wanted to visit on our own time), and our bus from Krakow didn't get in until about 10:30. So we took the free shuttle to Birkenau (no guide required anytime) and wandered there for about 3 hours before heading back to Auschwitz. English translations are available on all the maps and monument plaques, and being able to walk through what remains of the buildings at Birkenau before seeing Auschwitz helped us to appreciate (for lack of a much more appropriate word) the atrocities of both sites even more.

Other things we will tell you about Krakow...

the world's best laudromat is at the corner of Dietla and Starowislna

the pigeons are very efficient (or maybe just picky?)

seeing Peruvian flute players in Native American costume
in the middle of Krakow is just weird

the national pantheon underneath the Church of St Peter and St Paul,
soon to house influential artists and writers,
is pretty awesome

October might be the best time to visit

Lots of great food cart-type places in Krakow (finally!), great eats in general too. Food notes:

Lodging notes:
  • Hostel Atlantis: cheap, lots of people, a bit industrial and noisy for our taste, big kitchen and common area, choir practice between 8-9am while we were there (better than it sounds - they were amazing!)
  • Football Corner Hostel: also pretty cheap, all the football (that's soccer to you Americans) your little heart desires, only 3 dorm rooms and on a quiet street so in theory nice and quiet (except for when your UK dormmates party until 3am and snore like buzzsaws after they do finally settle in for the night), very close to the bus/train station and main square, but really lacking in common area space so we never felt completely comfortable

We had a great time in Krakow, and I'm sure that the 200,000 students (1/4 of the population) enjoy studying there, but soon enough it became another city and we were ready for some down time. Five regrets, though - not going to the Wieliczka salt mine ($30/person for admission), not taking the Communist walking tour ($20/person + guide tip), not going to Schindler's Museum (not pricey, we just ran out of time), not seeing a puppet show at Teatr Groteska ($20-30/person, we found a deal where first time visitors could get tickets to select performances for ~$3, but they were sold out while we were there), and not getting to Ojcow National Park (hint: if all the info you can find says "you need a car to get there", you really do need a car to get there). But that just means there's more to do next time we visit!

Speaking of cities and getting out of them - time for the High Tatras... and Slovakia!