The Charming Streets of Krakow
Krakow is considered to be the cultural capital of Poland, and its medieval Old Town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.Check out the beautiful fall colors! 😀
Things to See in Krakow
Krakow’s main plaza, Rynek Głowny, is the largest square in Europe, and Lonely Planet has named it the most beautiful one as well. 😍The main square has a stunning Gothic cathedral, a Renaissance marketplace, and underneath the square, are medieval street stalls, which have now been converted into a museum, complete with holograms and audiovisual effects.
Nearby the main square is the Wawel Royal Castle, built for King Casimir III the Great.To add to the mystique of this fairy tale castle, underneath it is a dragon’s den- a secret lair for the legendary Wawel Dragon.
Fun fact: Part of the castle was incorporated into Chicago’s Tribune Tower, as a way to pay homage to the city’s large Polish population. 😀
Now King Casimir III had a good relationship with the Jewish community, and the current Jewish Quarter was named Kazimierz, after him. Here is a street mural of the king I found in Kazimierz.Side note: The Jewish Quarter has plenty more beautiful street art, including works by the famous British artist, Banksy.Anyway, because Poland embraced the Jewish community, before the Holocaust this country had the highest population of Jews in the world. To find out more about Krakow’s Jewish influence, I took a free Jewish walking tour.The tour was based mainly off Schindler’s List, a movie about Oskar Schindler, a man who helped save Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his metal factory.
During the tour we visited a lot of filming locations, including the original Schindler factory.
Errors in Schindler’s List
We learned from our guide that the movie was filmed in the Jewish Quarter, although that is historically inaccurate, since during the Holocaust, the Jews were forced out of the quarter into the ghettos. The reason they chose to film in the Jewish Quarter, was because it still retains an authentic 1930’s feel.
On the other hand, the old ghetto has been renovated, with modern architecture and high-rise condos.Side note: There is still a Holocaust memorial in the old ghetto, and part of the ghetto wall still remains today.The Holocaust memorial consists of empty cast iron chairs, symbolizing all the Jews deported from Krakow, never to return again.Then I learned how Hollywood glamorized Schindler as a saint, when in reality, he initially only helped the Jews to profit from their cheap labor. Lastly, Schindler was not the person to write the list, which saved the Jews. In fact, I learned some people paid to get on the list, even if they didn’t work at his factory.
Regardless of his motives, Schindler should still be honored as a hero for his actions. Thomas Keneally, author of Schindler’s List, explains why best:
“Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” -Thomas Keneally
Anyway, along with Oskar Schindler, I learned that Krakow is famous for other notable locals as well. 🙂
The astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus, studied here at Jagiellonian University. He was famous for positioning the Sun, not the Earth, as the center of the universe. Also, Helena Rubinstein, founder of the famous L’Oréal cosmetics line was born here. Her motto being, “There are no ugly women, only lazy ones.” 💄 👸
The Cheap Eats of Krakow
Now my earliest food memories as a child represent a very Eastern European diet- dinners of Polish sausage with sauerkraut, ham with potatoes, and beef stuffed in cabbage, topped with a warm tomato sauce.
Being in Poland, and smelling those same dishes, brought back all those wonderful childhood memories. And not only did the food smell good, it was also in my budget, so I knew I had to indulge in a bit of this classic cuisine.
My first stop was to Bar Mleczny “Pod Temidą”, a traditional Polish milk bar.Milk bars became famous during the 20th century, especially during The Great Depression. This no-frills cafeteria-style diner serves hearty Polish fare at rock bottom prices.When I first stepped inside, the aroma of dill was so overpowering, I felt like I had opened a can of dilly beans- my mouth already began to drool.
On the counter, they had out a few cold salads, thick fruity milkshakes, and along the back, I could discern a few of the hot dishes in large metal pans.
The women didn’t know English, but I was able to get across that I wanted borscht, and then I plopped a salad plate on my tray as well.The white borscht soup was made with sour cream, white potatoes, chunks of ham, and a boiled egg.It was served with rye bread, and my salad plate consisted of carrot slaw, a milky coleslaw, and a vinegar cabbage (my personal favorite).Afterwords, when I was walking around, I passed by a small pierogi stand that sparked my interest.PieRogi 2 GO had an interesting menu, so I decided to try a pierogi ruskie (cottage cheese with potato), as well as, a pierogi filled with duck and apple.The dumplings were very light, and the ruskie was by far my favorite, although I would have enjoyed a few grilled onions thrown on top. 🙂Moving forward, one unique dish to try in Krakow is a Zapiekanka, or an open-faced Polish pizza.
And the best place to find them is Endzior, a small little pavilion where locals huddle to scarf down these massive topped bread loaves.The menu here is quite ambitious…as if designed by either a drunk college student or possibly a pregnant woman with bizarre food cravings.
Not only do they all contain a layer of cheese and sautéed mushrooms, they also top each one with crazy combinations, like a salami, sweet corn, paprika and bean pizza, and a chicken, mozzarella, peach and cranberry one. Of course, there’s also loads of condiments to choose from, like ketchup, barbecue, mayonnaise, and garlic sauce.Mine had sausage, pickles, and Oscypek (a smoked sheep’s cheese made in the Polish mountains).Half way through, I had to ditch the bread, since it was so heavy, but I dare not let those toppings go to waste. That smoky cheese was incredible!Now as I wandered aimlessly around these charming cobblestone streets, I couldn’t help but notice the frequency of these Alkohole signs.
My mind began to wonder, what exactly is an Alko-hole?!? 🤔🤔🤔
Is it possibly a place that sells alcohol, or is it perhaps an actual hole you’ve often wanted to crawl into after a rough night of drinking? I know I’ve been there before! 😂😂😂 🍺+🍷 = 🕶 +💊+ 🛌 Well, as it turns out, it’s actually a liquor store, and they sell some unique Polish beers and vodka that can only be found in this region.The coolest ones I saw were olive beer and chili chocolate vodka.
Now as for budget beers in Krakow, liquor is very cheap, sometimes almost cheaper than water.
For example, I went out with a British guy at my hostel one night, to a pub called Pijalnia Wódki i Piwa.All of their drinks cost 1 USD and their appetizers, including beef tartar and herring, were only 2 USD.On my last morning in Krakow it was rainy, and I took refuge inside Lajkonik Bakery.I’m not a huge sweets fan, but I knew that Poland was the best place to try pączkis, a traditional deep-fried donut. The donuts were filled with either caramel or rose jam, then topped with either a chocolate glaze, sugar glaze, or powdered sugar. I decided on the glazed donut, sprinkled with crystallized rose petals.I found out later that wild rose hip jam is the most traditional filling. It smells floral, but tastes very tart and sweet.Overall, for food costs, the milk bar set me back $2.25, the pizza was $1.75, the pierogies were $0.50, and the donut was $0.50. I think I could get used to this. 😀Alas, I must move on, and now I’m headed to Budapest, Hungary. Stay tuned to hear all about it. Until then. 🙂
I stayed at Atlantis Hostel, which had a high-security keypad entry, as well as, ample locker storage, and a great location near the Jewish Quarter.This hostel had lots of Polish locals, which was really quite enjoyable. I met a Polish guy who was raised in Los Angeles, but now came back here to work as an engineer, and also volunteers as an English teacher in his spare time. He seemed very in touch with his emotions, and we talked a lot about his teaching methodologies. We shared the same perspective about not wanting to only teach grammar, but also greater moral values. He jokingly added that when he taught his first class of high school students, they didn’t realize he understood Polish, and halfway through one of his lectures, a girl in the back says to her friend in Polish, “What is this? English class or group therapy?!?” Hah!
Cost: 8 USD per night
To get to Krakow from Wroclaw, I rode PolskiBus, which took four hours, and cost about 8 USD.