Krakow, the medieval capital

A youth backpacker in Europe
Chapter IV Part I

Krakow, the medieval capital

Still suffering the insane coldness after Warsaw, Jiann Chyuan learnt that Krakow, despite sharing no common features as in Warsaw, has no exception in adding coldness as an ingredient in a winter travel. It was yet another battle between checking out the beauty of the city and the ugliness of the weather.

City: Kraków
Country: Poland
Currency: Polish złoty (1€ = 3.4zł)
Travel dates: 2 Jan 2008 – 4 Jan 2008
Accommodation: Hocus Pocus Hostel
Travel buddies: Egon, Rahma, Siddharth, Stella, Meghan, Kim

Caption: St. Mary's Basillica with a I-don't-know-who statue in front.

It was only a short journey from Warsaw to Krakow. However, it was the first journey ever in my life which InterRail ticket was put into use. The lesson learnt in Warsaw that transportation in Poland is beyond just affordable didn’t save me from shocking myself after learning about the cheapness of the intercity train. Spending 259€ for the InterRail ticket, the hope to at least getting the money back, if not generating more value out of it surged incredibly.

Tip: InterRail ticket is worthy if you are travelling in countries such as Germany, France and Netherlands, as these countries charge expensively for train service. Although the quality of train service is unbeatable, it is not ideal for budget traveller.

Caption: Old town street where I stayed (left) and gallery selling place at old town.

Krakow, despite the fact that it was the strongest contestant in competing with Warsaw to become the capital of Poland, shares no common features with Warsaw. Warsaw, in my opinion, is definitely chaotically arranged with tonnes of grey and dark images in display. However, it was a challenge to get a taste of this in Krakow.

I was thankful that Warsaw was included in the winter trip since trailing the footprints of war in Krakow is destined to be a failure. However, this doesn’t mean that Krakow is boring. Instead of stuffing itself with cruelty portraits of war, Krakow was surprisingly a calm and quiet medieval city which strives to impress visitors with its richness in culture and extreme aesthetical value of its architecture.

Based on the size of the city, it is not to my surprise that Krakow wasn’t chosen to be the capital of Poland. However, this brings up to the question on whether the expansion of Warsaw was carried out only after its formal election as the country’s capital. Or perhaps during my stay in Krakow, my activity was mainly limited in the old town, the most prominent example of old town in Poland, where I was completely clueless about its boundary.

Caption: All smile in front of St. Mary's Basillica (left) and horse cater in Rynek Glówny.

Although the expectation to experience the disgust of war in greater extend was brought to a disappointment, it was actually a very pleasant stay in Krakow. It was indeed a different flavour, especially when you are seeing horse carters circling Rynek Główny, the largest medieval town square in Europe, the satisfaction of turning time back to the medieval period is almost a guarantee.

Being the largest town square in Europe, there are certainly a few famous structures which enjoy highly celebrated acclaim from their historical appeal in Rynek Główny. For examples, St. Mary’s Basillica Church which stands tall in freezing cold winter, and the Sukiennice which was once the major international trading centre in Poland, but has unfortunately lost its former glory and being transformed to a sheer tourist souvenir hot spot. The Town Hall Tower is located right next, or centre to Sukiennice.

In contrast with the humongous St. Mary’s Basillica, the presence of the itsy-bitsy Church of St. Wojciech, one of the oldest stone churches in Poland, in just less than hundred metres distance clearly outlines the different architecture values from different periods of Polish history.

By looking at the pictures in this entry, it is definitely logical to conclude that the presence of sunlight in winter would enhance the beauty of Krakow greatly. However, despites all the smiles put up in the photos, the temperature was actually unbearably cold. However, it is only fair to say that the sunlight did warm up the soul, if not the body a little.

Tip: Winter trip is only for those who possess high endurance of coldness. Walking in cold numb feet is definitely not the most enjoyable way to torture your own self.

Caption: Sukiennice (left) and souvenir stores inside it.

Talking about the weather, it reminds me of my experience of the night before seeing sunlight in Krakow. It was the first night in Krakow. Again, because of limited travelling time, the exploration of the city continued even when temperature dropped to -15C at night. However, the flesh on my body was disappointingly having extremely low endurance that I ended up buying myself a 7€ musical concert in one of the churches along Grodzka (the castle street) to avoid the coldness.

However, it was pathetic. Sitting on the wooden bench listening to a five people mini orchestra playing Mozart and Chopin was definitely not enjoyable as the building material of the church accentuated the coldness of the night. The concentration paid to the performance was absolutely nil. Fortunately in this unfortunate situation that I had got the opportunity to witness the fine architecture of the interior design of a church, as it was the church I went in Krakow. Perhaps lesson was learnt.

Caption: Inside the church where I was trying to enjoy music performance while suffering coldness.

If focus is to be given to historical monuments in Krakow, it would probably consumes as much energy and time to read as to write. Nevertheless, there are some important destinations which you shouldn’t miss. One instance is the Wawel Castle which served as the royal residence for five centuries just beside the river of Wisla with its absolutely stunning view to the modern part of the Krakow city. Besides, as the nation’s famous recipe, a visit to Kazimierz, the Jewish district is also highly recommended. However, the number of synagogue in the district might bore you after a while.

Caption: Wawel Castle (left) and the view from Wawel to new town of Krakow.

If I have to make a conclusion, or perhaps a general impression about Krakow, I would say it is a blend of modern living with ancient surrounding. The preservation of the every corner of the city, despite the fact that Poland was the most severely attacked country during WWII, surely is a surprise to every visitor. However, expectation to experience something extraordinary in Krakow would undoubtedly turn into sheer disappointment, because Krakow is just another beautiful city with a lot to see.

But, visitors to Krakow surely know what to expect. Join me soon for the second part as it reveals the biggest highlight in the winter trip, Auswitz, the living hell on earth.