Trip to Krakow, Poland

Continue from previous post (Trip to Warsaw)
I'm sure most of you never heard of Krakow before. Actually, I've heard about this city before, I heard it in a movie Schindler's list, Azmil also mentioned to me before about his trip to Krakow with his German  girlfriend last year and the girl I met in the train on the way to Warsaw also from Krakow but somehow it didn't stick to my mind.
Why I decided to visit this city? Well, I had a conversation with a cashier in Hard Rock Cafe Warsaw. She asked me where else I have been to in Poland. When I said I'm going to be in Warsaw only, she strongly suggest me to visit Krakow. She said I would need at least 3 days to cover the place. Later that night during dinner, I had a discussion with Agata about visiting Krakow. She didn't want me to go there alone and she wished to join me and in fact she said there is another town better than Krakow in her opinion that she wanted to take me to visit it. But her schedule was a bit tight to be away from Warsaw during my one week stay in Poland. I told her I won't be leaving for long, so I decided to go to Krakow alone for overnight stay. Agata helped me purchased the train ticket via online and it costs 120 zloty for round trip.
Krakow (pronounce Krakuf) is the second largest city and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Located about 300km south of Warsaw with Vistula River cut through the city, the same river flows into Warsaw. It was a capital city of Poland for 500 years about one thousand years ago until 1569. Krakow has very long history from Stone Age to Medieval Age to WW2 and it was center of academic and artistic for Poland.
Krakow Station
Krakow is very popular among European tourist especially those from the UK. I heard many Britons fly in for weekend getaway with their family or group trip. Quite popular among young Europeans to come here for bachelor party and clubbing too.
Main Market Square
In here, I met so many tourists compare to Warsaw. Not only Europeans but those from Asia as well. More Asians I met here in one day than one week in Warsaw. 
Beautiful town
From the train station I walked passed through the main market straight to Wawel Castle (pronounce vavel). Actually, I have a guide I met on the train who took me to this castle smack right in the middle of the old town. The Gothic Wawel Castle was built at the behest of Casimir III the Great many centuries ago at the river bank of Vistula River. In fact, this place is a complex consists of many buildings and fortifications. History about this castle is so long, it went back to nearly a thousand years ago. 
Visit to Wawel Castle
I went inside burial chamber beneath Wawel Cathedral. There were tombs of Polish kings, national heroes, military leaders and notables figures. They were kept inside "sarcophagus" a box-like funeral receptacle for a corpse carved in stone and displayed above the ground.

Tombs of great leaders
Wawel Castle from the other side
There is a Polish myth about Wawel Dragon living in a cave under the castle. Actually, I saw the dragon, made of a metal and breathing fire from its mouth. It is quite big as you can see in the photos below. According to the legend, the dragon "Smok Wawelski" (wow it got a nice name!) was a mystical beast which terrorised the locals, eating their sheep and kidnaping local virgins (I wonder what he's going to do with the local virgins??) before being slain by Krakus, a Polish prince who founded the city of Krakow and built his palace above the slain dragon's lair. This is one of many versions of the story.
Wawel Dragon is breathing fire!!
One great landmark in Poland is Vistula River. It is the longest river in Poland passes through many important cities like Krakow and Warsaw before end up at Gdansk Bay. There are cruises along the river but I didn't take it. Many people strolling, running and cycling along the paths at both sides of the riverbank remind me similar scenery in Japan. They take a great care of the river, ensure it cleans with no rubbish or pollution flowing into the river.
Walking by the river side
My guide would like to go to another church St. Stanislaus to pay respect, do a short prayer and give some donation. There are many churches in Krakow, I think several dozens of them. I followed him into the church and burial chamber beneath the church similar to Wawel cathedral. I could see beautiful carved sarcophagus of the most distinguished Poles in here mainly famous poets. Not sure why there were so many poets in Poland??
St. Stanislaus Church
Before we parted, my guide Tomasz and me went to a coffee shop to have a drink and light meal. Tomasz is a shy guy doesn't like to be photographed, he lives and works in Warsaw. He went to Krakow for a weekend break with his parents and to attend a performance at a theatre there. He told me his parents actually living in another town near the seaside up north of Poland.
Thanks to my guide Tomasz
After that I went straight to my hostel nearby. I booked a room with 6 people in mixed room. This is the first time I see triple bunk bed. It's so high, you could break your neck if you drop from the top bed. I chose the lowest bed which was a bad idea because it was near the door facing the lobby. I couldn't sleep at night because people were partying until wee hours. I slept early because I wanted to wake up early to explore the city. Sharing the room was an Australian named Christopher. He was the only friendly person in the room. I must be an visible man to the others people because they didn't even look at my face. 
My hostel in Krakow
Ohhh... before I went to bed. I went out to the main square again for dinner. The night scenery was stunning! After half an hour walking around the main square I went back to the hostel because I couldn't stand the extreme cold. The temperature dropped below 0 degrees at night. 
Krakow at night. There are horse carriage tour around the Old Town.
Enjoy beautiful night photos below. All the images were taken using Sony RX100M2. Anyone wishes to travel light, doesn't like lugging your DSLR around should consider this camera. I kept my camera in my pocket most of the time.
Cloth Hall at night

Main Market Square at night

Townhall Tower and Cloth Hall at night

I couldn't sleep properly that night because of the noisy. I woke up early in the morning and enjoyed the free breakfast, but it wasn't as good as the Cityhostel in Berlin. I managed to say goodbye to Christopher before check out. Then heading straight to main square to see if I can join in any free tour available. 

Main market square in the morning
Krakow Main Square (Rynek Glowny) is the largest medieval square in Europe has dimension 200m x 200m. There are several other important landmarks around the square such as Cloth Hall (Sukiennice), Town Hall, St. Mary Basilica and Adam Mickiewicz Monument. There are many florists at the square other than people selling souvenirs. 
The main market square was rebuilt several times after the city was destroyed by the Mongol invasion several centuries ago until Nazi occupation several decades ago. We were taken to see the first layer of the square which is two floors deep below the surface. Other than being used as merchant and trading place, the square also witness many historical events including stage of public executions, a place of regal ceremonies, victory parades, civilians clashed with the authority, etc. During Nazi occupation the square was renamed Adolf-Hitler Platz. 
There is Adam Mickiewicz's statue the greatest Polish poet at the middle of the square used as favourite meeting place. In 1940, the monument was destroyed by the Nazis which restored six years later when its pieces found in scrap metal heap in Hamburg.
Adam Mickiewicz Monument with Cloth Hall in the background
In one of the tower at St. Mary Church, there is a guy playing Hejnal Mariacki with a bugle every hour as part of main square tradition since several hundred years. I managed to capture it in video. The origin of hejnal is unknown. But I was told the trumpet call melody end up abruptly because according to the legend the trumpeter was shot with an arrow at the throat by Tartar army. 

Walk around the town
Townhall tower is the only remaining structure from the Townhall building which was demolished about 200 years ago. 
Townhall tower & Cloth Hall during the day
After walking around the main market square, the guide took us to the other part of Old Town (Stare Miasto). 
Tour around the town

The famous city wall
Another interesting landmark just outside the Old Town is Krakow Barbican a fortified outpost function as gateway to the Old Town which was once connected to the city walls. I saw many Bagel cart selling sort of bread coated with cheese. I tried one , it costs only 1.5 zloty.
Too many interesting places
Eros Bendato
Do you know that one of the oldest universities in the world is actually located in Krakow. University Jagiellonian was established in 1364. I went to the first university premise in city center a building with a little square in the middle. There are many more universities within this city with over 200,000 students. I wonder how can youngsters living in an old town like this. There must be happening places that I didn't know??
Visit to Jagiellonian University
Before train ride back Warsaw at noon, I went to Kazimierz or known as the heart of Jewish Krakow. Kazimierz was named after its founder King Kazimierz Wielki. The Nazis destroyed and ruined the place during the war and the communists neglected the place for decades. Kazimierz started attracting attention after Schinderlist's list movie filmed here by Steven Spielberg. I saw many synagogues in this area and found Jewish cemetery nestled between the buildings.   
Visit to Kazimierz (Jewish Ghetto)
Using the free map, I walked around the area and bumped into a group of young people. Looking the way they dressing and talking, I think they are Jews students from Israel. Later the group emerged with another group and I was surrounded by 30-40 Jews heading to Jewish Ghetto in Podgorze. Right after the bridge, we arrived at Plac Bohaterow Getta (Heroes of the Ghetto Square). The view was a bit eerie with many empty chairs which represent furniture and other remnants discarded by the deportees before being send to various death camps.
The Jewish Ghetto was created during the war by German for public order reasons. The place used to have 3,000 people before the war was over crowded with more than 20,000 Jews from neighbouring communities. It was plagued with disease, illness and hunger. Many died trying to get food and medicines beyond the wall and those get caught were shot dead by the Germans. During the deportation, the Nazis executed old and weak people, children at orphanage, hospital patients, all being shot on the spot. Thousands have been massacred by the Nazi in this way and the street of the ghetto were soaked in blood just like in Schinderlist's list the movie. Ironically, the Zionists did the same to Palestinians nowadays.
Plac Bohaterow Getta
Connecting Kazimimierz and Podgorze is Kladka Ojca Berntka (Footbridge Father Bernatka) over Vistula River. It becomes lovers bridge where couples in love will put a padlock engraved with names, love and date on the bridge's railing barrier then they throw the key into Vistula River as a symbol of eternal love for life (really??? maybe I should do that for my new found love)
Kladka Ojca Bernatka
One day spent in Krakow is not enough. I must come back to visit other attractions such as Plaszow concentration camp, Oskar Schindler's factory, Auschwitz-Birkenau (the largest and most notorious Nazi's death camps), Wieliczka Salt Mine (world's oldest salt mine in operation), etc...ohhh and to put a padlock on the lovers bridge... hehe
Bumped into interesting people and events
Next write-up on trip to Hamburg


Unknown said…
Kam, it's me Pn Seri..
Was reading ur blog for d 1st time.
Great!! Appreciate d write -up on ur trip to Polland
Kam Kasturie said…
Hi Pn Seri. I don't really promote my blog. It is more like a diary of events in my life. Glad you enjoy my write-up. Pls forgive me, I'm not a good descriptive writer. Hope you like the photos more than the write up ;)

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