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Krakow in January

Updated on January 29, 2014

Krakow

Krakow is the oldest city in Poland, it has been a busy city since the 7th century and is still the second largest city in Poland.

Krakow was the capital of Poland until 1596 when it changed to Warsaw, as it is today. luckily Krakow was spared the bombing in WW2, therefore there are still majestic and historic landmarks and architecture to wander and explore.

This city is now known as the cultural city of Poland with the old town, museums, galleries, the salt mines and plentiful sightseeing, delicious food and drink and of course the Vodka , which is drunk neat, in shot glasses, available in a variety of flavours ranging from Honey to Lemon.

If you like shopping there are beautiful furs, leather goods, art and the famous Poland amber, which is made into jewelry, ornaments and chess pieces.

Krakow seems to be spelt in many different ways, you will see it spelt usually as Cracow or Kracow but I also saw Krakow, they can't seem to make up their mind!

Kracow

Old Town
Old Town
Frozen river Vistula
Frozen river Vistula

Krakow, The Old Town

This is the place to be, it is beautiful, busy, with everything in a small area, shops, bars, cafes, restaurants, outside vendors, selling pretzels or hot wine, coffee and hot chocolate.

In the center there is the Market Square, which is in the old quarter, at the center there is the Coth Hall, this is a huge stone covered market, with arcades at both sides, and stalls down the center, selling art, jewellery, wooden boxes, music boxes, warm fur hats and gloves, lots of souvenirs. It is lovely to wander round and get out of the cold for a while.

There is also a tourist information center in the arcades of the Cloth Hall, where they are very helpful.

There are huge and impressive statues and majestic Churches, the largest and most striking is the Church of St Mary, it is a Gothic structure with two towers, the North tower has a tall spire, it is truly a fantastic building to gaze at. There are too many churches to go round them all, all filled with art, marble and gold alters and statues and crosses.

There is the wonderful and magnificent Wawel Royal Castle, this is a walled castle on a hill. Inside there is displays of 16th century tapestries, regalia, gold treasures, art and much more. The grounds are lovely and you have a good view of the city and the rivers from here

There are lots of Museums and galleries, we did not get to see all of them as we were only there for 3 nights.

It is somewhere we will return, maybe in the summer, which I would imagine, would have a whole different feel, with all the outdoor cafe's and street vendors.





Krakow

Krakow

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Food and Drink

The food in Krakow is fantastic, well cooked, and delicious.

We tried the Barazcz, Beetroot soup, which is clear and sweet, warm and tasty. There are lots of tasty soups and stews with dumplings. There is a place where they sell soup in a bread bowl, but we never did find this place.

Along with the pork or chicken dumplings, which are a bit like ravioli, larger, without the sauce, with a soft outer casing and soft minced pork or chicken inside.

Different types of sausages and smoked meats, such as smoked chicken with pickled cabbage.

Pork or Chicken Schnitzels, these are huge served with chips or rice.

They serve salads and a few fish dishes mostly cod or salmon, which is also worthy of mention.

Wonderful cake shops and cafes full will ice creams and tasty chocolate cakes.

We went into a cafe for a coffee and our son had a hot chocolate, which was almost basically melted chocolate, I am not even sure there was any milk or cream in it, with a huge swirl of cream on the top sprinkled with more chocolate.

If you want tea it usually comes in a small pot and you pick your own bag, for example Assam or Mint, there is a good selection of teas to choose from.

Tyskie seems to be the main type of local beer, which is light and nice to drink. Wine is sold in small glasses of 100ml and okay, but not very much choice. The choice of vodka is huge, with lots of flavours, such as honey, cranberry, Cherry, grapefruit and lemon.

What is nice, when you are cold is the hot wine, or mulled wine, it is red wine with oranges, cloves and spiced with cinnamon, served hot in a cup to warm your hands on. Also hot beer, this is a beer which is spiced with ginger and a syrup, served hot, it takes a while to make so when you order it, it can mean a wait, and if you stir it with the straw you are given it can erupt all over you, the table and the floor. This happened to us so I do know! one touch of the straw and woosh, beer all over the place.

There are plenty of restaurants which are very cheaply priced, even the expensive ones are not really expensive.

Everywhere seems to sell alcohol, the bars are called pubs and most sell some sort of snack too. But they are difficult to find at first if you don't realise, they are almost all in cellars, below ground, going down slippery, wet, stone steps with no handrail is quite a feat if you have had a few! They seem to be just a door, with a sign saying Pub, then you go down a few flights of steps to a small bar, with small rooms, all cozy and warm, were you can hang up your coats, gloves, hat and scarf and sit down with a hot wine and relax. No one seems to rush you, they are quiet and homely, that is until someone starts to sing in Polish quite loudly!.

Easily missed though, I think you could walk around the whole of Krakow and think there were no bars or pubs at all. Some of the restaurants and pubs are through small court yards which open up into covered seating areas to eat and drink, with warm outdoor heating. Because they tend to be all in cellars, there are no drafts and once warm the thick walls keep the place at a comfortable temperature. The walls are rough rock with arches cut through to make more rooms. Some seem to go on for ages in a warren of small rooms, with wooden tables and chairs.


Food and Drink

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Pork schnitzel Mixed grillFlavoured VodkaHot BeerMulled Wine or Hot WineVodkaSalmon DishCocktail and vodka the cocktail was Wsciekty Pies, which is Vodka, grenadine and tabasco.  You have to drink it down in one!Lovely beetroot soup
Pork schnitzel
Pork schnitzel
Mixed grill
Mixed grill
Flavoured Vodka
Flavoured Vodka
Hot Beer
Hot Beer
Mulled Wine or Hot Wine
Mulled Wine or Hot Wine
Vodka
Vodka
Salmon Dish
Salmon Dish
Cocktail and vodka the cocktail was Wsciekty Pies, which is Vodka, grenadine and tabasco.  You have to drink it down in one!
Cocktail and vodka the cocktail was Wsciekty Pies, which is Vodka, grenadine and tabasco. You have to drink it down in one!
Lovely beetroot soup
Lovely beetroot soup

What To Take in January

Clothing
Shoes
Extras
Thermal underlayers
Walking Boots
Map
Thermal hats and gloves
Snow Boots
guild book
Thick socks
 
Money
Warm layers
 
Lip salve
Scarf
 
 

Auschwitz, Salt Mines and Schindler's factory

The Main Gate
The Main Gate
The blocks
The blocks
The blocks
The blocks
Hut
Hut
Birkenau, a gun tower
Birkenau, a gun tower
Birkenau
Birkenau
Birkenau
Birkenau
Schindler's factor tour
Schindler's factor tour
Nazi cap
Nazi cap
Sign once in Kracow
Sign once in Kracow
Prison door where the Nazi's kept their prisoners before execution, normally hanging
Prison door where the Nazi's kept their prisoners before execution, normally hanging
Star of David
Star of David
Cards stamped
Cards stamped

Trips

Auschwitz Birkenau Memorial and Museum

This is a 1.5 hour bus trip from Krakow, plus a short bus ride to Birkenau, but it is well worth going. There are horrific stories of what happened to the people there, men, women and children, not soldiers, but normal citizens, of Poland, Italy, Greece, all over Europe. Millions murdered and tortured here.

There is a room full of human hair, nine tones of human hair, which was made into blankets for the German Navy, 1000's of children's shoes, reading glasses, hair bushes and combs. These are the things that the Nazi did not have time to destroy as they tried to hide the evidence, of the atrocities they committed.

It is a very strange place, everyone is respectfully of the horror that the people there went through, we went and it was cold -7 a light amount of snow on the ground, the temperature could go down to a low as -30, these people only wore cotton trousers and tops, with wooden clogs, if they were lucky, most had bare feet. Their heads had been shaved. We were freezing and we had on thermals, coat, hats, gloves, and warm boots.

There is a long corridor of photographs taken by one of the prisoners, He had to photograph everyone who came in to Auschwitz, after they had their head shaved and all their belongings taken off them, under their name is how long they survived, most was about 2 to 3 months, one being one day. The photographer knew these photographs needed to be saved, so he took some negatives and hid them, he survived Auschwitz and went back to retrieve them later. Which is why they have them today, lines and lines of haunting photographs of people who had normal jobs such as Accountant, builder, baker, just ordinary people who had done nothing.

You will see the gas chambers, where they cremated the bodies and where they slept on cold hard floors with nothing but straw and a dirty blanket to keep out the cold.

The food they were given was designed to keep them alive for only 3 months, soup made from rotten vegetables, with a small amount of bread.

There are plenty of organised trips and it is well worth it. We were in a small group of about 20, saw a film on the coach going there about Auzchwitz and some of the survivors taking about what it was like there. You will come away humbled by the horror of what happened there.

The tour is a guided tour in your language. You have headphones and a receiver, the guide has a microphone and you can hear everything he says as you go around the horrific sights.

Our guide was very good, making us think of how it must of been and not so very long ago either.

The first part lasts about two hours, a short break, then a 6km bus ride to Birkenau, This part lasts about 45 minutes to an hour. This is where the main gas chambers were and the barracks, that held 1000's of men and women.

Wieliczka Salt Mine

The salt mines are close to Krakow, we took the local bus, and got there ourselves. Again it is guided tour with the same as before, headphones to hear the guide. The tour lasts for about 3 hours and there are lots and lots of steps going down and down, the deepest part being 136m, but there is a lift back to the top, which is very cramped and functional

I would recommend an organized trip. The train is difficult to locate, the bus is okay, not everyone speaks English and you can't ask the bus driver, luckily someone told us were to get off. The trips down the mine are on the hour, and because of the bus times, we had just missed one and had to wait for the next.

It was a bit cheaper than the tour but not really worth the hassle. Coming back in the dark and thick snow, trying to find the bus stop was a bit of an adventure, therefore if you are not into thrill seeking, then I would stick to the organized tour.

You can get there by organized trip, taxi, bus or train.

It is a truly wonderful place, calm and still, a constant temperature of 14oc, which after the -11 we had been in seemed toasty! There is a cathedral, churches and rooms cut out of the salt rock, the Cathedral preforms marriages and still preforms mass. The salt carvings are breathtaking and amazing. There are a couple of underground salt lakes, one where you can make a wish. This is definitely worth a visit

There is also a health resort there too, where you can go and stay, the atmosphere is meant to be good for people with respiratory problems.


Schinoler's Factory

Schinoler's factory is in the former industrial district of Krakow. This now houses the Historical Museum of Cracow, and has details of the occupation of Cracow from 1939-45. As well as details about how Mr Schindler, saved many Jews from the gas chamber.

This is again a really good place to visit, it takes as long as you like, up to two hours. There is a small cafe, and small book shop.

You wonder around on your own taking as much time as you like. There are places where you can stamp your own card with the different occupations of Krakow, from 1939 when it was the Polish , 1940 the Nazis and 1945 the Russians.

It is not too far from the old town, just across the river, so we walked there, over the bridge and though the snow it was a nice walk, all flat so not strenuous at all, slow walking, it took us about 30 minutes, this was stopping and taking photos too.



Church of St Mary

In the Old Town
In the Old Town

What you need to know

Buses and Trams

These are good, as long as you know where you are going, as we found out when we went to the Salt Mine. You buy your ticket on the bus or at kiosk, you do not speak to the driver, "Automated" we were told when we tried! They come often and are on time.

Trains these seem good too, but again, you really do need to know where you are going, as not everyone speaks English.

Trams, we did not go on these but I would say they are a good way to get about the city if you don't want to walk. They seem uncrowded and easy to use.

Taxi

On the outskirts of the old town taxi's line up and you can get one quite easily, your hotel can book them for you also.

Walking

The city is not huge, it is flat and easy to walk around, nice too, plenty of churches, architecture and statues to look at while you walk around. Stopping off for a nice hot coffee or hot wine on your way

Airport

The airport is small but okay, very hot though, after being in the cold outdoors all coated and thermaled up, going into this hot airport means taking off a few layers. There is a cafe a few shops and a restaurant. Going into departures, it is small, cramped and hot. A few shops, one bar, no restaurant, only sandwiches and snacks, take a book if you have a long wait and get a seat, these can also be hard to come by.

Tips

No one seems to wait or expect a tip, so up to you really, if you want to do, if you forget, there is not much of a problem, my husband tipped the taxi driver and he seemed surprised by this, actually so was I, he never tips!

Maps

There are plenty of street maps telling you where you are, but, it is not a big city and once you get your bearings you can easily make your way back to the Market Square so you know where you are.

Accommodation

There are lots of hostels, which seem okay if you are a young traveller, hotels, big and small. We stayed in an aparthotel, which has apartments as well as rooms. The room was large, warm and the basics of what you need, tea, coffee, hair dryer, shower, and was very clean.

Our only two gripes would be-

1. That you have to ask for the room to be cleaned or if you would like more tea-coffee, our room was not cleaned when we were there, no clean towels and when we did ask for a bit more tea and coffee, although they said, "yes of course" it never actually happened. But they did let us leave our bags there after we had checked out.

2. We had already paid for a taxi to the airport before we left with the tour operator we had booked with. We got dropped off at the hotel, they said they would call the hotel on the pick up time to let us know. The day we booked out, we asked if the taxi had called they said "yes, it would be there for 5.45pm" so we left our bags and went back at 5.30pm to be on the safe side. The girl on reception who had good English before, now could not understand and told us she thought we did not want the taxi and she had told them to cancel it. We were having a conversation about this with the girl, who was now not understanding English, when a man turned up and asked us if we had already paid, we said we had and gave him our name, he spoke in Polish to the girl and then told us he was our booked taxi to the airport. He then told us that this has happened before, and to report it. What they do is, tell us the taxi has been cancelled or has not turned up, or that we missed it. Then they get commission on getting another (possibly more expensive as time is running out and you need your flight) taxi.

Apart from that the room was warm and comfortable.

Money

The currency is Zloty, which is meant to mean gold, as it was originally gold that was traded. They come in 10,20,50,100,200 and you do get a lot for your money, About 4.5 to the pound Stirling. There are plenty of banks and exchange places, cash machines and you can pay by card in the more modern restaurants and shops, the smaller shops still will require cash

Water

Is okay to clean teeth with, but not advisable to drink, buy bottled, this tends to be carbonated, but if you say would like non fizzy,they will get one for you.

Climate

When we were here in January it was between -1 to -11, we had snow, it was lovely powdery snow, even if very cold. In the summer the temperature can get up to 25-30oc. All the shops and public places are warm and there are drop off points for coats etc. in most places. Even if it is just a coat hook.




Town Hall Tower

In the Market Square, to the left is the Coth Hall
In the Market Square, to the left is the Coth Hall

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