Krakow’s Old Town – Stare Miasto

To be honest I wasn’t really looking forward to this trip as too much had happened in the lead up. However the minute I stepped into the old town of Krak√≥w, I felt that familiar amazement and wonder I feel when I travel. There were buskers (some playing really great music and posing as silver statues or knights as you do), stalls with flowers, plenty of snap happy tourists, little pretzel stalls, flower stalls, horse and carriages, waiters trying to lure you into their establishment, the waft of food coming from restaurants everywhere you turn and pigeons and people enjoying the afternoon sun as they walked around. All the things I have grown to love and expect.

Krakow’s town old town square is on the Unesco World Heritage List for being the biggest European town square. The edges of the square are rows of old houses and restaurants and the inside is filled with a range of fascinating buildings.

St Mary’s Church:
Firstly there’s St. Mary’s Church. The front section is reserved for prayer, so I went in and pretended to pray in a pew. You can buy a ticket to go into the front section (open from 11.35, zl) to see the famous altar piece by Veit Stoss but I decided to just strain my eyes from the back. This altar piece was one of the first things the Nazi’s took as they ransacked Krakow and when it was finally rediscovered after the war it was in pieces. It took Veit Stoss twelve years to build and four years from it to be restored to its originally glory after the war. After such an ordeal the government decided it was more of a monument now then religious item and were very reluctant to give it back, but finally after 18 years from when it was first stolen it was returned. What a turbulent life for an altarpiece!!!

You can also climb the tower … Need I say more. Anyone who knows me well will understand I have an obsession with climbing bell towers. Except … Day 1 it was raining and too dangerous, day 2 I was in Auschwitz, day 3 I was at the Salt Mines and day 4 was a Sunday and it was closed. I’m gutted.

Everyday on the hour from this tower a hejnal (kind of like a trumpet/bugle) is played. In 2004, when Poland joined the EU the ‘Ode to Joy,’ was also played from up here. They say half way through the song the player deviates from the melody to pay tribute to the original player who was shot when Mongals attacked the town. All I could think of was the Compare the Market/Meerkat ad where he talks about fighting the evil Mongals.

Next up, the Renaissance Cloth Hall called. Now days it’s full of souvenir stalls which I quite like because it means it’s still buzzing with energy like it would of back in the day. It has all the crests of Poland’s towns painted on the roof which was a nice touch as well! Having sadly run out of room for any more snowglobes I have moved onto magnets and got my first one of the trip from here.

Underneath the is a fantastic exhibition called Ryneck Underground (10-8pm, 18 zl). Between 2005-2010 archeologists excavated the Main Square and had some pretty amazing finds! Also, the pictures of this huge square all dug up are pretty remarkable. This exhibition/museum portrays the old life and story of Krakow. You wander from the Trade Section (with maps and money) to the Blacksmith (with a little house, tools in cabinets, a video reenactment of him making some tools) etc etc. there’s a perfect balance of reenactments on the screens, finds from the dig in cabinets and touch screens where you can change the language and read the history and information about the section you are looking at. All the foundations of the building are on display and there’s also a section with 4 rooms showing brief documentaries tracing Krakow’s history. It’s a very well put together museum and being underground was a great shelter from the rain!

There’s also the town hall tower – the town hall itself was demolished in 1820.

The Adam Mickiewicz Monument:

This square was renamed Adolf Hitler Platz when Krakow was under German occupation.

I’ve spent so much of time in Krakow in this beautiful square watching the world go by.


Hidden Finds In Krakow

Often the best things are the ones you are least expecting. On my second day in Krakow it was absolutely bucketing down with rain which put a halt to my plans. As I was running back from St Mary’s Church to my hostel I took cover under a little alcove. There were a lot of people gathered here and I quickly learnt why – from here you could see the side of a stage with folklore dancing. I had stumbled upon the ‘International Children and Youth Folk Festival.” I watched from my restricted view for quite a while and later that afternoon when there was a break in the weather I went back, perched myself on a stool and watched some more children and youth in gorgeous beaded costumes sing and twirl around. I love folklore. I’ve said for many years I want to learn Eastern European folklore dancing so if anyone knows any good classes in Melbourne, let me know!!!

That same afternoon when the weather Gods kindly decided to let this break in the weather last, I walked down to Wawel Castle. As I was trying to find the entrance, I heard more folk music and could smell bread and ale and wood and fire. Medieval sounds and smells. Sure enough I’d found a Medieval Festival. Could my day get any better? (Answer is yes, it could have STOPPED RAINING for longer and the SUN COULD HAVE SHONE because it’s meant to be summer for crying out loud!) There were little stalls made out of straw with freshly baked bread and bows and arrows and a little ale house. In the middle there were some ladies (in costume of course) teaching medieval dance. Happy days.