Reaching Krakow had been a bit of an ordeal for me. Cutting a long story short, after an entire day of freaking out, I found myself in a very hot, very cramped overnight train from Prague to Krakow stuffed in a compartment with an elderly Polish man, a Dutch guy and a large Brazilian family. And the Brazilian auntyji wouldn’t let us keep the windows open because she thought her 5ish year old would be cold, completely ignoring the fact the rest of us were THIS close to suffocating.
So I was quite sweaty and grumpy when I reached Krakow the next morning (I see this being grumpy and sulking was rather a usual feature of my travels).
But ANYWHOOOOO… Once I got there, I was charmed (again, this being charmed thing also seems to be pretty common too 😛 ). Why do I love Krakow? Let me count the ways…
(1) Free WiFi!
What I really liked about Poland was that both the cities I went to had free wifi in the market squares, which is basically the centre. This was particularly useful for me in Wroclaw because I had gone there completely out of the blue, and I had absolutely no idea about the city or its accommodation options. Same thing in Krakow. Very useful, particularly because I had a couch arranged for two nights starting the next night with (what turned out to be) an adorable family, so the first night, I needed to find a hostel, and I chose to go to Hostel B Movie.
(WiFi is the first thing on the list… Hmmm… I guess that shows where my priorities lie 😛 Though, in my defence, without WiFi I’d probably walk into a dump with the worst ratings. I’m attracted to things like that)
(2) Quirky Installations and Buskers
Europe has buskers, or street performers, everywhere. My favourite was definitely this one in Krakow. That man with the red tie is stationary!! :O How Epic!!
‘Eros Bendato’, also affectionately known as ‘The Head’, by artist Igor Mitoraj, in the Market Square. It is hollow inside, and some kid potobombed me by sticking their head out of the eye at the last minute. Dziękuję, kid!
I don’t know whose head this is. But it caught my eye. It’s evidently some King… King Krak maybe? Can anyone help me out here?
(3) A Well-Preserved Bustling Market Square
Polish cities (or atleast the two that I saw) have a market square which, for all intents and purposes, is the city centre. Krakow has a rich and turbulent history, what with the situations with the Nazis and Communists, but still has a remarkably well preserved square. Also, I got superbly lucky and was there for some special demonstration, but can’t for the life of me remember what it was happening for. Our free walking tour guide adjusted her tour a little bit so we could be at the Market Square at the right time to be able to see this.
It’s a marvelously happy place, very pretty and with lots of food everywhere. Speaking of which…
(4) VERY Cheap, VERY Awesome Food!
Poland is very, very cheap! This humongous open faced baguette sandwich thing in my hand with a good number of toppings is called Zapiekanka. Guess how much I paid for this delicious thing that I JUST could not finish? Guess?! 4 Zloty. FOUR! That’s less than a Euro. Crazy!
(5) The Magic Chakra
Our very own Lord Shiva is said to have flung seven sacred stones onto the earth as a gift to mankind. These fell in (listing them in alphabetical order) Delhi, Delphi, Jerusalem, Krakow, Mecca, Rome and Velehrad. Studies supposedly confirm that this is a centre of energy.
The stone itself is apparently buried in a crypt under the courtyard of the Wawel Castle (and the crypt is, naturally, closed to the public), but if you touch it, you can feel the energy.
(6) It Has Fascinating Stories Like This One
Now if you tell me you don’t like stories about dragons, I will look at you skeptically and mutter that you’re lying (sorry).
Legend has it that there once lived a dragon in a cave under Wawel Hill who breathed fire and relished the taste of virgin flesh. Finally, when only King Krak’s daughter was left, he announced he would give away half his kingdom and his daughter’s hand in marriage to whoever could slay the dragon. Enter a shoemaker’s apprentice… He took some sulphur (used to make matches) and filled a sheepskin with it. The greedy dragon emerged and devoured the ‘sheep’, and the sulphur caught fire in his tummy. To get rid of the agony, it started drinking water till it grew bigger and bigger and finally exploded into a million pieces.
I found some more information here. Looks interesting, and hints at the possibility of there having been a real dragon! Ooooooohh!!
(7) And This One
Four times everyday from up in the tower of St Mary’s church, a traditional Krakow Anthem is played. What is interesting is, the anthem stops rather abruptly. Why, you ask? Well, the legend goes that during a Mongol invasion of the city, an old watchman saw them coming and started playing the tune on his trumpet. This warned the people, and they could close the gates of the city in time. Unfortunately though, an enemy arrow pierced the old man’s throat, killing him instantly. And in honouring his great service, the melody is stopped at that precise moment every time.
It is also said to be good luck if the trumpeter waves at the gathered crowds below after finishing playing. I caught the wave once 😉 It’s not so common. They’re shy apparently. Why I don’t take pictures of these things is beyond my own comprehension
(8) And Even Some With a Bit of Grisle
(Is Grisle a word?)
Yes, yes, I’m a very nice, sweet, calm girl etc etc, but throw in a hint of gore and I get disproportionately excited. Krakow has a murky history which I got to experience with the Free Macabre Walking Tour. Like I’ve said a million times before, I’m a big fan of these free tours, and this one was extra awesome thanks to its subject. The tour was conducted by this guy called Jacek who looked a bit too adorable to really scare anyone, but it was informative and the stories were undoubtedly creepy.
In the pic above, I’ve got my head in this ring which hangs by the door of St. Mary’s Church. It was a punishment for adultery during medieval times and forced you to stay in a miserable half-sit position in public for 8 hours (with a candle in your hands, no less!), with your partner on the other side of the door. So it was not merely a physical punishment, but also humiliation for your behaviour.
(9) India Love!!
This always cinches it for me 🙂 I was just walking around randomly and saw these stars-of-fame things and decided to scoot closer to read some of them. And the first one I see? Congrats, Mr Bachchan!!
(10) Amazing Hosts
Like I said, I stayed in a hostel for one night, and spent the next two with a family (French boy, Hungarian girl and their 2 year old daughter). They were amazingly warm and friendly and I was so much at ease at their house. I think it really improves things if you’re staying with wonderful people.
And Some More About Krakow…
Krakow is the 2nd largest city in Poland, after Warsaw, and was the capital for 500 years!
Pope John Paul II, who became Pope in 1978, was from a town 50kms from Krakow. He was the first ever Slavic pope, and the first non-Italian pope in 455 years!
A lot of scenes from the movie Schindler’s List were shot in Krakow. On the Jewish tour (that I will write about soon), we were shown a lot of buildings that were in the movie, and were even shown the actual Schindler’s factory from outside.
Before the Holocaust, Krakow had 60000-70000 Jews, now there are about 100-150 active Jews in the city Some synagogues lie abandoned solely because there aren’t enough Jews to use them.
The locals pronounce it as ‘Krakov’.
Do you believe in the Dragon Legend? Have you been to Krakow? Let me know in the comments!