Sunday, 15 August 2021

Going Krackers for Christmas in Krakow

Typical Krakow Christmas Market stalls (see bottom of post for picture attribution)
Travel forums are often littered at this time of year with people asking for advice on whether the Christmas Market of a particular city is worth visiting, and Krakow often features within this. 
Just about everywhere now seems to offer Christmas Markets and, certainly in the UK they are more often than not referred to as German Markets.
So, what is the Krakow market like during the festive period and is it worth booking a trip especially to visit it?
Having not perused every Christmas Market in every European city - I am no expert. However, what can be said in Krakow’s favour is that it has the luxury of one of the largest central squares in Europe in which to set it up. The spikey gothic columns of the St Mary’s Basilica and the chocolate box baroque buildings offer an atmospheric backdrop that many cities would envy. What also goes in its favour is that it runs in tandem with some pretty old festive Polish traditions which lend an air of authenticity to the atmosphere. In addition of course, there is the Polish climate which often obliges with some of the white stuff to dust the quant wooden huts and stalls. What could be better than sauntering amongst the smells of barbequeing sausages, mulled wine and sugary treats to the sound of gentle carolling by children and a sprinkling of fresh snow?

Sunday, 26 July 2020

Visiting Kraków during the Covid 19 pandemic

So you are coming out of lockdown and quarantine has been lifted for visitors to most countries in Europe. You see that flights are now available to Kraków, but you are put off booking as you are nervous about going abroad during a global pandemic. You are also very unsure about what to expect and how safe you will be. What is visiting Kraków like under pandemic conditions?

Well, for a start, it is certainly much more peaceful due to very few foreign visitors being here. This means there is an air of peace and tranquility when sauntering around the old town and Rynek Glowny. This is most definitely a bonus and makes for a very atmospheric and relaxing way to appreciate your surroundings. 

Cafes, bars and restaurants are all open. Tables are spaced further apart than normal, you are expected to wear a mask as you find a place and sanitise your hands with the sanitiser that is readily available at all entrances. Waiters are all expected to wear masks also, although you can remove yours once seated at a table. If outside, most people are not wearing masks. Tables should be disinfected after each customer and menus sanitised. 

On entering shops and shopping malls you must wear a mask and sanitise your hands. Although, as usual, there are the odd people ignoring this rule. 
On public transport you must wear a mask and experience is showing that just about everyone is adhering to this. 
The weather has been great throughout most of July with most days being mid to high 20 degrees with the odd day hitting into the low 30s.
At night, Polish people love to promenade so the streets are busy with families out walking and enjoying ice cream. After months of being isolated in lockdown and social distancing, this can initially feel very disconcerting. However, you soon relax into the general atmosphere and join in. 

Nightlife is thriving. There are lots of young people out and about and weekends, especially in Kazimierz, are as busy as they were prior to lockdown. However, the favourable climate means warm evenings and the ability to be seated outside. If you do venture inside, restaurants and bars during weekdays are much quieter than normal and can be very atmospheric. 

Overall, it feels safe to visit the city. Like everywhere that relies on tourism, times are hard for businesses and they are very appreciative of your visit. 

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Winter Wonderland!

Nothing beats a cold, crisp, sunny winters day in Krakow at the Wawel.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Leaf Peeping in Krakow

Autumn has struck in Krakow and its environs and boy is it wonderful. Not always guaranteed timewise but it will always strike. Golden time!
This refers to when the city will bask in lovely autumnal warmth, clear blue skies and vibrant colours. Although it is a city, this does not mean you are excluded from this display as Krakow has many areas where you can crunch your way through the crisp leaves, admiring natures best exhibition. Here are some of the treats you can enjoy.

Ojców National Park
Regular minibuses from central Krakow take you to various villages on the edge of Poland's smallest national park. Within the park there are a network of marked trails to explore. The best starting point is Ojców village itself.

Village life Ojców

Tatra National Park

Just two and half hours from Krakow by very regular bus services is the Tatra Mountains National Park. Zakopane is the best destination to head to for to enjoy exploring the large network of marked trails.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Chasing the Ghosts of World War Two in Krakow

One of the astonishing things I found when taking those first few tentative steps beyond the Iron Curtain in 1990 was how much of Eastern Europe was still scarred from World War Two. Remnants were everywhere - from abandoned concentration camps - to buildings in major cities such as Berlin, Warsaw and Budapest still pockmarked with bullet and shrapnel holes.
For visitors to Kraków who are interested in this period of history, there are still some raw remnants you can unearth if you know where to look.
My first recommendation is not far from the Old Town and resides within the Silesian House (Dom Śląski). This building on ulica Pomorska 2 was the headquarters of the Gestapo during the Nazi occupation and was where civilians were interrogated and brutally tortured. The building now houses an excellent exhibition entitled "People of Kraków in Times of Terror 1939 - 1945 - 1956" (the later date referring to terror during post war Soviet occupation). It consists of informative archives, photos, evidence and film. However, creepiest and most poignant of all is that in the basement, the visitor can visit the interrogation cells which still bear inscriptions on their walls scratched by the desperate detainees. A visit here is thought provoking journey away from the tourist hordes of the main square.
Inscriptions scratched into the walls of the torture cells
 Remembering the victims of Nazi fascism
Dom Śląski
The Kazimierz Jewish district itself can be viewed as one huge WW2 remnant in that it's inhabitants were all decanted from the area to the ghetto across the river, and then ultimately to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Lots of evidence of the area's former inhabitants can be seen everywhere. Try looking for the marks left by Mezuzah Scroll boxes on the right door post of the buildings in the area.  These indicate that former owners were Jewish and that they never returned to these buildings. These scrolls were housed in a box and consist of the most famous Jewish prayer - the Shema. Usually hand written by an expert scribe, it is a symbol of God watching over the house and it's dwellers. On entering the house, the inhabitants touch it and kiss their fingertips.

Mezuzah Scroll box marks on door frames in Kazimierz

Monday, 21 January 2019

Easter Weekend in Krakow

Easter in Krakow in a lot of ways is a more important festival than Christmas. Travellers need to be aware though that from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, locals will not be knocking about in the bars and restaurants, and things take on a more subdued air. Don’t bother with any travel plans, especially Easter Sunday as only the most basic of timetables will be operating – if at all. Also, be aware that the opening times of attractions, bars and restaurants may also all be affected.

Oscypek smoked mountain cheese on sale in the Easter market
Kraków Easter Market
However, don’t be put off visiting the city as the superb Easter market on the main square certainly rivals the Christmas one, the weather may turn distinctly spring-like and warm, and the sensation of having emerged from the chill of winter just has to celebrated. If you are a sucker for decorating your house for Christmas, you will absolutely love trawling the stalls for Easter trinkets, bunnies, pussy willows and tulips to usher in the spirit of spring.

Easter Market goodies
In terms of the traditional meaning of the festival, it kicks off with Palm Sunday and you will witness the locals purchasing elaborate hand woven palms made from dried flowers and plants. They are taken to church to be blessed then taken home to be put up as decorations.
Easter decorations
Good Friday involves a visit to a church and fasting which involves only two meals and absolutely no meat.

Easter baskets
On Easter Saturday you will witness everyone – man, woman, child – strolling to church carrying a traditional woven basket. In it there will be bread, eggs, ham, sausages, cake, salt and a piece of horseradish to have them blessed by the priest. Each of these have symbolic meaning. Bread is the body of Christ, eggs and meat symbolise new life, salt chases away the bad spirits, cake is for the skills to face the coming year and horseradish is for physical strength. You might even see children eagerly carrying a sachet of cat food to be blessed in their little baskets so that the family pet can join in the Easter festivities. On a more sombre note, a visit to a church or chapel will reveal the “Grave of Jesus” which is often a life sized Christ lying dead amongst flowers and candles.
Painted eggs feature prominently and their significance goes back to pagan times.
Painted eggs at the Easter market
Easter Sunday is a family affair and the pinnacle of the “Great Week” build up. Families feast on the foods from the Easter baskets blessed the previous day. In addition żurek (fermented rye soup) and mazurek (decorative pie) are consumed. Painted eggs also once again feature and the table will be decorated with a ram made of dough which symbolises the resurrection of Christ.
Easter Monday is a public holiday in Poland so once again, travellers take note. However, the Easter celebrations take on a much more joyous air. It is the day of “smingus-dyngus” which involves drenching each other with water – usually by buckets or water pistols. Be warned – tourists are not exempt from drenching! Krakow is a good location though to be in for Easter Monday because it hosts the Emaus fair. For this, make your way to Zwierzyniec to the convent of St.  Norbert's Premonstratensian Order, more commonly known as the Norbertine Monastery.  Located on ul. Kościuszki 88, Salwator, a fair is located here with stalls selling clay bells (to guard against evil spirits), model birds (to represent souls) and a pile of tat for kids. Be warned, the stalls here really do overfow with trinkets for kiddies and not much else!
Yet again, being in Krakow is a bonus on Easter Tuesday. The traditions on this day move to the Podgórze area of the city to the Krakus Mound and the nearby St. Benedicts church on top of Lasota hill for the Rekawka Festival. This is centuries old, and is rooted in the pagan tradition of honouring the dead. It has been resurrected as a medieval festival with a bonfire, stalls, fun and games all round. The actual name Rekawka (Sleeve Festival) comes from the legend that apparently noblemen and peasants filled up their sleeves with soil and dumped it onto this site. This built up over time to create an artificial mountain to dominate the landscape – this is now the present day Krakus Mound. This is definitely worth a visit since due to its dominant position on this hill, the view from the top offers a great panorama over the city.

Krakus Mound

St. Benedicts Church