Thursday, 14 April 2022

Should I visit Kraków whilst there is war in Ukraine?

Many people it seems feel nervous about travelling to Kraków whilst war is raging in the neighbouring country of Ukraine. Having just returned from a three week stay, I can say with certainty that there are no problems at all with a visit. In fact, since many businesses in the city have suffered so much due to the lack of custom two years of covid brought and now nervousness as a result of the war, they really need tourists to return and help them survive. Just about everything is open as usual. 

For reassurance, Ukraine is a vast country and the fighting now is concentrated in the east - an extremely long way from Kraków. You are safe! Spring is now bursting into life in Poland and warmer days mean lovely opportunities to hang out in the many outdoor restaurants, bars and cafés. Indeed, while you are in Kraków why not help out with a donation or provide help with purchasing items that Ukrainian refugees in the city need? There are a few central agencies operating and various drop off centres.

In addition, there are various fund raising events and concerts for Ukraine you could attend or buy your meals and souvenirs from shops and restaurants that are donating money to help refugees. 

You will also find a city that is going all out to do what it can to help and accommodate the innocent victims of the war, and by holidaying there you could be doing your bit to help not just local businesses, but directly help the refugees. 

The city is bedecked with Ukrainian colours to support the people of Ukraine. Even the flower displays are blue and yellow. Local community centres now support refugees and many museums, cafés and other businesses that can offer space have turned into drop in centres. There are almost daily protests in the main square reminding everyone of the war and of course new arrivals from the east are being assisted at the train and bus station. However, the city is remarkably peaceful, relaxed and welcoming. I won't hesitate to go back. 


Thursday, 10 February 2022

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

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?