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Krakow Exploration


View World Tour 2016 on Glichez's travel map.

Today I had to leave my hotel around 05:15 so I could make the 45 minute walk to the train station. I left before the buffet breakfast started, but the hotel staff packed me a nice bagged breakfast to take with me! It had two meat and cheese sandwiches, some fruit, yogurt, orange juice and a candy bar; I was really impressed and grateful!

I took a different route to reach the train station that what I walked yesterday on my way in; this time I went through the old town area, which was quite nice in the pre-dawn light. There were only a few people milling about, including the city's cleaning service (they power wash the streets and sidewalks at night to keep them looking nice). I passed a red-light house and saw one of the girls leaving, which was... interesting. There was also a pub still open and a couple people drinking beer.

I reached the train station in plenty of time, so I ate half of the breakfast and did some reading before heading out to catch the train. My ticket was in Polish, but I was able to decipher my seat number (045) and found the car with my seat; it was at a small table, so I got out my laptop and spent the journey working and listening to music.

We made a stop in Warsaw, where many people got on the train. A family came to my seats and said they had booked them; we compared tickets and found that my ticket was for car 5 and I was in car 2! The woman was quite nice about it and helped me find my way. I moved my stuff down to car 5 and found my seat... and there was someone sitting in it! I had to wake her up, but she was very nice and moved. The rest of the journey went quickly. The man sitting next to me was from Krakow, but has been living outside of Chicago for over 20 years!

Upon arrival in Krakow I made the short walk down to my hotel, a nice place located in a private courtyard just minutes from the old town area. After dropping off my luggage, I went out to do some sightseeing in the city.

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My first stop was the Warsaw Castle, which was only about ten minutes away. It was a very impressive complex, with fortifications, a cathedral and a palace all within the castle walls. Apparently the Austrians made some major changes to the buildings and destroyed much of the old castle when they occupied this area of Poland in the 1800s. The restoration work is amazing. The central courtyard was quite nice, with three levels of balconies running around it.

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I bought a ticket to get into the castle, but found the ticket process to be somewhat convoluted. There are several sections and exhibits in the castle, and each one has its own separate ticket that is priced differently; they had no all encompassing ticket for the castle. I bought a ticket for the state rooms; the crown treasury and armory; and the dragon's den. I wanted to see the royal private apartments, but apparently the tours were only in Polish and German and the cashier wouldn't sell me a ticket (I'd have been happy to see them, even if I couldn't understand the tour). No photos were permitted in the areas that I visited though.

My first stop was at the state rooms. These were a series of very nice public rooms that were used in the palace for formal receptions, visitors, and other such functions. The first few rooms were rather plain, with some tapestries hung up; the rooms grew increasingly more impressive as the tour continued. The throne room was especially nice, as was the grand ballroom (which doubled as a meeting room for the state senate).

I next visited the crown treasury and armory, which was as impressive as it sounds. There were not many jewels - certainly no crown jewels - but there was a very large collection of royal artifacts and belongings: gold and silver cups, decorations, holy icons, etc. Most of them were from the 1600s and 1700s (the period before Poland was partitioned by Russian, Austria and Prussia). The armory was the true highlight of the entire castle though. The collection of weapons, dating back to the 1500s was incredible! Massive two-handed swords, pikes, pole-arms, smaller (and more ornate) swords, maces, cannons... the armory had it all! Some of the cannons were intricately designed and looked rather stunning.

Finally I descended into the dragon's den... To reach this area underneath the castle, I had to walk down a very long spiral staircase; I found myself getting dizzy as I walked down the stairs! At the bottom I found myself inside a small cave that was built into the stone hill the castle was built atop. It was quite cool in the cave and a tiny bit spooky; it was fun to imagine that a dragon could have lived there!

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The dragon's den exited at the base of the castle, right next to the Vistula River. I started to walk into the old town area and was quite taken with the city. It had the same old European charm of Gdansk, mixed with the feeling of a large city; it was an interesting combination. Everywhere I looked I saw old-style buildings; horse-drawn carriages were everywhere as well. I passed several churches on my way to the main square.

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The main market square was one of my favorite areas of the old town. There was a large and impressive church in one corner, a large building in the center (this building was the old "cloth market" that was used when the square was a working street market), and at the opposite corner was another church. The square was massive; it was used as a market for years before the Second World War and this tradition was maintained, even through the communist times. Now the square was lined with restaurants, souvenir shops, and stores. In one corner of the square was a small memorial: it was an old water pump with a sign to remember a protester who committed self-immolation in the 1980s.

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Several street artists were performing around the square: signing or playing the guitar. One performer caught my eye though: he was simply blowing bubbles, over and over again. He had a home-made tool that he was using to blow the bubbles: two long sticks tied together with a series of strings and loops. He would dip the strings into the bubble solution and then wave it through the air. This would create dozens and dozens of bubbles in mere seconds. Little kids were flocking over to that area, running after the bubbles. I decided to give him the few coins that I had in my pocked (maybe the equivalent of $1 USD).

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I had one last loop to make on my sightseeing journey for today. I headed further north to a nice park just outside of the old city walls. This area had fewer tourists, which I rather liked. As I was walking through the park I came across an old fortification. Across the street from the fort I spotted a large monument with several statues around it. I ventured over to get a closer look and was really intrigued by the statues, especially one of a knight lying dead at the bottom.

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By this time I was quite hungry and I walked back to a restaurant that I had noticed near the castle. It looked to be a Polish-German restaurant; they were serving German beer in liter mugs, so how bad could it be?! I walked in and sat down... and then waited for several minutes for someone to come by; later on I realized that this was one of the few European restaurants where the hostess seats the guests - you don't seat yourself! I ordered a liter of Pilsner Urquell and the schnitzel for dinner. When the food arrived I was blown away by how massive the portion was - it could easily feed two people! The couple sitting next to me were equally shocked and we joked about the size of it. I managed to eat about 3/4 of it before I had to stop.

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Now I'm relaxing at the hotel, hoping to get some sleep tonight before heading out early for a guided tour tomorrow.

Posted by Glichez 11:45 Archived in Poland

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