So, I’m illiterate and in the last month I haven’t figured out how to spell the name of this city in English. I can do it in Hungarian and Polish, and since it’s in Poland, you get Polish. We went to Kraków a couple weeks ago and had a lot of fun. We went for 5 days, which is by far the longest we’ve stayed in any city on a trip since we moved here, and Kraków pretty well filled all 5 days.
We spent 3 days in Kraków itself and one day each in Auschwitz/Birkenau and the Wieliczka Salt Mines. I’ll blog on Auschwitz/Birkenau another time, and Ivan’s going to take the Salt Mines, since he was pretty excited about them.
The first day we wandered up to Wawel castle. There’s the castle and inside the castle grounds is a palace and a cathedral. The whole area was really pretty and the cathedral has this really cool um, pointy(?) appearance from the outside. It’s like 6 different buildings, some with domes, some with towers, others with slanty roofs all thrown together into a single building. Even the building materials are a hodge podge with gold tops, grey ones and the copper green kind.
The castle and cathedral are free to visit and wander around. There are some fun ruins in the grassy areas between buildings that show where foundations of other buildings used to be. There are some museums that you can see as well, but we skipped them. Museum + toddler + four year old = the opposite of enjoyment. The palace courtyard is pretty and there are some exhibits inside the palace. One in particular, the armaments and weapons exhibit, Ivan really wanted to see, but unfortunately the sell a limited number of tickets per day, so if you’re planning on going to Kraków and want to see the exhibits in the palace, go early.
After Wawel castle we wandered through the old town to the Main Market Square, which is huge. In the middle is the cloth hall where you can buy souvenirs.
Other corners have a tiny church, a monument, a fountain and the Church of St. Mary. The Church of St. Mary was interesting for a couple of reasons. The first is its appearance. The two front spires don’t really match and the back area extends to a really long oval shape that isn’t really that unusual, but was interesting all the same. It was also built before the Main Market Square was made into the Main Market Square so it doesn’t really sit square to the market area.
The interior was beautiful. You have to pay a small fee to get in (and a bigger one for photo permission) but the windows inside were gorgeous with lots of strong colors and the entire interior was painted in all these lovely colors and designs. Apparently, if you know what you’re looking for, you can find examples of various different movements inside (gothic, art nouveau, and a few others) and that makes it interesting for those kinds of educated people. I think I didn’t pay enough attention in humanities class. It just looked pretty to me.
From one of the towers of the Church of St. Mary a bugler plays a song every hour. Now it is members of the local fire department that play the song, but it has been a tradition there since the 1300s for someone to bugle every hour as an “all-clear.”
While on the topic of churches, Kraków had them about every block. Often you could see two or more of them at the same time, and definitely more if you count spires visible over the rooftops of the rest of the city. Here are a couple examples.
This was a Dominican church on one block of the old town. We stuck our heads in on a Sunday, but right about then mass let out and we were stuck to the side while everyone filed out. Feeling a little intrusive, we decided to see if we could find another. Pretty much on the same block (in fact I think I took these pictured from the same spot, just facing opposite directions) was this church
which was also just about ready to let everyone out after mass. I thought the “crown” on this one was really interesting, and we saw it on a couple of other churches. Anyway, the churches were interesting and abundant.
The kids’ favorite part of Kraków was this cute little candy factory/store about two blocks from the Main Market Square. Ciuciu was the name and every hour they had a candy making demonstration you could watch. It was pretty much a kid’s dream: watching candy being made, free samples, and then parents buying lollipops, and candy sticks. Ivan and I liked it too, and we all had such a good time we came back and did it all again two days later.
Kraków has a ton of World War II history. It was one of the first places invaded by the Nazis and Auschwitz is only a little over an hour’s drive from Kraków. Schindler’s factory of the famous movie Schindler’s List is located in Kraków and a few years ago it was turned into a museum about Kraków in the era just before during and between the two World Wars. It was an interesting museum and I would recommend it. It’s fairly long, though, and the kids were pretty restless by the end.
A couple blocks from the museum is the site where the Kraków ghetto was. The center of the ghetto is now called “Heroes of the Ghetto Square” and has an interesting monument. Several rows of these chairs are lined up across the square. When the Jews were sent to the ghetto they were allowed to take their belongings, mostly to keep them calm and convince them that life would be kind of normal, just in another place. Once they got to the ghetto, though, they were crammed multiple families in an apartment and their belongings were thrown into this square to be stolen or destroyed. The monument is based on someone’s memory of the belongings (including chairs) thrown into the square.
Eventually the ghetto was bricked in and no one was allowed in or out and finally it was liquidated. Many of the jews went to Auschwitz, some were just killed. There was an interesting story about a pharmacy in the ghetto though. There was a pharmacy allowed in the ghetto to try and keep diseases down and the pharmacy staff were the only non-Jews allowed into and out of the ghetto. Therefore the pharmacy became a place to sneak things and news into and out of the ghetto. There’s a museum there, but we didn’t go into it either. The kids were pretty museumed out at that point.
Kraków is kind of interesting because it used to be two cities: a completely Jewish section that was apparently pretty well completely autonomous, and Kraków. The interesting part is that the Jewish section was completely separate from the rest of Kraków by choice. The Jews of the time were very independent and wanted their own space.
The area that used to be the Jewish city is now called (surprise!) the Jewish Qaurter and you can see a lot of old synagogues there. This one is the Old Synagogue. We also saw the High Synagogue and Isaac Synagogue. Some of the synagogues survived Nazi occupation better than others. This one was renovated a few decades after the Nazis left.
The Jewish Quarter was interesting because it felt more like casual Eastern Europe to me with outdoor cafés and open air markets. We even found a self service sewing machine café with the old school cast iron foot pump kind of sewing machines.