Tag Archives: kazimierz

Kraków, Part II

Our days in Kraków continued in line with the rest of the trip: wandering and eating.  We became familiar with the kebab stands that served falafel sandwiches (which isn’t all of them, surprisingly, and the ones that do use strange ingredients like green olives and corn).  Adding to the whimsy of our wandering were a couple strategically-placed bubble machines around Old Town.

This bubble machine is attached to a locked bike. Why? Why not??

After a day of wandering, we’d return home to our hostel.  This was the first time we’d stayed in a hostel the whole trip (conversely, our last trip to Europe was spent exclusively in hostels), and getting used to the group dynamic was slow going at first.  There was a group of Hungarian girls who checked in a few hours after we did, and they were bound and determined to befriend everyone they encountered on our floor.  Particularly endearing was how they said “Hallo!” for “Goodbye!”; incidentally, I ran into them all over town while we were staying there, and could instantly recognize them by the chorus of “Hallo!” that invariably followed.

Another hostel moment: we stayed in one night, and the guy on the other side of our wall was comparing versions of “Ne Me Quitte Pas“, quite possibly the saddest song in the world.  First came a version done by a female (who sounded at first like Édith Piaf but ended up being someone else), and then the consummate version by Jacques Brel… and then another, live version of Jacques Brel, and so on.  We could tell that our neighbor was exorcising some demons, because by the third version, he began to wail along in a cadence suggesting the involvement of copious amounts of wine.  C’est la vie.

By this time, St. Patrick’s Day weekend was upon us.  Neither Jim nor I are heavy drinkers, but we did want to get out and enjoy the weekend, so we set our sights on music.  On Friday night, we went to a place in Kazimierz called Poligamia to see what the website described as an “Irish duo playing Celtic tunes”, which was a bit misleading; we were expecting “Whiskey In A Jar” and instead got contemporary original songs about bike-riding and such.  But the duo was in fact Irish, and the music wasn’t bad, so it wasn’t a total bust.

On Saturday, Kraków had Irish fever in a bad way.  Everyone was wearing green, and the weather was starting to get nice so every outdoor patio seat in the Square was filled.  Being the beer enthusiasts that we are, on perhaps the beer-drinkingest day of the year, we decided we wanted to check out CK Browar, a brewpub just off the Square.  We descended into the cavern and found some unreserved seats.  I ordered the weiss beer, and Jim had the porter, and to accompany the beers we decided on a basket of fried things.  I found the weiss to be pleasant, if unimpressive, but Jim’s porter was acrid and immature-tasting.  We finished the beers and the fried things and moved on to Cztery Pokoje, a little coffeeshop where there was to be blues music that evening.  It ended up being another duo, this time a girl singing and a guy playing guitar.  Their set was comprised of tried-and-true blues tunes, and they were very talented, but we weren’t feeling particularly engaged so we left.

On Sunday, I decided to hit the streets and do a little busking.

This is my busking face. I wear sunglasses to hide the terror in my eyes.

I did all right for myself.  I sold a CD to an American couple who happened by, and made about $16 in an hour.  Since busking makes me nervous, I was very pleased that it went so well, and went home to tell Jim all about it.  We decided to ride the celebratory wave over to Harris Piano Bar, a place on the Square that promised live jazz.  Upon entering and descending the staircase into the venue, you pass a giant statue of a reclining, tuxedo-clad Louis Armstrong.  A good sign.

The music was great.  As you might guess from reading the blog, I’ve developed a soft spot in my heart for raggy jazz performed by middle-aged, middle European men, and this band delivered exactly that.  Jim and I toasted to our success in selecting the winning venue.  At some point, we befriended some guys from Belfast who were on holiday.  We drank and traded stories, and once the show was over, we took turns singing songs (and continuing to drink).  I don’t exactly remember how we parted ways, but it was tremendous fun.

Less fun was waking up the next morning and realizing that it was Moving Day.  We enjoyed our time at the hostel but missed having a kitchen in which we could cook, so we had made plans to cross the river and stay in the Podgórze neighborhood.  After some confusion, and some water, we packed ourselves up and headed to the flat.

I didn’t realize, until a day or two later, that this was the actual Kraków ghetto, although I’d begun to suspect it based on the melancholy of the surroundings.

The entryway to our flat.

The flat itself was quirky and fun.  It was a studio, with a glass-top stove (the second one we’ve dealt with so far) and some funky photos on the wall.

This one was visible from our bed.

I don't get it but I love it.

Once we arrived, we promptly dropped our things and slept the rest of the day, emerging after dark to hit up a pizza place, Delecta, that Jim spotted on our way in.  The pizza did wonders for our sad bellies; always trust an Italian restaurant that grows its own basil on the windowsill. 🙂

Our time in Kraków was already winding down, and our day of rest meant we had to make steadfast plans to visit the two places we knew we had to see before we left: the Wieliczka Salt Mines, and Auschwitz.

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Kraków is the final city on my tour (save for a few bonus days in Budapest before I leave), and to be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I was fairly sure it wouldn’t be quite as well-trod as the more touristy areas of Prague, but aside from that, I was going in blind.  And I was kind of excited.

Our train pulled into the station after dark.  The Kraków station is attached to the mall (?), so we hauled our bags in to look for a place to catch a WiFi signal so that we could touch base with our hostess.  The opportunity presented itself as soon as we entered, in the form of Loża Cafe.  We sat our stuff down, and I got to speak my first words of Polish (dwa piwo, proszę) to a very understanding waitress.

Upon achieving Internet access, and mapping out our destination, a cloud was gathering on Jim’s brow. “I think this place is further out than I was expecting.”

As it turns out, it was deep, wayyyy deep in the suburbs.  It took us well over an hour on two different modes of transportation to get to the place; as we passed the time crammed into a tiny light rail car with four dozen other passengers, the stark reality of the situation became apparent.  Neither of us care for the suburbs in our daily lives, but especially when we’re trying to experience new major cities, living on the outskirts of town is horribly inconvenient.

Suffice to say, we got to the place, which was in a sprawling, nondescript apartment complex that could’ve been in any suburb anywhere.  We met our hostess, who was very nice.  We spent the night there, both tacitly aware that we had to get out of this arrangement as soon as possible.

The next day, we bailed on the suburbs and booked a room at the Aston Hostel, which was a seven-minute walk away from the Main Market Square.  Much, much better.

By the time we got settled in our new room, it was approaching the dinner hour, and so we headed out to Mamma Mia Trattoria.  Once we sat down, my eyes instantly fixed upon the smoked-salmon-and-avocado pizza (that also had rocket on it, because rocket is as ubiquitous throughout Europe as Ikea furniture, as it turns out), and try as I did to consider other offerings on the menu, my mind had already been made up.


The service was great, and once again the waitstaff was exceptionally forgiving of our entry-level Polish skills.  (Thankfully, it’s similar to Czech in a lot of ways, so we at least had that working in our favor.)

The next day started with Irish breakfast.  I’ll just skip the backstory and get right to the picture.


After a leisurely meal (because anything quicker than “leisurely” would have certainly resulted in cardiac arrest), we set out for Wawel Castle.  On the way, I got caught up looking at scarves and imported jewelry, and while I was indisposed, Jim went and did this.

It’s called “gorące czekolady”, which Jim had imagined to be hot chocolate, and I guess in a technical sense he was right.  It was hot, and it was definitely chocolate.  A 12-oz cup full of liquid chocolate.  When I found him outside holding it, I burst out laughing, it was that ridiculous.  In the end, what you see is about how much of it we managed to drink before handing it off to a homeless woman.

We walked the rest of the way down the street until we hit the castle.

A turret at Wawel Castle.

Wawel Cathedral.

The compound was beautiful, but I’m going to be totally honest: at this point we were a little castle-and-cathedral’d out.  After a turn through the Wawel Cathedral, we debated that very point, with Jim steadfastly maintaining that he never wanted to set foot in one again, and me appreciating the historical significance of the castles and cathedrals as they pertain to wherever I am at the time, but largely agreeing that the cathedrals in particular are rather a “seen one, seen ’em all” kind of thing (the one exception, in my mind, is the Church of Our Lady of Victory in Prague, which houses the Infant Jesus, the story of which we found fascinating).

Once we’d come to terms with our opinions on castles and cathedrals, we moved on towards Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter of town which sits on the bank of the Vistula  River.

The pedestrian bridge linking Kazimierz and Podgórze over the Vistula River.

I wasn’t yet aware of the history of the area, but I would soon find out that leading up to World War II, the Jews who lived in Kazimierz were forced across the river into Podgórze, where they awaited deportation to the concentration camps.  But all that in time.

Our third full day in Kraków was full of wonderful things.  First, we realized our hostel was a block away from Stary Kleparz, an open-air market packed with produce, clothing, bakery, various odds and ends (for example, we couldn’t find a plug adapter anywhere in Prague for less than US $30, and yet this market had dozens for about $.66)… really great stuff.  I highly recommend a stop here.

Stary Kleparz.

From there, we walked to the Main Market Square.  The street that our hostel is on leads directly to it, and when you enter, you come face-to-face with St. Mary’s Basilica.

St. Mary's Basilica

I think that, out of all the cathedrals and castles we’ve seen on this trip, St. Mary’s might be my favorite (perhaps because we never saw the inside).  I think what I really love about it, besides the stately way in which it presides over the Square, is the asymmetry of the towers; after the mirrored towers of Sts. Peter and Paul, St. Vitus, and Our Lady Before Týn, I found St. Mary’s to be a refreshing change of pace.  Perhaps most interestingly, every hour a trumpet signal (better known as hejnał mariaki, or Cracovian hymn) is played from the taller tower, and cuts short before it finishes.  According to local legend, this is in remembrance of a guard in the 13th century who sounded an alarm to warn of the impending attack on the city by the Tatars; he was allegedly shot in the throat by an arrow before he could finish the tune, which is why to this day the signal stops so abruptly.

If you wander around Old Town for more than five minutes, you’ll notice the plurality of kebab stands surrounding you.  We initially took notice to keep track of which ones serve falafel, but there was something else we started noticing signs for: zapiekanka.

Zapiekanka is a cheap (and, judging by how readily it can be found, very popular) street food item in Kraków.  You begin with a baguette, sliced in half length-wise.  Then you cover it with mushrooms and cheese.  Then you bake it, and once it’s baked, you pour ketchup on top.  Upon learning about it, we decided we had to try it at least once, and today was going to be the day.

This is for real.

I can’t speak for Jim, but as for me, one was enough.  One was more than enough, actually; those things are huge. 🙂

That’s all for now– more Kraków to come!!

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