I'm Portuguese, live in Lisbon and I'm a travel addict!
I've been traveling since I was a teenager and I've been around the World a few times already.
This is my attempt to share with you my experiences and the knowledge I've collected after more than 20 years of non-stop traveling. Hope you like it!
You can read more about me here.
I was not expecting much when I arrived to Krakow, but I was delighted with what I found. Truth be told, it’s easy for me to see positive things anywhere I go, but Krakow was passion at the first, second, and the third sight.
The city has a vibrant historic center with lots of restaurants, shops, hotels and museums. Even the Jewish Quarter, that was once the site of terrible events, is now a lively area with exceptional restaurants and bars.
I strolled through Wawel Castle, walked along the Wisla River, visited beautiful churches and the impressive and elaborate salt mines of Wieliczka (which deserve a separate post), and enjoyed watching life unfold in the historic center with its painters, artists and beautiful horse carriages.
Finally I tasted delicious food at some local restaurants and boom! Krakovia got to me, I fell hopelessly in love! 😍.
Suddenly, this place was my new favorite destination.
I was even moved when I heard the Polish anthem being played in the tower of the Basilica of St. Mary. An old tradition that happens four times a day. The interesting thing is that the anthem stops abruptly because, according to a legend, during a Mongol invasion of the city, an old man saw the enemies arriving and began to play this melody in his trumpet.
This warned the people, and they managed to close the gates of the city in time to save it. Unfortunately, however, an enemy’s arrow pierced the old man’s throat, killing him instantly. It is in his honor that the melody is always interrupted at that precise moment.
When he finishes playing, the trumpeter waves to the crowd gathered in the square below and everybody claps and waves back at him. It’s fun to watch.
But not everything in Krakow is good…
The ancient capital of Poland is known for its beauty, historical monuments, and the role in the life of the late Pope John Paul II, but also, sadly, for having a painful and dark history.
We can say that this city, like the rest of Poland, went through hell and back. It survived World War II, communism imposed by the former Soviet Union, and a lot of economic difficulties, but the scars of all these traumas are still visible in some parts of the city.
In the Jewish Quarter, which during World War II served as a ghetto, we can find a museum and a memorial depicting the horrible torture that Polish Jews endured. They were imprisoned, starved, enslaved and murdered by the Nazis.
Also, it is impossible to talk about the dark history of Krakow without mentioning the holocaust and the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkeneau that are located on the outskirts of the city… I do not believe in ghosts, but if there was ever a place where I felt the presence of tormented spirits – it was here.
In spite of the tragic memories that can never (and should never) be forgotten, I thought that Krakow had a special atmosphere. It’s beautiful in the morning when a slight haze covers its buildings, just as it is beautiful in the afternoon when the sun shines and the cafes and terraces are full of people, or at night when the city lights are turned on.
Then, we have unique things like the Mleczny Bar (Milk Bars). These establishments, part of heritage of the communist past of Poland – are cheap, snack-bar style restaurants, but the food is good and tastes like it’s home-cooked. Most dishes are vegetarian and many have dairy ingredients (hence their name).
The cafes are another wonder. My favorite was the Café Botanica (on Bracka Street) where I tasted a cup of hot chocolate with a sip of cherry vodka. Delicious!
If you visit this city don’t forget to try a Zapiekanka, also known as an open sandwich. You can buy it from street vendors who let you choose the ingredients you want.
I would like to highlight two last things, the Museum dedicated to Oscar Schindler (if you have already read the book or have seen the film, you know the importance that this man had in the rescue of hundreds of Jews) and MOCAK – The Museum of Contemporary Art.
If you are looking for a different holiday destination consider this city. I loved it!