Monday, 19 June 2017

The Beginner's Guide to the Best Places to Drink in Krakow

With the tourist season in full swing in Krakow, many visitors swarm around the main square and base their experience of the city on the selection of bars and restaurants surrounding it. Of course, these places offer great atmosphere, views and the opportunity to take in the street life of the city centre. However, there is so much more to the city than this obvious, expensive, surface gloss that absolutely must be sought out if you really want to experience what Krakow is all about. Click the link below for the beginners guide to a night out in Krakow.






Monday, 29 May 2017

Kraków Street Art

The most commonly viewed "street art" in Kraków are often splurges of graffiti relating to loyalties to the two local football teams - Wisła or Cracovia. Most of this is not worthy of any artistic merit. However, there are some truly praiseworthy examples of true street art peppered around the city streets that really are worth nebbing into. Below are some examples of the more noteworthy exhibits along with some more macabre, thought provoking displays inspired by the dark recesses of Kraków's past.
 Mural on wall in Skwer Judah Food Truck Square, Kazimierz
This mural is entitled 'Judah'. It was created by by Pil Peled who is apparently one of Israel's most famous street artists. It emerged in July 2013 as part of the annual Jewish Culture Festival. The image of the child represents fear, vulnerability and the inner child. The lion represents the Jews' struggle to survive and preserve their culture, as well as strength.
 



The images above are found on ul. Jozefa, Kazimierz outside Pub Wręga. They depict historical figures of significance for the Kazimierz district such as Helena Rubenstein (a former resident of the district), King Kazimierz (after whom the district is named). Plaques next to the figures give info on their significance.
 
This image is of Gene Kelly singing in the rain. Of course, he is "Happy Again" as he now resides in the wonderful Kazimierz district.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Food Truck Frolics


How about trying eating something completely different when visiting Krakow? Like many places across Europe, the city has a blossoming food truck culture where aspiring chefs are pedalling their innovative cuisine. There are an increasing number of venues in which to experience this culinary phenomenon in fun, bohemian, decorative surroundings bringing colour to urban gap sites.

Judah Food Truck Square - otherwise known as Skwer Judah

This is a really cool place to sample grub from the varying tenants. Named after the huge gable end mural (see Kazimierz page for more info on this), try out Belgian fries, chimney cake, gourmet burgers, baked potatoes, extensive menus involving pulled pork and much more. The "Maczanka" from "Andrus Food Truck" in particular is grabbing the attention of the culinary experts. Relax sitting on the assortment of bottle crates, beach chairs and palettes. Run out of cash? Don't worry, there is even a handy bankomat. 
https://www.facebook.com/SkwerJudah/
św. Wawrzyńca 16
Kazimierz
Krakow




Izaak Square

Another food truck square is found nestling in the alleyway linking Szeroka to Kupa called Izaak Square. Beach chairs, crate seating and a variety of trucks offering anything from skewers, wraps, coffee and sweet Trdelnik deserts from Prague. Walenty Kania serves up a variety of meats or even sample Thai ice cream. This place has a cool vibe and is very handy for the Kazimierz revellers.
Izaak Square
Kazimierz
Krakow


Bezogródek Food Truck Park

If you fancy your food truck grub in a more green, garden like setting, look no further than Bezogródek food truck park. Located daily in a park off ul. Piastowska 20, this place epitomises the whole truck revolution for foodies. There is a big variety on offer here with the usual burger, wraps, fries type offerings as well as Mexican, chicken wings, ice cream and coffee. The usual scattering of deck chairs and crates are offered for seating. Eat well whilst lounging amongst the greenery. 
https://www.facebook.com/pg/bezogrodekstreetfood/about/
Piastowska 20
Krakow


Kiełbaski z Niebieskiej Nyski

Finally, we could not discuss food trucks without mentioning Krakow's original and ever popular, food truck. Located at Hala Targowa (Grzegórzecka Street), near the market and the railway bridge, this place serves the best barbecued sausages from a nyska van straight from Poland in the old iron curtain days. Two blokes in white smocks expertly sizzle their sausages (kiełbasa) over a wood fired barbecue. This place is legendary and most deffo is the best sausage in town.
Hala Targowa
Grzegórzecka Street
Krakow

Friday, 3 March 2017

Tytano - the Coolest Place in Krakow?

For visitors to Krakow wishing to veer away from the tourist trap of the Old Town, a visit to Tytano is a great option. This place is a real wonder! Often labelled as a "city within a city", it is situated in an abandoned cigarette factory and its outbuildings. consists of an eclectic mixture of cafes, pubs, restaurants, beer halls and an entire factory floor filled with designer exhibits, art, and furniture from local creators. 
Hidden top quality enterprises Tytano style

The overall feeling is that of one ginormous "squatting" venture since the cafes, bars etc are quite literally located in empty, abandoned buildings with boarded up windows, crumbling brickwork and graffiti. However, this most definitely has to be one of the hippest, coolest places to hang out in the city. It is to be particularly recommended on warm summer afternoons and evenings when the seating spills out into the alleyways and courtyards surrounding the buildings.
The history of Tytano goes back to 1876 and the Austro-Hungarian occupation when it operated as a cigarette factory named ‘Kaiserliche Koenigliche Tabakfabrik’. It operated for 125 years, ultimately taken over by Philip Morris, but abandoned in 2002.
Boarded up - yet thriving
 
Outside seating Tytano style

Following this it was taken over by Immobiliaria - a Spanish company who had ambitions to turn it into a giant luxury hotel. Luckily this never came to fruition. This company still owns the buildings but is now renting space out to the current collection of enterprises. The contract runs until 2020, but apparently they are queuing up to rent space and there is even talk of a climbing wall and cinema moving in.


At present you will find a fine selection of unexpected pleasures residing in pleasingly shabby, yet classy, innovative urbanite spaces. Choose from wine dens, beer halls, interactive fear escape activity, top notch restaurants and cafes, cutting edge designers displays taking up entire factory floors, fashion design exhibitions and soooooo much more. This place is so cool and is what the real creative heart of Krakow is all about. Don't miss it!
Be inspired at Tytano!
Ripped up pages from books decorate the factory walls
Innovative wall decor
Superb cafe space


Sunday, 26 February 2017

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.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Skiing in Krakow?

This title is rather misleading. No, you can't ski in Krakow. However, just a two to three hour bus ride from the city are the Tatra Mountains and the Polish winter resort of Zakopane. Here you most definitely can ski.

Visitors to Zakopane for skiing should probably be warned, this is NOT a ski resort in the same sense as those one might venture to in the Alps. It is a town that has some areas for skiing. These areas are located separately and your choice of location must very much be governed by your ability and experience. It is probably not somewhere to select for a week of skiing. Rather, it is somewhere you can go and include skiing in other outdoor pursuits.
The skiing recommendations listed here starts with the biggest, most alpine area but then goes on to review some of the other complexes the town has to offer for all abilities.


KASPROWY WIERCH

Kasprowy Wierch Ski Website
This is the absolute BEST place to ski in Zakopane. It is alpine, located in two valleys fanning out from Kasprowy Wierch mountain which reaches an elevation of 1,987 metres. Since it is national park area, no snow cannons are allowed as they would disturb wildlife, so skiers must accept the snow conditions nature flings at them. This ski area, in lot of ways, is wonderfully undeveloped. I read somewhere that is is reminiscent of Austria at the end of the 19th century. However, that is not to say that it lacks the necessary uplift and infrastructure. Indeed, recent changes to how day passes operate has made this a super day out in some stunning scenery.
However, Kasprowy is only for intermediate and advanced skiers. Beginners, do not go here!

Friday, 18 November 2016

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?

The Lost Mezuzahs of Kazimierz, Krakow

Whilst walking around the vibrant, bohemian Jewish Quarter of Kazimierz in Krakow keep an eye out for marks on the right doorposts of the main entrances into buildings. You will notice that many have strange diagonal dents or scars on them. These mark where mezuzah boxes were affixed in the past, and signify that previous tenants were Jewish.
Mezuzah literally is the Hebrew word for “doorpost” since this – funnily enough – is where it is placed. It is not a good luck charm, but serves the important purpose of reminding the inhabitants of God’s presence and his commandments.
The instruction to place a mezuzah in this position comes from the Book of Deuteronomy in the bible in a passage commonly known as the Shema. In this passage the Jewish people are commanded to keep God’s words constantly in their minds and hearts - and the mezuzah box assists with this.
“These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart…You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)
The words of the Shema are written by hand by an expert calligrapher on a tiny piece of parchment paper with God’s name written on the back. It is then rolled up and placed in the mezuzah box, but care must be taken to ensure that the first letter of God’s name is visible.
The box is then affixed at an angle on the right doorpost of the house.
Every time a Jew passes the box or enters the building they should kiss their fingers and touch the box as a reminder of the commandments within.
What is significant with the indents on Kazimierz’s doorposts are that they symbolise the extermination of what was once the thriving, rich cultural Jewish life of 60,000 Krakow Jews. Perhaps they were removed as soon as the Nazis invaded to try and cover up the Jewish presence within the building. Perhaps they simply are a sad, poignant reminder of the Holocaust. Are they all that remains of the lost souls that once inhabited these buildings who never returned as their existence was to be lost up the crematorium chimneys of Auschwitz/Birkenau? What is also sad is that with Krakow and Kazimierz now enjoying the prosperity that mass tourism brings, the renovation of these buildings means that these marks are gradually being plastered over and lost forever.



The image below brings home the harsh reality of the fate of many Krakow's Jewish residents. Remember this when you spot mezuzah marks on Krakow's doorposts.
Forced deportation of Krakow's Jews
 Image courtesy of the Holocaust Education and Archive Research Team

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Przegorzały Castle - History, Food, Fresh Air with a Fabulous View

Przegorzały Castle - Willa Tower to the left and Schloss Wartenberg on the right situated on Skałki (crag) Przegorzalskie. Viewed from the cycle path on the south of the Vistula River

If you are tired of trudging the cobbled streets in the city,and are desperate for some fresh air and a wonderful view, then you could do worse than take a trip to Przegorzały Castle (zamek). Access is easy, take the number 134 (destination the Zoo) from the Blonia. Alternatively, walk along to the Cracovia football stadium and take the 409 bus. This will whisk you to an area which reads on the map as Las Wolski. Although this sounds like a dodgy salsa dance that people would do in the 1980s at weddings, this is in fact a large area of deciduous woodland still within the urban confines of Krakow. As mentioned already, the zoo is housed here, but there are other sights of note for the intrepid visitor and Przegorzały Castle is most definitely one of these. To be perfectly honest, the castle itself is better viewed not in the woods at all, but from the cycle/walking trails along the Vistula River. However, you will not be disappointed by the views from its terraces with panoramic vistas to the river below, the south-western part of Krakow, the undulating forested lumps of the Beskidy mountains, and – if it is a clear day - to the jagged peaks of the Tatra Mountains beyond. Coupled with this you have a lovely café/restaurant to dine in or simply have a cuppa and admire the views. To be clear though – this is not a castle in the sense of most because there are no rooms, dungeons, thrones or torture chambers to visit. In fact, you can’t access most of the building as it now houses the Jagiellonian University's Institute of European Studies, and also the Centre for Holocaust Studies.

Las Wolski in autumn

What is truly fascinating is the history of castle. There are essentially two parts to it. Firstly there is the sightly older Willa Tower constructed in the 1920s by Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz who had been director of renovation crew of the Wawel Castle, went on to be director of the Department of Antique Architecture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow (subsequently its rector), and then Director of the Architecture Department at the Warsaw University of Technology. A renowned architect, he named Willa Tower his "Belvedere" due to its superb views - it was also his family home. 

However, things take a more sinister turn after the Nazi invasion of 1939. The evil Baron Otto von Wächter arrived on the scene. As a reward for participation in the Nazi coup in Austria he was given the title of Governor of the District of Krakow and subsequently the District of Galicia. He was an Austrian lawyer, member of the SS and this role as an Alderman entitled him to a town house. He chose a pretty stunning building called the Palace Under the Rams on the Old Town square (which now houses the famous Piwnica pod Baranami). For Otto though, this was not enough. Like Hitler himself, he obviously fancied his very own "Eagles Nest" rural retreat and had his eye firmly on the Willa Tower with its prominent position on Skałki (crag) Przegorzalskie. Szyszko-Bohusz obviously had no intentions of giving up his family home, so the Nazis confiscated it and had him arrested on a trumped up charge. Otto then decided this tower was not grand enough to suit his needs and proceeded to have an entire castle constructed next to it in 1941. It was called Schloss Wartenberg and was modelled on the castles of the German Rhineland. Clearly no expense was spared on its construction with its elegant facades and terraces. 

Baron Otto von Wächter was less admirable unfortunately. His signature is on decrees ordering the expulsion of the 68,000 Krakow Jews, the formation of the ghetto and the death of over 100,000 Polish civilians under his rule as Governor of the District of Galicia. In addition, he oversaw the slaughter of 1000 Polish resistance fighters who lie buried close to the castle in a mass grave known locally as Glinik. Despite a request being sent to the Military Governor of the United States Zone after the war that Wachter be returned to Poland for trial for his part in deportations, executions and mass murder, he managed to slip away. 

It is documented that he actually was given refuge in 1949 in the Vatican by a pro-Nazi Austrian bishop named Alois Hudal. However, in that same year he died from kidney disease, allegedly poisoned by jaundice picked up when swimming, or - perhaps it was karma. 

In the days after the liberation of Krakow by the Red Army, the castle became a hospital, research institute for the Ministry of Forestry and then finally allocated to the Jagiellonian University by the communist authorities. Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz attempted to reclaim the castle but failed.

Las Wolski and the Camaldolese Monastery
A visit to this area could include a yomp around the marked trails in the Las Wolski forest or a visit the Pilsudski Mound or Camaldolese Monastery. I am not a fan of zoos so I am not going to recommend it despite it being in a lovely location.

For the restaurant, visit:- U ZIYADA although at present the English part of this site appears not to be working. However, the gallery pictures will give you a good impression of the interiors and exteriors of the castle.






Monday, 3 October 2016

Chasing the Ghosts of World War Two in Krakow

One of the astonishing things I found when taking those first few tentative steps beyond the Iron Curtain in 1990 was how much of Eastern Europe was still scarred from World War Two. Remnants were everywhere - from abandoned concentration camps - to buildings in major cities such as Berlin, Warsaw and Budapest still pockmarked with bullet and shrapnel holes.
For visitors to Kraków who are interested in this period of history, there are still some raw remnants you can unearth if you know where to look.
My first recommendation is not far from the Old Town and resides within the Silesian House (Dom Śląski). This building on ulica Pomorska 2 was the headquarters of the Gestapo during the Nazi occupation and was where civilians were interrogated and brutally tortured. The building now houses an excellent exhibition entitled "People of Kraków in Times of Terror 1939 - 1945 - 1956" (the later date referring to terror during post war Soviet occupation). It consists of informative archives, photos, evidence and film. However, creepiest and most poignant of all is that in the basement, the visitor can visit the interrogation cells which still bear inscriptions on their walls scratched by the desperate detainees. A visit here is thought provoking journey away from the tourist hordes of the main square.
Inscriptions scratched into the walls of the torture cells
The Kazimierz Jewish district itself can be viewed as one huge WW2 remnant in that it's inhabitants were all decanted from the area to the ghetto across the river, and then ultimately to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Lots of evidence of the area's former inhabitants can be seen everywhere. Try looking for the marks left by Mezuzah Scroll boxes on the right door post of the buildings in the area.  These indicate that former owners were Jewish and that they never returned to these buildings. These scrolls were housed in a box and consist of the most famous Jewish prayer - the Shema. Usually hand written by an expert scribe, it is a symbol of God watching over the house and it's dwellers. On entering the house, the inhabitants touch it and kiss their fingertips.


Mezuzah Scroll box marks on door frames in Kazimierz

Friday, 26 August 2016

An alternative way to visit the Wieliczka Salt Mines

Followers of this blog will know that we like to offer advice on alternative sights away from the crowds. More adventurous tourists therefore maybe more interested in visiting the salt mines in Wieliczka using the Miners' Route. This is accessed at the Regis Shaft (the oldest shaft in the complex) just a stone's throw from the town train station. The idea is that visitors can experience the mines from the viewpoint of what it was like to work in them. This is a wonderful day trip a mere 15 km from the centre of Krakow.
Visit the Salt Mines Page for more information.


Monday, 8 August 2016

Experience Poland under Communism and the Cold War at Nowa Huta

Ever seen a tank on a street before?
Looking for an alternative to the usual tourist sights in Krakow? Look no further than a tour of Nowa Huta. This is easy to do on your own, but organised tours are also available. Find out more about this fascinating district of Krakow by visiting the Nowa Huta Page.
Experience Cold War nuclear bunkers
Amazing Socialist Realist architecture

What to do in the event of a nuclear attack?
See the biggest steelworks in the Soviet Empire