Sunday, 19 November 2017

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?

Friday, 13 October 2017

Rembering the Victims of Nazi Fascism and Stalinist Communism in Krakow


Dom Śląski, or ‘Silesian House

Dom Śląski, or ‘Silesian House,’ is almost never on the agenda of visitors to Krakow. This is very unfortunate since it is a very chilling relic of Nazi and Soviet occupation that presents evidence of the repression, murder and torture ordinary Cracowians had to endure.

It was originally built as a hostel to house students from Silesia (hence the name). However, during World War 2 this notorious building became the Kraków headquarters of the Gestapo. The first and second floors of the building were used to interrogate ordinary civilians and inmates from the Montelupich prison, which still stands to this day in Podgorze.
Visitors to Dom Śląski today can now visit a branch of the Historical Museum of Krakow named "People of Krakow in Times of Terror 1939-1945-1956" housed within the building. This exhibition is a powerful journey through Nazi occupation and the fate of victims of German terror from 1939-1945. Evidence of atrocities are on display including anti Semitic posters, a wallet made from human skin, photographic and film evidence of ordinary, innocent civilians being rounded up on the streets of the city by the cruel, Nazi invaders.

Remembering the victims of Nazi fascism at Dom Śląski 

The exhibition then moves on to demonstrate that the end of the War did not signal the end of the repression, but simply the swapping of one occupier for another - the communists. The exhibition demonstrates the similarities between these two regimes and importantly, it also makes available a database of photos and documents providing evidence which bear witness to victims of Stalinist oppression.

The cellars of Dom Śląski were turned in WW2 into detention cells for the interrogation, torture and beating of prisoners by the Nazis. These cells still exist in their original form and at least some 600 inscriptions made by the unfortunate detainees awaiting their fate at the hands of the Gestapo remain scratched onto the walls. Desperate pleas to God or tally marks counting out how many days of incarceration prisoners suffered are clearly visible and make for a ghoulish reminder of Nazi brutality in truly claustrophobic surroundings.
Inscriptions scratched into the walls of the torture cells
Dom Śląski is only a 15 minute walk from the main market square in the Old Town. It is located on:- 2 Pomorska Street.

To visit the interrogation cells, enter the courtyard of the building and turn right. There are a set of stairs leading down to the cellars and normally there is an attendant present who will show you the way. There is no charge for visiting the cells.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Father Bernatek Pedestrian Bridge

Father Bernatek Pedestrian Bridge
The wonderful gravity defying sculptures on the Father Bernatek Pedestrian Bridge
Visitors to Krakow should not miss a stroll across the Father Bernatek Pedestrian Bridge. Completed in 2010, it honours a Cracovian monk (who founded the Bonifrater Hospital in Krakow), and now provides a much needed link between the ever popular Bohemian district of Kazimierz to the often neglected Podgórze across the river. Built using no supports and suspended on an arch, it is an attractive structure designed by Andrzej Getter. It is positioned on the site of a former road bridge that was dismantled in 1925. Since it opened, it has encouraged a broad selection of small bars, cafes and restaurants to locate along ul. Mostowa from Plac Wolnica in Kazimierz, across the river onto ul. Nadwiślańska and the Rynek Podgórski in Podgórze. As a result it is sometimes dubbed the "party bridge". In addition, as seems to be the tradition in a number of European cities in recent years, loving couples have bolted their commitment to each other in the form of engraved padlocks which are clamped in their hundreds to the flanks of the bridge. Unfortunately, it seems for many of these lovers, the first post relationship split activity is to hack these padlocks off with bolt cutters - often damaging the railings in the process.
The wonderful gravity defying sculptures on the Father Bernatek Pedestrian Bridge
Rynek Podgórski
At the moment there is an additional reason to take a stroll along the twin walkways of the bridge due to the truly amazing exhibition of acrobatic sculptures dangling in gravity defying poses on the wires of the bridge structure. Nine acrobatic characters designed by Polish artist Jerzy ‘Jotki’ Kędziora are represented in an installation named "Between the water and the sky". Apparently this exhibition is only going to last until December of this year. Hopefully however, the powers that be may dip their hands in their pockets and pay for it to adorn the bridge permanently.
The wonderful gravity defying sculptures on the Father Bernatek Pedestrian Bridge
Sculpture on the Father Bernatek Pedestrian Bridge
Father Bernatek Pedestrian Bridge
Sculpture on the Father Bernatek Pedestrian Bridge

This is a must see attraction - don't miss it.

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, tofu treats, Mexican wraps, coffee, curled ice cream and beer. This place has a cool vibe and is very handy for the Kazimierz revellers. On hot sunny days, relax in the hammocks or deck chairs.

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

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