It seems forever since we spent time in Poland following English Camp in Czech, but our time here in Norway has not been the total relaxing time we anticipated it to be. In the 12 days since we returned from Krakow, we have had just four empty evenings during which I would have written a blog post. And on one of those evenings, I did. All that to say, I’ll attempt to catch up with our lives here before our lives here turn into our lives there.
Our first introduction to Krakow was for one night prior to heading to the Czech Republic to meet up with the rest of the team for English Camp. We had gotten some tips for hotels from a friend of a friend by email back in the Spring, so, never having been to this city before, we took a taxi to the little Grace Apartments hotel. Looking back, I am sure we were fleeced by the taxi driver at the train station, but, tired as we were, and with the rain coming down, we agreed to his price. It was about $18 to take us down the street, oh, say, three-fourths of a mile. Whatever.
This was not exactly a hotel proper, with a 24 hour front desk, but rather a door from the street, and several flights of stairs leading to several landings with three locked doors at each landing. We had no wi-fi available to us since the Oslo airport, so we had not received the entry-code or room assignment from the hotel. Ugh. What to do? As we called the only number we had, a couple came up the stairs, and, seeing our frustration, asked if they could help. In English. (yay!) As it turns out, they were the same couple of friends from whom we received traveling tips about Krakow months earlier! Crazy! We knew the same people, he called our friend, BK, and said, “Guess who we are with?”, and handed the phone to Paul! What a small world. We all planned to meet for breakfast the next morning before we needed to get to the train station for Olomouc.
Dinner that night was at a nice local restaurant, where we sampled traditional Polish food…perogies.
Traveling in Poland was different for me, as it was the first time I have been in a foreign country not knowing a word of the language. I mean, really, I had not done any preparation for this, not a ‘thank you’, a ‘please’, a ‘I do not speak Polish’, nuthin’. I must say, it was a little discombobulating. So, what did I do? Oh, probably something that the Polish do not like: tried to speak using my broken Czech. Yep, that was very helpful, I am sure.
When we returned to Krakow for three nights after camp, we felt a little more at ease with how to maneuver through Central Europe, as we had been there for the past 11 days. The hotel we chose was Hotel Francuski, an historic hotel built in 1912 in the Old Town district of Krakow. Oh. My. Word. This hotel was so luxurious with attention to service…for a hotel built over one hundred years ago. We seriously liked it, in spite of their not having air conditioning so we kept our windows open, and the building workers from across the small street began working at about 6 in the morning. The grand staircase, stained glass window, woodwork, bathroom fixtures, coffee and tea bar in the room, were all so sweet. Plus, their made-to-order and buffet breakfast was included as was a lunch box to-go upon request. All for the moderate price of around $106/night.
With only two a half days to explore Krakow, we decided to walk around the Old Town and the Main Market Square on the first day and take a half-day guided tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau on the second day. Using the book that our delightful hotel provided, Krakow In Your Pocket, which we enthusiastically recommend, by the way, we traipsed around following their Old Town Walking Tour, stopping at each spot, and taking turns reading what the book had to say. I have to say, the writers of this tour book were quite entertaining; for example: “The most important Polish city to not come out of World War II looking like a trampled Lego set, the rich cultural and historic value of Krakow’s Old Town earned it a well-deserved inclusion on the first-ever UNESCO World Heritage List back in 1978.”
Some of my more favored stops that day included listening to the hourly bugle call played from the left tower of St. Mary’s Basilica in the Main Market Square. As legend tells it, this is in honor of the night watchman who, in attempting to warn the populous of Tartar invaders who were attempting a nefarious nocturnal attack on the city in 1241, was killed mid-melody when an arrow pierced him through the throat. So, for centuries, (the first mention of the song was in 1392), this bugle call is done from each of the four cardinal directions of the left tower, and the bugler stops it each time at precisely the same spot as the original watchman. Well, it may be true or it may be fiction made up in the 20th century. Paul doubts that an archer could have hit the guy in the throat from that distance.
We bought a bagel-type pretzel thingie from one of Krakow’s ubiquitous carts for lunch, had two shakes from McDonald’s (unlike Norway, fast food here was not expensive), stopped for pastries and drinks up at the castle, Wawel, and took a short guided tour at Collegium Maius, the oldest building of Jagiellonian University, which is the second oldest university in Central Europe (founded in 1364). Funny, the tour was supposed to be in English, but I challenge you to recognize much of my native language in what the tour guide said. Fun Fact: One of their more famous alumni was none other than Nicolaus Copernicus in the 1490s. I was pretty impressed.
Our evening entertainment was an hour-long classical music concert by a stringed quartet from the Royal Chamber Orchestra at St. Adalbert’s Church, in the Main Market Square. Dating from the 11th century, it actually pre-dates the Square itself. It is small, seating about 20 in its wooden pews. Following the concert, and discovering that we had put on about 16K steps according to Paul’s FitBit, we ate dinner at a restaurant in the cellar of an old residence next to our hotel–and that was our go-to restaurant for dinner for the next two nights as well.
Since I am going to write a separate blog about our tour of Auschwitz, I will finish this one with just a note about how we spent the morning of Day 2 and Day 3 in Krakow. We took a tram to walk around Schindler’s Factory, not having enough time to tour it, but wanted to see the location and walk through the Jewish Quarter, or Kazimierz, to meet up with our bus for Auschwitz. The original factory of Oskar Schindler, which he used as a way to save the lives of 1,200 Jews in World War II, was opened to the public as a world class museum in 2010. We read that it was a must-see, and it actually casts the city of Krakow in the main role of its permanent exhibition titled “Krakow During the Nazi Occupation 1939-1945.” If we ever return to Krakow, we will definitely make it a priority.
Finally, with a couple of hours free before we had to catch our flight back to Oslo, on Day 3, we leisurely strolled to the Main Market Square and hired one of the horse-drawn carriages for a 25 minute ride around Old Town. It was our first carriage ride, and having already walked around most of the town where we rode, it was especially memorable. The tourists would take pictures of the horse and carriage, and I would smile and wave!
Sorry for this exceptionally lengthy post. I guess I didn’t want to forget our time there myself, so I included some extra details. Thanks for reading!