There is nothing better than getting away to experience a new culture, and I was lucky to jet off with a friend to Kraków for a whistlestop 48-hour tour. Flying with Easyjet direct from Belfast International, it was an easy breezy early flight that had us up and down in no more than 2.5hrs – leaving us about 45 hours to pack in as much as the city had to offer.
The good thing about Kraków is most things are within walking distance, well when you get into the right area. Although we were armed with our trusty pocket map, we still managed to steer off the designated path. Try to stay within the tourist area or hop in a taxi, which are dirt cheap or even better, take a trip in an electric car that are meant for guided tours, but we nabbed a lift back to our hotel – and don’t forget to haggle!
Based on a recommendation we stayed in the 4-star Andles Hotel , which is very reasonably priced for the quality of service we received. Location they say is everything and the hotel is situated a stone’s throw from the main areas, beside an unbelievable shopping mall and in a beautiful square, which makes for a picture perfect view when you open the curtains in the morning. Although we didn’t have dinner in the hotel, we did have breakfast both days and it was delicious. Every different type of bread, meats, cheese, fruit and fresh yoghurt compote prepared in cute glass jam jars – an idea I have banked when people stay with me. If we had more time we definitely would have used the spa facilities, especially as a luxury facial starts from as little as £24! The hotel also offers special packages, great if you want VIP treatment or are planning an upmarket hen do.
I know I have made a few references to how cheap everything is, but honestly the cost of food, drink, taxis etc is buttons in comparison to say Italy or Spain, which are popular city break locations. We brought about £100 in cash each and that’s all we needed from Sunday-Tuesday and we didn’t scrimp on anything.
Heading out, the old Jewish Quarter or Kazimierz has a quirky bar or restaurant on practically every corner. The Singer Bar’s dusky paintings and candlelight make it a perfect Sunday night venue. It gets its name and magic from the Singer sewing machines on the tables and we made like the locals and had black cherry vodkas on ice. Just round the corner is Alchemia, which is buzzing and a great mix of nationalities. If you are still thirsty nip round to the other square and stop at Once Upon a Time in Kazimierz, close your eyes and you will step back in time to the 1900’s. Open your eyes and to be fair you might feel like you are still there with all the quirky old items hanging from the walls and ceiling.
Never one to miss out trying different types of cuisine, we had everything from dumplings stuffed with cottage cheese, to a ‘Polish pizza’, which is an open baguette topped with melted cheese, chopped mushrooms and ketchup, as well as smoked sheep’s cheese from Krakow’s mountain area served with cranberry jam. We visited two restaurants in the Kazimierz area – Plac Nowy 1 and Trezo, which is great for fine dining but at a fraction of the price at home.
If you are looking for something slightly more traditional, then the Noworolski restaurant on the main square has opulent seats – perfect for sitting outside to watch the world go by. Be sure to have one of the heart attack inducing cakes or truffles, but only go if you are not rushing, as what it has in location, it loses on service.
We made the trip to Auschwitz or Oświęcim to give the town its traditional Polish name, but started in the Birkenau camp – which in some ways was a bleaker and more harrowing experience. I’ll not dwell on it too much; I’ll only advise that if you want to go unguided to the museum make sure to leave it until after 3pm – before that you can only go with a guide and a lot of the tours are not in English. Only get a one way bus ticket so you can hop on any bus home and only bring a small handbag as you will have to check anything bigger into the luggage room at a cost.
Completely on the opposite end of the tourist spectrum is the Lost Souls Alley Tour on Floriańska 6. It’s a 15-minute tour that will literally scare the bejesus out of you. We arrived when the tour was starting and tagged onto a group of Polish and American guys – who in fairness screamed more than us. You go into a series of rooms, which are pitch black and you have to find the combination locks to get out. Not that scary huh? But when there are actors dressed up like crazy murderers trying to attack you and you only have one torch among the group, it’s one to get the heart racing.
No trip away would be complete without a little bit of shopping and the Galeria Krakowska beside Andles Hotel has everything from ZARA to Max Mara to Sephora all under one roof. There is also the Plac Targowy flea market, well more like a car boot sale or the Cloth Hall in Market Square, which is a bit more upmarket. When working out the exchange rate roughly divide by 5 to get the sterling price.
Phew! Hopefully that gave you a flavour of Kraków and didn’t tire you out too much rushing around it. We probably could have done with a few more days, especially as the weather was lovely and there is also a flight on a Thursday, but it’s better to leave a city wanting more. The only think I regret is not going with an empty suitcase to load up on designer clothes and stuff for the house oh and not forgetting a few bottles of black cherry vodka!