5 May 2019
To quote every dating app profile out there: I love travelling! While studying for my recent MA had many positive elements, enough income to warrant a holiday was not one of them. So, I was pretty darn excited when I could viably book an impromptu trip to Krakow, Poland for the Easter weekend!
History. Short flight. Low budget. Krakow ticked enough of boxes to warrant a trip, but really as the plane took off I was more focused on escaping the London chaos for a few days than I was on what was waiting for me as we touched down. “I’m just such a spontaneous free spirit, you know?”
Fortunately, Krakow was a pleasant surprise – the pleasantest! Question: is Poland, or at least Krakow, the most hidden-in-plain-sight hidden gem of Europe? Or, am I just clueless? Both are feasible options.
Krakow is the ancient capital of what became modern Poland and is packed to the rafters with exciting history – too much really, it’s like ‘Okay, Krakow, we get it, you’re old!’. The centre of medieval monarchy, it’s a city built on centuries of legends, marauding invaders, controversy, the odd dragon, and kings with an eye for design.
Now, the words ‘Poland’ and ‘History’ usually bring dark imagery of World War Two and the Holocaust to mind. And understandably so. Poland felt the full force of the Second World War – 90 per cent of its capital Warsaw was obliterated by the bombings – as well as the Holocaust. Add to this the subsequent Soviet occupation and it’s an understatement to say that Poland has a dark modern history.
However, Krakow reveals the little-known, (to me anyway), history of a medieval Poland; a history of kings, invading mongols, and a booming cloth trade. Well, that, along with some clearly ex-Soviet vibes, seen in the occasional looming, stark accommodation block.
Saying that, this is from someone who only ever strayed from the Old Town to visit the city’s historic Jewish district, Kazimierz. What I saw was very much the ‘tourist Krakow’ and touristy it most certainly was! Slightly overwhelming numbers of tourists (and pigeons!) would gather in the Old Town’s ridiculously photogenic main square, Rynek Glowny, from where we could explore the historic arcades, towers, and churches, most hailing from around the 13th and 14th centuries.
The 13th-century Holy Trinity Basilica dominates the skyline and, just to grab your attention even more, a bugler blasts out a tune from one of its mighty towers on the hour every hour. The ceremony, while rooted in history, certainly feels more for the tourists than the locals.
As any of my poor friends who saw my Instagram Stories will know, I was particularly taken with the food. History and food, my two biggest priorities in life. Ignoring all the meat, the food in Krakow reminded me very much of my own diet: beautifully beige with an ill-advised amount of sugar. It was fantastic, but I did find myself actively seeking greens by the second day.
To avoid this blog post reaching epic proportions I will now sum up my time in Krakow with a series of unconnected and totally unexplained individual words, (what a fantastic writer I am!): medieval, churches, patriotic, vodka, underground, bread, towers, pierogi, street art, donuts, cheese, surprisingly good coffee, tourists, more cheese, decent beer, sauerkraut, doilies, ice cream, culture, pickles, the Pope, pigeons, fried cheese, more churches, students, parks, did I say cheese?
You’re welcome. Where’s my Pulitzer?
Anyway, this excursion also gave me a good excuse to dust off the ol’ camera. I’ve whittled down my hundreds of photos to these select favourites. What do you think?