Before arriving in Krakow we knew very little about the country of Poland, let alone the city of Krakow. Most tourists seem to visit for its proximity to Auschwitz & Wieliczka Salt Mines, both of which we skipped. Instead we enjoyed our week exploring the culturally rich city by foot, through a cooking class, and by a few walking tours.
A big help in doing so was locallife.com , which was recommended by a hostel mate. With Yelp being hit or miss in certain European cities because of its lack of sample size we were sure glad to have found the website.
Our first stop was Massolot Books & Cafe where Siobhan had her now typical cappuccino and I found a first edition modern Polish cookbook (in Polish).
The following day we found ourselves on a Guided Food Tour where we met some of our new favorite fellow travelers from Miami (more on them later). The food tour took us from the Jewish Quarter through a farmers market whose merchants were mostly from the local mountain areas who seldom see any foreigners.
This was the first time I’ve ever enjoyed pickles! Possibly because they were fermented instead of pickled in vinegar. We also visited a “locals only” tiny pierogi place (which I had coincidently bookmarked from locallife)
Then a bakery…
And finally for some vodka tasting and Bigos (a hunters stew)
Another highlight also revolving around food, surprise, was a pierogi (polish dumplings) cooking class! Found on eataway.com (again through locallife.com) we made the fillings, one vegetarian and one lamb, kneeded the dough, tasted some Winsniowaka (a polish cherry liquior) and finally filled and folded the polish dumplings.
We sat down with our host and teacher Magdalena, her husband a french pastry chef, and her father. sharing a meal and chat with multiple generations of locals was a great part of the evening topped only by some dessert Perogis.
To break up the food fest that we( or Richard) seem to always write about, we had the chance to visit The Museum Of Contemporary Art, Krakow.We were told about an exhibit being shown about “medicine in art”. Neither of us are very big on contemporary art but it sounded interesting to me, so off we went. It turned out to be very educational and we were able to view some beautiful and thought-provoking pieces.
My favorite was a portrait series of surgical patients before and after surgery to remove or repair tumors, facial injuries, burns, etc. It was part of an art therapy program for both the patients and the surgeon, helping both to cope with their respective challenges.
I decided to visit the Schindler factory on my own, and I’m glad I did. It turned out to be one of the best museums I have experienced. The inside of part of the factory has been converted into a museum dedicated to the Polish experience leading up to WWII, the events during the war including those at Schindler’s factory, and the after-effects of the war. The displays are completely immersive and interactive and I could have spent HOURS there if I had the energy. My favorite exhibit was one that shook me to my core. A tiny corner of a concentration camp was re-created in one of the rooms. Leading up to that point, the displays had been bright, colorful, and close in proximity. When I stepped into this room I was suddenly in grey emptiness and complete silence. It was dusty, gravel-filled, a shard of metal placed in the center of the room, and barbed wire lined the ceiling. As Richie mentioned before, we didn’t make the trip to Auschwitz. This tiny display was no comparison, but it definitely hit a chord and I’m so glad that element was included. I highly recommend this museum to anyone travelling to Krakow, but make sure it’s the first activity of the day since it requires a lot of time and energy to really absorb all the information!
Back on the street, immersed in a crowd peering through the doorway of a bar, cheering on Poland’s futbol squad during its quarterfinal Eurocup match vs Portugal. Chants, songs, flairs, and drunkenness…the frenzy was is full swing.
Futbol at its best. Unfortunately the Polish squad was not, and went down in a penalty shoot out. Oh well, off to try some after hours drunk food. In this case Zapiekanka (an open faced pizza sandwich). It may just have been our lack of intoxication but they were pretty disappointing. Oh well.
Most days we found ourselves going back to the jewish quarter again and again.From its food trucks and hip stores dotted throughout, there were so many hidden gems I couldn’t wait to go back.
A favorite was the spicy pulled pork sandwiches with JALAPENEOS (I think the polish refer to them as Cyklon pepper perhaps?) but they are jalapeneos none the less. I was so glad to have finally found something with spice! (Western Europe seems to fall short on the spice realm, unless you count black pepper #shotsfired) I felt like I was in Austin TX the pork was so good!!!Rarely do we eat twice at the same place. (With the small exception of the ice cream spot we also found)
Lastly there is the Unesco World Heritage site of Old Town. The ancient walled town in the center of the city. Rich in medieval history and nearly unharmed from either of the major world wars. Unfortunately we missed out on most of that history as we showed up late to the free walking tour. However our new friends, Liz n Oscar, from the previous walking tour suggested the Macabre Tour. A ghost tour through Old Town … um sure? Turns out it was tons of fun! The guide’s humor was simalur to that of the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland, except holding us in suspense about serial killers and making puns and jokes about ghost, or medieval torture practices. Brilliant!
POST POST POST SCRIPT: the encounters we have had with fellow travelers, be it one night conversations with people we’ll never meet again, or the ones we add on facebook and hope to sometime run into again at a future destination is something I’m still trying to put into words… But for now I must take a minute to remind myself that these new friends we met from Miami are inspirational. And as the lazy, pretentious, cynic I am most of the time, thats not a word I find myself ever using. He, a self proclaimed history nerd turned lawyer and a prom queen turned cancer research scientist, BOTH left those careers to return and teach at their high school where they met. AND NOW THEY’RE THE COOL TEACHERS! And my goodness is he a history nerd, of which I am beyond jealous. All we share in common is a sense of humor and a love of travel. But thanks for reminding me that THIS is in fact the BEST time in history to be alive. As well as reinforcing the notion that despite scary headlines intended to drive up ratings, its the globalization of mass media that is painting a false image of this beautiful world we are so fortunate to be traveling. ❤