Finally we’re going somewhere new 🙂 I have been roaming around Europe quite a bit this year, both to places familiar and place foreign so will fill you in on the highlights. I will likely not do it chronologically just to keep you on your toes 😉 Too much travel and not enough writing! But lots of notes and photos so the travels should make it here eventually…
These days in Europe everyone complains about how crowded and touristy Prague is. I was one of the privileged people who got to see it years ago when it was still emerging from communism and concepts like customer service were still foreign affectations. I will actually be going back next month so will be able to see for myself if Prague has been ruined by the market economy. Stay tuned 🙂 <it’s taken me so long to get this post finished I have now been back…>
Just in case the rumours are true, I have been collecting alternatives you can visit that provide a largely similar experience. Ljublijana is the best if you hate crowds. You can still find quiet in Dubrovnik if you stay in town and get out of the Old Town while the cruise ships dock. Or you could go to Krakow!
Once upon a time one of my best friends was dating a Polish guy who took her to Poland to meet his family and see his homeland. Her recounting of the journey was not something the tourist board of Poland would have been anxious to publish but I was pretty sure Poland had changed in the last twenty years and even she liked Krakow. So off I went…
Once again I was working until I got on the plane (to Paris, not Krakow, we’ll talk about that later) so showed up with some Zloty and no idea what I would spend them on. I had chosen a hotel off the internet that looked charming and they had organized a charming Polish man to pick me up at the airport. I wouldn’t recommend arriving in Beijing or Johannesburg without any research but it’s a fine way to arrive in Krakow.
Arriving with no plan makes it feel like more of an adventure. There is a LOT to do in Krakow I discovered so make sure you stay for a few nights – and start planning as soon as you arrive. I mostly got lucky…
My hotel was spectacular. The Pod Roza Hotel is the oldest hotel in Krakow. It is located between the Florianska Gate and the Main Square, in the heart of old town. The hotel is on the busy Royal Route, which leads millions of tourist straight to the Royal castle. As you can imagine, it is in a glorious building and it really IS right in the middle of the action! If you happen to do some shopping or decide you need a sweater, you can pop into your room and barely miss a beat on your tourist quest.
The hotel also offers two restaurants. The most atmospheric one is where you eat breakfast every morning. I am a fan and a connoisseur of the sumptuous buffet breakfasts frequently included in the price of your room in most of Europe. It’s rare that you get actual champagne but the best offer sparkling wine, freshly cooked hot options, a myriad of charcuterie and cheese, yogurt, a selection of cereals and pastries, several kinds of juice, various bread options, etc. The Pod Roza breakfast was certainly one of the finest on offer. In addition to the usual grand offerings, it featured delicious smoked salmon, not just ham but prosciutto, and, as an extra bonus – custard!
I arrived exhausted so it was a sad Friday night. I really wanted to explore more but it was hard to keep my head from falling into my plate so I finished my dinner and went to my comfy bed. It ended up being a great strategy. I was up super early so could scarf down enough food to last me until dinner and still get to the castle before it opened. Krakow is a magical place to arrive without a plan. Everybody loved it. It used to be the capital. Both the Nazis and the Soviets left it alone so the Old Town is like planting yourself in the seventeenth century when people did not have Teslas so you can walk everywhere and see a lot for your effort. Even horse-drawn carriages in the moonlight that look ready to take Cinderella to the ball.
It’s on par with Paris for its ability to transport you to another century and groan when you get home and see how many photos you have taken and now have to do something with 😉 Since I had no plan yet, I knew there was a castle and the castle was at the end of the Royal Route (the king used to do a drive-by for the peasants on the way to the castle). The hotel is on the Royal Route so I just decided to follow the path and find the castle.
I may have been naïve in my knowledge of Krakow but that does not mean it is undiscovered! So you may want to plan ahead a little more 🙂 I got lucky. Wawel Castle is a marvel. I ended up spending most of the day there as I got lucky and it was a gloriously sunny day. They only sell a certain number of tickets each day to visit some of the buildings, including the State Rooms and Royal Private Apartments so either show up early or book in advance. Also check out the Sandomierska Tower for the view over the river and some cool looking buildings I never had a chance to check out. This is a very Catholic country so there is also an impressive church on the grounds.
You actually get a guided tour through the State Rooms so I learned an interesting piece of trivia. Given that this was the old days when the kings spent the peasants’ money trying to out-bling each other, there are some magnificent tapestries. Apparently they are still intact since the Polish leaders packed them off to Canada for safe storage before the Nazis could get their hands on them. History involves a lot more intrigue than we realize – I am slowing learning as I explore history by checking out castles, churches and monuments.
Once you’ve checked out the castle, you can explore the rest of the Royal Route. Krakow is filled with gorgeous buildings and churches, all in styles that would have made Mies van der Rohe roll his eyes in disgust.
There is much more to tell but my advice is to get there before the secret gets out any further… and there is an overnight train from Prague so you could even do a compare and contrast (my plan in October)…