I realize it’s unfair to keep comparing Krakow to other places but it is still enough of an underground destination that it helps people to more easily visualize what Krakow has to offer so, sorry Poland, but I did wonder if I had taken a wrong turn and ended up in Austin… or Portland…
Given that Austin and Portland are two of my favourite places on the planet, it was like being transported into a fairy tale. Like the others, it is a college town so there are lots of cool things to do – and lots of offerings students can afford.
I really regretted my early Friday night – and that I hadn’t booked a longer stay – but I was determined to at least get a taste for what Krakow had to offer.
I first discovered this in Dubrovnik but, if you are heading east, check out in your pocket guides for great tips on what to do. I had an amazing time in Krakow thanks to them. In writing this, I finally signed on to the website and see they have lots of destinations but what makes them special is that they have insider tips for countries like Latvia and Belarus.
I am far too old to be a proper hipster but, rather than having an arrested adolescence, I seem to have an arrested 30something complex. Luckily, as long as I get a decent amount of sleep, no one seems to question my age-appropriateness in the venue.
The challenge in Krakow is that there is way too much to do, especially on the weekend. You can watch live music, you can go to a dive bar, you can be a tourist and park yourself on the main square with a beverage, you can dance to electronic music or you can watch a classical music concert in a baroque church. You just have to pick something. Otherwise, you will just sit with your in your pocket guide in your hand evaluating options until the current venue kicks you out.
I didn’t manage to get through all the options but I did try to mix it up and see what I could in my short visit. If you are travelling with a companion or two and want to have a cocktail in a sophisticated environment, Baroque is a good choice. If you are travelling solo and looking for some interesting people watching, try Baccarat. It is a little rough around the edges compared to London but there was a good local band playing covers and singing songs in Polish that the crowd definitely enjoyed. There was a lot of velvet drapery, much of it in crimson. Perhaps it is a hangout for Dracula…
I would not have taken Dracula for a Mojito kind of guy. But I would recommend you stick to those kind of cocktails in eastern Europe. It’s still the 90s in some ways. But there is a charming retro vibe. Just don’t try to order a Manhattan. They didn’t have any bourbon! I am sure there would not have been a sour cherry or a burnt orange garnish… Don’t try to be fancy… drink beer – or vodka – and you will have a blast.
I had one more evening and had done enough exploring to know my way around quite well so went a little further afield for Sunday night. The club is called Piec’Art and is famous for jazz. It wasn’t actually jazz but folk music as channeled by the Poles. The cover was minimal, the beer was cheap (and excellent) and the band was talented. I felt very local. There were only a handful of people in the venue. I had asked in English if there was a band in order to buy the ticket so the band said they would have to skip the intro because it was in Polish. I said I was in Poland; I expected people to speak Polish. So they just performed as planned. I didn’t know what they were saying a lot of the time but that is the amazing thing about music – it is universal even when you can’t understand the lyrics.
During the band’s break, Lucas asked me where I was from. Apparently he and his father are big fans of Canada and hope to visit someday. I learned that the bar was empty because there was an election in progress and people were at home watching the debate. I expect people vote in Poland. Because I roam the world so much, I have often ended up in places while there was an election in progress. It’s always interesting to see the political process in different places. The right to vote is such a privilege but people in old democracies often don’t bother voting or making an informed decision. You come for the entertainment but often the experience is richer than expected.
I’m not cool enough to be a hipster but have followed my own drum and been into alternative stuff since I was pre-teen. I came of age when it was a lot more controversial to be different and the global political landscape was a galaxy away from where it is now. With the Americans and Russians running around the world trying to stir up trouble and handing out AK-47s like Halloween candy, it can be hard to feel like we are making progress but I keep visiting countries where democracy is a newish concept and lots of people have been lifted out of poverty in the last couple of decades.
The alternative has become the mainstream. And not all stuffy old practices were bad. One of the great delights of travelling in Europe is the eye candy – well-groomed, clean shaven men of all ages in tailored suits and wonderfully shiny chic shoes. Personally, I think if the hipsters want to score more often, they might consider shaving, put on a suit, trade the ironic trainers for a pair of shiny lace-up oxfords and learn how to talk like a charming Latin gentleman… 🙂 You probably can’t trust them but it doesn’t mean you will be able to resist 😉