This post is a continuation of the series documenting our travels across the variety filled country of Poland. We had started North on the Baltic Coast in Gdansk & spent the last 24 hours in the wonderful little walled town of Torun.(Torun Part 2 – Walking around an empty walled town after dusk and dawn.) Now we continued our journey southwards to the most famous (among tourists !) city of the country – Krakow.
We had booked first class tickets for this train journey too, like all other train journeys we did in Poland. The cost wasn’t too much and the spacious seating meant we travelled in comfort. The train speeds in Poland aren’t as high as those in Western Europe, so the journey from Torun to Krakow took a leisurely 5 and a half hours. I had read about a faster transit with a change in Warsaw, but decided against it as the bother of changing trains far outweighed the time saved.
The train passed through the usual landscape of meadows and flat landscape that this part of Poland is known for. I was kept entertained by the pheasants that I kept spotting in the meadows. There were quite a number of these beautiful birds that I spotted but unfortunately the moving train didn’t allow any photographs.
We reached Krakow right on the scheduled arrival time of 6 pm. Since we would be staying in Krakow only one night before moving on to the Tatra mountain resort town of Zakopane the coming morning I had booked a hotel, the Europejski which was close to the Train station itself. We would be returning to Krakow for a further two nights after our time in Zakopane, so we decided to use this short layover to get ourselves oriented to the layout of the Old town ( Stare Miasto) where we would be spending most of our time in Krakow.
We got our allowed room at the Europejski and freshened up a bit before setting out for a walk around the Stare Miasto.
The old town of Krakow is surrounded by the Planty, a garden which replaced the moat around the medieval old town. We crossed the Planty and we were at the Florianska gate ,the main entry point to the old town. It was the weekend when the Krakow marathon was to be held & old town was crowded as ever.
I was thankful that I wasn’t staying in Krakow more than one night during this crowded period. Nothing irks me more than crushing crowds on vacation. It reminds me of Dadar station at rush hour back home in Mumbai & thats the last thing I want to be reminded of on vacation!
We had faced crowds before in Europe, most notably in the Cinque terre trains when a cruise ship was in dock, around the Colosseum in Rome & on the Charles bridge during the day in Prague. We had always found a way to avoid these crowds once we knew what to expect. We would have to do the same when we returned to Krakow from Zakopane.
We weaved our way through the crowd towards the St Mary’s Church and the centre piece square of Krakow the Rynek Głowny. It was a cold and overcast evening but thankfully it was not raining just yet.
The whole square was full of temporary structures and barriers erected for the Marathon making it a nightmare to photograph. So I decided to leave that for when we would return to Krakow.
After taking a few photos of the beautiful basilica with its unique & striking asymmetric towers we moved through the cloth market in the centre of the square after negotiating the barrier filled path from the basilica to the market.
The old cloth market has shop after shop selling souvenirs. We had no intention of buying any, so we just window shopped & passed through to the other side where the Town hall tower is located.
The 14th century tower is the only remaining part of the town hall that once stood in this square. It has been restored to be a stand alone clock tower now and can be climbed for a view of square. It was way beyond the open hours for the tower climb so we just walked around this less encroached by barriers part of the square.
At the foot of the town hall tower is a bronze head known as the “Eros Bound” or “Eros Bendato” which is the work of the Polish artist Igor Mitoraj. This sculpture has been controversial with some locals protesting its place on the square. But i feel that it is perfectly placed, where else would you place a head without a body, other than in front of a town hall tower without a town hall!
We then thought we should move out of the old town and just walk the planty for a while as the old town was barricaded most of the way towards the Wawel Castle. We just wanted to know the location of the castle so that we didn’t have to search for it on the day when we had booked a tour there.
The Planty was very empty as compared to the old town streets and a real pleasure to walk through. It also had patches of beautiful flowers surrounding a statue intermittently making it all the more pleasant.
It was way past 7.30 pm now but it wasn’t still dark when we reached the base of Wawel Hill where the eponymous castle is located. The castle grounds are open and free to wander but we were to hungry for that at present. So just a view of the castle from below would have to do for now.
Another thing I noticed was that other than the main streets, most other streets in old town aren’t crowded. So unless essential we would be frequenting these side streets from now on.
We then found a cafe right at the foot of the Wawel hill called ” Santos” with outdoor seating. Usually we avoid cafes on the main tourist route but this cafe seemed pretty popular and we were tired to go looking for other good restaurants, especially with all the marathon barricades impeding us.
Thankfully the ” Santos” served good food and drinks at rates that were not a rip off. I ate a turkey breast with cranberry sauce ( I also had a great Zywiec , the standard beer of these parts) while the better half had a huge bowl of carrot- tomato soup followed by her now routine plate of Pierogis. The sun finally went down as our meal arrived and we enjoyed our open air meal.
Tummies satiated we started our walk back to the Rynek Glowny where there was supposed to be a laser show before the night run part of the marathon began. By now the old town streets were lit up and pretty except for the jarring barricades everywhere.
The Saints Peter and Paul church on our way was looking spectacular all lit up and we had to stop and take a photo or two before moving on. Going into the church would be left for when we returned from Zakopane.
Even though most shops were closed by now the window displays were lit up and a few porcelain and crafts shop windows on the way were far too eye catching to be ignored.
We found that even the flower patches and the statues were lit up. Hadn’t seen flower patches being lit anywhere else in my travels and I wonder why, it really looked good.
We finally reached the main square where the preparations were in full steam for the marathon to begin. I quickly took a photo of the start finish line structure with the majestic St Mary’s towers in the background before moving to the centre of the square.
Rynek Głowny was teeming with people, locals and tourists waiting for the laser show to begin. We found a good spot for ourselves to stand and waited for the show to begin.
The laser show started and enthralled the audience for a good 20-30 mins with the projections being thrown on all the historical buildings round. It was an experience that we had stumbled upon by accident. We hadn’t planned our visit to coincide with the marathon. In fact that was the last thing I would have wanted. But we got to see a laser show in a beautiful historic square, a pleasant surprise.
After the laser show ended we quickly made our way out of the square via the town hall tower side as we had seen that there were less barricades in that direction. We returned to our hotel satisfied at the evenings wanderings. We now had a fair idea of where the important sites were located and would have no trouble when we returned in a few days time.
We woke up the next morning after a good nights sleep to the sound of heavy rain falling outside. That put paid to my plans of going on an early morning walk around the old town. So we slept in some more and got up in time for breakfast.
By the time we had finished our breakfast at the Europejski the rain had lessened to a drizzle. We still had some time to go before our scheduled bus to Zakopane left so we out on our full rain gear and went walking in the rain!
One thing that the rain does very well is that it keeps crowds away, Florianska street usually crammed to the gills was pleasantly empty. As was the Main Market square where a few marathon activities were still going on.
Soon the rain intensity increased again and we decided not to risk our camera gear and return to the hotel. Before packing off the camera under an arch behind St Mary’s I took a photo of St Mary’s in the rain with the arch providing a eye pleasing frame. One of the photos I will remember this trip by.
We then took our luggage and walked to the main bus station which was right next to the train station. We then found our allowed bus bay and waited for our bus to Zakopane to arrive.We hoped that the weather would be better in Zakopane but the forecast wasn’t so encouraging.
The rain Gods wouldn’t be kind to us in Zakopane, but we would still manage to do most of the stuff we intended to do. How we managed that is the topic for another post, some other time, some other day.