If I’m being honest, I decided to go to Poland for three reasons:
- visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau has been a huge bucket list thing I’ve wanted to do since learning about the Holocaust
- We were going to be near by in Germany so I thought, what the heck why not
Never in a million years would I think Poland would be my favourite country we would visit and Krakow my favourite city. Our first destination in Poland was Warsaw. It was a beautiful city, and Old Town was buzzing with culture and life. But Krakow, Krakow hit me in a wanderers heart. Although our stop in Krakow was a short 3 days, I cannot wait to go back and explore more. My intention of going to Poland this trip was to see it and move on, but I fell so in love with Poland and its people I plan to go back and see more of this incredible, underrated (in my opinion) country.
When I travel, I absolutely love to explore places that are authentic and real. Much of Europe has become so toursty – yes, Krakow has this as well with it’s horse-drawn carriages and such – but there was just something about Krakow. I felt like I was transported to a different kind of Europe.
Krakow was one of the few Polish cities to escape complete destruction of World War II. Our Airbnb was a short two minute walk to Old Market Square (Rynek Główny) is a place that is buzzing with people no matter what time of day (or night). Surrounded by patios and incredible restaurants, music and theatrical buskers drawing in and entertaining crowds; it was a plaza that seemed to be always buzzing with life. At the corner of the square, is St. Mary’s Basilica – a tall, brick building with two towers emanating a Gothic cathedral vibe. From the North tower (the left tower), every hour on the hour, the Henjal is played. The Henjal is a short melody played four consecutive times on the trumpet to the North, South, East and West facing windows of the left (North) tower. This tradition has continued on for over 700 years with little to no interruption. Even under Nazi occupation, trumpeters were allowed to play twice a day.
The Henjal rises from the legend from the 13th century where a watchman raised an alarm (playing the trumpet) when the city was under attack by Tartar invaders. Allegedly, this watchman was killed mid-note, which is why the song sounds like it ends abruptly. This is meant to honour the man who saved the city. At noon, the Henjal is broadcasted on Polish radio for local and international listeners to enjoy.
At the centre of Market Square sits the Cloth Hall. A structure of some sort has sat on the area of the Cloth Hall since the 13th century. The Cloth Hall was once a major center of international trade. It’s golden era was during the Renaissance in Poland around the 15th century, where it was the hub for exotic imports from the East such as spices, silk and wax while also offering exports from Krakow such as lead or salt from the nearby Wieliczka Salt Mine. The upper floor of the Cloth Hall now holds a museum holding the largest permanent exhibit of 19th century Polish paintings and sculptures. But at street level, it is essentially a 700 year old shopping mall filled with locally made handcrafts, Polish amber and other local products.
Krakow is filled with pedestrian-friendly streets with someone different at each corner. Turn right, you might see a group of three twenty-something men break dancing on cardboard laid out to put on a show on one end of the street, and on the other a group of violinists lull a beautiful melody over the crowd. Turn right, a painter with numerous paintings on display to sell captivating you into charismatic scenery and bold colours.
Aside from the obvious beauty of Krakow… let me just tell you. Polish pierogis are literally like nothing else. I am an avid perogy fan. If I hit up a mall and the food court has Shumka (I’m not sure if this chain is everywhere, but it’s a Ukrainian food chain in Canada) you best bet I will hit that up for some perogies. I have been home since August, that is two months and I have had perogies ONCE. Why?! Because the Polish pierogi of Krakow ruined my life. It was the best I have EVER tasted and I cannot find anything similar in Canada. I need to find myself a Polish grandma. Seriously, they are mind blowing. If you are ever in Krakow, I highly recommend hitting up Przystanek Pierogarnia. I was recommended this little hole-in-the-wall by a friend of mine who had been to Krakow before. I wish I had photos of the food… but I ate it almost instantaneously. Just trust me on this one and go there. You will feel like you’re walking to the middle of nowhere, but it is always buzzing with locals — that’s how you KNOW its good. My mouth is literally watering and my tummy grumbling as I write this. Maybe I just need to head to Krakow again sooner then I planned…