Despite a wild, adults only evening out and returning in the early hours, we got up before dawn. After a quick breakfast, we walked the dark, chilly streets to the local station. Today would be a long commute = train, bus, tram, bus. Our destination was Krakow (pronounced ‘Krakov’), a city large in our memory and hearts.
Of course it did not disappoint…To satisfy our growing hunger we ate at a pay-by-weight eatery for lunch. Here you fill your plates with any number of hot, homely choices for an affordable price. Then on the final leg of our journey, we got the bus to our host’s house from the city centre. Normally this would involve a tram fare but luckily? due to roadworks we were treated to a free bus which we would catch countless times in the next few days.
Krakow is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. It began as a humble stone age settlement on the Jurassic limestone of Wawel hill and by the 10th century was a leading trade hub. It’s name dates back to 965 and originates in the legend of the mythical King Krakus who is said to have built the city above the cave of a dragon. During the 15th and 16th centuries, Krakow had it’s golden age of architecture, culture and art. This resulted in an old town (or Stare Miasto) that is now a mesmerising UNESCO world heritage site.
Evening had fallen by the time we were settled into our new digs. So, the adults, led by our charasmatic host Hanna, went out into the old town, around the castle and had a hot chocolate, while our boys had a well earned chill in our hosts home.
We have written about the wonder of Polish chocolate cafes before in our post about Wedel . Here in Krakow was another famous Chocolate shop – reserved for special local occasions and like Wedel we would return again and again to “Karmello”. This is where I had my first hot chocolate with traditional rose topping and it was heavenly.
Twenty years ago we had been first mesmerised by this university city. Then young honeymooners we had stayed in a student let, walked the park – once a moat – that surrounded the old town, seen the fire breathing metal dragon and enjoyed bohemian evenings in jazz bars. Today we felt that same magic. It was good to be back…
The horse drawn carriages, castle and beasts, weave a veil of myth and fable around Krakow.
Krakow’s tenement houses have a long history but it is curious to know that they did not always have street numbers. Until the end of the 18th century they were named after the beastly motifs that adorned them. So if you go, be sure to look carefully at this menagerie.
The clip clop of elaborately decorated horses pulling white antique carriages are still a part of many Polish wedding dreams and have become synonymous with the magic of Krakow.
And now, the carriage slowly glides
In their last trip — the groom and the bride
To some old chapel in some forgotten place.
And there, like in a beautiful old song,
Some bishop unites their hands with a stole,
The holy father with a moon’s face.
Night sings a love song for the pair,
But morning wipes out the stars away,
And through the old, ancient gate,
Through the carvings in the stone
Everything ceases slowly, fades
Forever all the miracles are gone:
– extract from English translation of “The Enchanted Carriage” by Gałczyński
The impressive 16th century Wawal Royal Castle is a huge complex, which sits a top a limestone outcrop on the banks of the vistula. It contains the Wawal Cathedral, the Cathedral museum, the dragons den and the Royal palace. These are full of royal tombs, priceless art and spiritual treasure. Sadly the castle was closed during our time in Krakow but we had explored its halls and felt the heat of the dragons flame before.
16th century illustration
In the evening, Nelson returned home, and we all went to a historical basement restaurant. These ancient cellar bars are where all the krakow hipsters are and we were glad to be amongst them. After dessert, weary but happy we headed onto the bus to our place together.
Thanks to our hosts our plunge into Krakow had all the nostalgia, wonder, friendship and laughter we could have hoped for. We are grateful to our couchsurfing hosts Hanna and Nelson. They inspired us. A young energetic couple who are optimistically breaking traditions and stereotype barriers in Krakow. Hanna is a social media savvy lady from a traditional Polish background, whilst her fiancé Nelson is from a proud Angolan heritage. They are both deeply community minded and wonderful global citizens. They both know Krakow intimately and helped us enjoy it’s local treasures. We are lucky to be with them on the brink of their wedding and now know them as friends.