On Saturday morning, with the help of our Polish-speaking GPS, we drove about two and a half hours from Czestochowa to Krakow. Fortunately we made it just in time to hop on a bike tour for the afternoon.
The bike tour was a really good way to get a feel for the city, considering we were only going to be there for 24 hours. We began in the main square, an amazing combination of old buildings, scattered with alfresco dining options, and packed with people. Our guide gave us all the history and lots of interesting information along the way.
Krakow was the Royal capital of Poland until 1596, so it’s full of beautiful historic buildings. We rode around the city and saw many things. To be honest, I can’t remember every single thing we saw. But here’s a list of some of the more memorable sights:
- The beautiful old buildings that make up the university of Krakow
- Wawel Castle and Cathedral
- Oskar Schindler’s factory and the apartment where he lived
- The Jewish Quarter
- Part of the Ghetto wall and a memorial to the Jews who lived there
After the tour, we wandered through the city streets for a while. Krakow is going down as one of my favourite cities that I’ve visited so far. It’s really an attractive city with a cool atmosphere. We found an impressive chocolate shop/restaurant, where we had a delicious afternoon tea.
The place we were staying was conveniently located in the Jewish Quarter, which gave us a chance to look around there. Jewish-themed (although not Kosher) restaurants line the main street. We had dinner at one such restaurant, which doubled as a Jewish souvenir shop.
There are approximately 200 Jews living in Krakow today. That evening, we went to the only operational Synagogue, which happened to be right across from our hotel. Being Saturday night, they were conducting a service for the end of the Sabbath. After the short prayers, Mum struck up a conversation in Hebrew with one of the men, who turned out to be fluent in English. He invited us back to his home for Havdallah, the ceremony which marks the end of the Sabbath. Mum and Dad went along, and quite enjoyed the experience.
Because there were only men in the Synagogue, Mum and I waited outside while the service was going on. Dad insisted that it was really worthwhile to see the inside, so we went back the next morning. It certainly had a kind of beauty about it.
Behind the Synagogue was a Jewish Cemetery (yes, another one). This one was not as impressive as the previous two we had visited, but it was interesting all the same. Unlike the others, it was well-kept and the gravestones were mostly intact. I was taken when I heard that the Jews buried these gravestones during the war in order to protect them from destruction by the enemy.
The Jewish Quarter is indeed dotted with Synagogues. We went to see a few more, two of which house Jewish museums displaying some history of Polish Jewry. These places I found very moving.
The last thing we did was to visit the famous Wawel Castle, where Polish Royalty once resided. Although there are many aspects of the place, we only had time to visit the State Rooms. These are a collection of grand, lavishly decorated rooms – quite remarkable. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take photos inside.
And that was that. It was time to catch a taxi to the airport and go our separate ways. Mum and Dad to Berlin, and me back to London to study for my exams. (I would have much preferred to continue with them!) Saying goodbye was a little bit sad, but not really so bad, since I’ll see them in two months time. It’s hard to believe it’s less than two months now until I’ll be home.
We hesitate to say that we enjoyed our time in Poland, but the fact is that for the most part, we did. Of course, at times there were mixed feelings. But it was certainly the most meaningful, and perhaps the most worthwhile trip I’ve done in Europe so far.
The next exciting thing coming up is my brother coming to London. Unfortunately, it’s a stopover of less than 24 hours, so I’ll have very limited time to show him the sights. But I’ll do my best!
Catch you soon.