A Christmas Kraków…..
It's that time of year. You know. Advent. Christmas. Winter. The polls.
So, I took my wife to Poland, to see how they do things there.
What do you know? Fine weather, and not a poll in sight….. Yay!
Kraków was Poland’s capital from the 11th century to the close of the 16th and with approximately three quarters of a million inhabitants it is the largest city in Southern (Lesser) Poland. It lies on the Vistula River (the Wisła), Poland's largest river which drains into the Baltic Sea near the port of Gdańsk. With a length of 651 miles it is a waterway of great importance. Karol Wojtyła, who became Pope John Paul II in 1978, was born in the nearby town of Wadowice, studied at the Jagiellonian University and later became archbishop of Kraków.
So, is Kraków worth the trip? The answer is: 'without doubt'. It has become something of a habit, our wintry marketeering in Europe. Last year Vienna. The year before Prague. And Kraków does not disappoint. The Market Square (Rynek Główny) is a wonder; the old town characterful and relatively unscathed by the 20th century and its errors. Inspired churches abound, from gothic to neo, and the Christmassy kitsch is also lavishly represented. Stalls seething with pans of pork knuckles, grills with enormous sausages, hot plates griddling sheep's cheeses to serve with cranberry jam, barrels of mulled wine….. And baubled trees, and shiny angels…. What more do you need to relieve the mind from the fatigues of politics and austerity?
Castles, churches, chapels, images of Saint Jan Pawel II (The Beatle Pope) [whose daughter I taught] are all manageable for us, but the plural invitations to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and the Wieliczka Salt Mine were beyond our reach, as five hours or so of guided tour would have taxed me, let alone my little half….
We stroll; we climb church towers; we ascend to 270 metres above the River Vistula in a tethered balloon. We visit the Wawel Royal Castle, with its Tapestries of Sigismund II Augustus, and the Cathedral, with the royal tombs, and we meet with artist Jan Hrynkowski in the brutalist Main Building of the National Museum in Kraków. I really like him….
Thursday is our Wedding Anniversary. Thirty-five years, I think, but no one remembers it. Not really surprising I suppose, since Amanda remembers less and less as the days go by. And as for me, well, to borrow a phrase from Bob Dylan: I used to care, but things have changed…..
Friday the 13th, and I check my iPhone at 4.30 GMT. As I suspected, the negative aura surrounding J Corbyn Esq. has had the effect Dom had bargained for, and I attempt, ineffectively, to return to slumber.
The remarkable thing is that, on emerging from our hotel after a relaxed breakfast, the world has not collapsed. The white islands of Britain (pace those poor souls in the antipodes) may have been blasted by a pyroclastic cloud of Borisian vomit, but Christmassy Kraków is as quiet and calm as it was last night.
I take heart. Every cloud has a lining, even if it ain't always silver. One of the advantages (I try to persuade myself) of leaving the EU will be that Europe will be even more alluring and exciting to visit. And places like Kraków will increase in attraction.
A Christmas Kraków wouldn't be a Kraków without a joke in it, even if it is one that even Basil Brush might be ashamed of.
I took my wife to the Christmas Market in Kraków
Oh really? And what did you get for her?
I'm afraid I got nothing for her….
And why, pray, was that?
Because she's priceless!!!
People are crazy and times are strange
I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range
I used to care, but things have changed
Things Have Changed
- We travelled with EasyJet from Luton, times and prices very reasonable.
- The only money is Polish złoty, and the exchange rate is between four and five to the pound. Credit cards are accepted and ATMs are everywhere.
- We stayed at the Hotel Elektor (Szpitalna 28, Old Town) which is quiet, warm, comfortable and very conveniently located for the Market Square.
- We can recommend Il Calzone (Starowislna 15a) as a place to eat. Italian but not exclusively, and with excellent Polish wine.
- Also highly recommended is Pierozki u Wicenta (ul. Bozego Ciala 12) in the Kazimierz quarter, where traditional pierogi (stuffed dumplings, not unlike ravioli) are superb. And that is all they do!
- In the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) in the centre of the Market Square, there is the elegant Kawiarnia Noworolski, a fine place for coffee and people watching, and also, on the second floor, is the Gallery of 19th Century Polish Art, with some great pictures.
- Several of the churches we visited are undergoing extensive renovation work, but the Basilica of St Mary, with its Veit Stoss Altar and its Bugle-Call Tower, is a must, and both the Franciscan and Dominican Churches are impressive.
- Beer (piwo) and vodka are inexpensive. I found Café Philo (ul. Św. Tomasza 30) to be interesting and hospitable and the TramBar (ul. Stolarska 5) was funky though more expensive, but I particularly enjoyed the quality of beer and the company of strangers in the Non Iron pub (ul. Św. Marka 27) described on one website as a small, dingy, obscure, locals bar….. yeah, right up my street (and only a few steps from my hotel)!
Dziękuję i dobranoc