A destination of experiences, night train and couch surfing were for me the two interesting things I wanted to try. Between theese two key moments I find time to enjoy the city and to make a new friend!
I commonly sleep in train when the journey is for more than 4 hours, but I have never booked a true night train. Task done with a 9 hours night from Vienna to Krakow! I was a little bit worried about, how it will look like, with who I will be, how comfortable would be the journey… finally it has been a pretty good experience. The long train came on time and stop for 3 minutes in Vienna, I had check the train organization before: my wagon was almost the last one. We really should make a mistake, because almost each wagon were going to a different country: Poland, Czech, Germany, Russia… A Russians/Polish grumpy employee confirm us that we were in the correct one, keep or tickets.. and show us which cabin and which bed were ours. I thought it was strange but after an hour he came back and give us the documents.
My roommate, a German business man, and me were assigned to the top bunks, I had access to the windows and to the plugs, also more space for my legs. It was really hot in the cabin but by letting the windows open I had fresh air for myself 🙂 and the train sound helped me to sleep. On the whole it is really comfortable and people were not noisy.
Morning alone in Poland’s cultural capital
Sunrize on the old town
Early morning in Poland. It was still dark and I woke up slowly. I first looked for a place were I can leaave my luggage in the train station. Near the main hall is a place where you can rent a box for 6 or 8 Zl, which is very cheap regarding what I have paid in Vienna for the same service.
The Krakow’s train station is really small but is close to the center, which need approximatly 10 minutes to be reached 🙂 Need a little more to be on the market square. I took the same way as my last time and all old souvenirs came back very fast with all details! That cold morning of October with my erasmus friend.
I find the tourism office of the city and get a free map. First mission to see all the churches of the old town and some special streets. I saw the Opera House, the churches of the Holy Cross, of Saint John the Baptist and John the Evangelist, of the Transfiguration… so many name I never heard about!
The Market Square was desert (except the giant head) and I decided to go to the Wawel hill. I cross the southern part of the old town that I find quite pretty. Once again many churches, that’s confirmed Poland is a land of Christians. Church of Saint Joseph, church of Saints Peter and Paul next to the church of Saint Andrew, the church of Saint Martin and without forgetting the Bernardine church. They have even more of them, concentrated in a small area!
Krakow is known for two important part of its town. The Main Market square, biggest in Europe, with the Clothes Hall is the first, and the Wawel Caslte is the second: it was the central place of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.
The impressive gothique cathedral stand proudly on the Wawel Hill inside the red bricks walls and provides you a view on the whole city, and on the Vistula river. Around the Cathedral is the statue of the Polish Pope, and ex-cardinal of Krakow, John Paul II.
I don’t know if it a sign of something or not but when I arrived on the top of the hill all the clouds disapeared and the sun made the edifice even nicer! I saw the entrance of what was a large courtyard.
There are two of way to go to te Castle and I came from one and left by the other. I visited the Dragon of Wawel, sort of living statue which breath fire… but not that day. I bought one dragon teddy beer the last time I met him 🙂
At the bottom of the hill was a sign showing where the last jewish district was, it is really close to Wawel and I went there before coming back to the center. It looks like a kind a suburbs where houses are half broken and old factories are now closed. But a little square survive and looks really Jewish on Szeroka street!
I must say that I almost got lost to end in the square but it is worth to see, unusual for me.
Saint Florian’s street
Saint Florian is the main street of Krakow, kind of High Street for the city, many shop and restaurant can be found there. The long street starts from the Barbican and finishes on the Market Square, and includes obviously the Saint Florian’s Gate.
This is where my host, Madga, gave me rendez vous, after having been to the main shopping center behind the train station to buy a Polish SIMcard. I walked a bit around and though the gate where two guys were playing some sort of traditional music. (I guess so). I saw the Barbican, some paintings and the statue of Mercury, don’t know what the meaning but it is there 🙂 I stayed in the Coffee Heaven in a warm place to have my coffee while Madga was on the way to the center.
Krakow with my lovely host
I wrote an article about the different way to find a cheap accommodation but I haven’t tried all. One important I missed was the couch surfing. It became famous quite recently and among my friends and relatives, they are more and more up to do it. Few weeks before leaving for that crazy trip I’ve talked with an Ukrainian classmate who advice me a website where I could fill my profile and started enter in contact with foreigners which could host me for few days.
I knew at that time some key dates but not all, then I applied for accommodation in Katowice, Bratislava and Krakow. I got two answers for Krakow and two others for Katowice (that I declined because I booked an hostel just before they contact me).
Among the two person from Krakow, one seemedt friendly and lived in the center. Also she was not afraid by the fact I had to leave the city in the very early morning to Warsaw. After few mails exchange I got confirmation that I had a place to stay and also a person who could guide me in the city. I said yes!
Lunch in restaurant
We met on the market square near the statue of Adam Mickiewicz (I discover later that it is a common meeting point, « the little Adam ») Among all the tourists it seemed easy for her to find me. We were both hungry and she leaded me to the Georgian restaurant Gruzinskie Chaczapuri. Georgian food was tasty and we could know each other better than with emails.
Visit of the Saint Mary Basilica
After my delicious meal we walked to visit the main church of the city, famous because of its location (the market square) it is also an impressive place from the inside: the decoration is simply beautiful! The walls are painted in blue, green and gold and one element must have your attention: the Altarpiece of Veit Stoss! World largest in its style and Polish national tresure.
Nota: To take photos inside the church you need to have some special accreditation, which cost you something like 2 euros… but it is worth to pay to save your souvenirs.
Krakow highest Nativity Scen
Madga brough me inside the church of Saint Francis. Like the Basilica the interior looks nice but dark. She shown and explained me the meaning of a curous construction: a 2 meters hight church which represent Jesus born’s place! Far different than the typical poor farm..
It has been made for the annual competition for the best Kraków nativity scene, exposing on the market square each year. institution and people can take part to it. It is kind of Jesus house customisation famous all over the world!
Krakow from Wawel
In the end of the afternoon we went back to the Wawel Castle. The tour was better than during the morning because she brought me inside the Cathedral. We could get in until a certain time and came at the last minutes (we even had to run a bit to take cash to pay…)
I can see the Royal Tombs and the plaque commemorating Frederic Chopin in a room underground and then take the stairs to go on probably the highest seesight point of Krakow, the bells tower. It made me wonder how people at that time managed to lift such a big bell on its top! When watching Krakow from the windows there you always have a little thought for the hundred kilograms bell over your head. If it was hard to go up it was harder to not fall when we had to walk down.
Then we stopped in a library/café between the Vistula and the hill to have a break and a coffee. Many books looked interesting but none were in English, like a child I had to enjoy the pictures only 😀
Last time awake in the city
After having took my luggage from the station and when the night was there we went though the center to a surprising pub, the CK Browar (find it finally here!), where we drank beers indeed. It was the evening, the place was crowded and animated! Seemed to me to be a good spot for friendly night.
Later we reached her flat and I could have met her flatemate and talk around a coffee.
Too early to leave Krakow
After a short but comfortable night I had to get up and wake up Madga, I didn’t wanted but I also didn’t wanted to leave like a thief… I was really happy of my stay and I think I made a new friend that I would like to meet again.
The tramway I took had a stop just at the exit door and many people were already waiting for it in the cold. I jumped in it without knowing exactly where I should step out. The electronic panel showing the stops wasn’t at first understandable… I used my GPS to find where to leave 😀 Then I found the train and sat in it waiting to meet my dear Warsaw once more!