Majestic architecture of the Old Town's main square
For most visitors to Poland, Krakow
is the country's definitive tourist magnet, and nestles neatly alongside other Eastern European cities of note which possess equally striking examples of the architecture which the whole region is noted for. Unlike its counterparts such as Prague and Budapest, however, Krakow seems to be easily the most compact, and therefore, walkable of the entire lot, and the centrepiece of the town happens to be the main square in the Old Town, which defines the entire city very well. A scattering of ornate-looking buildings attribute firm elements of charm to the city, and give it an almost stately feel which warrants its 'Royal City' tag. A 3-night stay at the hotel Wyspianski proved to be a wise choice, since the adequately-equipped hotel is within striking distance of the Old Town, and is a mere stone's throw from the bus and train stations, which both adjoin the city's premiermost shopping mall, the Galleria Krakowska.
Part of the exterior of Krakow's Wawel royal castle complex.
One must-see place on a tourist itinerary of Krakow is the Wawel royal castle which could easily be termed Poland's number one national treasure, yet, in my view, suffered slightly from a system which fragmented costs for each individual area of the grounds, making it a not-so-cheap option if it were desired to see the complex in its entirity. The very centre of the city could well be dubbed the Cloth Hall, which is essentially a corridor of souvenir stalls, and although no match for the Great Market Hall in Budapest, for instance, did turn out to have a fairly complete array of souvenirs for sale. For my money though, the biggest let-down to Krakow was the relatively muted atmosphere I experienced when visiting Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter, a factor which I attribute in some respects to my Saturday morning walking relatively empty streets, and coming across just one spectacle of note, a developing Saturday morning antiques market.
Impressive interior features of Krakow's nearby Salt Mines
One area in which I thought Krakow really came into its own, however, was the realm of the excursion options, and the trip to the local Salt Mines proved to be a brilliant insight into the existance of this vast complex where salt was mined, as of so many years ago, to a sizeable profitable outcome. Yet another excursion which I deem unmissable is the 'Crazy Guides' tour which is essentially a 'Communism' tour, and involves being driven around the Socialist Steelworks district by a guide in an old Trabant car, possibly held together by sticky tape (!) This tour involved a stop-off at a communist cinema house, and took in various areas of note, where the locally-born resident guide of Nowa Huta delighted in pointing out the significance of each and every building of note along the way.
The horse and carriage, providing a quintessential Krakow feel
All in all, Krakow delivered simply because it was so manageable in a two-day stretch, and it was the perfect finale to a ski trip to southern Poland. To my mind, overseas travel feels more complete when there's as much diversity as possible worked into the mix, and as I descend upon the background reading to my next destination, it feels like the Polish chapter in this ongoing stream of travel experiences will hold a fair few special memories for years to come.