Beautiful and touristy Krakow

The city of Krakow is now known as the new Prague, and I can see why. Problem is, not only does Krakow have the sights to compete with Prague, she also attracts the same immense crowds. And it's now a major stop on the Eastern European backpackers' trail, which means that they are everywhere.

I know I've complained in the last two weeks about the fact that so few people spoke any English around Poland. Well, you won't have any trouble in Krakow, what with all the English signs and menus and all. . .

Krakow is a gorgeous town that caters to tourists of every nationality. But for all its beauty, with its Wawel Hill and its castle and cathedral, with its neat Old Town and its gigantic market square (the largest in Europe), and everything in between. Add to that easy day trips to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, as well as to Auschwitz and Birkenau extermination camps, and you have a recipe for a wonderful couple of days.

The only problem is that it's too overrun by tourists to have a "genuine" feel like the rest of the cities I've visited. Nearly every other person you meet is from out of town. And it's too bad, for most travelers stop for the mandatory two or three days in Krakow and don't see the real Poland. Everyone stops here on there way to or from Berlin or Prague, and that's too bad. Though there was often a communication barrier, I'm so happy to have visited Warsaw, Gdansk, and Wroclaw. It made me appreciate Poland a lot more than I ever thought I would, and even now I'm considering coming back to check out towns like Torun, Poznan, Zakopane, Katowice, Sopot, and more.

Still, for all the foreigners arriving in Krakow every day, the most beautiful women remain the lovely Polish ladies. Nice to see that things remain the same, regardless of the hordes of tourists everywhere. And though I can't speak more than a few words in Polish, somehow it feels wrong to hear about 10 different English accents just by walking down the street toward Rynek Glowny. Okay, so Polish pronounciations sound mighty strange sometimes, but I'll take that over that Boston drawl (Park the car in Harvard Yard!) any day!;-)

I'm not much of a foodie, but Carmen (the Aussie I've been traveling with for over a week) is, and she introduced me to all sorts of Polish dishes. Say one thing about Polish food, say it's good, very filling, and extremely affordable. Hard to believe, but I've reached the point where I can now order my own pierogi, barszcz, zurek, golabki, nalesniki, and a few other dishes without making a fool of myself! Where else can you have such a good dinner with a half litre of beer for about 10$-15$!?!

Speaking of beer, it's quite nice and cheap, even when you pay between 25% and 30% more in touristy Krakow. Zywiec, Okocim, Warka, Piast, Tyskie -- at half a litre for about 3$-4$, it's all good! Especially when you're hanging out on the main market square, people-watching in either Wroclaw or Krakow!

Poland has some of the most beautiful women in the world, and it's in the college town of Wroclaw that you will find the sexiest. University towns are cool to visit when you travel. I have very fond memories of my "Nuit du Bac" in Montpellier, in southern France, or the two nights we spent in Salamanca, in Spain. Great night life and good-looking girls were everywhere. But Wroclaw was something else. I'd go back tomorrow!:p

Visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau extermination camps yesterday made quite an impression. I have already been to Dachau, near Munich in Germany, so Auschwitz wasn't that impressive in that it was very similar to Dachau. But when the shuttle bus dropped us at Birkenau, the impossible size of the camp defies the imagination. This place was purpose-built to be a killing ground, and it really disturbs the mind. Though the Nazis bombed a number of buildings to destroy as much evidence as possible as the Soviets were getting closer, all that's left is troubling enough. I feel that everyone should be made to visit that site at least once in their lives, just so that the errors of the past will not be repeated in the future.

One last night to go in Warsaw, and then I must say goodbye to Poland.:-( I thoroughly enjoyed my stay, and this country surpassed all my expectations. As I mentioned before, Poland makes you work a little harder than countries like Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Germany to fully appreciate its charms, but the effort has its own rewards. Believe me when I tell you that Poland is well worth a visit. But don't start in Krakow -- keep that for the end of your trip!

I'd be remiss if I did not give kudos to every hostel I've stayed at. Indeed, Poland boasts some of the best hostels in Europe. Modern, cheap, with every possible amenities, and full of freebies, they are slowly setting a new standard in Europe. Moreover, they are staffed by the nicest and most helpful people I have met, and I've been to 26 different countries. Thus, if you are thinking of traveling to Warsaw, book a bed at the Oki Doki hostel (www.okidoki.pl); in Gdansk, check out the Targ Rybny (www.gdanskhostel.com); in Wroclaw, Nathan's Villa is the place to be (could be the very best hostel I've stayed at); and in Krakow, look no further than Greg and Tom Hostel (www.gregtomhostel.com). By booking a bed at any of these places, you'll get more bang for your buck and a lot of extras!

Having abandoned Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, I have now moved on to Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind. About 80 pages into it and I am completely enthralled!

And now, onward to Finland!:-)

14 commentaires:

Larry said...

As I said on Westeros, if you had disliked Zafón, I would have disowned you completely! :P Glad to hear you're enjoying it. Still think the most beautiful women are closer to home, though ;)

polishgenius said...

If you think Krakow is overly touristy Zakopane would drive you insane. It's basically a giant advertising hoarding surrounded by mountains. The Tatras are always worth a visit though. Even if you get over 3 million visitors a year in a park a fraction of the size of, say, Yellowstone.


Anyway, more on subject, glad to hear you enjoyed Poland. Have fun in Finland and the rest!

rolemaster said...

You should definitely go to Zakopane! I've beenn there three times, two times in winter skiing, and one time during the summer. The surrounding mountains and forests are breathtaking, the town is small but lively, the food is great. Only thing is, I haven't been there since 1995, so I can't really tell how it has turned out.

have a great trip, and drop by Copenhagen if you need a change of scenery!

-ruben

rolemaster said...

oops! Just read the commentary left by polishgenius. Well, a lot of things changen in 13 years!

-ruben

Neth said...

in my limited experience with travel in that part of the world, the answer is off-season. I've been to Prague in both January and August. While the weather is undeniably more pleasent in August, the quality of the visit is no contest due to the lack of crowds.

Though even in August, as few as 3 metro stops out of the city center makes a world of difference, especially in prices.

Anonymous said...

How did you see minorities (tourists/nationals) treated over there? I have heard that unless your of Caucasian decent, the experience is not nearly as friendly.

Gabriele C. said...

You won't get beer that cheap in Finland. ;)

Hm, maybe I should put Poland a bit higher on my list of places to see.

Maurice said...

@anonymous

Every country has some bad apples. Poles have simply not been exposed to many people of other nationalities. I went to my best friend's village and I was the first mixed person that they had ever seen in person, but they were all very friendly...except one guy, but he's a fat asshole and no one cares about him...

Patrick said...

Anonymous: Other than Krakow, which sees just about every nationality there is, it seems to be a bit of a problem elsewhere.

Carmen, the Aussie I was traveling with, is Asian, and she complained about being stared at everywhere she went. Little kids are one thing, but adults are another. While I was getting a krick in my neck from looking at all these gorgeous Polish gals, she was made uncomfortable by all the men who were staring at her...

I found that kind of weird, to tell the truth... But come to think of it, you don't get to see too many minorities around the country.

Ken from Vancouver, BC said...

Glad to see your having a fantastic trip Pat. I do have a quick question tho. How has the weather been so far? Having good weather while visiting cities can change your impression of them greatly.

Hope the remainder of your trip is as enjoyable!

Maurice said...

It's because of the lack of the foreigners that they're staring! With the majority it was out of curiosity, but then again it could also be disgust or hate. The Poles have a rep for being very friendly.

Ellestra said...

Sopot and Zakopane are both packed full of turists, the rest are both bigger and less popular so not as crowded. And if you come back you should really visit Lodz - David Lynch loves it :P.

I'm glad you liked our food. It's not for everyone. After all it made Pratchett create fat mines. I however miss nalesniki z serem whenever I'm abroad. For some reason no other nation uses white cheese. I love white cheese (you don't even have proper name for it).

Poland is very homogeneous country. People of different race are rare in Poland. Lets say it this way - in census non-Caucasian numbers are not given in percents but in actual numbers.
I think people staring is in most part just the disbelief that an actual foreigner - from far away - came to see Poland of all places. 'Why did you choose to come to Poland' or versions of there of I've heard often enough.
It doesn't mean there's no xenophobia.

weariedjuggler said...

Not to be a lurker or anything...but after hearing all this talk of beautiful Polish women, I wish I could see a picture or two of what you are seeng :)

JetPunk said...

Krakow is a bit too small to absorb all the tourists now, especially in the old town. It really is the "new" Prague.