Today, May 22, marks my tenth day in Poland, and my first day in Kraków.
We woke up very early this morning, checked out of our hotel by 5:45am, and took a bus to the Poznań-Ławica Airport. We checked in at the airport, and grabbed a quick breakfast from an (the) airport coffee shop. I got a blueberry muffin that was definitely an airport quality muffin. After taking about an hour nap at the boarding gate, we finally boarded our Eurolot flight and departed for Warszawa Chopin Airport. After about a 50 minutes layover in Warsaw, we boarded another Eurolot flight for John Paul II International Airport Kraków–Balice. After a rather bumpy 35 minute flight, we landed in Kraków, claimed our baggage, and met our taxi service. I assume both flights were good because I slept the entire way. We put our luggage into a large Mercedes van, boarded a white bus, and drove about 40 minutes through the beautiful Polish countryside to Hotel Matejko in Kraków.
Upon our arrival at the hotel, we went to a restaurant down the street to eat a quick lunch before our walking tour. I ordered schnitzel in the style of northern Germany, which is thicker because the meat is ground and mixed with breadcrumbs; it’s essentially pork meat loaf. It came with mashed potatoes and kraut.
We met at 2:00pm in the hotel lobby for a walking tour of Kraków Old Town. The city was not destroyed in World War II because the ruler of the city at the time decided to pull all troops and make it an “open city” in hopes that the Germans would spare the city because of it’s history. We began by walking down the street to a gate of the city, called the St. Florian’s gate. It’s tower was constructed in 1307 and is Gothic style architecture, but the wall is much older. After visiting the gate, we passed the first McDonald’s ever constructed in Poland, which is significant because of the ancient building in which it is housed, and because to the Polish people it represented the fall of communism and the rise of capitalism in Poland.
Heading down the street, we entered into the main square of Kraków. Our first stop was outside St. Mary’s Basilica, which was the home church of Karol Józef Wojtyła, who would later become Pope John Paul II. We were unable to visit the inside of the church because it was not touring hours, but we hope to do so on Sunday afternoon. We were able to hear the song of Kraków, which is played four times at every hour: first toward the Wawel Castle for the king, second toward the market for the people, third toward the Florian’s gate for the guards, and lastly toward the rest of the town for the citizens of Kraków. The melody is stopped very suddenly at its conclusion. Legend says that in ancient times, the trumpeter was playing a warning as the Mongols were invading. However, he was shot in the throat with an arrow, so the melody stopped suddenly. Thus, the tradition continues today.
From the town square, we made our way to several other historic spots in Kraków. We stopped at Jagiellonian University, which was founded in 1361, and learned about the history of the 183 professors who were sent to the Dachau concentration camp because they refused to cease holding class during German occupation. This university was originally founded with three departments: law, medicine, and philosophy. Many famous people studied at this university, including Kopernikus, the famous astronomer. Kraków, like Poznań, has a large student population, with over 200,000 students in the city.
After visiting the university, we walked up the hill to the Wawel castle, where we saw the cathedral and chapels dedicated to Polish kings of old, as well as several other beautiful buildings. Because of its elevation, the castle had an excellent view of the city. After our tour of the castle, we descended the hill and our tour guide took us to a statue of the Wawel dragon, a mythical creature that was supposedly slain by the ruler Krakus, for whom Kraków is named. The statue of the dragon spits fire every 3 minutes, which was quite intriguing. Following our stop at the dragon statue, we visited Bishop’s Cathedral, where Pope John Paul II gave his farewell speech to the people upon his election as Pope. This speech is forever recognized as giving the Polish people the drive that allowed them to persevere through communism and the Soviet regime. This concluded our walking tour of Kraków, so we decided to head to our third group dinner of the trip.
After our tour concluded, we went to a restaurant was called Pod Wawelem, which features traditional Polish cuisine, as well as a live Polish jazz trio with accordion, saxophone, and double bass. I ordered Poł Kaczki Pieczonej z Jabłkami, z Gorącymi Buraczkami I Kendlem, which is a traditional Polish meal consisting of baked duck with apples, hot beetroot, bread dumplings, and cabbage. The whole meal was topped with fresh-squeezed orange juice. It was an outstanding dish, but it was a lot of food. I also tried some lamb sausage that some other students ordered. I would also like to make note of the restaurant’s massive kabobs, which some students ordered.
After dinner, the group split up and I went with several other students to shop in the main marketplace. I purchased dessert from a vendor in the market square called Growy-Kawa, which sold waffles with toppings. I got a waffle covered in fresh strawberries and whipped cream.
We shopped for a while, and then decided to head back to the hotel. On our way back, we couldn’t resist the temptation of some ice cream, so we stopped at Lodziarnia, and got some mint chocolate chip and chocolate ice cream. We returned to the hotel around 9:30pm and retired for the evening. Today was a fun day, and Kraków proved to be an excellent city to experience. Early tomorrow morning, we head for the Auschwitz-Birkeneau concentration camsp and the Wieliczka Salt Mine.