Ryanair, love them or hate them, have really changed the wonderluster’s life. They made another spontaneous weekend away possible.
With a direct flight from Malta of just over 2 hours, Krakow, the Unesco World Heritage site (that they haven’t ruined with modern buildings) was in our sights.
The Friday evening flight takes off after 8pm so you can fit in a full day at work – arriving at your hotel by about 11pm. You can join in the fun at the numerous vodka bars at this time (you’ll see people downing their shots and throwing the last drop to the floor – for the dwarfs) , or just head to your hotel and be ready to tackle the 48 hours head on fresh.
We stayed at the brilliantly located Grand Hotel Ascot. Not our usual style of hotel, but going on the snowy season, we wanted to have a toasty room and all the mod cons which cost us just over 100 euro a night with breakfast. It also has a fantastic restaurant…. yeah, some things are always on my list.
First thing in the morning – and after a decent snowfall, we wrapped up and headed off to the main square. There’s a gorgeous structure which houses artisans under its arches, and cafes on the side facing the square itself. We stopped to have a hot chocolate and watch the preparations were in full swing for the feast of the three kings on 6th January.
The square itself full of vendors of Christmas goodies could not have been more picturesque; the snow really made it. Food trucks to try pretzels and pierogi, and of course the craft beers and ciders Poland is fast becoming famous for.
We wasted quite a bit of time just meandering and looking up at the chocolate box buildings. The Nazi occupation saving the buildings from destruction, but giving the people a legacy that is still evident, if under the surface.
Its hard to believe that communism ruled in our lifetime, the children today being the first to have been able to travel, buy, eat and generally be free. Quite impressive really. Speaking to people my age made me feel very very lucky indeed.
We took a heated, electric taxi to the Jewish Quarter of Kazimierz with a charming young man who couldn’t be more helpful. The tour, which gave us chance for photo stops and visits to particular churches, cost just 175PLN which is about 45 euro in today’s money.
We had a walking food tour booked with Urban Adventures, the plan was to meet at 18:00 and have dinner but with each course in a separate, off-the-beaten-track place. Our guide, Monika, was fabulous. Very generous with her knowledge and my incessant questions. She shared very personal memories of food in her lifetime which gave a deeper appreciation for the culture of the people.
We tried many things – my favourites being Black Cat lager (which I didn’t manage to find again) and strawberry and blueberry pierogi.
The Poles have a system where if you are in an eatery (not a fine restaurant) the customer clears their own table. And they do it. We went to places we’d have never found on our own; some in office blocks tucked away where locals only know.
The evening ended around 9pm and whilst we could have toured the bars and sampled even ore local liquor, we decided to call it a night.
The next morning we had a driver booked to take us to the salt mines. This is definitely worth a visit. The 45 minutes is a bit turgid but they save the best till almost last. I wont spoil it for you – but the chapel is one of the most amazing things you’ll ever see.
We had the chance to go to Auschwitz, but I just couldn’t face it. I’d lived near Belsen as a child and the memory of a school visit still haunts me. If you haven’t been to something like this though, I recommend you do. It is highly emotional, and you won’t be the same afterwards, but you have to appreciate what man can do to do your part in making sure it doesn’t happen again.
We did go to the castle which is a little confusing but plan your priorities and see what is open that makes sense time-wise. They limit visitors. There is a fabulous painting of the battle of Lepanto and some inlaid wooden chests which would look great in my bedroom, and wallpaper I wished I could photograph to copy ….. the outdoor area is also beautiful; the castle looks like a series of slices of history with different styles of building juxtaposed. I imagined a minature where the roofs come off as a fabulous dolls house.
We had an early, delicious dinner at the FOUR restaurant in the hotel and crashed out ready for our crack of hell pick up. The sacrifices one makes to not miss ones desk…..
So, if you have a free weekend – literally, you just need to take Monday morning off, go and have a taste of the delicious, enigmatic city.