The coolest thing about living in Europe is the proximity to a dozen other countries just a hop, skip and a jump away, right?
Well, it turns out that when you have a full-time job plus other responsibilities (or you, I don’t know, buy a house…) it becomes not-so-easy to just jetset around the continent. Truth bomb: flights and trains are still very expensive. All those people snagging 49€ last-minute flights must be leaving on a Tuesday mid-afternoon, because they don’t have an office job.
Anyway, the point is that I’ve barely made a dent in my long list of travel destinations, thanks to a cornucopia of complications. But I got lucky!
An opportunity fell in my lap to visit a place I never much thought about: Poland!
Thanks to a work event, I found myself on a quick, 24-hour trip to Krakow, Poland. It’s a nice turn of events when you get to visit somewhere you might never have gone otherwise.
And I will say, my overall impression of Krakow is just that. It’s a place that’s pretty cool and there are some interesting things to see, but it’s not somewhere I would have chosen over other destinations for a weekend trip. So I’m happy I got the opportunity to check it out.
Just about a 2-hour flight from Paris, we landed in Cracovie mid-afternoon and immediately realized that our gaggle of 6 colleagues were completely unprepared. Not one of us thought to look at how to get from Aiport → to Hotel. #Professional.
It also never occurred to me until I was literally sitting at Charles de Gaulle airport to check whether or not Poland is on the Euro. They are not. We needed złoty.
Fortunately, 6 professional adults can, eventually, coordinate and problem-solve to find transportation into the city (and exchange some money). Fortunately, this was made simple on both counts. Krakow’s public transportation – both regional trains and city trams – was super efficient, fast, and cheap. The exchange rate of złoty to euro is like 4:1, so there were no unpleasant surprises after our organizational failure.
We made it to the hotel where we met up with 2 other (much more organized) colleagues, who had been there for lunch already and scoped out recommendations for a really cool bar. We checked in, stowed our bags, and immediately set out for a drink. (No need to consider that we were about an hour from attending an event with bottomless vodka…)
I very quickly came to the conclusion that Krakow is filled with tons of very cool cafes and bars. Eszeweria, our first stop, was no exception, and we managed to stumble on another very cool coffee shop the next day as well. Both a bit dark and gritty in the coolest of ways, atmosphere-wise.
Our hotel, and the event venue, was located in the old Jewish quarter of Krakow, which has a very cool, grungy feel that is exactly what you might expect of Eastern Europe. Dark vibes, unkempt buildings, street art, the works. What you might not expect, on the other hand, is that this also includes a lot of pink buildings?
Krakow City Center
After a shenanigan-filled evening of “work” (consisting of a 4-course dinner, lots of wine, literally bottomless vodka on the tables, an award win for our team! and quite a dance party), we had all of Friday to see the sites… some of us a little more chipper than others.
Unfortunately, the weather was absolutely abysmal. It was super cold, and pouring rain that just seemed to get worse and worse as the day wore on. (It’s worth noting here that I had to edit and lighten every photo on here because they came out so dark.)
Despite the wet weather, we were all determined to make the most of it. We headed out to the main square – Rynek Główny – and its historic Cloth Hall. Apparently Krakow was spared from much of the destruction of the war, unlike Warsaw, so the beautiful old buildings in the center are all still standing. I can only guess that, on a sunny day, the square is really pretty and lively.
We made a stop for a coffee mid-morning, as much to take a break from the rain as for those who were feeling the effects of open-bar vodka. This little cafe was just as cool as the other, with a giant teddy bear on the wall, old school desks for tables, and a general unfussy vibe. Plus, you know, coffee.
After recharging, we walked a bit more through the city and past the old Wawel castle up on the hill on our way to lunch. The best part!
I had put in a special request that wherever we went for lunch had to include pierogies. I love pierogi, and they’re shockingly hard to find in restaurants, at least for non-exorbitant prices. Why Polish dumplings should be an overpriced delicacy, I do not understand.
And so I got to impart my love for pierogies to the uninitiated French with two different kinds(!) before trying a delicious traditional stew, which was just what I needed on such a cold, wet day. Oh, and don’t forget dessert.
And everything was super affordable! Favorable exchange rate aside, this was a pretty nice restaurant (Miod Malina) and their most expensive main was around 70 złoty, or 16€/$18. If nothing else, Poland gets big points for being inexpensive.
After lunch, we had a few more hours before we had to head back to the airport. We passed a pretty church, which I suggested we go in instead of wandering by, then went up to the castle, but no one really wanted to go in. The rain was getting so much worse and it was really bringing us down. We mustered enough enthusiasm to walk around towards the river and found an actual, fire-breathing dragon! (fire not pictured) and then made our way back to the Jewish quarter.
If the weather had cooperated, I really would have liked to spend more time in this part of the city. There’s really a lot to see, including a mapped tour of major Jewish sites, plus restaurants, art galleries, interesting buildings, and I’m sure so much more.
Ultimately though, we had to cut our losses (my shoes and socks were soaked through) and went back to the hotel to grab our stuff and head to the airport.
Extra things about Poland
(because if I fully write about them, this post will never end)
- In the above-mentioned church, there was a brand new crypt, intended to be the modern/future National Pantheon. They’re just waiting for more notable figures to die, I guess
- The architecture in Krakow is super cool. Nearly every single building has interesting details built in, whether molding or tiles or something else
- You can climb the tower of the cathedral in the main square. The views should be quite cool
- Nearby, there is apparently a very cool old salt mine to visit. Perfect if you are in Krakow for a long weekend and want to see a community with church and everything 200 meters underground
- Krakow is also accessible to Auschwitz, if you are inclined to visit it. If Frenchman had been able to join for the weekend I would have considered it, but I didn’t want to go alone, nor with coworkers for what I imagine is a deeply personal experience.
- The Polish word for presents is prezenty. Soup is zupy. Salad is salady. Breakfast is… smorgasbord. Now I know where that came from. I can rest easy.