Krakow, Poland might’ve been my favorite city outside of Italy so far. It was just a very nice, livable place. Polish people are friendly and unassuming. It wasn’t too big or too small, and there was a lot to do without it being too crazy or too hectic. It was super clean and the train station and airport are both new and shiny, much nicer than those in supposedly richer countries like the US or Britain.
I didn’t do much of anything extra-special there, I just liked hanging out in the city for a few days. I made a few friends along the way. Also it’s pretty cheap to stay here and eat here, which never hurts!
Krakow is not Poland’s capital, Warsaw is, but Krakow is a very important historical city in Poland, with universities and intellectuals and such. It has a very preserved historic old town, whereas Warsaw was largely destroyed during WWII so today is rebuilt and has largely modern buildings. (I didn’t visit, I just read about it.)
Krakow’s favorite son is Karol Józef Wojtyła, aka Pope Saint John Paul II. He was born in the suburbs of the city, and served as the archbishop. When he became Pope, he would visit Poland and implicitly egg on the people against the communist government. He inspired the founding of the Solidarity movement, which was an anti-communist trade union started for shipyard workers in the northern city of Gdańsk. The founder, electrician Lech Wałęsa, eventually became the first President of post-communist Poland.
John Paul II is largely credited with being a huge part in ending communism in not only Poland but all of Eastern Europe. So people don’t only view him as a local boy turned Pope, they view him as a national hero. There are statues of him everywhere, the airport is named after him, and one of the city’s main streets is named after him.
Here was his favorite place to pray in his home church when he was archbishop:
Another famous attraction in Krakow is the Salt Mines located 20 minutes outside of the city. They mined salt for something like 800 years. The miners starting making sculptures and chapels in the caverns so today they’re a huge tourist draw. I went, it was a little gimmicky for my tastes, but it was really cool to be so deep underground. At the beginning we had to walk down endless stairs for like five minutes.
This chapel is hundreds of feet underground:
Nicholas Copernicus (Polish), the first guy to say the Earth revolved around the Sun:
Machine used to lift salt all the way back up:
Polish food was better than Czech food but still obviously heavy and a bit bland like all of Northern Europe. It is also overrun with Italian places and Asian places like all of Northern Europe and the USA. I miss Italian food in Italy, it’s the best.
Still, I was able to try the local food quite cheaply in these famous Polish cafeterias called “Milk Bars.” They’re very basic, stand at a counter and get your food on a tray, type places, but the bill is less than $5. (Or 20 Polish Zloty. One Zloty is worth a $0.25.)
Perogies and Zurek soup:
There was also a porkchop type thing I tried which was good.
Krakow Pretzel sold on the streets everywhere:
Finally, there’s my Cleveland hat which I found in Poland. I went to the mall to buy new flip flops and looked up and saw this:
Don’t worry, I’ve never heard of the North Cardinals either. Basically American-looking sports apparel is kind of trendy in Europe. They make up fake teams so they don’t have to pay licensing fees for real teams. Cleveland was the only city, there were no others. I bought it of course.
Anyways, Krakow was great. I feel like I left Poland too fast and now I’m curious about other Polish cities. If you come to Europe I would definitely recommend it.