10 Jul Krakow – A City Well Worth Visiting
Nearly all souvenirs from Krakow have a dragon on it. Or the Pope, but that’s a different story. The reason for this is the legend of how the city of Krakow was founded. Namely, the Wawel Dragon or the Dragon of Wawel Hill (Smok Wawelski) was living in a cave at the foot of Wawel Hill on the Vistula River, on which the Wawel castle is located today. Of course, as any clever dragon would do, since he could, he was terrorizing the surrounding farms.
There are several versions of the story, and not even the inhabitants of Krakow are certain which one is true. One of the stories goes like this: a group of foolhardy young men accidentally awoke the dragon which then started feeding each day on the victims he took from the village. Those victims were sometimes animals, sometimes people and no one could stand up to him.
One day, however, the villagers turned to Krakus, a wise man from the village who knew his way with herbs. He thought about the dragon for a while, and then asked for a sheep. Then the sheep got covered with one of his mixtures and brought to the dragon. After eating the sheep, the dragon felt his meal burning his stomach from the inside and he started drinking from the Vistula River until he blew up. Krakus was made the ruler, a castle was built for him, and the land was prosperous in the years to come.
Another version involves Skuba, a cobbler’s apprentice, who stuffed the sheep with sulfur, and ended up winning the hand of the king’s daughter Wanda. Be that as it may, I ought to give you a few facts about Cracow before continuing the story of my experience there.
“Kraków, also Cracow, or Krakow is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Situated on the Vistula River (Polish: Wisła) in the Lesser Poland region, the city dates back to the 7th century. Kraków has traditionally been one of the leading centers of Polish academic, cultural, and artistic life and it is one of Poland’s most important economic hubs. It was the capital of Poland from 1038 to 1569; the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth from 1569 to 1596; Free City of Kraków from 1815 to 1846; the Grand Duchy of Cracow from 1846 to 1918; and Kraków Voivodeship from the 14th century to 1999. It is now the capital of the Lesser Poland Voivodeship.” – Wikipedia
That’s about as much factual data as you’re gonna get. Now comes my experience.
Ok, so it was May 1, 2013. It wasn’t the best time in the world to visit Krakow, especially since we were staying only 3 days. The weather forecast was optimistic, and maybe a little too optimistic. I brought clothing appropriate for light rain and somewhat sunny weather. My plan was to use the clothes the way they were meant to be used. Unfortunately, the rain had other plans, and I was bound to obey its wishes. I got soaking wet two times, even though I had an umbrella, and my light clothing was worn in more layers than usual. But it was worth it.
I visited Krakow with a couple of friends and we really had a great time, despite the rain. We arrived a little after 1 p.m. and we used the afternoon and evening to tour the old town. Many photos were snapped and many famous sights visited. Among others, we visited the Rynek Główny or the Main Square, the Church of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven (St. Mary’s Church), The Renaissance Sukiennice (Cloth Hall, Drapers’ Hall), The Kraków barbican, the Royal Road, etc. If you are into semi-precious stones, you can find marvelous amber and silver jewelry at the Cloth Hall, which is found on the Main Square.
The second day was reserved for a visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau, two infamous WWII concentration camps. It was an eerie experience definitely worth going through. The memory of the people kept captive and murdered there must live on, and the best way to understand the horrors of WWII and to learn to treat that part of the history with due respect for the victims is to visit Auschwitz. Birkenau is more horrid because of the wooden barracks that stretch as far as the eye can see, and the railroad heading straight to the forest of death (gas chambers and crematoriums were placed there during WWII and then blown up by the Germans at the end of the war) enveloped in fog. You need to experience it to be fully able to understand what I’m saying here.
The third day included more sightseeing, specifically the Castle Wawel, as well as a dinner at the “Pod Wawelem” restaurant. Wawel is amazing, though we managed to see only a small portion of it. “Lady with an Ermine”, a famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci, was being exhibited there, but the tickets were sold out, unfortunately. We managed to see the dragon’s den though and we climbed the Sandomierz Tower. Here’s the view:
Now, I deliberately omitted what is already known about all of these places, because you can find that information anywhere. What I would like to tell you about Krakow is that it is worth visiting and that it cannot be seen in three days. There are museums we missed that we really wanted to visit, such as the Rynek Underground, and we really wanted to see the Kazimierz district, but the weather wouldn’t let us.
However, we did see a lot, and from what we saw, we knew we did the right thing choosing to spend the holiday in Krakow. I would like to recommend “Free hostel”, if you’re into that kind of accommodation because it is nice, cozy, and the people working there are very kind. The guy at the reception told us everything we could possibly want to know about museums in Krakow, and they were generally kind and helpful at all times.
To finish off, I would like to show you this image of a giant head on Rynek Square with children playing inside. Sweet dreams!