Friday, April 17, 2009

Memories of Krakow: My Kind of Town

We visited Krakow in 1995 and 2003. While it was popular with tourists on our first visit, by our second visit the tourist groups had exploded and the city was much more crowded. It is definitely a place go to for several days rather than as a quick trip on the way to some other destination. Auschwitz is nearby and that is another reason why people are drawn to Krakow as a tourist site. I was willing to go to Auschwitz the first time we were there, but the second time I was not willing to go inside and sat on a bench at the entrance, waiting for the others in our group. Not everyone feels that way but to each his own.

In Krakow, things seem to center around the Main Market Square where St. Mary's Basilica sits at one corner, the trumpeter playing his abbreviated call every hour, and the winged altarpiece opened once a day so you can see the famous interior. You are admonished not to take pictures but your Polish guide will scoff at that and tell you to take all the pictures you want. Other churches are crammed in around cafes, shops and restaurants, and in the center is the old medieval Cloth Hall, now a jumble of shops selling handcrafted items, amber jewelry and anything else you can think of. Fiacres sit in various spots, the horses drowsing while they wait for passengers who want to tour the city in the old-fashioned way even though Krakow is a very walkable city.

Not far away is the historic original building of the Jagiellonian University, where you can see the courtyard and take a tour of the interior where a facsimile of the matriculation record of Nikolaus Copernicus is proudly displayed among the other treasures. Across the street is an old building that houses the student cafeteria where anyone is welcome to the fresh food at long tables carved with the graffiti of centuries.

There are many things to see in Krakow including Wawel Castle, the Jewish Quarter and the Czartoryski Museum, which houses Leonardo da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine. Walking through the old town, munching on a obwarzanek, which is kind of like a bagel, is an adventure where the old meets the new, especially if tourists leave the old town and explore the newer parts of Krakow that surround the historic center.

But on a summer's evening, nothing is more pleasant than to sit at a table of an outdoor cafe, with the fiacres gone for the evening, having coffee or a drink, and enjoying good conversation with friends while the world wanders by.

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