My trip to Krákow included my very first overnight train. To be honest, I hated it. (The train, not the city.)
This was our first trip since moving to Budapest, so the excitement level was at an all-time high. We strolled into the old, picturesque Keleti train station wild eyed and ready, a romantic haze filling the air. People were embracing, hefting old suitcases into cars, waving from windows. Pinch me. It was a scene from a different era. Thinking about it now, my heart still swells.
As we entered our cabin, my first inclination was to claim the top bunk. Otherwise, I thought, I’d be up all night worried that Dan’s bed would, obviously, become unlatched and crush me below (yeah, I have anxiety). I quickly regretted this decision. The train’s movement seemed amplified from the top. It swayed and sped at such an alarming rate, and the top bunk jostled with such intense tremor, that I woke up every five minutes thinking we were going to derail. (Again, serious anxiety.)
We arrived to Krákow as the sun was rising, slightly muffled by rain clouds. I was a zombie, sleep-deprived, and, literally, rattled. (Just so everyone knows, Dan loved it and slept like a baby.) But it all changed the moment we walked into the city. Krákow is a beautiful, historic, and interesting urban dream, a place I could spend all day just roaming around. It perked me right up.
Krákow may very well be one of the most colorful cities. It’s mostly dominated by moody brick sporting gothic spires, occasionally accented with pops of color. Autumn was exceptionally beautiful with golden hues showing off at every corner. Even speckled horses pulling white carriages were adorned in colorful, traditional garb. The center of Old Town was wide and bustling, but my favorite part of the city will remain the hushed and narrow side streets, frozen in time and without a soul in sight.
But don’t let the lively, bright squares fool you; sneak inside any cafe or church and a different scenes unfolds. St. Mary’s Basilica is dark and embellished in lavish gold accents. You could spend an entire day in this church just looking, staring, finding endless, remarkable ornaments.
Cross the city and enter Kazimierz, Krákow’s old Jewish neighborhood turned incredibly hip and bohemian. Once acting as a lively home for centuries, its history was horrifically rewritten during WWII. And because of this, many of the cafes and shops are reminiscent of a bygone age. They are small and dark, antiqued yet welcoming. You will want to sit for hours, absorbing all the stories of its past life.
Krákow is plenty understated, too, with white-washed buildings appearing almost whimsical amongst the mix of dark brick and vibrant facades. If you’re like me, you can’t get enough of the gothic windows and pastel highlights, but a dabbling of muted sophistication kind of pulls it altogether.
Do spend your time in Kazimierz and enjoy being steeped in history at every single turn. It was my favorite part of the city, and a truly amazing and humbling experience. But don’t forget Krákow’s impressive Wawel Royal Castle. Despite seeming a bit touristy, it’s certainly worth the time with plenty to see and do. I’m a cheap traveler and will almost always avoid anything with an entrance fee; but I’m thankful everyday that I opted to experience these gorgeous grounds. (Tip: go early as they sell out of tickets as the day goes on.)
Krákow is truly one of those magical places, where you can enjoy a bit of everything: aimless wandering, impressive architecture, captivating history, delicious foods and spirits, quirky public transportation, enormous and lively squares, quiet and mysterious corners, sprawling parks, unique art, and some of the kindest people on this planet.
If you’ve never considered Krákow as a travel destination, I highly recommend adding it to your list. Plus, it’s incredibly close to the unbelievable Tatry Mountains (stay tuned… I’ll tell you all about them in my next post!).
So, what do you think? Are you enticed by Krákow? Have you already been? What did you love?