First Taste – Krakow
I really liked Poland when I visited. It doesn’t see as many tourists as other countries in the region, although it sees plenty, but there is still something a little authentic about the place. Not as expensive as some parts of Europe, but filled with amazing architecture and some beautiful scenery, Poland is a special place.
I came to Poland from neighbouring Slovakia through the Tatra Mountains which is a really stunning entrance to a country. A quick change of bus at Zakopane, and I was on my way to Krakow, a few hours away. It was June and it was warming up in Europe, but it had been cold in the Slovakian mountains. Krakow was warmer, but not very warm, perhaps low-twenties (June).
Which suited me just fine. I stayed a newish hostel, with a couple of big dorm rooms with comfy beds as far as bunks go, a small kitchen, friendly staff, and disappointing breakfast (as so many are – this one included powdered milk).
The city didn’t feel all that big, but it was attractive. It was lively with a buzz, mainly around the main square, and there was a wonderful little citadel an easy walk from there. As well as that there were lots of churches, cafes and more to visit.
But the two attractions for the tourist that perhaps are highest on the list of things to see and do were a not too long bus ride away from Krakow. The Wieliczka Salt Mine is really a wonderful, if controlled mine to visit with salt sculptures and rooms made out of salt, a café down there too and friendly guides.
Of a much more sombre nature is Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi concentration camp. Today it is well worth visiting as a confronting reminder of the horrors of mankind. It’s so well presented that despite the nature of its history (or perhaps because of) it is a must-see when you are visiting Krakow.
Personally for me there’s a bit of romanticism about Krakow, but that’s something in the past now. Still there are some fun bars and places to boogie. What I particularly liked in all of Poland was the ‘Milk Bars’, small restaurants with menus of Polish staples (oh those delicious dumplings! And the red cabbage!) which were cheap and homely. The cobblestone streets, the architecture, Krakow was not a city I got to know inside out, but one that has always stayed in my mind. I would love to go back to.
Warsaw is nice, but so very big and a little daunting, and parts of it remain rather Soviet in nature and appearance. I really like Wroclaw, although I felt a bit isolated there. Zakopane was great for summer hiking, in the middle of a really beautiful area.
There are loads of other places I didn’t get to in Poland when I was there. It’s one of Europe’s bigger countries and there remains so much to see and do that you’d probably need a couple of months to really explore it. For a first taste though, Krakow is perfect. Lots set up for the tourist and the backpacker, rewarding and challenging day trips, we positioned if you’re entering from the south as I was.
I hope to get another chance to really explore Poland one day. For every country I feel a certain fondness for, much has to do with first impressions, and as you can see Krakow left one on me. Have you been? Thanks for reading and May the Journey Never End.