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Honeymoon in Poland - Part II
Krakow (Cracow, Krakau, Krakovie)

An article by Joe Wiebe © All rights reserved.

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After several days in Warsaw we moved on to Krakow. Having survived World War Two unscathed, Krakow’s Old Town carries an authentic history going back a millennium, which prompted the U.N. to designate the historic centre of the city as a Unesco World Heritage site.

We stayed in the Old Town in a furnished apartment just a block off the giant Market Square. Our second-floor window overlooked a steady parade of tourists. In the streets and lanes around us, we found grocery stores, restaurants, cafés, and even a movie theatre, where we watched Fahrenheit 9-11 (in English with Polish subtitles).

Krakow’s central Market Square is the largest medieval town square in Europe; it could easily hold four football fields. St.Mary’s church, on the eastern edge of the square, hosts a uniquely Krakovian tradition. Every hour, a trumpeter plays the hejnal, a five-note bugle call, from St.Mary’s highest tower four times, once from each window. Each time, the melody breaks off abruptly in mid-phrase. Legend has it that a watchman who had spotted the enemy played the song as a warning, but was killed by an arrow in the throat midway through, and it has been played that way ever since.

WawelKrakow’s main tourist attraction is Wawel, Poland’s seat of kings for over 500 years until Warsaw became the capital in 1596. On top of a hill overlooking the Vistula River, Wawel’s castle and cathedral are always in sight from anywhere in the Old Town. The cathedral is beautiful, both inside and out. The Castle acts as a museum, showcasing various Royal Chambers, Halls, and Apartments, as well as the Crown Treasury and Armoury.

For travellers interested in going to Auschwitz (Oswiecim in Polish), 65 km west of Krakow, there are regular daily bus tours, as well as commuter trains (Oswiecim is an industrial town, home to nearly 50,000 people). We decided not to visit Auschwitz ourselves because it seemed too morbid for a honeymoon.

We did, however, take a trip outside of the city to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, another Unesco Heritage site. We chose a rainy morning for this outing knowing we’d be underground. Unfortunately, every other tourist in Krakow had the same idea—we had to stand in line for two hours in the rain before we could go in. The mine, which has been in continuous operation for at least 700 years, also houses a sanatorium where chronic allergic diseases are treated at a depth of 211 metres. The walking tour (or in my case the “stooping tour,” since the ceilings were often shorter than my two-metre height) took us down 135 metres. We visited several large chambers, all carved by hand by miners working in their off hours. Most spectacular was the cavernous Chapel of the Blessed Kinga, which took over 30 years to complete. It is used as an actual church for occasional Masses, concerts and weddings. Everything in it, including the altarpieces and the elaborate chandelier, is made of salt.

We made some more discoveries underground back in Krakow where we found pubs located in brick-lined cellars under Old Town buildings. Many of these cellars date back to medieval times when they were used for storage by shopkeepers and families. Now, places like Klub Kuturalny sprawl through several vaulted cellars of varying sizes, some rooms small enough for only a romantic table-for-two, others large enough for an audience. That was the case at Jazz Club U Muniacka, which we visited on our last night in Krakow. The jazz was hot, the beer was cheap, and the audience was enthusiastic. We left after the second set, sorry to go since the musicians were just getting going, but we had an early train to catch.

As appeared in the Vancouver Sun, April 23, 2005

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Joe Wiebe is a Vancouver freelance writer. 
For reprint permission contact the author


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