Editor’s note: Yes, I know I’m behind with my posts. I blame Budapest. The hotel wifi we have here gives “spotty” a new name…
We drove in the bus from Prague to Krakow by way of a charming town in Czechia called Stramberk and had time for lunch and a climb to see the Castle Stramberk. Our bus home is very comfortable – it’s a full size bus and since there are only 27 of us on the tour we all have our own row and can stretch out. Nice! Eszter our guide is full of interesting tidbits and keeps us supplied with goodies so bus life is good.
We arrived in Krakow late but managed to find time 🙂 to enjoy a huge traditional Polish dinner of mushroom soup, pierogi, and potato pancakes. The dessert was a cheesecake made of cottage cheese – it was quite good but by that time I was stuffed (they can really put the food away here. I fear I can’t compete). We’re staying at the very old and charming Hotel Francuski (100+ years old). Our room has high ceilings and lots of funny quirks (an old clock radio that looks like it might have doubled as a short-wave radio in WWII, for instance) but the free wifi is good, the breakfast delicious and the location is central to all the sights.
We had a local guide again, who took us to Wawel Castle where we saw the grounds and got to tour the cathedral which had a chapel for John Paul II (he’s like a rock star here – he was archbishop of Krakow before he was pope and is very revered) and got to climb to the top of the belfry and see the huge bell they have (and the lesser bells that have been demoted over the years). There is a folk tale that’s says if you rub the clapper it will bring you luck (left for love, right for finances) so we rubbed all the clappers we encountered (there were two or three clappers encountered before we made it to the actual in-use bell and clapper) to cover our wish bases. This bell is so big and heavy that it takes twelve men to pull the ropes to make it ring! The view of Krakow from the belfry was spectacular. Our tour ended back at the Market Square where we listened to the bugler announce the hour – it comes to an abrupt stop to honor the poor long ago bugler who was killed mid-bugle.
We were free to spend the afternoon doing whatever and we reserved tickets ahead of time for the Schindler Factory which is also Museum of Wartime Krakow. We took a tram from the city center to near the factory, which located next to another museum of contemporary art after a brief side trip to get some Polish zoltis (this side trip involved a death-defying run across a very busy street, thanks to Chuck and Tony). By the time we got there we were all starving so we went to the museum café where they had tasty-sounding pretzels with cheese on the menu. Unfortunately they were out of everything except a few slices of cake, so we settled for that and Pepsi Light. The museum was very interesting – not so much about Schindler as about the history of Krakow during WWII. It served as the base of German operations during the war so was not as damaged as, say, Warsaw (hence its very well preserved historical Old Town and castle). The people were another story. There were about 2,000 Jews in Krakow who were rounded up and imprisoned in a ghetto before being sent to concentration camps (very few survived the war). The movie Schindler’s List was filmed (in part) at the factory and they had some stills from the production. Parts of the museum also talked about Schindler and how he was able to bamboozle the Germans and protect his Jewish factory workers. It was a sobering visit. We decided to try something lighter next and went to the Underground Museum (Rynek Underground) in Old Town Krakow. It’s a fascinating archeological dig that shows the excavations of medieval Krakow.
We met a friend of Tony’s for dinner – he just happened to be in Krakow at the same time we were (hello, small world!). We had a great dinner at Marmolada, a little restaurant that served yummy Polish cuisine (and spaghetti, which is the de facto vegetarian option on most menus we’ve encountered throughout this trip). I had beef stroganoff which is a soup here versus the alfredo cream sauce noodle affair we’re used to in the United States – it was so good I’ll never look at regular beef stroganoff the same. We also had some Polish wine (a Merlot) that was great! Dinner for all five of us with the wine came to $100US. It’s been interesting to experience the money situation in Central Europe. While these countries are all members of the EU, only Slovakia and Slovenia use the Euro so we have been changing money as we go. The dollar is quite strong against these various currencies – last night Louise and I were super cold so we bought (to join my ever growing collections of jackets purchased when I was freezing to death) toasty jackets with faux fleece lining. They cost $399 PLN, which was $25 US and frankly they were worth every cent as it is continuing to be pretty cold (okay, so the whole how light can I pack game was fun but I was an idiot to think I could get by at this time of year with the light layers I brought *sigh*).
We made it back to the hotel and made an early night of it as we had to get up bright and early to head to Auschwitz-Birkenau. That’s a post for another day.