After another flawless flight from Budapest, we landed in Krakow at 4pm local time. It was a very tourist-friendly airport and we had no trouble catching the free shuttle to the train station and then the very quick and efficient train into the center of town.
When we got off the train, it was easy to get our bearings thanks to plenty of large “you are here” type maps on every corner. (It is my personal belief that all cities should do this…sure would make my life a lot easier!)
After two days spent traipsing around a massive city like Budapest, the quaint, small town of Krakow was a welcome change of pace. It was an easy walk to our hotel, the Sheraton Grand Krakow, and we were delighted to discover another well-stocked club lounge – more free food and drinks (and another great use of points)!
I had to jump on an ESPN conference call as soon as we got to the room so Shannon went down to the concierge desk to investigate our options for touring Auschwitz the next day. As it turned out, our options were severely limited.
Auschwitz only allows group, escorted tours and the hours are from 9am – 3pm. We had hoped to rent a car and just drive ourselves since it was only about an hour away, but unfortunately we were going to be stuck doing the group tour thing.
After I finally got off my conference call, we got changed for dinner and headed out to check out Wawel castle which we’d been looking at through our window.
Historically, the town of Krakow has led a charmed life. Dating back to the 4th century, Krakow has fortuitously avoided destruction throughout most of history. In fact, as I read in a magazine in our room, it was the only major city in Poland not to come out of WWII looking like a trampled Lego set.
Even 45 years of Russian supervision couldn’t dampen the town’s medieval charm. It is one of Eastern Europe’s most beautiful showpieces and is even listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
After a tour around the perimeter of the castle, we headed straight for the Old Town Square, or “Rynek”, Europe’s largest medieval market square. And boy was it enormous! Lined with restaurants and cafes, filled with people, street performers, horse-drawn carriages and pigeons, Shannon and I just walked around in awe taking pictures.
Of all the “Old Towns” we’ve seen on this trip so far (and believe me, we’re going for the record) Krakow’s town square was, by far, my favorite. I could sit there all day just people-watching.
We had dinner on the square and then popped into a night club next door for a drink afterward. The only downside about Krakow is definitely its “smoke-friendliness.” Apparently, this is the last place on earth that hasn’t heard of non-smoking areas yet. Seems like almost everyone in Poland smokes, so we had to avoid places like clubs that were too enclosed.
But it didn’t dampen our enjoyment of the evening or the charm of the town in general. I would definitely visit Krakow again on another trip. What a gem.
Tomorrow, on to Auschwitz.