Far, far away, beyond hills and dale there once was a settlement where all the time something happened.
At one point it was invaded by Tatars; then its residents were plagued by a dragon. Another time Wanda, the Princess, did not want to marry a German Prince and jumped from the bridge into the waters of Vistula.
These and other Krakow legends are still alive in the capital of the Malopolska region and their heritage can be seen everywhere.
For example, when you're walking the Planty around the Old Town along St. Gertrude street and suddenly the Wawel Castle appears in front of your eyes. At the castle’s foot a stone dragon breathes fire.
On the market square towers St. Mary's Church – from its top brave trumpeters once warned the Krakow residents against the invasion of the Tatars, and in Nowa Huta the Wanda Mound rises.
But Krakow is not worth a visit for just its legends and history but because of the fact that the colourful past intertwines with modernity; with youth, fun and an incessant desire to live with the moment.
Pretzels, bagel or obwarzanek?
Krakow residents are never in a hurry. You know that Facebook group "I hate slow walking people"? I'm sure it was founded by some extraneous inhabitant of Krakow!
Krakow people are eternally late. No wonder - they are stuck in traffic jams or fail to fit in the bus (definitely I recommend the trams when you visit - they are less clogged and more punctual).
Sometimes I have the impression that the academic spirit of this city simply granted to residents and the “student quarter” permanently adopted to practice of the society. Oh, come on, after all why to be in time, if we can drink a coffee or eat a pretzel on the way?
Pretzel, bagel, obwarzanek - different names, but everyone knows what it is. In fact, only obwarzanek is the correct term for the twisted in a ring piece of bread, but Krakow people without opposition will use all three of them (but actually pretzel looks more eight-shaped and a bagel is a Jewish leavened pastry).
The ‘round symbol of Krakow’ perfectly works as a quick snack. But buy it carefully - on some stands they are withered and tasteless.
American muffins, beer and live music
There is a countless number of monuments in Krakow. Of course, there are some that would be a shame not to visit, e.g. St. Mary's Church, the Royal Castle at Wawel, the Cloth Hall and the Barbican - but do not overdo it.
If you want to get to know the real Krakow, walk around some pubs, talk with people, feel the student atmosphere of the city.
Where to go? I would make a basic difference between the Main Market Square and Kazimierz quarter. If you want to have fun in a larger crowd, go to the square. If you prefer romantic atmosphere, choose Kazimierz.
The square itself and the adjacent streets are packed with cafes, pubs, restaurants and clubs. Everyone will find something – there are some perfect for a student budget, there are more exclusive ones, dominated mainly by foreigners. I would rather advise against going to the Hard Rock Cafe - good music, but expensive, crowded and full of older men from the British Isles.
Besides, the only chain which in my opinion is really worth a visit is the Cupcake Corner in Bracka Street. It’s a lifestyle café with delicious, fresh cakes made American style. My number one is the Red Velvet – a muffin with cocoa coloured by red beets. Yummy!
Number two is the caramel cheesecake - fluffy, light cake with caramel and salty nuts à la Snickers. TheircCoffee rather average, but their lemonade is a revelation! To top it all, they have a very friendly staff and nice, candy-like interior design, and speakers full of Michael Bublé.
Beer connoisseurs will find themselves right in the House of Beer on St. Thomas Street. The pub is always bursting at the seams, mainly due to students. The bar offers draft and bottled beer, from Polish and foreign producers.
For meeting people and good chats go to the legendary club Jaszczury (Main Square 8), where some time ago you could meet big Polish music icons like Zbigniew Wodecki, Andrzej Zaucha, and Grzegorz Turnau (the last one currently often can be found stays in his own cafeteria Nowa Prowincja, in Bracka).
These days, almost every day around 21:00 hrs a karaoke contest starts. There’s always a lot of participants and I have no idea where these people come from, but they really can sing!
In the Cloth Hall there is a restaurant, where at any time of the day or night you can hear the live piano music. In the tea garden, opened during winter months as well, you can drink good wine, coffee and eat something hot.
Best mulled wine in Kazimierz
Kazimierz is the old Jewish district of Krakow, which was once itself an independent town. Today it attracts through its unique atmosphere of narrow streets, alleys, squares and cafés.
You will find the best mulled wine at Singer (Estera Street). They serve it with orange, in a tiny stoneware, so it cools pretty soon, but for the place’s narrow, dim interior and candlelight, it’s worth to take one and then go on the further tour.
Maybe you will see Kolanko. A restaurant with delicious pancakes, and not only sweet ones. It’s on Jozefa 17 Street. Usually, there’s a lot of people there and sometimes you have to wait for a table. It also organises film screenings, poetry readings, concerts and exhibitions.
For nightlife connoisseurs
After warming up in pubs, Krakow will offer you an intense nightlife. The most popular nightclubs in the city include Frantic, Shine and Prozak. To any of them don’t go before midnight, it’s definitely too early. Which one is best to visit? I talked to Maciek Brzezinski (pictured) - a connoisseur of club life of Krakow, a student at the Jagiellonian University, who knows everything about nightclubs in the city.
"I mostly have fun in Frantic. Two dance floors and a VIP room with its own bar - always full of people there, especially on Fridays and Saturdays,” he says. “Large groups rather don’t visit it, so it’s relatively easy to make new friends. From the music’s point of view Frantic is great, because you can listen to good sets, not just some hits from radio playlists. "
- And what kind of people go there?
- Very elegant. Gentlemen, girls in high heels and short dresses. That's a pretty elite club, where they take care about the selection.
- How is Prozak then?
- Prozak is a place for those a bit faddier. Darker, with a unique atmosphere, designed for lovers of the trap music, rap and minimal techno. They often organise concerts, where international DJs accumulate international company.
- What about Shine?
- Shine is a completely different story. It is the largest of the three clubs we are talking about. The average age probably is slightly higher than in the other clubs, it is a rather exclusive place. Music wise they are a bit more commercial.
Football, ice skating and Tauron Arena
Krakow is a very sporting city. There are two football clubs in the first football league, Wisla and Cracovia. Their stadiums are close to each other and near the Krakow pastures – the famous big green square where you can take your dog for a walk or go for a morning run.
There is also the hockey team Cracovia, whose rink is available to mere mortals when it is not used by players. On the website http://cracovia.pl/hokej/slizgawki you can find the distribution of slides, which typically last 90 minutes. You can also borrow leather or plastic skates.
But the most interesting for you must be Tauron Arena – a multi-purpose hall built just a year and a half ago, the most modern facility in Poland.
The arena overwhelms by its size, at its maximum it has a capacity of more than 20,000 seats. From January 15 on it will host the matches of Group A including France, Poland, Serbia and FYR Macedonia, then the main round and the final weekend.
Frankly speaking, I prefer Gdansk’s ERGO Arena, because it’s not so huge and you do not need binoculars to see the ball from the upper sectors. But nevertheless, this hall filled to the brim will create a unique atmosphere at the EHF EURO.
Finally, I want to show you a very interesting place in Krakow's Podgorze – the colourful stairs. Each step is covered with another quote of some well-known personality: among them are Albert Einstein, Terry Pratchett and Moomin Papa.
Rainbow colours, inspiring slogans and an unusual aerobic training at the same time - all of this will make you smile many a time while marching up and down.
Tatrzanska Street at Podgórze district, tram stop Limanowskiego. As usual, I recommend to you http://krakow.jakdojade.pl/.
I have just one more thing to say: don’t follow what I wrote here. Discover your own Krakow and share your experiences. Use a method of a random - hit: take a random tram, get off at a random stop and go where your feet will carry you ;)