In the southern part of Poland lies this bitter cold and utterly beautiful place we call Krakow. Aside from its much smaller size in comparison to other European cities, this city has a wide variety of its own unique foods, people and culture.
A must see in Krakow is definitely the Cloth Mall located in the main square. Not only was it the very first mall in Europe during the Middle Ages, but today it holds some of the most beautiful and reasonably-priced tourist gifts, or as I like to call them, tchotchkes. From the small maroushka dolls, to fine leather and fur, amber jewelry, beer mugs and paintings of the beautiful city, this hallway of treasures is one you cannot miss when visiting Krakow. You may even get the chance to feast your eyes on a parade or a protest like we did, due to the central location of the Cloth Mall in the main square.
One of the many pleasantries of Krakow, besides the shopping of course, is definitely the food. It was somewhat similar to Czech food (potatoes and hearty meals to keep you full for days), but with some added twists. Pierogis are the Polish specialty. They look like the Asian pot sticker but only contain some kind of meat or cheese with potatoes. Dipped in a special sauce, they are to die for.
Another type of Polish specialty that I am definitely not accustomed to would be the idea of hot beer. The sound of warm beer can make anyone’s stomach ache, however, I can guarantee you it not what you would expect. This beverage contains hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, and a couple of other spices in a warmed up glass of beer. It is comparable to the hot wine in Prague that reminds me of a strong sweet tea, and definitely worth trying as well.
The last and probably my most favorite part of Krakow, Poland, is definitely the culture. The people in Poland are very friendly, and although most of them do not speak English, everyone is very accommodating and nice in the more touristy areas. The culture is also extremely rich in Krakow. On our last night there, after filling our bellies with hot beer and chicken avocado burgers at Love Krove (Google it!), we stumbled upon a small gathering of friends listening to a concert and got invited to join in on the fun.
The event was just a couple of friends, some guitars, a microphone and some homemade instruments, inside of this small art gallery that seemed to be a store during the day. Luckily, one of our friends speaks a little bit of Ukrainian, a similar language to Polish, and we found out that the owner of the gallery makes all of the art herself, the drummer in the band is her husband, and they do concerts like this every weekend with their close friends. It was so amazing how genuinely nice they were to a group of undeniably American tourists who happened to stumble upon their intimate get-together.
We finished up our weekend with another must-see visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, which was definitely an interesting historical site. We had to walk down about 54 flights of a spiral staircase (yes, I intended to use that number) until we were far underground and surrounded by walls of pure salt. It was amazing to learn what conditions were like for miners during the middle ages and also to see some of the interesting artwork that was made entirely of salt, including an entire church!
All in all, I believe Krakow to be one of the most underrated cities with all it has to offer the curious traveler. Although I would be glad to see it be more appreciated by the rest of the international community in terms of tourism, I enjoyed the feeling of knowing some of the cultural secrets of a not-so well-known city.