Why I’d Go Back To Krakow, Now
The pulsing, rogue city is everything I’m missing about travel post-Covid.
Take busy roads and alleyways, thick heat and noise, and you have Krakow in May.
Cramped with sitting vehicles, its dusty pavements carry their impatient pedestrians onwards, to whatever locations demand such urgent attention. Hookah bars, Polish delicatessens and eateries, Jewish restaurants and countless other bars and shops line the streets — unimportant to the hasty citizen, intoxicating to the tourist.
Krakow is never entirely pleasant, and rarely relaxing. But it is always intense and exhilarating. Whether it is a puff of smoke, a whiff of spirit, the thud of bass or the unashamed smack of car into bicycle that overwhelms you, the city’s charm is often peculiar and, at times, even downright disturbing.
Krakow is bruising like its thick-armed men, perfumed like its women, and — however rough-edged and abrasive its first impression may be— a city that never ceases to surprise.
High-walled courtyards sneak open their gates to reveal idyllic, leafy beer gardens, where slithers of late evening sun intrude upon duly satisfied inhabitants.
Turn down two alleys at random and you’re likely to find a tranquil little square of some sort. Whether the poky but undeniably cultural Jewish Quarter or the expansive and glorious Main Square, these clusters are what make Krakow enchanting.
Stunning architectural sites, such as the medieval St Mary’s Basilica and Wawel Castle, reveal captivating — and otherwise largely unknown — evidence of a rich and enduring Polish history.
Such areas are unfortunately helpless to avoid the tourist touts and ‘Old Town tours’ that seek out and occupy, more thirstily than a cloud of locusts, any popular European city.
On one side of the transport spectrum, sparkling horse-drawn carriages (“the real Poland, of course sir”) trot smug-eyed passengers over the cobbled streets. On the other end, wheezing electric carts (the “great value, see-all-the-sights-for-under-ten-dollars-sir” kind of ride) shoot their increasingly white-faced, white-eyed and terrified passengers around Poland’s culture capital.
The Main Square — in line with its medieval architecture — also offers a surprising old-fashioned attraction. Less than discreet, umbrella-clad ladies of the night target men from their seemingly allocated sections of the square.
Whatever the umbrella once represented in Poland has clearly been given explicit sexual connotations, with passing men waving them off as casually as if they were turning down a free hand-out on the Tube.
Whilst there are certainly more conventional attractions to Krakow, notably the nearby Wieliczka Salt Mine and the harrowing Auschwitz concentration camp, the ‘ladies of the brolly’ are a further display of just how astonishing the city can be.
When one leaves Krakow, there is no distinct sense of love or dislike, instead there is a feeling of having learnt. The cultural attitude is very similar but so much more brazen than the British identity; the people are apparently in love with harsh drinks and smokes; the city is a flavour of eastern Europe, and scattered with fragments of wartime history.
You might not want to go back, but you might also not want to miss.
Originally published at http://dickensonbamptonben.wordpress.com on May 18, 2016.