I woke up on the train a half hour before me alarm and started packing my things. The bed was a welcome change from the seats I’d previously sat in on overnight trains. I actually felt rested, which was great. In the cabin, I was provided with a sink, closet, and two water bottles and croissants. I ate all of it, and the last slice of pizza from the 4 I’d bought the night before and got ready to get off the train. There were several stops for Krakow so I asked the woman next to me which one was the main stop. She answered in German and surprisingly I understood her.
She said, “I know not where we are now, but the next stop is the right one.” I love the way Germans structure their sentences. The language isn’t poetic, but the word choice is.
Anyways, I got off the train and walked the short walk to my hostel. The weather was a bit cold and it was cloudy out with an occasional shower. The hostel was about 5 minutes from the station.
I set down my bags and helped myself to the free breakfast in the common room. The hostel had both free breakfast and dinner, a fact I planned to exploit as much as humanly possible. After breakfast, I edited some picture and made my way to the Krakow city center. The center of Krakow is built on top of the original medieval city and occupies several square miles. Surrounding the city center is a park where the citiy’s medieval wall once stood.
The Heart of the City
At the heart of the city is a church, cloth hall (market), and a beautiful square. I made it to the square just in time for the city’s free walking tour to start. The tour led through Krakow’s major sites and up to the castle south of the city center. When we reached the castle, it began to rain and I opted out of the rest of the tour and instead returned to the hostel. I never get a great night’s sleep on the train so I often nap the next day.
Back at the hostel as I was about to sleep, I met an older guy named James. He was a former geography teacher from Canada backpacking through Europe. He and I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon visiting Krakow’s famous salt mines. The mines are a 30 minute trip outside of town via the city bus, which we caught for 3 zloti, about 1 dollar.
We caught the 5:30 tour and walked the 368 stairs down to the first level of the mine. On the walk down, I made friends with some Korean engineers who worked for Hyundai and lived in Vienna. We made plans after the tour to go out for dinner afterward.
On the tour, we walked from cavern to cavern admiring elaborate rooms carved entirely out of salt. Most rooms had carvings of miners or ancient mining techniques, while others just had gnomes or pope statues in them. It was an eclectic mix. The largest room, and second to last was an enormous banquet hall complete with grand staircase and detailed chandeliers. On the walls of this large room were etchings into the salt walls of bible scenes, the largest of which was the last supper.
My Introduction to Korea
From this room, we took the lift up to the surface and the Koreans gave James and I a ride back to the central square in Krakow. James walked back to the hostel, and I went to dinner with the Koreans. We ate on the square at a nice restaurant and it only cost us slightly more than burger king. Krakow is fantastic.
After dinner, the Koreans and I said goodbye to each other and planned to meet up in Prague before they went skydiving.
That night, I met two American grad students and we went to the sister hostel down the road for a vodka tasting and pub crawl. Something like 5 shots later, the group was ready for the pub crawl. The crawl started at a basement bar just off the main square. At each of the two tables of crawlers, there were giant 5-liter cylinders of beer with a central tap that we all took turns filling. From the bar, we went to a club and danced til around 2 when I walked home and slept.
Overall, Krakow is amazing so far. Its small, its cheap, its sites are centrally located and well preserved. I would recommend the city to anyone.