Walking in Krakow

For all you people who believe there is more to life than an underground/subway, you are right! There are so many places that can be discovered by foot and truly appreciated after you have lost yourself in a really quirky and romantic cobbled street to get there. The sights you miss when you simply rush from tourist spot to tourist spot in a subway is deeply saddening, so my mother and I decided to save the pennies and work our leg muscles, and walking Krakow was a treat!

With lots of people and companies harassing you to take their guided tourist train tour, to join their groups and do their thing, it is pleasant to step back from all of that and just do what you think is right. Discover the places you want, get to know a city in your terms and to find the hidden treasures only you will come across in your own path.

Walking the city centre

Krakow’s Main Square hosts a variety of interest. If you walk around the whole square, hidden behind the cafes and all those esplanades you will find some plaques identifying the houses, who they belonged to and their historical importance.

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At the very centre of the Main Square you will be able to see the Cloth Hall. It used to be a building where people would come to trade all sorts of goods, but now it is open every day and showcases the most stunning handicrafts from Poland for you to buy. Great for souvenir shopping.

You will also find in the city centre St Mary’s Basilica. This iconic building is the cover of most postcards of Krakow and though it may seem like a simple brick construction from the exterior, the inside tells a very different story.

You will get a chance to spot some horse and carriages which you can take a lovely tour of the city in. I personally did not take one, but found them all very charming and the horses very sweet. It is a miracle that they keep the city so clean and not smelling of manure with so many horses around.

Make sure you have one of your meals in the Main Square, with so many restaurants available you can enjoy some real treats.

Further afield

Still a short walk away, you can follow a road directly to the Wawel. Here you can enjoy the castle, the cathedral, the Dragon’s cave and so much more. No more than a 10 minute walk from the Main Square it is definitely worth a visit and has so much to offer.

On your way to Wawel, make sure you take a quick peak at the St Peter and Paul Church. Such a beautiful building and it is worth spending a few minutes being mesmerised by its interior. Simple, beautiful and yet haunting. I definitely recommend it.

The Ring Gardens! Surrounding the entire centre of town, a ring garden which is worth walking around to see the city from a different perspective, enjoy the greenery and fresh air as well.

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Krakow is a very easy city to see by foot, so unless you are venturing out to the concentration camps and the salt mine, save your money, save the environment and put your best walking trainers on! I think everyone should feel encouraged to enjoy their cities by walking and discovering some really lovely hidden gems.

 

The Wieliczka Salt Mine

So when I planned my trip to Krakow I had a few things that I knew I wanted to see and visit, such as Auschwitz, Schindler’s factory, Wawel Castle amongst others. Everywhere I researched for things to see and discover in the illustrious city, the Wieliczka Salt Mine was listed. No one explained why, no real details were included in this, it was always just stated as a must. I was convinced this was going to be a tour about how miners extract salt from rock, which is of course very interesting, all the ancient techniques and past labours are always fascinating, but it didn’t seem to be enough for everyone to make such a huge fuss about it.

I have to confess, I didn’t even look at the website, which is a real shame, as my last weeks leading up to the trip were so busy with work that my usual preparation was not the same. Merely two months before I had been in Budapest, so I didn’t even have enough time to fully recover from the high of the previous trip! At first I was a bit apprehensive to visit, as I was travelling with my mother who is not very physically fit after an unfortunate heart attack. However, a few emails back and forth and I finally booked us two tickets for a disabled tour, which actually was the best thing ever.

Firstly, our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and most of all patient, as we paced ourselves slowly but surely through the less demanding paths of the mine. We were drawn in and mesmerised by stories of a Hungarian Princess who brought salt to Poland by dropping her engagement ring in a salt mine in Hungary, tales of the site’s many miners, the scent of salt lingering in the air its flavour touching our lips.

We were invited to lick the walls – I know that sounds weird! – and experience the white salt melting in our tongues and the pure flavour and kick of the darker salt rock. We were taken through a winding mine up and down and already the experience was better than I had expected, as we learnt so much more than just the process of mining salt rock. Finally we discovered the rooms, these caves where water deposits eroded the rock salt and formed a pool. We were awestruck by a particular room called the Chopin Room, where the entrance was so dramatic, the music stormed through the space and hit each of us with such overwhelming force. We were so moved. I can’t really explain it, it was just beautiful.

We knew we were here to see something special.

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The salt on the wall!

We then walked towards the biggest cave of all, which we discovered is the largest underground church in the world, a Unesco world Heritage site, one of the first to join the list. It was entirely carved out by three sibling miners, who did it in their spare time and were then commissioned to finish it when their boss found the church. The wall carvings, altar and stone chairs are all carved from the original cave, the detail is incredible and it is absolutely a sight to behold. The Pope has even visited and had a statue made for him. He returns to Krakow this year.

I feel that in my writings I haven’t done this place proper justice, it was just so unexpected and so overwhelmingly stunning that I feel all the words in the world won’t do. The photos itself are difficult to be amazed at, as it is quite dark (underground!) and what you see in naked eye isn’t quite captured through the lens as well. I truly feel this place made my entire trip that much more special and I would encourage everyone to visit it. Tickets are inexpensive and can be found online, I would advise to book it early as it does get very busy and like I said we were lucky because we had to take a special tour anyway so it was a lot quieter, but there were tonnes of groups in several different languages going around.

Krakow, my new love

After my first African adventure ended early this year, I have been spending a lot of time getting to know Europe. My second European trip took me to Krakow, Poland where I had an amazing time. First of all I visited the beautiful city with my mother on a strictly no boys allowed holiday, as we left behind our men we were able to soak up the polish treasure that is Krakow.

This is the first city I have been to where I didn’t see a shred of rubbish on the pavements, it seemed almost clinically clean at first, however it is warm and welcoming. With a smile at every corner, people invite you into their premises for traditional food without bombarding you with information. All drivers stop to let you cross, and even the trams stop! The buildings are colourful and bright welcoming facades urge you to enter their doors and discover more.

There is so much that can be said of this beautiful city and so much we will explore together. Its location and history are complicated and devastatingly sad, but in no person do you see a hint of anger. Most of our tour guides spoke of the history with, yes, a hint of sadness but there is no bitterness and no thirst for revenge or a desire to right their wrongs. It is taken as a recent and awful history that needs to be remembered and respected so as to not be repeated. This beautiful population takes it as an unfortunate past but don’t look at anyone with any malice. Stunning and inspiring, they have really changed my perspective and I respected the polish before, but now, after visiting places like Schindler’s factory and Auschwitz, they hold a special place in my heart where they have tugged its strings and filled me with humility and a great appreciation for life.

Krakow, my new love, before we break down my trip into segments and places, I have to devout some time into simply admiring your beauty and how much you moved me. More so than Berlin, Krakow sang to me a song of sorrow and regret, but also of survival and peace. I cannot tell you guys how much I hope you take some time to visit this diamond city, and discover its treasures and secrets. One of my top contenders and current favourites, it will take a really special city to knock the admiration I hold towards Krakow.

So before we get into the trip here are some photos to wet your palate, the posts on Krakow start now!

Happy reading, writing and travelling.

The Jewish Quarter #Budapest

Hungary is one of those countries that is truly steeped in history. It has been a larger and smaller territory, part of the Ottoman empire, ruler as the Austro-Hungarian empire. It has accepted different cultures but has also many times rejected the idea of multiple cultures and beliefs.

The Jews have a long history in the country that is now known as Hungary, and generally as a religious group, have been the targets of segregation and aggression in so many societies. They are, in my opinion, one of the strongest and most enduring religious groups in history, having survived so much suffering.

In Hungary, some records pre-date 895AD. Some examples of their discrimination in Hungary include the decree that stated every Jew should wear a piece of red cloth, a law that was passed during the reign of Kind Ladislaus IV (1272 to 1290). During the black death (1349) they were expelled from the country. They have been burnt at the stake (1490 – 1516) and during the reign of Queen Maria Theresa (1740 to 1780) the Jews were expelled from Buda, which is considered the more affluent side of the Danube river which crosses the now amalgamated capital Budapest. In much more recent years, during the last years of the World War II, over 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed, mainly through deportation to Nazi-German extermination camps.

We are no strangers to the sad and painful parts of Jewish history, most of learning of it mostly from WWII. However, after all this suffering, the Jews are now living and have budding lives in Hungary, mostly concentrated in Budapest. Knowing all their history and suffrage in the country made it all more fascinating for me to be able to spend some time at the Jewish Quarter and learn a bit more about their religion.

The fronts of the synagogues are absolutely breath taking and colourful buildings. Many recent synagogues are built in Moorish Revival, which is a sort of art nouveau and gothic mix, which is extremely colourful and almost exotic.

I had the pleasure of visiting the Great Synagogue inside. One of the things that I found fascinating was that they choose to feature the star of David as much as possible. The Great Synagogue, in Dohany Street, has the star featured so frequently, from the stain glass windows, the floor tiles, candelabras to the cross bars on their gates and fence. It is completely mesmerising, that it is such a clean building, so simple but at the same time looks so grand. The bimah is the table from which the Torah, the holy book of Judaism is read. The altar, if you will, is one of the most stunning centres and focal points I have ever seen and I absolutely love the 3D Star of David that hangs above it.

I found the building overall much more inviting and soothing than a church or cathedral in a way, because inspite of the Jewish community having suffered so much pain, their culture feels no need to cover their walls with images of the pain they have endured. It is just a simple faith that inspires simple living and acceptance. A truly welcoming building and beautiful insight into another culture. I would totally advise you all to visit at least one of the synagogues and either go for a walk around the Jewish Quarter or take one of the tours that run from the Great Synagogue.

Happy reading, writing and travelling!

 

Gellert Baths #Budapest

I am so excited to be sharing with you the first post of my fantastic city break in Budapest, Hungary. Just as a brief overview, Budapest is a city of such cultural richness and history that it was easy to get lost in the wonder of it all. There is so much to share with you guys that I am actually going to start with a really short post about something that Budapest is renowned for – the thermal baths!

Budapest sits on a natural thermal baths site, which is also one of the reasons the Romans decided to settle in this location. They wanted to enjoy the banks of the Danube and now the city is actually called the City of Spas, considering a world heritage site in practically every corner and one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.

With such a huge choice of baths to go to we had the pleasure of visiting two! Let’s focus on Gellert Baths first. hese, along with the Szechenyi Baths, are the most expensive, luxurious and stunning baths. Each of these averages at around 4000 to 5000 FT (forints), but the experience is worth it.

Gellert is a mix gender thermal spa, with several pools that vary in temprature from 20 degrees to 40 degrees! YES 40 and it feels awesome! We started in the coolest exterior baths and slowly worked our way towards the 40 degree water which felt difficult at first but cleansed my skin purifying its pores.

The other incredible aspect of the Gellert baths is simply its architecture. It was said by someone that bathing in the Gellert baths is like bathing in a cathedral. The building itself does not look like something special, a hotel with a rather bleak façade, however the spa inside is truly magnificent. Bright and colourful, it fills you with life to walk between each stunningly decorated pool and get lost in the labyrinth of the building.

I can only encourage you to safely deposit some of the money you are taking with you into going to the baths. There are plenty of options and it is truly worth it. We also had the opportunity to go to the Kiraly Baths, which were much cheaper and they followed the building structure of the original Turkish baths with an octagonal pool in the middle. Unfortunately we were unable to get photos of this one, because the temperature was so high and fumes so much that we were not allowed to wander around with our cameras.

Other baths you can visit are the Szechenyi, which are located on the City Park. Rudas Baths are also in the octagonal shape, so truly wonderful as an ode to the original structure of these buildings. Margaret island has options too, and there are plenty more! Just do your research, but be aware that some are still gentleman only baths.

For now I leave with this! Happy reading, writing and travelling!