The pain train keeps rolling (that’s more than a bad joke as you’ll see in a moment). Here is the update covering my time in Krakow, Poland. I meant to post this a few days ago, but my internet access has been spotty.
Let me just start by saying Polish trains are terrible. I normally do not complain about these things, but if I ever go back to Poland I will either fly or drive there. Polish trains are slow and the seats very uncomfortable (at least for me). True, other eastern European trains in Croatia and Hungary were not that fast either, but at least they were decently comfortable.
But enough of my complaining; you’re here to read about Krakow, and not my opinions on trains. When I arrived in Krakow I took care of the normal business as always (taking out money, making train arrangements, buying food, etc) and found my way to my hostel where I settled in. That really was it for arrival day, as I prefer to get all the mundane stuff done right away and then spend the remaining days doing non-stop sightseeing.
On my first full day I slept in (and thus finally catching up with lost sleep from Prague) and then set out on the town. I went down to the Wista River, which snakes through town and marks something of the southern border for the main sights of Krakow. Going along it, I saw an interesting looking church that I tried to reach, but there was a wall all along it so I left it and kept going (I actually managed to find the entrance the next day). Not far from the church was Wawel Castel, which is an actual castle and not just a somewhat fortified palace (I’m looking at you Prague!). The castle grounds are free and open to the public, but there are a few museums inside that you have to pay to enter. I got tickets for the treasury/armory and the royal apartments. Since the apartments had a time slot that wasn’t for another hour, I went to the treasury/armory first. Wawel’s treasury isn’t as good as some other places like Venice, but it still has some good gold and silver items. The armory is the usual collection of weapons that you would find in most other forts or castles, though it had a good selection of cannons in the lower level. After I finished there I walked around the castle grounds until it was time for my appointment at the royal apartments. At the royal apartments you get grouped together with the other people in your time slot and you get a guided tour of the apartments, which on one hand gives you some background on what you’re looking at, but on the other hand means you can’t linger in any area for too long. Like the treasury/armory, it was good, but not as good as something you’d find in the more famous European castles and palaces. Polish kings lived well, but certainly not as well as their Western European counterparts. After the tour ended I looked around the castle a little more before leaving. I had actually spent about five hours at the castle, so much of the day was already gone since I had a late start. I moved on to the southern end of the Royal Route, which connects the castle with the old town, and there checked out St Peter and Paul’s Church and called it a day after that. Normally I would have gotten a bit more done, but I was ok with what I had seen.
The next day was more a “normal” day in the world of Ricardo sightseeing. I got up a bit earlier than the previous day and set out to reach the walled-off church I had failed to reach the day before. Following my map, I found the entrance, but took a little detour into another church first. When I came out I resumed my way to the other church and entered the courtyard. According to the sign by the entrance, this church (called a/the Paulite Church) is where Polish royals used to get coronated. Both the inside and the exterior of this church were pretty nice, and I got some photos before leaving. I then went back to the area around Wawel Castle and resumed my walk north along the Royal Route. Following it, I walked through the old town and came to the large Market Square. In the middle is the Cloth Hall, which used to house the town’s cloth merchants, but these days has souvenir shops, restaurants, and a museum or two. I checked out the Cloth Hall, and then went into St Mary’s Church, which is a large church on the northeast corner of the square. Inside is a giant woodcarving altarpiece with life-size carvings of the apostles. I spent a little while looking around the inside of the church, and then went out and left the Market Square to check out some miscellaneous sights in the old town before coming back to the square and climbing the tower of the old Town Hall (the views were actually limited and not that great). I then went north to the old city walls and checked out both them and the Barbican, a small mini-fort that extended out of the walls. In the past Krakow was actually a well defended city and was only captured a few times, and as such much of the old town survived (but World War 2 bombing certainly did some damage). After these I went back towards the Market Square and got some ice cream along the way (thus getting rid of most of my coins). By the time I got back to the Market Square the day was coming to an end, so I looked around a little more before going back to the hostel.
The next day (after a night of little sleep) I got on an early train from Krakow to Berlin. I had hoped my first experience with Polish trains was just a fluke, but it was just as bad as the first time. When the train finally crossed the German border it got a much faster German train engine hooked up to it and it then only took about 1.5 hours to reach Berlin, but I was glad when I finally got off that train.
And that is the end of Poland. I am typing this update from Amsterdam, and am near the end of my trip across Europe. In two days I leave for London and then in two more days I come back to the States. There are really only two (maybe three) posts left to put up; one covering Berlin, and one (or two) covering my blitz through Copenhagen, Cologne, Amsterdam and London. The Berlin update will be a long one, but it should be up before my departure. And once I’m back in American you will get some long awaited pictures of all the places I’ve gone to.