But Krakow is also filled with a sense of warmth and joyful spirit. The people are friendly. Its medieval history is stamped indelibly in its glorious architecture, cobbled streets and picturesque plazas. It has a wonderful - and accessible - music scene, delicious food and a rich spiritual lineage as a main centre for Catholicism in Europe.
For my part, it would be a shame to let a dark past overshadow your armchair tour of this beautiful and soulful city. I had such a great time that it would be remiss of me not to encourage you to visit. And what better way to wrap everything up than by giving you a list of my favourite bits and a few recommendations to boot. So here goes...
Generally food is tasty, filling and good value and the best local tipples are beer and vodka. (The Poles are not hugely into wine, but this market is growing.) Suffice to say I ate and drank well.
I tried both pierogi and borscht for the first time on this trip - with great success I must say. And my top dining out tip? Miod Malina (translates to Honey Raspberry) a short walk from Rynek Glowny towards Wawel Castle. I sat outside and enjoyed a glass of wine and three delicious courses to the strains of a classical string duet...for about £20.
Spacious, cheerful and unbelievable value - that's Hotel Benefis. This small 4 storey hotel sits across the river from the main hubbub of Krakow but it's only a 15 minute walk to Rynek Glowny. I had a large 4th floor room with a balcony and a view of the spires of the Wawel Cathedral, Main Square Tower and Mariacka Basilica for slightly less than the price I paid for a box-size room in Rome. Oh and the staff are great.
|Hotel Benefis - highly recommended!|
Without a doubt, music be the food of Krakow and play on it did from the bugler's haunting hejnal from the tower of Mariacka Basilica each hour, an impromptu choir outside the Church of St Adalbert in Rynek Glowny and any number of concert options for a bargain price. You may sniff at the leaflet bearers and their nightly programs as 'tourist-y' but for the equivalent of about £12, it is possible to enjoy a healthy dose of the remarkable talent available in this incredibly musical city. Here's just two:
Day 1: Chamber music at the Church of St Peter and Paul
The Thursday billing was Classical and Film Music so there was the well-known - Mozart, and Vivaldi, Over The Rainbow and Schlinder's List - and some new discoveries for me. As I sat in that glorious church, the haunting notes of Morricone's Once Upon A Time In America filling the nave, I felt moved and incredibly blessed to be there.
|The Church of St Peter & Paul|
Chopin is one of Krakow's most famous sons and every night you'll find concerts throughout the city featuring his music. The deft fingers of Pawel Kubica introduced me to my first Chopin on a sparkling Saturday evening that had been left refreshed by the day's rain.
|The salon at Bonerowski Palace|
|The Cloth Hall in Rynek Glowny. There's a market inside but its real treasure lies underneath.|
I hope you've been inspired to visit.
Other posts in the Krakow series
It Starts With The Locals
The Dark Side
A Monstrous Vision