24 hours in Kraków

Last week I flew to Kraków after a long overdue visit with my family in the south-eastern town of Sanok, a three hour drive from this medieval city. With little time to explore a place I already knew and loved, I headed to favorite haunts and discovered a few new ones. So how did I spend my 24 hours? Here are my recommendations for those new to the city or for anyone stopping over for a quick visit. The heart of Kraków is the main square where you’ll hear the clanking of hooves as tourists make their way around the city via horse and carriage. Stop at one of the many outdoor cafes for a local beer, and visit Kościół Mariacki, St. Mary’s Basilica.

NOTE: There’s now a train that will take you directly to the city center from the airport, only 20 minutes at 8 zlotys. Take care not to get ripped off by the taxi drivers! Negotiate ahead of time, especially to and from the airport.

24 hours in Krakow

SLEEP: Minutes away from both the Rynek Glówny (market square) and the Wawel Castle sits the Radisson Blu. This modern 5-star hotel was constructed 13 years ago (and designed by an architect friend of mine). All 196 of its spacious rooms have recently been refurbished. Be sure to ask for a room with a view of the castle, and take advantage of their spa and fitness center.

24 hours in Krakow

EAT: My absolute favorite restaurant is one of Kraków’s historic haunts, Pod Aniołami. Translated to Under the Angels, it’s located in an 18th century building at The Royal Route, leading to the Wawel Castle. Once upon a time the the building housed Krakow’s goldsmiths as well as their workshops. You can feel the history when you enter it’s cellar. And the food? Classic Polish dishes ranging from pierogi to an assortment of grilled meats. Smacznego!

24 hours in Krakow

DRINK: After asking a few local friends what was new in the city, they led me to Zakłady Tytoniowe, a 19th century tobacco factory. Intrigued, I headed there with my cousin for a drink and discovered an entire world in the making. Opened this past July, there were just under a dozen bars and restaurants taking over the industrial space, many more to follow in the months ahead. Shared office spaces looked over the cafes and terraces. I enjoyed a drink at Międzymiastowa while my cousin met her friends at an outdoor bar. I returned the following day for coffee and cake at Bonjour Cava.

24 hours in Krakow

SEE: I can’t count the number of times I’ve visited the Wawel Castle, set on the banks of the Vistula river, its director a close friend of my moms. With each visit I become more enchanted by the castle’s history. (Read more about it here.) For centuries the residence of Poland’s kings, the Wawel is the symbol of Polish statehood, and now houses one of the country’s most recognized collections of art. A must see while in Kraków!

24 hours in Krakow

SHOP: For souvenirs, amber jewelry and wooden chess boards being among the best gift ideas, I recommend the Sukiennice in the main market square in Kraków’s Old Town. Dating to the Renaissance, it’s also known as the Cloth Hall. With dozens of stalls your options are plenty and you certainly won’t leave empty handed.

city of history

Some of my fondest memories as a child are feeding the pigeons on the main square in Krakow. I always felt well amidst the charm of this city, even during those many years of Communism, when my young mind struggled to make sense of all the disparities. Each trip to visit my family in Sanok included a stop at this city, the place of my mom’s Alma Mater. On my last visit to Poland I returned, though now I do my best to avoid the pigeons. I still love to wander the winding streets and visit my old haunts. Or simply sit at one of the many terraced cafes and watch the world go by.

This former capital of Poland was miraculously saved during World War II, and here now lies much of Poland’s rich historical, cultural and intellectual splendor. As is evident around every corner.

I caroused the thriving, creatively inspired and very much bohemian neighborhood of Kazimierz, which remains one of the most culturally significant Jewish areas in the world.

Hidden courtyards off the main square were explored, revealing charming bed and breakfasts, this one run by a family friend, aptly named Antique Apartments. (My next home away from home!)

I took a long walk across a newly built pedestrian bridge, decorated with love locks just like in Paris!

As much of the world as I have seen, and have yet to see, I will always welcome a return to this vista.

open air history

During my recent trip to Sanok, the town where my mother grew up and where I spent many childhood summers, we took a trip to one of the largest open air museums. Skansen museum, established in 1958, recreates 19th and early 20th century life in this region of Poland. You begin to understand the simplicity and often the hardship of life so many years ago. Along with our tour guide, and my mom who herself studied ethnography, we explored this long forgotten world.

The tour begins with a replica of a Galician town square from the second half of the 19th century.

A historic tailor shop and pharmacy…

Even a horologist, with quite a sense of humor.

Each section features an ethnic group who lived in the region prior to the post-WWII resettlements.

As I walked in and around these dwellings, I imagined the lives that once inhabited them.

Amidst the homes and churches we discovered elaborately sculpted bee urns.

There too was an exhibition of long lost Jewish treasures, some of the few that remain.

Within the stillness of Skansen, I better understood the history of this part of the world.

Pasquetta

One of my favorite holidays growing up was Easter. Not simply for the American tradition of the ‘Easter Bunny’ and a basket filled with chocolates and jelly beans. (My mother being Polish I rarely received these goodies and took to making my own candy-filled basket.) In addition to blessing a basket filled with eggs, sausage and a lamb made of butter, my Easter celebration consisted of sitting around a table with elderly Polish ladies, taking mental notes on their life stories, and painting eggs, called pisanki. My mom’s always being the most beautiful and elaborate. These eggs, symbolizing the revival of nature,  were meant to be proudly displayed in your basket and shared with friends and family. (In our case, we used them to raise money for the Polish school which I attended.) I grew to love this tradition.

Since my life is now heavily influenced by Italian customs, my Easter celebrations have become even more tasty and varied. Last year we celebrated with my family in the US, along with a blessed basket of Polish delicacies, and a dove-shaped Colomba from Italy, a sweet bread that you can spend all day nibbling on. This year we spent Pasqua with the Italians, in Monterosso. I was lucky enough to share in the chocolate egg tradition, a huge festively wrapped dark chocolate egg revealing a surprise.

Being both a fan of chocolate and surprises I unwrapped the egg with the anticipation of a child. Following tradition, I ‘cracked’ open the egg, found my hand-painted trinket inside, and the chocolate feast began! (And could very well continue for many days…)

The Monday following Pasqua is called Pasquetta, “Little Easter”. A day in which people venture out, plan picnics, visit friends… and of course, eat! I tend to believe this day is reserved for finishing the chocolate egg…

foreign flavors

The beginning of my Parisian life has proven a proper foreign adventure. The first few weeks have tasted of many flavors other than French, the sweet and savored tastes of family. We traveled to the South of Poland where my roots are firmly planted. Deep in the woods of Bykowce, the place of my youth and still now, my place.

A brief return to Paris and away we flew to taste of Northern Italy. More family and feasting, the setting of this dream in Monterosso on the Mediterranean, his place. The experiences defining dreams and reality are becoming more vague, and I willfully allow myself to be taken. The adventures seem endless as our respective cultures meet and mingle, creating an even more resplendent reality.

Tomek & Ania’s wedding

Tomek and Ania walking down the aisle on September 8th, a grand wedding and family affair!


Tomek, Aga, Michał, Ewa and Julia (Magda was dearly missed!)

Aunt Zosia and Uncle Marek, mother and father of the groom






Uncle Eligiusz, Aunt Marysia, Aunt Aleksandra, my mom, Aunt Gosia and Uncle Grzesio

The Michniowski cousin clan (missing are Magda, Basia, Kordian, Stefan and Bogdan)

A happy family: Basia, Maciek, Bernard, Julia and baby Alicja

last tango in Krakow

Back to my beloved Krakow where I met with Jimena from Buenos Aires. Naturally, a tango was in order! Jimena is on a journey of her own, and most serendipitously our paths crossed. Together with Ola we shared many memorable moments, soon joined by Sooji…

My mom joined us in this city where she spent her university years.


A party with Malgosia and Matylda, friends of mine and my mom’s for many years.

Drinks with Marta and Piotrek as Jimena bids us farewell…

 A final night of cocktails with Magda, a dear friend of Ola’s. And mine now too.

a day in Bykowce


The day began in the manner that all days should begin, with a massage. (Dream or reality?) My body was then ready for a little yoga on the terrace, as the sun welcomed me with it’s late summer glow. For breakfast my mom and I filled our palates with raspberries in the garden. Yes, life is good! Nature was beckoning and along with Dagmara we took a long walk into the woods. We reached a grand rock upon which my grandparents inscribed their initials so many years ago. The peace in the woods is truly immeasurable. For lunch we had a date with my eldest aunt Aleksandra who prepared quite a feast.
After lunch we headed to Sanok for a little shopping and preparation for a visit from my mom’s friend of long ago Elizabeth and her brother, a respected and accomplished composer and poet, Wojchiech Rybicki. It was a full and rousing day. And now for a moment I shall sit beneath a sky illuminated by stars, in gratitude of the wonder and warmth surrounding me. As tomorrow I temporarily part with these woody paths for the cobblestones of Krakow…

family affairs

My dear cousin Tomek and his fiance Ania whom I adore! They are to be married on September 8th. A grand family event!

My cousin Basia just gave birth to her second daughter Alicja a week ago. 
I am already in love with her, as I am with little Julia.

My aunt Aleksandra recently turned 70 and looks as glamourous as ever!

children of the wild




As I so fondly recall my childhood in Poland, so many endless summers spent outdoors, playing in the haystacks, finding refuge in the depths of the woods, creating worlds that only a young and curious mind can understand. At one with nature. so too have my cousins Dagmara, Michał, Ewa and Julia found a home in the wilderness, creating a world very much their own, composed of branches, twigs and rocks and great imagination. The line between fantasy and reality exists outside my doorstep.

at home in the woods



I arrived to Sanok to the warm embrace of my dear mother who I have not seen since my departure so many months ago. There is nothing like the feeling of home. Bykowce lies in southern Poland, not far from the town Sanok where my mom was raised with her 6 siblings and where I spent much of my childhood. My aunts, uncles and several of my many cousins remain in close proximity, and there is much activity and laughter filling this ancestral air. Our ‘villa’ is tucked away beneath the woods, designed and built 13 years ago by my mom and her brother Grzesio who lives here with my aunt Gosia and their daughter Dagmara. It is a beautiful life filled with simple pleasures. When my uncle is not healing the sick at the hospital or at home, he escapes to the woods to hunt, sometimes joined by another uncle Eligiusz, a forester. My hunting consists of picking berries in the garden while the rooster crows…I find refuge in the solemnity of the woods, the same woods where the Jews were saved by the local peasants during times of war, so many stories lay upon these lands…in this time which is told by the rising and falling of the sun, I have found quietude.

Krakow



Krakow is one of my most beloved cities. the main square is perhaps the most charming in all of Europe, lined with cafes and eateries, the sounds of a street musician in the distance mingling with the clanking of a horse and carriage upon the cobblestones… Time seems to flow at a slower pace in this old capital of Poland, once the home of kings and queens, drawing great scholars and artists from the entire world. It is fascinating to experience this city which so eloquently connects tradition with modernity.

My dear friend Ola lives in this cultural mecca and we had a wonderful time catching up on all the beautiful stories of our lives…wandering the mysterious streets of the Old Town and Kazimierz…breathing in the life that is uniquely Polish.