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.

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.

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