Yesterday, Day 15, was a complete travel day from Prague to Krakow. We weren’t sure about some of the trains, so we were at the train station pretty early. Got our seat reservations and waited for our train . . . We had to change trains midway and it’s pretty challenging hearing the announcer over a PA system that sounds like a Jack-in-the Box drive through – except in a language you already can’t understand, announcing the station you need to exit and wait for the next train. Our 2nd train was to leave the station at 10:31. We arrived at 10:33. There were no other trains to Krakow from that station on the same day. Fortunately, the 10:31 train had been delayed by 15 minutes, so we were fine. Made the transfer and arrived Krakow Glowny (Main Station) at about 2:30pm.
Because we’d missed breakfast and didn’t have time to shop for anything during our wait for the 2nd train, we were pretty hungry! We ended up eating a complete falafel meal at the train station. Now, if you’re picturing a single platform where people board and disembark, it’s nothing like that! Picture something more like LAX, but with South Coast Plaza shopping mall attached. This station is monstrous! And the falafel (about $4.50 each) was fantastic!
Today was wonderful. We started out by walking back to the train station to secure our seats for Thursday’s journey to our next destination: Vienna, Austria. Fortunately, it’s a direct train and we don’t have to make any transfers. We’ll leave Krakow at 10:39 and arrive Vienna at 17:58 (mas o menos). It will be a long ride, but will land us in Bavaria, where Germany and Austria overlap! We’ve been told by several friends and relatives that Bavaria is one of the most beautiful places they’ve seen. We’ll let you know 🙂 Tomorrow we visit Auschwitz-Birkenau and we’ll tell you more about that. But first, the rest of today!
You know how sometimes you get to a place and it just has a “good feeling” about it? Krakow is like that for me. Something about the city just seems to cheer me up. The architecture is incredible; streets are clean; people are far more friendly than we experienced in Prague. Even the buildings, including the old ones, seem cleaner and fresher than the same style old buildings in Prague. Checking into our hostel, we met a young man from London who couldn’t stop raving about the walking tour he took, and how it helped shape his perception of the city. To this point we’ve avoided any of the “touristy” things and tried to do it all on our own. I think maybe we’ve made a mistake! We booked and then took a 2.5 hour walking tour today around Krakow’s Old Town. Oh. My. Gosh. We learned things we never could have known about this city and its history.
For example, though you can’t see him, there’s a guy at the top of the left turret on the left, playing the (pronounced “hey-now”). It’s been a tradition since 1241 and is played every 4 hours around the clock! The link will give you way more information about the legend and the tradition!
I’m having a hard time sorting my thoughts. I want to write about the walking tour from yesterday – and I will, but my thoughts are so jumbled after spending 6 hours at Auschwitz-Birkenau today. Can’t quite wrap my head around how the Nazis were so precise and efficient at mass murder . . .
OK, I’m gonna do it; here’s what I can remember about our walking tour.
This is where the walking tour started. So much history here! This is St Florian’s Gate, built as part of a protective rampart around Krakow after the Tatar attack of 1241 which destroyed most of the city. This is a view from inside the city looking out. Just beyond the gate and connected to the city by a bridge over a moat was the Barbican.
According to our guide, once these two buildings were complete, no enemy was ever able to enter the city from this point. Krakow was the cultural and commercial center of Eastern Europe until the late 1500s. However, because so many other locations were vulnerable, the city was constantly under attack and captured and razed by enemy after enemy up through the Middle Ages. After Sweden invaded and burned the city to the ground, King Sigismund III moved his residence to Warsaw and thus Warsaw became the capital instead of Krakow. That was the beginning of the demise of the city.
Some of Krakow’s earliest buildings date back to around 970 and the Wawel Castle and Cathedral were built in the 1200s
After the capital was moved to Warsaw, Krakow was basically forgotten. It wasn’t until the 1800s that business and commerce began to grow again. Interesting that among the Poles, there is still animosity between the people of Krakow and Warsaw!
One of the things you never think about, but I found fascinating is that over time a city continues to “get higher.” What I mean is that over time, the depth of the dirt levels of the city grew. People threw trash out their windows and when it couldn’t be cleaned or removed, officials came and covered it with sand or clean dirt. This photo shows the entrance door to a church about 6 feet below the ground level.
Our guide suggested that here in Krakow, there has been somewhere around 5 meters or about 16 feet of increase in the base grade level over the past 1,000 years. Apparently, the “growth” was about 1 foot every 50-60 years or so.
Here are a handful of photos that represent our walk:
- Carriage ride through the Old Town. Note the beauty of the horses’ tack
- Hanging at the entry to the Cathedral are a couple “dragon” bones thought to protect the cathedral and inhabitants from dragon attack (there’s lots more about that, but not room or time enough here)
- We’re standing in the courtyard of the Wawel Royal Castle
- The knife hanging at the entry to the city was to remind would-be thieves that their ears or fingers would be cut off if they were caught stealing!
Tomorrow: Auschwitz-Birkenau . . .