“Krakow. The last European city where hats are worn as a standard article of clothing, rather than as a style statement. Where the walls still carry the faint, coffee-rich aroma of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – though it’s fading fast. As time passes, the memory of those bourgeois old townhouses fades. Krakow’s unique atmosphere draws European tourists in their droves, which means the city can no longer be considered a budget destination, and most locals have moved out of the city center. The crowds, busy nightlife and, consequently, continual noise, all mean that it isn’t their Krakow anymore.
In fact, the truth is that downtown Krakow has turned into something of an open-air museum, and there are no intimate, ‘local’ areas left. How would a weekend stroll for a family living in the city center look today? Crowds, kebabs, pizza, Hard Rock Café, noise, people shouting obscenities – and of course horse-drawn buggies. These are a particularly quant feature of Krakow’s old town – tourists love them, they generate a lot of revenue and support the livelihoods of their drivers, but they cause a lot of problems too: the coachman is, of course, responsible for cleaning up the horse’s dung, which – more or less – they do. When it comes to the horses’ pee, however, responsibility is less straightforward: What should they do? Mop it up? And it frequently happens that horses stop to deposit several liters, straight onto the pavement on a hot summer’s day. I wonder whose window it will be under this time?
What’s to be done? The income they make is important to the city’s economy. We often hear it said that downtown depopulation is a global trend, and how you view the depopulation of Krakow’s old town is a question of perspective. People are occupying the apartments, after all, they just aren’t the same people as before. They’re tourists. Nor is it really feasible to sneer at the ever-increasing number of hostels that dot the city center, since after all their occupants are what the city lives from. Anyhow, a few locals are sure to remain – there will always be a few “last of the Mohicans” or in this case, Poles.
Five o’clock we arrive at the main station Kraków Główny. It is only 200 meters to our apartment Finger. The owner, Darek, is the archetypical Central European with his twinkling eyes. We take a refreshing shower.
At 19 h we walk southwards to change money. At the Rynek square, with its splendid Cloth Hall Sukiennice, the Tour de France cyclists are welcomed. Then via ul. Stradomska we reach the Jewish quarter Kazimierz and have dinner at Starka, Józefa 14. The walls inside show provincial paintings. It is crowded here. We take lamb, and cakes with spinach and berries. Four little glasses of wine cost us 24 euros: a typical Tripadvisor price.
On the way back home we meet many street musicians: an accordionist plays Vivaldi, a woman sings Purcell, pianola sounds, another woman croons Ipanema in a bar. Tania sees a shop with over a hundred ‘skalka’s’ (rolling pins) to beat me, but she forgets to buy one. We buy a few drinks for our fridge at home, and we are happy the tropical weather has ended.
We circle through the city. In Galeria, the station mall, we deliver our laundry at ‘5àSec’. We buy new batteries for both our watches and we brunch with kiszona kapusta (Sauerkraut) and pierogi (dumplings) with berries.
Planty is a very green ring around the old city, full of trees and meadows with benches. It shows an exhibition of uprisings in Poland and its century of independence. We also see Wawel, the second biggest castle in Europe, where Governor-General Hans Frank had his headquarters in WW 2.
At the little square before the Maria church, somebody paints portraits. An accordionist from Ukraine plays Piazzolla, Bach, Chatchaturians Sabre Dance, and Rimsky’s Bumble Bee. And we meet a family from Cyprus: he teaches Greek, she is a teacher too. On our way back we attend a wedding in a church, with a choir singing. Dinner in the basement of Chimera, Šw. Anny 3.
After a brunch of kiszona kapusta and omelet we head for the National Museum, Aleja 3 Maja, where we see Da Vinci’s ‘Woman with ermine’. This painting had been stolen by the Nazis, but some professors later tracked it down.
Because of the beginning diarrhea, my wife has to return in a quick cab to our address. After her recovery we walk to the station, take our laundry from ‘5àSec’, reserve our train to Bratislava, and dine in a vegetarian restaurant.
That evening we visit Rynek square again, and the Maria church with its enriched interior. In another square, we attend a public singing lesson. Men and women in traditional costumes sing on a podium, accompanied by a public of hundreds of others with a little cardboard hats on their heads. Elsewhere in a restaurant two elder men, a pianist and a Stehgeiger, play Hungarian music. We end the day with baklava, bought at the kebab shop next to our apartment.