It was a particularly gloomy November afternoon, the chill in the air and bleak greyness in the sky offering an insight into the dreaded Berlin winter we had been warned about all summer long. It was also a particularly dull afternoon in the office, where my care levels for the neverending barrage of (mostly banal) customer-service queries I have the joy of handling day-to-day had dropped well below zero. Is this what I had to look forward to for the next six months? Was I destined for only a moderate to low level of happiness until the warmth of the sun finally returned? No! I needed an escape, and I needed it fast.
Quickly opening up my favourite bookmark, Google Flights “explore destinations” page, I desperately searched for somewhere close-by that may still be getting some sunshine and that might keep me from descending into a wintery despair. But alas, nothing suitable appeared. About ready to resign myself to my fate, I wondered if perhaps a change of scenery was all I needed. A different bleak city to enjoy! Scrolling the map over into Europe’s east, my eyes lit up as flight prices rapidly dropped. 60 euro return…50 euro return…surely I could go no lower than that! And then I saw it, the cheapest return flight deal I’d ever seen, 20 euro. I scrambled for my credit card with an unreasonable level of concern that the deal may vanish at a moments notice. Mashing in the digits and securing the tickets at lightning speed, I proudly texted Grace to inform her of our new holiday plans. “We are going to Krakow!” I enthused. Her response was simple… “why”?
At this stage I didn’t actually know the answer to the question myself other than “it was super cheap”. I hadn’t really ever considered visiting Krakow or Poland itself before, especially not this close to winter, where surely all the doom and gloom Berlin was enjoying would be present, but probably worse. After all, Eastern Europe isn’t always known for its vibrant cuisine, exotic locales or warm welcoming locals. But I decided to not let any preconceived ideas cloud my judgement and in a rare move for someone who loves planning and researching my holidays weeks in advance, I decided this time we would go in blind. To let Krakow show us why it should have been on our travel ‘to-do list’ ages ago. With a travel friend in tow and a coffee in hand, we boarded our flight. This is what we found out…
Krakow is Kinda Pretty
Lucky enough to have snagged an AirBnB just outside the old town main gates, we were well poised for exploring Krakow’s historical and now cultural centre. Being from relatively young cities built around very different landscapes, old-towns and medieval looking structures are still a wonder for us to behold, making the first steps through the Krakow Barbican gateway all the more breathtaking. Being a nature lover at heart, I enjoyed the fact that a quaint park, which used to be a proper castle moat, surrounds the walls of the city, helping add to the feeling of entering into a real centuries old castle town. All roads meet a the town centre, Rynek Główny, which is one of the largest town squares in all of Europe. With a grand market hall in the centre and horse drawn carriages parading the perimeter, we had already cast aside our misconceptions that Krakow may be just another gloomy eastern European destination. Ducking in and out of the little walkways uncovered cafes, bars, restaurants, quirky shops and everything else we love about exploring new cities. Come nightfall, the choice of options for a night great or small was endless and we saw more than a few groups of both locals and travellers taking advantage of the lively atmosphere and super affordable drinks.
Just on the outside of the old town up a small hill lies Wawel Castle, which gave us some beautiful views out over the town and outskirts of the city, while also showcasing some classic European architecture that we never seem to get tired of. The castle courtyard is a grand open space and as its free to explore, should definitely not be missed while you’re here. Heading back down the hill brought us to the banks of the Vistula river, which made for a beautiful evening stroll. While a bit brisk in November, we could easily imagine how nice it might be in summer when the sun stays high in the sky well into the evening.
Polish Food is Awesome
Never again will I assume that all the best food in Europe is to be found along the Mediterranean. Krakow proved to be a treasure trove of flavour sensations at almost every meal. While I didn’t know much about Poland prior to our trip, I did know that Pierogi or Polish Dumplings were delicious. Having only ever tried them from a food truck at a festival, I safely assumed they would taste 10x better here…and they did. Cabbage and Mushroom, Spinach and Potato, meat… it didn’t matter what flavour we picked they were all melt in your mouth amazing. Even more amazing was the discovery of Zapiekanka, basically an open faced baguette/pizza topped with cheese, sautéed mushrooms and whatever other topping you fancied. Costing 7 zloty (approx 2 euro) and being huge like most Polish food, I could happily have lived off these all weekend. But the gold medal winner of Polish cuisine didn’t come in the form of a hot, towering plate of food, but a small cone holding an unbelievably tasty frozen treat. Yes, icecream or Lody in Polish, may not be what everyone desires when its 3 degrees outside, but this stuff tasted so good I didn’t even mind the perpetual brain freeze. Foodie fans rejoice, Krakow has you covered, particularly in the trendy Kazimeirz district just south of the the old town walls.
Everyone Wants to be your Friend
Maybe we were just used to the generally ambivalent and uninviting approach to customer service that seems to be the norm in Berlin, but everyone in Krakow seemed genuinely stoked to be serving or assisting us. Bartenders happily recommended local beers, waitresses regularly checked in if we needed anything, shop assistants actually smiled and welcomed us, it was like being back home! We were a bit concerned that our complete inability to speak a single word of Polish may annoy the locals, but on the contrary we found people were actually friendlier to us because we only spoke English, something that would NEVER happen in other supposedly trendier parts of Europe we’ve visited. Krakow locals clearly aren’t afraid to chat to strangers, as we found out after finding our way to an underground dive bar just outside the old town main square late on Friday night. Our thick antipodean accents immediately caught the attention of one lad who was determined to tell us his favourite Polish joke in English, despite the fact that the punchline didn’t make sense. Not to be outdone, however, only minutes after he had returned to his mates another jolly regular planted himself at our table and decided the night needed raspberry vodka shots and an in-depth debate about whether Guns N’ Roses reuniting was a good thing or not. If random bar chat with friendly folk is your idea of a fun holiday, Krakow definitely will not disappoint.
Its Cheap as Chips!
The flight here wasn’t the only thing cheap about our trip to Krakow and as is often the case once you wind up somewhere not on the Euro, it was fairly easy to live like kings. Entire meals came it under a tenner for both of us, cocktails could be slung back one after the other without a care in the world, we even managed to justify taking a tuk-tuk ride across town, a mode of transport known gobally for being a total tourist rip-off!
Ultimately adventurers, Krakow is wicked. An ideal weekend getaway any time of year. But don’t just take my word for it, jump on the Google and book your trip in now!
Have you been to Krakow and loved it? Or maybe you saw a different side of the city to us! Let us know your thoughts and share with your mates to get a trip pencilled in on the calendar!