We previously visited Krakow as part of a ‘City Break’ to Warsaw. We caught the 2-hour express train and spent just a few hours around the old town, up to Wawel Castle and due to it being a cold February day; in a few bars and cafes eating goulash.
It was because of this previous trip that we decided to skip Warsaw, the old town of which we loved and also planned to skip Krakow, but after days of what felt like doing nothing; we needed ‘something’. So Krakow became the first ‘revisited’ place of this trip.
Since leaving Zamosc we spent days repeatedly driving past Catholic Churches, half-built houses, roadside Mary’s or Jesuses, builders merchants, free-roaming dogs and billboards advertising anything and everything.
Any stopover we made was marred by mosquitoes, there was always a barking dog in the night and we just couldn’t get a feel of any history; all the built houses, and there were many, look to have been built in the last 20 years. We were not enjoying rural Poland!
We purposely stayed at a paid stopover about 6km out of Krakow. 1 – because when we filled the tank with diesel the Post Office travel moneycard used our loaded Euro not Zloty, meaning we had £100 worth of Zloty to spend, and 2 – the cycle ride to town along the river would be good exercise, as well as scenic.
Our first destination was Kazimierz, the old Jewish Quarter and Ghetto during the Nazi occupation. Now it is filled with hip & trendy stores and cafes. We didn’t visit this area on the previous visit, but certainly glad we did this time; we prefer it to the old town.
We didn’t see his factory, but we think we accidentally passed Schindler’s stairs and we certainly studied the many lists of zapiekanki, a sort of pizza baguette with a base layer of white mushrooms (they love picking them in this part of Europe). We enjoyed the extra cheesy option for just 7 Zloty (£1.55).
Moving on up to the old town square, arguably one of the best in Europe, where as always there was a market and some celebration.
We skipped the pierogi in the market as it was 18 zloty per portion, still only £3.99, but being from Yorkshire; we knew they would be cheaper options elsewhere. We did indulge in Oscypek – grilled smoked sheep’s cheese. This is real ‘street food’ and as I learnt on the previous trip to Warsaw; good hangover food.
By now we were ready for a beer, which was sourced at House of Beer just off the main square. Here you will find a selection of Polish and Worldwide craft beers, but we just opted for a house lager, at 5 zloty (£1.11) it did the job.
Before setting off back to the van we ate at Pierogarnia Krakowiacy, where we both enjoyed pierogi ruskie (potato and cheese filling) and a beer for £10.64. Poland is unbelievably cheap to eat and drink out.
Proudly avoiding a repeat of Zamosc, we made it back to the van before nightfall, which is now at 8.30pm and enjoyed a cool nights sleep.
In the morning we settled the 30 zloty bill (£6.65) with Elcamp, where we stayed and drove out to Nowa Huta (New Steel), a Socialist Realist town built from 1949 to house the workers of the nearby ‘Vladimir Lenin Steelworks’.
Although built as a Socialist utopia, it eventually bred the very people who revolted against the regime and ultimately overthrew the Socialist government.
Here, we enjoyed walking around the socrealist centre and enjoyed more ‘street food’, which mainly consisted of bread and cheese and at only a fraction of the cost compared to the UK.
Wandering around Ronald Reagan Central Square and Jean-Paul II Street of Nowa Huta, places which were renamed in honor of opponents of Communism (we didn’t find Margaret Thatcher Alley), we decided we needed an easy night, which meant spending the night in one of our previous locations; a forest on the outer edge of Krakow.
We had a few hours of daylight left so walked through the forest to a roadside cafe, invitingly named ‘Smakbar’ for more pierogi. Despite its name, we enjoyed the best pierogi ruskie of the trip and a few smooth 6% Zubr beers.
With cash on the hip and another cafe over the road, we had another portion of pierogi ruskie and round of beers before staggering home with the mosquitoes.
With a pierogi hangover we drove the scenic (toll-free) route towards Auschwitz, which we visited the day after in a very sober frame of mind.
From there, through another great summer storm we headed to the hills, past Zywiec and the brewery museum (which I’ve added to my future ‘European Breweries Tour’) and high up cobbled mountain roads, like that on the Hovis advert; except you wouldn’t dense Polish bread flying down the hill.
Close to the borders of Slovakia and the Czech Republic, we spent our final night in Poland in the car park of the forestry commission, eating supermarket pierogi that we fried in the van and drinking Lech beer, purely to use up our few remaining zloty.
Where next, Czech or Slovakia?