Are you looking for a city rich in history, a developing food scene, and salt? Yes- we said salt. Stay tuned. Located in southern Poland, Krakow is the country’s third largest city and for some really good reasons it is the most visited by traveling couples and tourists. In typical American fashion, we expected the city to be a dull cement laden tribute to Soviet occupation. We could not have been more wrong! The city has a number of interesting surprises in store for you. We are going to show you Krakow Fighting Couple style top to bottom. Lets start at the bottom…the very bottom:
The Wieliczka Salt Mine
Do you ever visit a place not really knowing what to expect? We rolled up to the Wieliczka Salt Mine a few miles outside of Krakow with no idea what to expect. First off queue up and purchase your admission ticket. Once you have a ticket in hand everyone gathers in a large hall. At the appointed time for your tour a guide leads you down the longest staircase that we have ever used! You decent 135 meters or 450 feet below ground level. Don’t worry about coming back up, you will take the elevator.
The Wieliczka salt mines have been in continuous operation for hundreds of years. The result is huge caverns that have been converted into lakes, museums featuring statues made of salt rock and even a cathedral! As you wander from room to room, you learn how the salt was mined and the lives of salt miners. The salt mine ended up being one of our fave highlights from Krakow. They have developed a really great interactive website: http://www.wieliczka-saltmine.com/
Warning, if you visit the salt mine in the summer, and are summer attired, bring a jacket as the temp underground is massively different than the temp above.
The Wawel Royal Castle
At the heart of the city of Krakow is the striking hilltop complex called the Wawel Royal Castle. You should start your exploration at the Wawel Cathedral. It includes tombs of a number of key polish leaders and historical figures. As a part of the tour you can purchase a bell tower pass. Pay the money for this option! The view from the top gives you a commanding vista of the entire town. Next door to the cathedral is the Armory and a museum dedicated to Pope John Paul II. Both are well worth the extra time. They have a number of interesting personal belongings of the Pope. You can see the entire castle compound in 2-3 hours.
Three Steps into Madness
Ok, we know, Krakow is not the first place that you think of when we say avant garde food. But…. You must give our fave haunt a try: “Trzy kroki w szaleństwo” or if you don’t speak Polish: “Three steps into Madness”. (http://trzykroki.pl) The whole premise of the restaurant is to offer everything on the menu with a different angle. The offer a selection of Soups, Salads and really creative entrees. It is no wonder that TripAdvisor named it the best restaurant in all of Krakow. Impressive.
The star of the show at Three Steps is of course the deserts. Listen to these descriptions off their menu:
-Mousse from Belgian dark chocolate flavored with orange, ginger, piri-piri and vanilla from Madagascar served with coco Rafaello and Red Bull jelly.
-Classic lemon tart served with basil sorbet.
-Vanilla and chocolate panna cotta with alcohol marinated cherries.
-And of course the feature, The “Three Steps into Madness” dessert. Soooooo good! It is a citrus and sorbet extravaganza. The great thing about this work of art is that everything is edible. Cool huh?
Hogwarts School (Jagiellonian University)
One of the most interesting places we visited was the Jagiellonian University. One of the oldest universities on the planet. It was started by Casimir III the Great in 1364. Some of the greatest minds of the middle ages came to this house of learning to study topic ranging from astronomy, mathematics, Latin and yes even potions! We couldn’t help but feel like we were taking a tour of Hogwarts! Even the ceiling is painted like the sky. One of the most famous pupils that attended here was none other than Nicolaus Copernicus. Tours are offered during the day and are highly recommended. The school is still in use today! What impressed us was the wonderful wood work and artifacts of former headmasters and students. The entire tour and visit to the gift shop should take you 2-3 hours.
One of the saddest chapters in Krakow history is the treatment of Jews during WWII. Oscar Schindler and his now famous factory was a small refuge from the death and destruction. The former factory has now been converted into a living museum to help interpret the holocaust. The museum is laid out well and uses multimedia stations to explain and convey what happened in Poland during the Nazi occupation. As you can imagine, this museum is extremely popular and is often full to capacity with visitors. It is best to time you visits in the late afternoon to avoid the crowds. Hard to give you a solid time on how long it will take to see the museum. You will need at very minimum 1 hour and you can easily spend 3 hours reading and seeing everything in the museum.
Isn’t Krakow wonderful? A few surprises? Ok so how are you going to get to there? For good options on getting there, check out our friends at GoEuro, a new website that compares and combines travel times and costs for auto, air, bus and trains. You are also able to search multiple carriers at the same time. Bon Voyage! See you in Poland!