08/10/2016 - 08/12/2016
It was still raining when we arrived in Kraków. Our Airbnb was a cozy place on Dietla, a wide boulevard that coursed directly between the two old neighborhoods of Stare Miasto and Kazimierz. After dropping our bags, we hurriedly consulted TripAdvisor and soon found ourselves hunting for parking in the central square of Kazimierz, the old Jewish Quarter. We wedged ourselves in eventually but our targeted restaurant was booked up. We made a reservation for the next night and discovered an outdoor grill in the square. We consulted the friendly proprietor about where we should eat and he directed us to the restaurant immediately behind him with which he was affiliated. We got to enjoy a restaurant dinner as well as meat hot off the outdoor grill.
Thursday morning we made a beeline for the largest market in Kraków, Plac Imbramowski. This warehouse-like produce market is far from the touristic center and is a very local scene. Vendors were exceptionally friendly, which we found to be typical of the Krakovians in general. Some of the highlights were a coffee shop operating out of the back of a Smart Car, complete heads of sunflower seeds, and enormous bags of puffed corn. We had a typical Polish lunch at a cafeteria-style restaurant adjacent to the market before heading back to the center to explore the old neighborhoods.
Wawel Castle is the defining landmark of Kraków, nestled between a sharp bend of the River Vistula and Stare Miasto old town. We took the winding path up Wawel Hill to the Castle but as usual decided against any of the guided tours. The exteriors of the castle and the cathedral within gave us plenty to marvel at.
Stare Miasto is definitely the place to hang out for tourists in Kraków. There were so many people there, I found myself wondering where they came from and what kind of trips they were on. Kraków is hundreds of miles from the well-known tourist cities of Berlin, Prague, Vienna, and Budapest. Were people flying here from other countries just to visit Kraków, or were they mostly coming by train? I doubted there were many people on long road trips like us. I also didn't think there were many Americans there, because Kraków is largely unknown to us compared to the cities I mentioned before. I was very glad I'd made the decision to extend the road trip all the way here because the city was truly unique and beautiful, even though I'd heard so little about it before. The old town was immaculately clean despite the presence of horse-drawn carriages everywhere. At the heart of the old town are the open plaza Rynek Główny and the 14th century St. Mary's Basilica. The plaza was filled with vendors selling grilled meat, pierogis, and souvenirs.
We had some time before dinner so we walked over to Kazimierz, which had a more Bohemian, lived-in feel than Stare Miasto. The remnants of the daily market at Plac Nowy were making their last sales.
Dinner in the popular restaurant in Kazimierz where we had reserved a table ended up being nothing special, but it's always good to try a new country's local lager.
Friday we decided to visit as many markets as we could in central Krakow before leaving for Czech. First up was Hala Targowa, a gritty outdoor market just east of the old town with good produce and a tiny little restaurant in the back.
On the way back through the old town we encountered the annual pierogi festival where every conceivable variety of the little bland dumpling was being made and sold. At one booth Mei Ling and the kids got a pierogi cooking lesson. It was fun, but I think I'll stick with dim sum.
The last two markets were Nowy Kleparz and Stary Kleparz, slightly north of the old town. These were both good-sized markets and each had their individual character and specialties. I can't remember if we've ever been able to walk to three separate farmer's markets in one city before. We could have made it four if we had decided to go to Plac Nowy in Kazimierz as well, but we had already been there at the end of the previous day. None of the individual markets was quite as much fun as Trhovisko Miletičova in Bratislava, but with all the venues together we concluded that Kraków was one of the better market cities we had visited.
We spent another hour or so in Kraków having lunch and checking out the interesting strip of park called Planty that surrounds the old town. After a two-day stay that passed far too quickly, it was time to move on to the Czech Republic, the last country of our road trip.