Being as my Partner Dominik is originally from Poland, it never seemed right that I wasn’t able to list Poland as being a place I had visited, and still less the beautiful city of Kraków which is located in the central South of the country. So in an attempt to rectify this failing, and in order to see out the summer with a bang, Dominik and I recently seized on the opportunity a long weekend presented, and flew out to Kraków.
The moment we walked out of Kraków’s gleaming station-come-shopping centre straight into the heart of the city, it felt like opening a jewellery box full of glinting treasures. The skyline was literally sparkling with a plethora of cupolas and domes – elaborately shaped bell towers and church roofs; turquoise coppers and elegant iron, adorned with dazzling gold details – while underneath, the streets which shape this largest of Europe’s unspoilt old towns were awash with exquisite palaces and townhouses, from baroque to art nouveau, often with an exotic twist of Eastern European decadence.
Having walked through the Florian Gate – the old entrance to the city once framed within Kraków’s ancient fortress walls, and strolled along the bustling Florianska street, the breathtaking expanse of the Rynek Główny, Kraków’s vast central square, opened up before us – the stunning Mariacka Basilica reaching up to the sky crowned with twin towers adorned with the most spectacularly ornate spires; while standing across the square, the equally elaborate Cloth Hall – a long arcade of shops and cafes spilling out onto a terrace decorated with more classical statues, urns and gold-trimmed columns.
Not only was I spellbound by this utterly unspoilt, brilliantly bustling open space, with its many cafes, fountains, statues and markets, I was then equally overcome to learn that the hotel which we would make our home for the weekend benefited from a panoramic view of the entire square from each of its individually designed bedrooms. The rooms at the Wentzl Hotel gave new meaning to the adage “a room with a view”, and once i took a first glimpse out of our window onto the majestic Rynek Główny, I felt as though I could have stayed there the entire trip.
The Rynek Główny
…and our room with a view
But drag myself away I did, for many other tempting pleasures lay in wait in this charming old town which felt as though it had been suspended in time. Back down in the square, the first requisite activity was to enjoy a glass of child wine on the front line of a café terrace, so that through the great pleasure of people watching, it became possible to take in more and more of the incredible details of the square, while listening to the clip-clop of the smartly adorned horses and carts, with their head-dresses of ostentatious feathers, and old fashioned carriages similarly lavishly provided. From there, a stroll through the markets all around the square brought us face to face with some of the specialities of traditional Poland – Oscypek cheese – strong and salty like greek Halloumi, made in the nearby Tatra mountains; the sweet smokey miasma of a suckling pig cooking on a spit; small red chickens carved out of wood, and religious iconography aplenty (for as was soon to become obvious, Kraków is a very Catholic town, a spirituality significantly augmented by the fact that the former Pope John Paul II was bishop and then archbishop of Kraków before his ascendency to the papacy).
The Church of Saints Peter and Paul
In this vein, we wondered around the old town, taking in more churches (check out the stunning Italianate baroque masterpiece of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, above), more spires and more characterful cobbled streets, before eventually winding down to the Vistula river, from where, in the dying sunshine of the afternoon, we had a picture-perfect view of the Wawek Hill – the centrepiece of Kraków’s historic core, where the old palace of Poland’s kings (Kraków used to be the capital of Poland before the monarchy and government relocated to Warsaw for want of a more central location) and the equally stupendous beauty of the gold-domed copper-topped Wawel Cathedral stand so majestically, poised high over the city for everyone to see.
The Wawel Hill
But we couldn’t stay away from our room with a view for long, and back by the window, gazing over the Rynek Główny I continued to be mesmerised by the beauty of this city – a little box of jewels, ripe to be discovered over the following weekend, a place glinting still in the fading light, as the sunshine sunk away and the floodlights and cafe candles brought even more of a sparkle to this undeniably stunning city.
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