Kraków itself is one of the oldest cities in Europe, and indeed there is evidence of settlements from 20,000BC. While first record of it is from 966 by a merchant describing it as an important trade center, it has a much more interesting legend that it was built on the cave of a dragon slain by the mythical King Krak, ergo – ‘Kraków’.
My final day in Kraków and I had to do the free walking tour everyone was telling me about. There’s actually more than one – but I was keen to do the Royal Tour – focusing on the old town and the route Royals would take from outside, through the town and ending at the Wawel Castle. There also exists one of the Jewish quarter and a look at Schindler’s Factory. I had enough of 20th century history for a while, so found a guide under the trumpeter at 11am, with a group including Americans, Australians and a familiar face – Erica the Brazilian from my train trip from Berlin, and her friend from England – Lucia.
The tour takes you from the main market square, up and around to the ‘front’ of the town where the Barbakan is – the 15th century defensive tower – the biggest European defensive building of its kind. From here we followed through the Florian Gate, as royals who entered the town would – back through the square (timing it for the trumpeter’s call) past some more churches, as well as the famous-in-Kraków window where Pope John Paul II waved to the crowds (being the only Pope from Poland, he’s a favourite son of these parts) down to the Wavel, looking at the various parts of the castle buildings and chapels, before finally finding Kraków’s very own dragon – Smok Wawelski – or at least a sculpture of him, that breathes fire every five minutes – or when a text is sent to him(!).
The three of us then went for lunch, hunting out a restaurant called Kuchnia Staropolska u Babci Maliny – literally “Raspberry Grandma’s Kitchen in Old Polish” – recommended to us as ‘cheap and good’ – which we like to hear. Finally locating it after walking past it twice, we entered and immediately wondered if we were in the wrong place, as a white-gloved waiter in tails asked us if we’d like to be seated. He took us down a spiral staircase through an ornate restaurant, and seated us in a busy but spectacular dining room. With much trepidation we looked through the menu and were pleased to find that somehow there were actually items in our range. We ate a variety of Polish – from their version of beetroot soup – Barszcz (Borsch in Russia) to Polish style meat, mushrooms and potatoes, and some more pierogi – really fantastic food and good prices – highly recommend it. Looking at the menu again I’m surprised I didn’t go for the deer or wild boar, although I suppose it was just lunch.
After a great meal we said our farewells and I headed back to the hostel for the final time, doing some emails and chatting with other backpackers. That night there was to be a hostel birthday party and free alcohol was on offer, but I had a train to catch, so after an Aussie – Carrie and I grabbed some food at the nearby mall, I headed for my next overnight train – to Gdansk …
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