Monday December 4th – Day 5, Krakow
Monday was something of a challenge as many, many things in Krakow are closed on Mondays. Note to self for future reference: check carefully what days you plan on being in a city for a Winter break and adjust accordingly if every major sight will be closed. However, I had a cunning plan, which was to visit the Jewish quarter over in Kazimierz, what with their closing day being Saturday in the main. First however we slithered about in the snow to the main railway station over on Glowny where it took some time to find the left luggage lockers – we wanted to check their location in case we needed them for the following morning as we needed to check out of the apartment by 10:30 but our flight wasn’t until late evening. The recce complete, we headed back towards Rynek once again, this time walking through Plac Matejki to take a look at it in what was passing for daylight that morning.
Right slap bang in the middle of it is the massive Grunwald Monument, while the Academy of Fine Arts dominates one side, the square is named after the artist Jan Matejko, apparently while he was still alive, something of a rarity. The Battle of Grunwald took place in 1410 and the Poles defeated the Teutonic Knights one last time, having pretty much failed to follow on previous occasions. The Knights hung onto the castle of Marienburg itself, but many Prussian castles then surrendered to the Poles and Lithuanians. To make peace in 1411 the Order had to pay a substantial indemnity and in effect began their decline as a military power.
We headed further into town after that and stopped off at the main square again, stopping off for a warming drink at yet another of the “outdoor” cafes, and were again able to get a really good hot chocolate.
Warmed up again we took a stroll down Kanoniczna Street towards Wawel, the street itself justifiably regarded as one of the most picturesque in Krakow. The street dates from the early 1400s, and many of the buildings are original. It’s very lovely and it also has the advantage that for some reason it’s much quieter than some of the other parts of the town centre. Quite why tourists miss it, I don’t know. I’d recommend a detour down there myself.
We came out by the castle, and then made what would turn out to be an error of judgement. The Hop On, Hop Off tourist buses were operating and Kasimierz was a stop on the route. We figured we could see a few other locations from the bus, get off at Kazimierz, and then get the bus back. We’ve used the bus tour company before, in Berlin and in Helsinki, and they’ve been very good. They let us down rather spectacularly this time, but I’ll get to that. For now we got a whole new view of the castle.
Anyway, we got off in Kazimierz, checked with the driver when we could pick up the bus to come back, and wandered into the old Jewish quarter. I should say we’d considered a trip to Auschwitz, but had decided not to. We both felt we knew enough about what happened there for it not to be necessary (I did spend a large chunk of my History degree studying the Third Reich in detail), and that in fact the Jewish quarter might be just as important a piece of history, just in a quieter way.
Kazimierz dates back to 1335 when it was founded by King Kazimierz the Great, and the Jews moved over the river from Kazimierz en masse in 1495 when they were expelled from Krakow. In 1655 the place was sacked by the Swedes, and after a series of disasters including famine, floods and anti-Jewish, the population migrated to Warsaw.
In 1796 the Austrians took over Kraków,and then incorporated Kazimierz into the city. Austrian redevelopment led to cobbled streets, new lighting, and a general tidying up. The Austrians did insist that all of Kraków’s Jews should resettle in Kazimierz, and between the two world wars the Jewish population increased to around 60,000. Of course the Nazi occupation brought the systematic extermination of most of the population, no more than 5,000 of them surviving the Holocaust. This is reflected particularly in the Galicia Jewish Museum, which proved a most interesting and thought provoking visit. The permanent exhibition, Traces of Memory: A Contemporary Look at the Jewish Past in Poland, is a series of photos, mostly of places, where Jewish life once flourished in Galicia but is now conspicuously absent. It is a very moving exhibition, very disturbing, as it should be.
There was also a temporary exhibition, The Girl in the Diary. Searching for Rywka from the Łódź Ghetto, which was also well worth our time.
From the museum we walked round past some of the other now-restored building and on to the Remah (or Remuh) Synagogue. Built in 1553, apparently it was originally called the “New Synagogue” to distinguish it from the Old Synagogue. It’s very peaceful, very lovely inside, though my ignorance of Jewish religious spaces meant I wasn’t too sure what I was looking at.
The graveyard is also worth a visit, and there are many memorial plaques on the walls outside that provide much food for thought. It is almost beyond imagining what it must be like to have lost 88 members of your family, and all in the name of poisonous nationalism.
We walked through the various old streets until it was time to go and try and catch the bus. We walked back to the stop and waited… and waited… and waited… and waited. As the bus driver had said they were on a 40 minute cycle, after 50 minutes of almost freezing, and a precautionary chimney cake, we gave up and walked back to the main road, where we caught a tram back to Glowny.
Once at Glowny a restorative gluhwein was required before we could get as far as the apartment. It was snowing heavily again, and although the Christmas Market in front of the shopping centre looked very pretty, it was far to cold to linger.
A clean up and a change of clothing and we were back at the main square once more, this time in search of cocktails at one of the pavement bars. We ordered Aperol Spritzes in an attempt to convince ourselves that it wasn’t at all cold.
It didn’t work, so we ordered kirs instead to see if they worked any better!
From there we walked across to Szara, a family-run restaurant on the square, featuring a hand-painted Gothic ceiling, and a menu which mixes Polish, French and Swedish classics. I’d eaten here before and was keen to repeat the experience.
The meal started with bread and butter being brought to the table.
We ordered starters, in Lynne’s case the goat’s cheese, drizzled with honey and gooey and sticky in the mouth.
Despite the fact that it probably wasn’t seasonally appropriate in some ways, I ordered the delicious reindeer tartar. Very good it was too, finely chopped and well seasoned and served on the most dramatic plate.
Mains came next. For Lynne the guinea fowl, with root vegetables, and potato puree. It was a massive bird when alive judging by the portion on the plate!
Speaking of massive, I ordered the confit goose leg and it too was huge. It wasn’t a bird I would have argued with, that I do know. It was also lovely and tender, falling apart as I pushed the fork in.
Again, dessert proved an impossibility, so it was glass of krupnik and a slow stroll back down the street to the apartment having thoroughly enjoyed our last night in the city.