Krakow has so much history and beauty I could stay a month and not see everything. Considered the cultural capital of Poland there is a vibrancy of a college town and the history of a thousand years. Jagiellonian University was the second university in Central Europe founded in 1364; today over 50,000 students are enrolled. Take away the modern cars and Hard Rock Cafe and I truly feel like I’m in a movie set from any World War II movie set in Europe.
We set out with a map of addresses associated with my friend Henry; I don’t remember all the addresses because we became distracted and entranced with Krakow. We happened on a free walking tour (guides work for tips) (freewalkingtour.com) that was incredibly informative and entertaining. Alicja was clearly university educated, understood American lingo and was very good at what she does.
All roads lead to the Main Market Square in Krakow, established in the 13th century and at the time was the biggest square in medieval Europe. Anchored on one side is St. Mary’s church – with two towers – technically one is a steeple and the taller one a city watch tower. Inside there is a stunning altar piece finished in 1489 – carved totally out of wood. I haven’t seen it yet as it is only open at certain times – but there was a film that showed it at the Rynek Underground museum.
The main market square was excavated from 2005-2010 as an extensive archaeological study and revealed a treasure trove of archaeological history for 800 years; the underground was then preserved, sealed under cement slabs, the market square replaced and the underground museum opened in 2010. Older than Underground Seattle and newer than Pompeii the Rynek underground museum is a fabulous and very intelligent mix of modern technology and old relics that gives a high-level historical overview of Krakow especially during the medieval period. I heard mostly Polish visitors, not English. There’s also a view of St. Mary’s that wasn’t available before 2010 – from underground. When they finished the museum they included a pyramid shaped skylight, surrounded by a fountain, through which you can see the towers of St. Mary’s. Look to the right of the picture of the Cloth Hall in the Square.
I think that if Poland hadn’t been behind the Iron Curtain for so many years more Americans would know of its beauty and visit. So far Krakow is a very easy city to visit if you speak English – museums are bilingual Polish and English; restaurant menus are in Polish and English and most everyone does speak a little English. While none of the guards at the underground museum spoke English, I was able to communicate where I had lost my camera – and a kindly guard retrieved it from a deep sandy pit where it fell out my coat pocket. You can dress me up – I still manage to lose something no matter where I go. I was extremely grateful to have learned the very important travel phrase – dziękuję bardzo (thank you very much!)