The most famous Polish church..
This is St. Mary's Church.
I HIGHLY recommend you seeing it no matter what religion you are.
The stained glass windows, ceiling and blue walls, and altars are spectacular! This is a view from the outside of the church with the horse and buggy and street cleaner.
Please see my "Must see activities" for pictures inside the church.
The City of the Dragon
There is a legend about a fierce dragon that terrorized the city when King Krak and his daughter Wanda were ruling over the city. This dragon lived in a cave underneath Wawel hill. To appease him the citizens of Krakow offered him sheep, but that was not enough: once a year the dragon demanded a young girl for his meal! When finally no girls were left except Princess Wanda, King Krak asked all the brave knights of his kingdom to defeat the dragon, but they were not successful. Only the apprentice Dratewka found a way to defeat the dragon and he married the princess and they lived happily ever after.....
You will find the symbol of the dragon in many places in Krakow - and also lots of cute green plush dragons to take home as a souvenir, so now you know why!
For those who understand German, here is the fairytale of Der Drache von Wawel.
PUBLIC TOILETS - WC
When you gotta go - you gotta go! And thank goodness for the PUBLIC TOILETS - WC. You will see WC scattered here and there in Krakow. For men, look for the symbol of a Triangle. For the Ladies, look for the symbol of a Circle.
On our way back from walking to the Jewish Quarter, Hansi had to go. He went to the WC where a maintenance lady pointed him to the TRIANGLE and then held out her hand for payment.
.50 zl for # 1 and 1 zl for #2 (probably to cover the cost of toilet paper) hehe!
Striped in red and white and history
Traditional Krakow's pants are striped in very, very thin red and white stripes. These are Polish national colours. No wonder, Krakow seems to be the most Polish of all Polish cities (with Warsaw and... a surprize - Lviv before WWII - in Ukraine now.
Visiting Krakow and Central Europe you should remember that borders between countries (Poland, Germany, Czech, Slovakia, Lithuania, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine) changed many, many times in the past.
Just one my historical thought/observation:
Before World War II (1939-1945) borders changed but natives usually didn't change their locations. They were too poor and they often weren't forced to do it by new authorities.
WWII and the periode after was quite different - borders of Poland moved approx. 150-200 km westwards: millions of people were forced by Nazis and then by Soviets and Polish communist authorities to move: Germans from new Poland to new Germany, Poles from eastern Poland = former Soviet Union to western (new) Poland etc. etc.
On the other hand many of them (Poles living in estaern Poland = new Soviet Union after WWII) wanted to come back to his homecountry Poland but they were not allowed and they and their families still live in Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine now. And there were many Polish people who were arrested by new, strange to our long democratic tradition, communist authorities in Poland and moved to deep Russia (Siberia) to Kazahstan for example AFTER WWII.
Many Poles are still surprized that so called "democratic" governments in Western Europe were so much afraid of Soviet Union after WWII that they didn't do anything about these crimes of communist regimes. Hmm... history teaches that only strong, very strong resistanse against crimes commited by other countries can change things and finally make people's life better here and there. Closing eyes for a crime is a crime as well - am I wrong?
Some 'daytrips' are too far!
There is so much to do in the area of Krakow! But some so-called 'daytrips' are far away and if you have only a few days in Krakow, I don't recommend them.
Here is my list:
Zakopane, a fantastic place to visit, really hopping with activity. If you are interested in hiking, you can take the big cable car - you MUST book at least one day in advance, but to get the time you want book a few days in advance thru any Orbis agent in Poland. The ridge hike up at the top is fantastic. Definitely eat before you go, though, as the restaurant at the top is a total zoo and unfortunate waste of valuable time. For the most amazing views, take the funicular (ask when you are in Zakopane), but instead of taking the funicular down, hike left or carriage ride across the ridge and take the far ski lift down. Spectacular! Unfortunately, there is too much to do for a daytrip from Krakow. Plus the one road into Zakopane from Krakow can get choked with traffic. Really, this is a trip in its own, not a side trip.
Dunajec River Gorge:
Also, too long from Krakow. A peaceful, beautiful, and fun experience, but the first 45 minutes of your raft trip - a total of 2hrs and 10 mins., is before you get to the gorge. This is actually a better trip starting in Slovakia. Plus it's almost a crime not to visit the nearby castles on the Czorstyn Reservoir, take the boat trip between the castles, or visit the incredibly humble but spiritually moving church at Debno, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with polychromatic decorations from the 15th century. Again, this is a superb destination, not a side trip.
Wieliczka Salt Mine:
A profoundly inspiring, fun, and thrilling descent into the earth, close to Krakow. A MUST VISIT. The visual images of the centuries-old timbering, the dramatic staricases, the interesting history of salt mining: one of the finest if not THE finest underground experience in a lifetime of travel. By all means take a day off from Krakow to visit this.