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One thing I found quite strange about Krakow. You are walking around in the Old Town and you see a LOT of places displaying the typical tourist information sign. At first I thought to myself that Krakow really is spending a truckload of money on supplying tourist information.
Well not so fast!
Most of the signs I saw downtown were actually businesses selling tours or activities. Would they provide you information..how to get to this or that place...absolutely! Without exception these tourist points were friendly, and helpful
I f you already know more or less what you want to do anyway, it doesn't really matter much that these information points weren't official. The official information points I saw were at the airport, the Cloth Hall and the Castle.
Updated May 20, 2013
The Gallery of Polish Arms and Uniforms with a 1200 m² display area on the ground floor has been renovated in 2009. Over 1600 objects show Polish military history from the 10th c. to WW II.
The memorabilia show works of great craftsmanship such as a horse tack ornamented with precious stones, ensigns and relics of famous Polish military leaders (photo 1) .
Surprising is unique collections of Polish sabres, arms and armour of Polish Winged Hussars (Photo 2) . This was a discovery for me .
Polish lances were long (about 5 m) and were hollowed. The hussars had also a sabre and pistols. The hussars' primary battle tactic was the charge, slow at first, then closing ranks and charging through the enemy at the highest pace .
The typical Polish lancers cap called chap(s)ka (czapka) (photo 3), is a peaked cap with a square-shaped crown. Napoleon had a regiment of Polish lancers wearing the chapska in his imperial guard .
All this is illustrated with video displays and multimedia presentations.
Indications in Polish and English. Photos allowed (no flash).
Updated May 20, 2013
Address: Muzeum Narodowe W Krakowie, Al. 3 Maja, 1, 30-062
The main building of this national museum is located at the corner of the western ring lane Al. Krasinskiego and al. 3 Maja .
The museum is located in a modern building and has 3 permanent departments :
1° The Gallery of Polish Arms and Uniforms which was the object of my visit. It is the second largest collection of historic arms and military memorabilia after the Army museum in Warsaw .
2° The Gallery of Decorative Art. It is the largest permanent exhibition of its kind in Poland. It is a chronological presentation of the wealth of Polish and West European decorative art from the Middle Ages to the Art Nouveau period. For me it was the most interesting part of the museum .
3° The 20th Century Polish Art Gallery is with about 400 works the largest display of contemporary art in Poland and occupies the largest part of the museum.
I spent only a short time in this part as I had not much time left and my interest for this type of art has faded. I don't know if it is due to the evolution of the contemporary art itself or me, with age, getting more critical about art matters .
I will come back with some details on the two first departments.
Open: Tuesday-Saturday 10 - 18 h. Sunday 10 - 16 h. Closed on Monday.
Price: 10 PLN, reduced 5 PLN. One ticket for the 3 galleries. Free on Sunday.
Photos allowed (no flash).
Updated May 20, 2013
Address: Al. 3 Maja, 1, 30-062 Krakow.
The Polish winged hussars were present at the battle of Normandy WWII.
After the German invasion of Poland in 1939 a number of Poles joined the allied forces in the UK. The Polish 1st Armoured Division (Polish 1 Dywizja Pancerna) was, created in February 1942 in Scotland and commanded by General Stanislaw Maczek. Its badge showed a winged hussar (photo 1).
The Polish division, numbering approximately 16.000 soldiers, arrived in August 1944 in Normandy attached to the First Canadian Army and became famous during the very hard fighting against SS divisions at the Battle of Falaise where Maczek's division had the crucial role of closing the Falaise pocket.
After the Battle of Normandy the Polish 1st Armored Division pushed to the North to liberate Ypres (6/09/1944) and Gent in Belgium. This was done by the 3rd Polish Infantry Brigade (3 Brygada Strzelców). Belgium honored the Poles who liberated large part of Flanders by giving the 9th Rifle Battalion along with the title "Rifle Flanders" shoulder cords called "Fourragere" in the colors of the Belgian War Cross (9 Battalion Strzelców Flandryjskich).
My photo 3 shows the memorial in Ypres, Belgium (ref. my reviews on Ieper/Ypres).
After this the Polish division liberated Breda, Brabant, Netherlands on 30/10/1944
The 8th Rifle Battalion was honored by the Dutch and called Battalion Rifle Brabant
There is a General Maczek Museum in Breda and a Polish military cemetery (photo 2). The tombstones show the winged hussars badge.
I discovered that these two battalions still exist in the Polish army with their names Flanders (photo 4, banner of this battalion) and Brabant in the 34 Armored Cavalry Brigade.
At the end of WWII the Poles who fought in the West were stripped of their nationality by the communist power. The majority chose exile in several Western countries. Many have experienced a difficult rehabilitation, like that of General Stanislaw Maczek, set to retire prematurely.
I'm well aware that this review is not just about tourism but I think that the dramatic years of WW II for Poland, France, Belgium and Holland can be remembered here with the story of the Polish 1st Armored Division.
Updated May 20, 2013
At the feet of the Wawel castle on the southern side stands St. Bernard's church. Last year I could not make a detailed visit of the splendid church interior because a mass was going on and there are many masses here every day. This time I had chosen the right time to visit the St. Bernard's church.
A previous Gothic church from the 15th c. was destroyed under the Swedish invasion in 1655. The early Baroque style church we see now was finished in 1680. It is a three-nave basilica with a transept and dome, with two-towered facade. The outside is sober, painted in white but inside, as usual in Krakow, the decors are abundant.
It's all gild on the main altar and the four side altars (photo 1). The gilded cable columns are an excellent example of late Baroque woodwork.
Renovation works were going on (2011) at the sides of the choir (photo 2).
What I prefer in this Baroque church is the altar of the lateral chapel showing a beautiful late-Gothic statue of St. Anne, the Virgin and Child, made in the workshop of Veit Stoss (ref. high altar of St. Mary's basilica) in the late fifteenth century (photo 3). I reckon my preference goes to Gothic religious sculptures versus Baroque art; the contrast between the wooden sculpture and the baroque decor is striking.
No visit during masses: week 6, 7, 8, 9 & 18.30 h; Sundays 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 16 & 18.30 h.
Updated May 20, 2013
Address: ul. Bernardynska 2
Ulica Kanonicza is my favoured street in Krakow Stare Miasto.
Quiet street, no souvenirs shops, no travel offices, kebab, ice-cream, or burger shops like in Florianska street.. Just dignified houses often palatial residences who belonged to canons or bishops since the 14th c.
The Gothic houses where severely damaged by fire so that what we see now are from the 16th c. in Renaissance style. There are beautiful courtyards and portals.
Kanonicza street means street of the "kanoniks" (in Polish) which are dignitaries of the Church "canonicus" in Latin, "canons" in English (not to confuse with canon law professors).
The building at No. 1 is a palace built between 1531-1532 by Canon Samuel Maciejowski (later bishop). But nowadays the street is famous because the future pope John Paul II lived at nr 19-21 where there is now an Archdiocesan Museum.
Halfway through the street opens a square that offers a view on the great Baroque Saint Peter and Paul's Church and the Romanesque Church of Saint Andrew's (ref. my tips).
My favoured view is that on the Wawel castle when approaching the hotel Copernicus.
Updated May 20, 2013
When I visited Krakow in 2006 the museum in Schindler's Emalia factory had not yet opened, although it was planned. When I visited in 2010 I missed the opening by just a few weeks. So I was very pleased indeed to be able to visit on my 2013 trip.
If you are expecting a museum devoted entirely to Schindler and his work, you will be disappointed. The museum focus is Krakow during the Occupation (1939-1945): Schindler forms only a small part of what is on offer, although a small 'cinema' shows a video including people who worked in the factory telling of their experiences (English subtitles). That part is absolutely essential, imo.
The museum is set out as a series of interlinked, and quite small, rooms. Most are stuffed with artefacts, information and photos. On a freezing March morning the 'enclosed' feeling of the labyrinthine series of rooms (on several different floors) was bearable, and the museum not too busy, but I think it will be a very different experience in hot weather and with throngs of visitors....and perhaps not a very pleasant one.
I found the content of the museum fascinating but there is a huge amount of reading (English translations generally provided) and looking to be done in order to make sense of some of the exhibits. For those with little or no knowledge of the period this could be quite a challenge.
I do wonder whether those who created this museum...which has so many fascinating historical artefacts and information.... realised quite how important, and how popular it would be? I'm sure, in high season and especially in hot weather, it will be crowded and really rather uncomfortable...perhaps they will limit entrance numbers?...and they have only provided one toilet for each gender. It is the first time I have seen men queueing for the toilet.
There's a cloakroom where you can leave coats and bags, and a tiny cafe too ( I doubt it seats more than 10 people).
But, despite all this, I am so glad I visited. This museum is entirely unmissable and, like Kazimierz, is an absolutely essential part of any visit to Krakow.
You'll need to visit Plac Boterow Getta as well, once the centre of Krakow's Jewish ghetto and the spot from which the transports left. The metal chairs of varying heights scattered around the square were placed in 2005 and are a memorial to those thousands who died.
The 'Apteka Pod Orlem' was the pharmacy for the ghetto, run by the only Gentiles allowed to live in the ghetto. It is now a museum but was not open when I visited (although it should have been). Opening hours on the website here.
Written Mar 30, 2013
Address: Ulica Lipowa 4, Podgorze
Phone: +48 12 2571017
You can't miss this little cuboid church in the SE corner of Rynek Glowny.
It's one of the oldest churches in the city, dating back to the 11th century (1000s), although there was a wooden church on the site even before that.
St Adalbert, a missionary priest, came from Prague and it is said that in 997 he consecrated that first wooden church. He was also martyred in 997, somewhere on the Baltic coastline of what is now Poland or Russia.
The stone church was built long before the existing market square was first laid out (in 1257). Its interior even then was below the marketplace surface but more changes over the centuries resulted in the marketplace being more than 2m above the church floor. So, in the 1600s, the church was also raised and a new entrance was created. The dome was added at the same time.
But, despite these changes, one still has to walk down into the church's...remarkably small..interior. You can see the original walls of the first stone church to the side, where they have been excavated and left on view.
Although the building is very old indeed there is little evidence of its age in the interior. There's an elaborate altarpiece, a rather lovely...but quite tiny.....wooden spiral staircase which leads to a small wooden gallery and the interior of the Baroque dome is beautifully painted.
The church is still used as a place of worship, of course, and there are also regular (free, as far as I know) concerts held in the evenings. Audiences must be rather limited: I doubt you could fit in more than 30 or so people!
Written Mar 30, 2013
Address: Rynek Glowny
I wrote this tip after my first visit in 2006 and I'd say exactly the same today.
Central historical Krakow is very walkable indeed and one sees so much more like this (although rickshaws, buggies and carriage rides abound). It's flattish, the pavements (sidewalks) are in reasonable condition despite the harsh Polish winters, everything is fairly close together, it feels very safe indeed (including after dark and including for a solo middle-aged female), the traffic in the non-pedestrianised parts is remarkably light for a city, snow and ice are quickly cleared away or sanded (as I discovered on my most recent March visit)............and you can easily (and cheaply) get a bus or tram back to base.
Even with no Polish it's easy to find your way around. The old city is laid out on a grid, which helps massively, and is encircled by the Planty gardens. When you reach the Planty, you know you are on your way into or out of the historical centre! The Tourist Office has free street plans and the street names are clearly signposted.
There are plenty of information boards dotted about too, with English translations, so there is really no excuse for not taking time out to wander, look, watch and absorb........and always make sure that you look up! :-)
Updated Mar 29, 2013
Set on Wawel Hill, along with Wawel Castle, the cathedral dates from the 11th century (although there is archaeological evidence for settlement on the hill as far back as the Paleolithic). Poland's most important church, and where the late Pope John Paul ll began his religious career, it contains 18 chapels as well as a crypt containing the coffins of many royal personages.
The cathedral itself is largely a mixture of Gothic, Renaissance and baroque styles, with many gilded and twiddly bits throughout. Many people climb up the tower to see Dzwon Zygmunta (Sigismund's bell). which is huge and was cast in 1520 (touching its clapper with our left hand will bring good luck, apparently). I didn't bother, but I did particularly like the chapel on the right as you enter; very beautifully painted. Unfortunately, it is not accessible to those who do not pay for their ticket: entrance to the cathedral is free but you pay for the crypt and the bell tower.
I also liked the altar dedicated to St Jadwiga, who was a particularly pious and caring Hungarian ruler of Poland (she left Hungary when she was 14, in 1384). Her (ceremonial now rusted and out-of-shape) orb and ceremonial sword are also displayed.
There are some rather lovely ..albeit modern..stained-glass windows near the enormous balduchin in the centre of the cathedral. It's worth looking out (and up!) for those.
I've always enjoyed the external view of the different chapels on the southern side of the cathedral. Such a mixture of architectural styles, frills and fanciies!
I must admit that on my first visit (in August) the number of tour groups made me whizz round rather more quickly than I would otherwise have done; the place was so very crowded. Out of season, early on a freezing March morning, the cathedral was much emptier and I saw much more.
But even if you do visit at the height of the high season the cathedral is worthwhile. To avoid the worst of the crowds, try to get there early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
Updated Mar 29, 2013
Address: Wawel Cathedral, Wawel Hill
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