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Krakow, Poland

krakow old town square_1

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Krakow parks index:
The Planty

The coffee shop three blocks off Krakow’s Old Town Square buzzed with the hot tip that its newspaper supplier would drop off The London Times and The New York Times within a half hour. I hadn’t read about the happenstances in the outside world for nearly 13 days, so I wrote my name on a piece of napkin for the big drawing among we nine participants in the (so I was told) weekly “first dibs” pick for one of the papers. Winners got 10 minutes with the smudgy newsprint. I had definitely slumped into some kind of Expat Geek World, but I didn’t want to kill the caffein rush suddenly surged through the smokey room by sounding all aloof with an “I’ll pass” gesture.

In fact I was already thinking about those types of news articles I could quickly skip if I were to win those first 10 minutes: murder, politics, Overweight Western Society, and the stock market. Suddenly this scene seemed terribly ironic, though. Of the nine people who sat around these three café tables—hugger mugger style—I was the one American, with two Brits, and six English-speaking Poles.

krakow planty_7“We want to know what’s happening just like everyone else in the world,” Peter told me later that afternoon. “That’s why we visit the English bookstore every week. Too many years we lived under a closed system. You Americans can’t imagine what it’s like not to have choice.”

Peter’s words echoed what I’d been hearing since 1990, when I first began to travel throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Now that the continent seems one big town divided into hip neighborhoods (I grew up in Chicago….USA’s version of European nations separated only by street names), I was thrilled to get a world-view separate from United Statesian news. So what the hell was I doing dipping for news apples in a Krakow coffee shop?

Krakow is last decade’s Prague, the newest 1920s Paris, even Rome before Caesar cashed in his IPO for dictatorial progress. That is, Krakow has the best of young arts, hipness, new restaurants, and a phat clubbing scene this side of the dismantled Iron Curtain. For example, Art Club Cieplarnia established itself in 1960 and today uses its “STU” theater to launch ideas onto the stage from its very cool old-time cottage and walled gardens (live jazz concerts spring up weekly); hit Kitcsch after hours and you’ll see sweat flying from young bodies made for dancing till dawn; CK Browar serves up beer straight from its brass vats in an underground scene that serves up foods like traditional Polish borsch, lard sandwiches, and Lord of Venison in fungus sauce; the Museum of Krakow had this fabulous Masters Etchings exhibit that had just begun when I walked into town. I was able to see Van Gogh & Rembrandt pieces that three weeks before had hung on museum walls in Amsterdam; and vegetarians & vegans have not one, but TWO restaurant choices—the venerable Greenway and MOMO. Hemingway ate dust compared to the young arts & literati talents of today. Live the dream: visit Krakow for a week or live there for a year.

krakow old town_9Krakow Museums and Sites
Steps outside The Planty, Krakow’s ring park circling its Old Town, you find the legend of a dragons’ lairs that has put many a child to sleep with terror in his and her mind. Hmm, sweet thoughts. But have you ever visited a real dragon’s lair? At the top of Wawel Hill (outside the castle), you enter Dragon’s Lair by descending a spiral staircase into a dark, murky dungeon. If you put your imagination into this visit just a little bit, you can scare the hell out of (or into) your kids. Fun for all! Open daily.

Poland is a Catholic country, and Warsaw is filled with that iconic religious structure, The Church. Some of these are simply magnificent:

The Dominican Church is a Gothic building from the 13th century. Inside you’ll find rich decorations and furnishings. Renaissance and Baroque art cover the walls. Ul. Stolarska 12.

Poles consider the Church of St. Anne to be the most beautiful in the country. It’s Baroque facade speaks volumes in terms of Christian grandeur. Its murals and decorations excite the penitent mind. SW. Anny (just off the Planty).

St. Mary’s Basillica, on the Market Square, has the most extraordinary stained glass windows. Climb the bell tower—all 240 steps—to get a grand view of Krakow.

I’m going to be cheeky and throw in The Old Synagogue for pure historic reasons. Reconstruction following WWII has helped retain its 14th century architecture. It houses many art pieces and Jewish cultural artifacts. Ul. Szeroka 24.

(read more about Krakow, Poland’s highlights here

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