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The Planty highlights

October 29th, 2007

Krakow planty_5Whatever the season, weather, or time of day, The Planty reveals its beauty. At night, its paths lamp lighted that give it an ethereal glow. (Unlike many parks, The Planty is perfectly safe for a late-night stroll—there are few spots hidden from the ring streets or cross-avenues, and I’ve seen police foot patrols keeping watch.) Winter strips the leaves from the shrubs and trees, leaving skeletal outlines to match the seasonal cold; and when the park is draped in a fresh snow, pull out your camera for some black & white pics that will rival what you find in the art galleries around town.

Food and Drinks in The Planty
To beat the heat of Old Town Square and find a shady, cool spot for lunch, step into one of many small cafés along The Planty’s leafy avenues. Most have outdoor seating so you can stay in the fresh air and watch the active park move past. Hot pierogi and cold beer will get your ready at lunchtime. In late afternoon in summer, an ice cream can be a cool relief to everything touristy; in winter, hot chocolate, tea or spiced wine will warm your belly and numb bones.

Drinks & fast food kiosks roll their way onto Planty cross-roads early in the morning to nourish office-bound Cracowites. They have fresh fruits and ready-made fruit cups, too, for the health conscious. I’ve seen a few blenders behind the counter to make smoothies, so if you’re in the mood, be on the lookout.

Krakow planty_11 Outside The Planty
Krakow is an inexpensive city to visit and even live in. I’m thinking of making it my summer base because Krakow’s people are fabulously nice, and the town has some of the best restaurants in Central Europe. Besides these incentives, apartment hunting is relatively simple with online guides and real estate letting agents around town. Also, Krakow has an English-language second-hand bookstore, Massolit Books, a few blocks off the Planty where you can have a coffee, hang out on a comfortable couch, catch up with a newspaper or magazine, get a restaurant recommendation, and find a good book to take with you on your train to Kiev (13 hours), Warsaw (5 hours), Berlin (10 hours), or Prague (8 hours by overnight coach).

Churches, museums, mummy crypts; art galleries, theaters, shopping malls: Krakow has them all. St. Peter and Paul’s Cathedral, at the southeast end of the Planty, is the oldest Baroque building in the city, and has statues of the 12 apostles adorning its front gate. The Dominican Church, also just off the Planty, dates from the middle 1200s, and has a great collection of Baroque and Renaissance art. Krakow planty_12You’re always only a few blocks away from Old Town Square, with its Market Square Hall that once was a trading hall and today sells all the tourist junk one can imagine. St. Mary Basilica is across the square; its stained glass is a marvel, and you can climb the steep, narrow steps up to the bell tower for a view of Krakow unmatched even from Wawel Castle, just south of Planty’s southern entrance.

The Czartorski Museum, a block off the Planty on the north, has a great collection of Polish artifacts, and has in its collection Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine” and Rembrandt’s “Landscape with Good Samaritan.”

Finally, for the weird—but perhaps spiritual—side of church hopping, visit the mummy crypt beneath the Franciscan Monastery (at the northwest arc of the Planty). More than 1,000 friars and laymen were put to rest in the crypts, often simply laid on the floor, their legs covered with sand and a wooden block beneath their head. The climate inside the crypt allowed the bodies to mummify without added chemicals or wrappings, as those mummies we most famously know from Egypt. People are surprised (as was I) how little the human features change over centuries given the perfect preservation climate. A bit creepy, but hey….

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