On Fat Thursday in Krakow, you eat Pączki (filled doughnuts) as people run around with box loads of them. They are of heavy consistency, filled with sickly sweet-scented rose-flavoured jam. Some are better than others, and some of the jam is better than others, too! Of course, there’s more to Krakow than we tourists see. Some doughnuts were made with good in mind!
Is it Krakow or Cracow? Who knows, but once the capital, it is a compact city centre, with a beautiful Old Town ( its market square is called Rynek Glówny) containing a cloth hall, and St Mary’s Basilica. Indeed, this section is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The beautiful Square was laid out in 1257 in a remarkably easy to follow way. Nearby is domineering Wawel Castle, the seat of royalty though not overly pretty, and close to that is Kazimierz, the old Jewish Quarter, although it is divided into Jewish and Jewish/Christian, I think. While the market square area is beautifully clean (there are street cleaners every morning) despite the numerous pigeons, the Jewish area is scrawled with graffiti or street art depending on how you look at it. Most of the Jews, however, were forced by the Nazis into a ghetto across the Vistula where they were transported to concentration camps like Auschwitz. Kazimierz was once a prosperous area and still houses numerous synagogues.
Poland is a fiercely independent country, which in 1989 overthrew Communist rule with the help of Lech Walesa and Solidarity. There has been much suffering and yet people remain courteous and helpful. It has a softer side, too, noticeable in Krakow, where older people sweep the pavement outside their homes or shops/businesses with simple brushes, taking pride in the place. The Lovers’ Bridge connecting North and South Krakow linking to Podgórze (the former Jewish ghetto) has the usual padlocks; it is also known as Father Bernatek Footbridge (Kładka Ojca Bernatka) with its graceful acrobatic sculptures.
People warned me Krakow is a paradise for stag weekends, and we did notice some drinking and swearing (not by the Poles, I hasten to add) but nothing too awful. There are numerous bars and cafes to cater for all. Mostly, it is a relaxed, charming city, compact enough to see on foot, which feels relatively safe. The old town is also low on traffic which is a bonus. I’m in two minds about the horses pulling antique carriages for tourists. They looked well-groomed and healthy. I was not sure about the wooden or rubber blocks on their hooves which apparently shorten the tendons, but stop them slipping on cobbles. I guess there are many other horses in far worse conditions but they seem to work quite long hours for their oats.
Travel writer, Lizzie Porter, wrote in The Telegraph in 2017:
During the Second World War, the Nazis decided they rather liked Krakow, so made it their home in a country whose population they wished to exterminate. While the rest of Poland was bombed, the old city was preserved.
Compared to Warsaw, which suffered dreadful devastation to its buildings during the War, and still has areas reminiscent of the old Communist Bloc, Krakow has retained its original historic heart, a melting pot of history, styles and cultures. Back to today…
Fat Thursday or any other day, it’s worth trying the stuff of university students. No, not plum vodka, I’m thinking that dirty word, carbs! Obwarzanki is sold from street vendors on almost every corner. They are very cheap! We liked the cheese ones but they also offer plain and poppy-seeded varieties. The salty ones are an acquired taste! If I seem to be obsessed with food, you are not wrong. We had some surprisingly tasty meals in Poland (though I avoided the dumplings I’d previously tried in Warsaw).