Sunday, 11 May 2008

Krakow - what the crack, au?

Okay, sorry, that's the worst Irish-Polish-Maori pun ever. Even in my long and inglorious history of awful puns, that would be hard to beat.

Krakow, our favourite Eastern European city, deserves better. It's a lovely city, with a classy, compact Old Town graced by Europe's biggest medieval square and ringed with parks. Prague and Budapest have many charms, but for atmosphere, Krakow has them beat.

Florian's Gate

Polish paradise - beer, the flag and a Catholic church. All that's missing is a meal involving mountains of potato and meat.

The castle and the banks of the Vistula River, a great spot for sunbathing

And they even have a dragon!

Of course, a large part of what makes Krakow such a superb destination is the day trips you can take out of the city. There's Auschwitz, of course, and also the Wieliczka salt mine, which used to provide 70% of Poland's wealth. Even before the invention of the potato chip. Apparently life got a bit dull chipping away in the darkness, so the miners spent their spare time carving statues and churches. The Polish tourist board will be eternally grateful that they did.

The Chapel of the Blessed Kinga, which even has a version of Michaelangelo's The Last Supper

Krakow also blows away the stereotype I had of Poland as a rather ugly place clawing its way out of communist bleakdom. The countryside looked prosperous and pretty, and across the road from our hostel the best shopping mall we've discovered in Europe. And our hostel, Greg-Tom, was the best we've ever stayed in. Really friendly staff, flat screen tvs and a huge selection of DVDs, tasty breakfast and supper, free broadband internet - and even Playstation 3. We could have just stayed there and been glad we came.

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