Here There Be A Dragon

Once done with Hungary, we moved north to Krakow, Poland. We’d heard that Krakow was one of the best budget destinations for Europe, and we’re happy to report that our information was correct. Krakow was a charming place that combined big city convenience with small town atmosphere and compactness. Best of all, it was cheap!

006047The old town, which is found in the middle of Krakow and is bounded by the city’s original imprint, is where we spent most of our time. Both of the pictures above were taken inside the old city— in fact, the guard tower at the end of the street in the second picture is one of many which used to mark the city’s perimeter. At the center of the old town is the main square, one of the largest public squares in Europe, and at the center of that is Cloth Hall, one of Krakow’s iconic buildings.

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Originally a trading post for— and I’m going out on a limb here— cloth, Cloth Hall remains a trading post to this day, but of a somewhat different nature: it is now a one-stop shop for any and all souvenirs you could possibly want to buy, and many that you wouldn’t.

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So, if you’re in Krakow and are looking for souvenirs, make sure not to go to Cloth Hall. The convenience and central location come at a price— usually about 50% more than you’d pay in Krakow’s many other souvenir shops.

Just across the way from Cloth Hall, we found St. Mary’s Basilica, another one of Krakow’s famous buildings:

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The Basilica is famous not just for its architecture, but for the bugler that plays out of its windows throughout the day. Yes, there is a person whose job it is to play a trumpet atop St. Mary’s Basilica every fifteen minutes of each day— once an hour in each different compass direction. The melody the trumpeter plays is cut short halfway through; according to legend, this is in honor of one of Krakow’s previous trumpeters, who was shot in the neck while trying to warn the city of an imminent Mongol invasion. It’s not true, of course, but still fun.

At the edge of the old town is another of Krakow’s well-known sights, the Wawel dragon.

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This awesome statue was inspired by an old Polish legend about a dragon that terrorized Krakow. The statue breathes fire every couple of minutes, which is always good for a laugh as you can watch all of the kids climbing on it scatter in fear.

Just down the way from the Wawel dragon is Wawel cathedral, a church which is rather… eclectic in its appearance.

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If it looks as though it was designed by ten different people, well, that’s because it was.

Krakow, of course, has its fair share of heavy history. Much of the country was destroyed by the German invasion in World War II, and Soviet occupation following the war left its mark, as well. Just outside the city proper can be found Nowa Huta, a city constructed by the Soviets as a ‘gift’ to the Polish. Designed by the Soviets to be the ideal communist city, it has a rather distinctive atmosphere.

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We also visited Krakow’s Jewish quarter— an area which clearly has seen its share of strife, but is now a thriving tourist destination known for its food and drink.

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You might recognize the archway and staircase in the third picture, as they were used as a locale in Schindler’s List. Oh, and those baguette things in the second picture are called zapiekanki, and they’re the most delicious food known to man.

The next day was the most sombre day trip we’ve taken on our travels; we went to Auschwitz.

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This is a place that bears no introduction, so we’ll get to a gallery of pictures with just a brief introduction. Auschwitz, more properly known as Auschwitz concentration camp, is actually three separate camps situated in the town of Oświęcim. The picture above is from the first camp, which during WWII mostly consisted of housing and today is home to the Auschwitz museum. The second camp, Birkenau, is accessible via a free shuttle, and has been left almost exactly as the Nazis left it at the end of the war. The pictures below are all of Birkenau.

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While the museum was somewhat poorly managed and mostly in Polish, the sheer scale of Birkenau and its untouched nature created an atmosphere with a heavy impact. The first picture shows the railway with which prisoners were brought into the camp during the war; the last is the path that prisoners walked en route to execution.

Auschwitz serves as a reminder that while World War 2 ended seventy years ago, much of Europe is still reeling from its after-effects, and its legacy will take some time to fade completely. But now that Krakow is done, we’re on to our last country, Denmark, and our second-last destination: Copenhagen.

Until then!

The Eh Team

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