Krakow, the medieval capital of Poland is a beautiful city with many marvellous historic monuments depicting its charming culture. The capital of Malopolska region is rapidly developing into a modern city since its return to democracy. It's a city of kings, popes, poets, Nobel and Oscar award winners. The sights of the lively city can mostly be enjoyed on foot or sometimes using the trams.
Krakow's Old town and Wowel were on the first list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites along with Wielichka Salt Mine when the prestigious list was launched in 1978.
Rynek Glowny (Market Square)
Early morning sun rays on the main market building reflect its magnificence amidst the sprawling city centre which is the biggest medieval square in Europe. A street vendor at the corner sold pretzels and bagels from his glass showcase to a few early risers walking to their work.
The prominent building situated by the market's northwest corner is the soaring Gothic St. Mary's Basilica with two uneven tall towers. Climbing the tallest tower offers the bird's eye-view of Krakow. The guard up there plays the Cracovian hymn 'heynal' every hour. The Church's ceiling is lined up with a mural of dark blue stars.
Sukiennice cloth hall is the medieval market now brimming with souvenir shops. A new underground museum depicts the story of the ancient square using modern technology. Ironically, the square was named Adolf Hitler Platz in September 1940 to celebrate the first anniversary of Nazi occupation of Poland and was changed back after the war ended.
The elegant Gothic Town Hall Tower emerged from behind Sukiennice and florists bustled about the market square surrounded by magnificent tenement buildings and mansions with numerous cafes and restaurants. Young and old people stroll the main market square.
A small stroll away is the historic structure of Jagiellonian University called the Collegium Maius. The old University since 14th century has produced many great scholars including Nicholaus Copernicus and Pope John Paul II.
On the other side of the market square are the relics of old fortified city walls with the Barbican and St. Florian's Gate. Juliusz Slowacki Theatre is an impressive modern building with beautifully manicured gardens.
A view of Wowel Caste through the lawns. Photo - Anand Katti
Overlooking the Krakow Old Town are the towers of the Wowel Castle and Cathedral on the Wowel Hill. Past the traditionally dressed royal guard, it's a majestic walk up the hill to the Wawel Castle. Wawel has a Gothic cathedral, royal graves and the royal castle with beautiful renaissance style arcaded courtyard. The castle was restored during the last century to its former splendor and now serves as a museum showcasing the rich history of Poland.
Kazimierz district consists of former Jewish town that was a major cultural and religious centre for many centuries. The Old Synagogue was devastated during World War II and is now converted into a Jewish Museum. A few Jewish restaurants and side cafes now dominate the square.
The next district is called Podgorze, the territory of the infamous ghetto and former Oscar Schindler factory which was restored as the Historical Museum of City of Krakow in 2010.
Wielichka Salt Mine
For 800 years, salt has been extracted from beneath the ground at Wielichka Salt mine, situated 10 kms away from Krakow. The site among the most popular tourist attractions in Krakow and has good train, bus and van connections.
There are 23 chambers inside the mine connected by 2.5km long corridors. Visitors are allowed to the first three levels of mines that go down from 64 meters to 135 meters below the earth. A guided tour through the cold environs of the mine underneath makes for a fascinating tour.
The UNESCO World Heritage site is a marvel carved in pure rock salt which depicts events of history and religion. Cauliflower deposits along the miners' route add an aesthetic angle to the roofs. You can literally lick any wall or the floor to taste the salt.
It's a working salt mine, a portion (1%) of which is open to tourists. There's even a chapel and a convention centre with a full-fledged kitchen inside. A spa with a therapeutic salt water pool within the mine accommodates guests overnight.
Ring shaped, poppy seed and salt coated Obwarzanki is the staple street food of Krakow. Oscypek is a crisp and subtle smoked cheese made from ewe's milk. Honey dew is the best here. While having lunch at the traditional Polish restaurant Pod Aniolami (under the angels), located in old town, chefs demonstrated making of the traditional Polish dish Pierogi. The dumplings were prepared with a variety of fillings of mushroom, chicken, spinach, beef, cheese and cabbage which tasted well with borscht, the hot beetroot soup.
Pierogi festival is celebrated in Krakow in August every year. Moskole is baked or fried flour and potato cakes served with garlic butter or cheese. Ice creams from Nowy Targ are yummy.
Krakow is close to Tatra Mountains which is a great place for hiking and skiing.
Krakow's archbishop, Karol Wojtyła, was elevated to the papacy as John Paul II, the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. Krakow's airport is named after the Pope.
Leonardo de Vinci's painting Lady with an ermine is at the Czartoryaski Museum in Krakow.
There's a mechanism to extract 450 litres of water from Wielichka's atmosphere every minute and to pump it out into the nearby Wista River to save the salt mine from melting.
Getting there: One can take an Oman Air flight up to Frankfurt or Munich and onwards take Lufthansa or LOT Polish Airlines to Krakow.