We arrived in Krakow, Poland on Christmas Day after a 6.5 hour drive across Slovakia, portions of which were across narrow icy mountain roads in a snowstorm sitting on the top level of a double decker bus. Thankful I wasn’t driving. The bus was probably filled with Catholics praying their way for our safe arrival.
Kelley saw fox in the woods, swans on the rivers and a variety of other bird species along the way. I read in Bratislava there are some resident peregrine falcons overwintering in the city from their Nordic home base regions. There were magnificent castles perched on steep cliffs in several places. On the bus I watched two American movies dubbed in Russian language with English subtitles. They were probably the best dubbed movies I have ever seen. Michael Douglas sounded great in Russian and it was easy to imagine Justin Timberlake with his shaved head appearance convincing as a tough Russian speaker.
Bratislava was a great pub crawling town for three days, but the place truly closed down to near zero business openings in the Old Town for Christmas Eve, the day Slovak families celebrate Christmas dinner and Baby Jesus, not Santa, brings the presents. Many souvenir shops and two Slovak tourist restaurants were the only open businesses, primarily catering to Asian tour groups. All day long we only found two tiny pubs open and a Kebab place for take-away food. The Muslim owner of the Kebab shop told me he usually sells out of food in a few hours on Christmas Day. Locals told us not to expect too much more to be open in Bratislava on Sunday or Monday either. We bought extra falafel and shawarma wraps for the Christmas Day bus ride to Krakow. We wondered how hungry we would get if we had no access to food for two more days? I imagined living on one small bag of Lay’s potato chips, a can of sardines, a couple of oranges and kiwis we still had in our bag and cleaning out the mini-bar of Hotel Indigo Krakow.
Krakow, Poland Rynek Glowny (Main Square) Christmas Day
My wife Kelley is a reluctant traveler. I want to take her all over the world, but she does not want to see the world. She loves London, Amsterdam and Ireland. We have been to those cities many times over the past 20 years. I got her to Prague ten years ago and she loved its Disneyesque medieval and Baroque architecture charm, but I have not persuaded her to return. I can’t even convince her to go back to Paris after one short trip 15 years ago.
In 2016 I talked her into a trip to Vilnius, Lithuania in April, after a couple nights in Amsterdam. She enjoyed it, especially a Cat Café where she could eat a fish lunch surrounded by a dozen cats in the restaurant and a couple of feisty ones trying to share her meal. Last July I convinced her that all the tourist reviews I read about Krakow, Poland were so positive that I thought we should check the place out. She adored Krakow and when I told her we would be traveling to Vienna for Christmas, she wanted to return to Krakow as the primary destination for this trip.
After the cheapest taxi ride ever at 12 PLN (less than $3.00) for the one mile ride from the city bus station to Hotel Indigo Krakow, we checked in, gowned up for cold weather and headed out the door for a ten minute walk to Rynek Glowny to see if there was anything in Krakow open for a meal and beer or if we were going to find another city shut for business.
Musicians played inside the old city wall gate.
There were dozens of people on the street. As we passed through the gate to the street leading to the Old Market Square we saw about half of the restaurants and most of the tourist shops were open for business on Christmas Day.
Even more impressive to find at the end of the street when we approached Rynek Glowny, the medieval market square, Krakow Christmas market operating in full force on Christmas Day. Restaurants and pubs were open all around the square.
Krakow commerce was going strong on Christmas Day.
Bratislava’s Christmas Markets closed down December 23.
Rynek Glowny Cloth Market, Krakow
Food was available in abundance around the Christmas market stalls and there were hundreds of people dining in heated screened tents on the sidewalks on two sides of Old Market Square Krakow with thousands of people on the streets in a festive holiday atmosphere.
The Christmas Markets in Bratislava, Slovakia appeared to be primarily food and drink, whereas most of the stalls in Rynek Glowny were material goods and long lines for the hot alcohol drinks.
Funny thing is that we spent six days in Krakow in July drinking at a dozen pubs around the Rynek Glowny, Kazimierz, and Podgorze, yet the pubs 50 meters of Rynek Glowny we found on Christmas Day were the cheapest beer we have had yet in the city. And even slightly less expensive at 6 to 10 PLN ($1.42-$2.38 USD) per 0.5L, than the average beer prices in Stare Mesto (Old Town) Bratislava 1.70-2.40 EUR ($1.46 – $2.51). The Polish Zloty currency has devalued slightly more than the Euro, about 6% over the past six months since our summer trip. In July the exchange rate was 3.97 PLN = 1 USD and this past week the exchange rate has been over 4.20PLN = $1.00 USD. Last week it was over 4.25 PLN.
And I think food prices in Krakow restaurants are even lower than Bratislava. We ate salmon with vegetables and potatoes, breads, soup and potato pancakes, plus beer in a city center restaurant for 81 PLN, about $20 USD.
Krakow was a good call by Kelley for this Christmas trip. This is a happening city for tourists over the holiday season.
Trip Report: December 2016 Vienna – Bratislava – Krakow