Hard to believe the numbers of the electronic digital scale in my Krakow, Poland hotel bathroom this morning showing my weight has dropped 0.6 kg / 1.3 pounds since arriving almost 72 hours ago. This weight loss is after consuming some 30 beers and six restaurant full hot meals in Europe’s best travel bargain. Krakow is a low key, tourist friendly 24-hour city. My diet has literally gone down the drain in Krakow.
You might expect a city with numerous 24 hour alcohol shops would be filled with falling down drunks, yet that is not the kind of city we have experienced. Of course, the weather has been mostly cloudy and kind of cool and we have not been here on a Friday or Saturday summer night.
Krakow has 24 hour alcohol/restaurants all around the central downtown tourist zone.
This is my first time to Poland and I truly had little idea what to expect aside from reading this is one of the lowest priced countries in Europe for a tourist. I assume Poland is quite a bit easier for an American tourist to navigate than Belarus, Romania or Ukraine, other lower priced countries in Europe than Poland. The other day I spoke with two travel writers who had recently been in Krakow earlier this month. Both tourists mentioned Krakow was overrun with party people and it got rather wild on the weekend. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and we have not yet encountered any unruly behavior or wild party people, but then we have been back in our hotel room by 10pm each night after a day of drinking and dining.
Each day we enter a different pub and find lower priced beer and food than the day before. And we have not even ventured outside the primary Old Town/Kazimierz tourist zones of this large city with some 700,000 residents. We can’t walk more than 50 meters in this place without stumbling across a restaurant or pub with $2 to $3 beer and $3 to $7 meal entrees in contrast to the dearth of budget food options in Stockholm, Sweden where we stayed the week before with 4x-5x more expensive alcohol in bars and restaurants.
U-Szwagra 24 hours burgers, pizza and under $2 for a 500 ml beer. Kelley’s $3.75 danie kebab spicy chicken, vegetables and french fries plate was too large a meal for her to finish. I had a two handed hamburger for $4. If we make it back there again, and no reason to expect we will with a couple hundred budget dining restaurants in the area, I’d go for her meal choice.
We were even able to do the travel chore of laundry after a week in Europe while spending a couple of hours drinking $2 pints of Polish pilsner inside a quiet and comfortable bar with free wi-fi and cool tunes and only a five minute walk from our hotel. Frania Café is open morning to midnight with seating for about 25 people in three separate rooms, yet only around 6 or 8 washing machines in a back room and there was about a 20 minute wait for a washer and a 40 minute wait between the end of the wash cycle and availability of a dryer. I was writing up a Loyalty Traveler California airfare deal so not a big concern. A load of laundry using their soap cost 20 PLZ or $5. We washed two loads. The staff will wash your clothes for you for an extra $2/load and you can return in 3 to 4 hours for pick-up. A large selection of pub drinks includes margaritas for $3.50 and all kinds of cocktails for 14-17 PLZ or $3.50 to $4.25 per drink.
In Stockholm I tag-lined our summer visit last week with the phrase “There’s nothing happening here.” In contrast, Krakow has so many distractions that we rarely get more than 10 or 15 minutes from our hotel before encountering a happening that ends up delaying us for an hour or two in unplanned activities. We found ourselves at the finish line of the Tour of Poland 8-day cycling race final day and stage award ceremony and a few hours later, by chance. I think we saw the Prime Minister or President of Poland at Wawel Castle. There was a small crowd of people thrilled to have taken some dignitary’s photograph as the party with security guards loaded into the motorcade of cars for the drive out of the castle. That was the one time I walked out of the hotel without my Nikon and my phone battery had drained out.
Tomorrow we already have a standing invitation to an art show from an American artist we met at Frania Cafe laundromat-pub.
Bierhalle in Old Town Krakow is a couple hundred meters from our hotel. By Krakow standards this beer is expensive at $6 for a 1.0 L mug, but we found it to be a great place for watching Tour de France cycling on TV. Even Kelley admits the young server girls look pretty darn cute in their uniform outfits.To top off the meal, Bierhalle serves two complimentary Cherry Vodka shots with your restaurant/bar tab.
Bierhalle server photo in pub. The blouses the young women wear are a bit more low cut than shown here.
Tour of Poland Cycling Race
On Monday afternoon we were walking to Wawel Castle when we saw barricades lining the street around Krakow’s Main Square, the largest medieval square in Europe by the way. We soon learned Krakow was hosting the final stage of the 8-day Tour of Poland international professional cycling race.
Kelley and I are two American spectator fans of international cycling. The Tour of California came to Monterey in May and Kelley was envious that I saw Peter Sagan win the race stage in Monterey. He is a powerful Slovakian cyclist who currently is the Green Jersey points leader going into the final week of the 21-stage Tour de France and expected to win the points jersey again this year at the conclusion of the annual race this Sunday in Paris.
Kelley was collecting free cycling swag around Main Square and I purchased a discounted Tour de Pologna jersey for 100 PLZ or $25 USD. Quite expensive by Polish economic standards, but far cheaper than the $85 Tour of California jersey I avoided purchasing in Monterey.
In Monterey I could not even get near the finish line for the Tour of California race stage. We went to the Bierhalle for late lunch and walked back to Main Square for the last hour of the Tour of Poland race. We quickly worked our way to the front of the crowd in position to see the main square big screen TV and a position on the square where cyclists slowed down for the final turn to the last 50 meters of the course for finish line views.
Belgian rider Tim Wellens of Lotto Soudal as he rounded the corner on Krakow’s Main Square for the final 50 meters and ultimate winner of 2016 Tour of Poland.
Auschwitz Museum sets record with over 1 million visitors in 2016
One of the primary excursions we had planned for our Krakow trip was a day trip to visit the Auschwitz Museum and Birkenau Concentration Camp located about 50 km west of Krakow. The Krakow Post reported yesterday the number of visitors to Auschwitz Museum has already topped 1,000,000 visitors in 2016, a new visitor record for this early date. Unfortunately, we learned yesterday the Auschwitz Museum closed to the public today for the next two weeks due to the World Youth Day Krakow 2016 event starting next week. World Youth Day is a major Catholic global event held every three years for children who gather in a location (2013 Rio de Janeiro, 2016 Krakow) and get the opportunity to see and hear the Pope. The event begins next Tuesday, July 25 and Pope Francis is scheduled to arrive in Krakow next Thursday, July 27.
While I will not be around Krakow for the Pope’s visit and loudspeaker address to the youth, I’ll always remember hearing a techno version of The Doors “Riders on the Storm” blasting out of loudspeakers on Krakow’s Main Square during the Tour of Poland cycling race.
While an Auschwitz visit won’t happen this trip, we still have the opportunity to wander around Kazimierz, the historic Jewish area of Krakow and Podgórze, across the Vistula River, site of the Krakow Jewish ghetto during the Nazi occupation. Spielberg’s 1993 movie Schindler’s List was filmed in Kazimierz and Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory is about 2.5 km from Krakow Main Square.
Portal to Remah Cemetery, the Old Jewish Cemetery in Kazimierz established in 1535. Krakow held about 68,000 Jews at the time of the Nazi invasion. Over 90% of Poland’s pre-war 3.5 million Jews were killed during WWII.
Remah Synagogue (1557) in Kazimierz Krakow is one of two remaining synagogues in Krakow.
Krakow, Europe’s Best Travel Bargain
Krakow continues yet again as Europe’s best travel bargain. The low prices have drawn in larger numbers of Europeans for weekend breaks, and there are many great and cheap hostels, bars, and restaurants to keep prices low while you are enjoying the beautiful old city and the local culture. Put this one on your list before demand forces prices up like in Prague and Budapest.