Poland; Kraków, Wrocław & Piechowice (February 2015)

Kraków

My second trip to Poland included the historic city of Kraków, Wrocław-the largest city in Western Poland and the tiny village of Piechowice-hometown of my wife, Edyta.

I cannot rave enough about Poland along with the other former Eastern Bloc countries I have visited thus far.  The people of these Eastern Bloc countries are welcoming, fun and many speak english. Few are more welcoming than Poland.  The Polish are fun-loving people with an amazing sense of humor and can party better than the Irish. The food is to die for and if this isn’t enough to make you want to go to Poland consider this -Poland is still a great value for your U.S and Canadian dollar when you convert it to the Polish zloty (pronounced zloty).  Kraków is consistently listed as one of the five least expensive cities to visit in Europe.

SLEEP:  Aparthotel Stare Miasto an apartment hotel a block off the city center in Kraków for under $70 USD a night in February. Currently, you can book this room pictured below during the second week of June for $103 a night.

Address & telephone number: Gołębia 2, 31-007 Kraków, Poland +48 12 427 57 94

 


EAT: The Polish love to eat as much as they love to drink. For this one particular trip, I was glad Edyta was able to speak and read Polish. As we walked just a few steps from our hotel we came across a sandwich board sign that looked intriguing.   It read Gospoda Koko.  An incredibly affordable Polish restaurant with charm, large portions and is very, very cheap…and it also holds some great surprises.

As we walked in the door we noticed Gospoda Koko had the tiniest dining area I have ever seen in my entire life.  We panicked as every table was filled. But, Edyta kept her cool and asked the server (in Polish) if this was their only seating area.  He waved her on and we followed him through the ktichen to a secret passageway down the stairs to what seemed to be a dungeon and then suddenly the room opened up into what could only be described as a castle parlour . The server extended his hand and Edyta thanked him for the help and we kept walking through tiny nooks and crannies of this amazing restaurant and until we came to the kitchen-dining area shown in the pictures below.  You would never know this amazing chasm existed unless you entered the restaurant from the side alleyway instead of through the main city centre entrance.

Address & telephone number:   +48 12 430 21 35

 

Pictured Above:  Â Pierogi Ruskie 8,50zÅ‚ ($2.21 USD) Plate of Pickles, Zupa Grzybowa (Mushroom Soup w/ bread)

Polish Fast Food:  For an extra special treat after a night of Wódka and Pivot why not try what the Polish consider fast food: Zapiekanka-a polish pizza/open-faced sandwich  that can have anything from pickles, mushrooms and cheese to mayonnaise and ketchup on top.  So good.

Zapiekanki z okr-glaka cennik  

zapiekanka
4.50zł ($1.17) for all that food!

DRINK: Now that you have loaded up on food in preparation to party in one of the best European cities known for its nightlife; it’s time to get your drink on!  For a starting point, or to reload between clubs hit up Pijalnia Wódki i Piwa (Vodka & Beer) for $1 shots of the best Vodka you will ever drink and plenty of beer that’s not too expensive either.

Address & telephone number: Świętego Jana 5, 33-332 Kraków, Poland +48 797 980 405IMG_20150214_030612_hdr

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Notice how packed the bar is…after all the shots are $1.   Warka is the beer on tap and it is the Polish version of PBR. Psst…it’s way better than PBR.

Now that you have a nice buzz going on why not stop by (The Cellar Under the Rams) Piwnica Pod Baranami, the famous Parisian Cabaret that has been around since 1956. Many a poet and artist have been known to sit and enjoy a night or two in the cellar.

Address & telephone number: Rynek Główny 27, 30-001 Kraków, Poland +48 12 422 01 77

 

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We concluded our night at Stalowe Magnolie, a swanky little spot with an interesting interior and a cigar bar.  We lucked out as Stalowe happened to have a famous 80’s Polish punk band playing that night. We stayed and had a blast listening to the band play its list of hits to the delight of the packed house.

Update: Permanently Closed

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Stalowe Magnolie’s direct translation is Steel Magnolia 
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Above: A little bit of ambiance.  Below: The 80’s Punk Band entertaining the crowd.

IMG_20150213_163024_rewindTHINGS TO DO:  Kraków is one of the oldest cities in Poland and unlike Warsaw, which was modernized by Russian Communist Era architecture (code for boring ugly buildings), it has maintained its medieval core that is breathtakingly stunning and gives you that ancient European vibe travelers crave.  The Wawel Royal Castle and Wawel Hill are a must see while in Kraków. These two sites constitute the most historical and cultural sites in Poland. For centuries starting in 1333 with the reign of Casimir III the Great, Wawel has been the residence of kings of Poland, served as the symbol of Polish statehood and now the Castle serves as one of the country’s premier art museums hosting five separate sections: Crown Treasury & Armoury; State Rooms; Royal Private Apartments; Lost Wawel; and the Exhibition of Oriental Art. Each requires a separate ticket.
FREE ADMISSION DAYS (only for individual visitors):

  • Mondays–April 1: October 31 (9.30 a.m.-1 p.m.)
  • Sundays–November 1: March 31 (10 a.m.-4 p.m.)

Please note:
– Free admission pass must be collected from the ticket office

Address & telephone number: Wawel, 30-001 Kraków, Poland  

DAY TRIPS: There are two must see day trips from Kraków:  the Wieliczka Salt Mine  and Auschwitz -Birkenau Memorial and Museum .  We didn’t have the opportunity to travel to the salt mine since we were only in Kraków for 28 hours. Instead,  we took a bus to the Auschwitz Memorial and walked the grounds for free. *Note you do not have to pay to enter the memorial & museum if you choose not to have a self-guided audio tour. The grounds are full of historical artifacts and lengthy information panels in each building in a multitude of languages so you will not be starved for information.

Getting There: For the cheapest mode of transportation you can take a bus from the main Kraków bus station (ul. Bosacka 18); most stop at the Auschwitz Museum entrance, but not all, so make sure beforehand otherwise you may end up at the Oświęcim bus station which is at the other end of town. The journey takes 1hr 40mins and costs 12zł.  BTW-we couldn’t stop talking about the bus trip back from Auschwitz for the rest of our journey as it was hilariously dangerous.  The bus driver had a touring-style mini-bus and drove it like a Ferrari; he took us down winding mountainous roads (that were extremely narrow) as if he were driving a go-cart. When we weren’t white-knuckling the seats and holding our breath we were laughing out loud and eyeing each other; the back seat was a bad choice.

If you would like a less rambunctious tour to and from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum or to the Wieliczka Salt Mine we recommend Auschwitz-Krakow Tours.

Wrocław

If you can’t make it to Kraków the next best option for a big Medieval city is Wrocław. Situated in the southwest of Poland, Wrocław is the largest Polish city west of Warsaw. It boasts the most bridges in Central Europe and has the second largest market square in Europe only to Kraków.  Wrocław is full of beauty, engineering marvels and an equally energetic nightlife thanks to a very large collegiate population.

 

SLEEP:  

When in Wrocław we stay with family so I have never stayed in a hotel within the city. However, if I were to pick a hotel it would be Centrum Dikul Hotel a great upscale accommodation in central Wroclaw, just fives minutes from the Market Square. The recently renovated cutting edge accommodations gives it a true European feel.  They offer a free buffet breakfast, free WiFi, and free parking.

Currently, you can book a room during the second week of June for $103 a night.

EAT:

Kurna Chata: a little hidden, but within the Market Square this quaint and homey bistro serves up generous and delicious fare. Do order the pierogis.

Address & telephone number: Odrzańska 17, 50-113 Wrocław, Poland, +48 71 341 06 68

THINGS TO DO:

The Dwarf Crawl:  Whomever came up with this idea needs to be given the key to the city. It is by far the best and most fun way to learn about and get acclimated to Wrocław.  There are now 165 Dwarfs scattered around the city as well as the surrounding suberbs; they hide among the streets and narrow alleys, eluding the sight of passers-by.  They are usually near or on the property of a famous landmark, pub or restaurant.  You can grab a Dwarf Map at any of the Visitor Centers scattered around the city and they even have their own website: http://krasnale.pl/en/ that lists the name of the dwarfs along with their locations in the city and a brief explanation of their pose.  Our favorite dwarf was Pierożnik…the Pierogi eating dwarf.

Warning: The hunt becomes highly addictive; be sure to keep your strength up by stopping for some pivot (beer) and pierogi throughout the day and expect to be hunting dwarfs well into the night.  You must pose with the dwarves.

Dwarf

People WatchWrocław market square is the second largest in Europe, so why not pull up a chair at an outdoor cafe with a glass of pivot, wódka or coffee and just watch. Sometimes sitting in the middle of all the hustle and bustle can be quite serene.

Catch A Soccer Game: Wrocław Stadium is one of Europe’s most modern elite standard stadiums and as such has hosted the European Football Championships – UEFA EURO in June 2012. It has a capacity of 42,000 and is surrounded by an external promenade.  Śląsk Wrocław is the resident football club.

 

Bar Crawl: Wrocław has amazing food and drink options. Instead of forking over money to go on a walking culinary tour why not create your own.

You can start at Spiż. Located in the heart of Market Square, Spiż is one of the first Polish micro-breweries.  The biggest attraction: watch as they make their 500-year-old beer recipe from scratch.

Address & telephone number: Spiż, Ratusz 2, Wrocław, Poland, +48 71 344 72 25

Spiz

Next take a 1 minute stroll over to Piwnica Świdnicka (Schweidnitzer Keller in German) the oldest restaurant/bar in Europe. It is located in the basement of the Old Town Hall in Wrocław located in Market Square. Imagine the secrets Piwnica holds within her walls. For over 700 years this restaurant has been visited by kings, queens along with artists such as Chopin and Goethe.  Have a shot of fine vodka here as I did and be whisked back in time.

Address & telephone number: Piwnica Świdnicka, Rynek Ratusz, Wrocław, Poland, +48 789 091 686

Piwnica

Next set foot on a 5 minute stroll to Setka. Taking inspiration from the time of Soviet occupation Setka unabashedly covers every square inch of this hip pub with Soviet Era propaganda.  The food and beer however are all Polish…inexpensive, tasty and satisfying. Get the pierogi plate, the pickle plate and the tartar to fuel your crawl.

Address & telephone number: Setka, Leszczyńskiego 4, Wrocław, Poland, +48 71 715 60 60

The next bar, Czeski Film, is a 10 minute walk away, but that’s okay by now you might be getting tipsy.   The expression “czeski film” is the Polish way to explain a situation when “no one knows what is going on.”  You have the 1970’s Czech comedy Nobody Knows Nothing to blame.  The film was so popular it spawned the Polish phrase.  If you didn’t know the Polish have an amazing sense of humor so to use this film title as a metaphor for something literal is priceless.  Yet another cave style underground bar, but as the saying goes “When in Poland…”

Address & telephone number: Czeski Film, ul. Kiełbaśnicza 2, Wrocław, Poland, +48 71 342 25 49

Now off to Czupito a shots, shots, shots kind of bar.  You might think about ending your Pub Crawl here, however, with a belly full of rainbow shots there is probably nowhere better to go then PRL.

From experience I can tell you that once you drink too much vodka the Polish language starts to sound a lot like Russian.   So, what better place to go when you are nearing a distorted state of mind than PRL.  You will be met with a design of old USSR decor and traditional Polish  food, with dishes such as “galaretka” aka jelly chicken, bread with lard and pickled cucumbers. Just in time too, for food is key at this point of the Crawl. Great place to end with live music, dance parties and karaoke. Th e events change nightly, so be prepared to have fun.

Address & telephone number: PRL, Rynek Ratusz 10, Wrocław, Poland, +48 71 342 55 2

Pub Crawl Map

 

Piechowice

Located 10 kilometres (6 miles) south-west of Jelenia Góra, and 104 kilometres (65 mi) west of the regional capital Wrocław. As of 2006, the town has a population of 6,494.

Piechowice is known to many cyclists for it’s excruciating training hills. It is in the perfect location as you  as it is located near the town of Karpacz and the  Karkonosze Mountains.  It i