On my third inter-rail trip undertaken in 1992, we took a train from Warsaw to Kraków where we spent a few hours before carrying on to Budapest.
Almost 26 years later I was to repeat the journey on what I swear was the same train! This time I at least had a seat in an eight-seater compartment. All those years earlier I hadn’t been so fortunate due to a booking cock-up as detailed in my Easter Europe train travel book.
We did however leave 45 minutes late and the carriage was sweltering making me very glad I had some beer on hand for the three hour journey.
I had booked an apartment near the old town and abandoned thoughts of walking now that we were arriving in the dark. I had a feeling of foreboding as the taxi driver dropped me in a residential district with no sign of any accommodation.
It was gone ten before I eventually found the flat, a very tidy place and a bargain at £45 for the night. I decided to stay in, glad I had a beer and some crisps left.
Next day I was up bright and early to drop my bag at station left luggage and to choose my airport train for later that afternoon.
The station bore no resemblance to the one I had arrived at two and a half decades previous. Planners had decided to engulf the tracks inside a huge shopping centre. Just horrid!
The old town (stare miasto) is a short walk and I was happy to pass the facade of the original station, a far more pleasant sight.
Kraków old town is one of Europe’s finest. Not quite as fab as Prague in my opinion but a definite must see. The area was still waking up at 9 as I sat for a coffee in the sunshine below the cathedral towers.
On the hour the bugler stationed in one of the two towers of St Mary’s, purses his lips to play the traditional Hejnał mariacki. He however suddenly cuts out before really getting going. This is in honour of the bugler shot in the neck as he warned residents of a Mongul attack in 1241. Watch and listen here by clicking BUGLE.
I then booked my ticket for later to climb the Bugle Tower as it is known. There is only one way up and down, so the climbs are staggered in thirty minute slots. I also booked to go into the altar area of the cathedral, a combined ticket costing 20 zloty, about €5.
The rest of the morning was spent just wandering around the picturesque cobbled streets and squares, diving inside each of the many churches I came across. In one of the churches an enthusiastic group sang cheery religious songs accompanied by a guitarist. Uplifting it was too as you can see and hear for yourself by clicking GOSPEL.
I smiled when I viewed all the horses & carts lined up adjacent to the cathedral. Each white carriage had a smartly dressed and very pretty female sat atop, beckoning groups & families to come for a ride.
I took this as a clear ploy to attract husbands to part with their dosh. Amusingly those that did partake would probably have been taken aback as the enticing female was replaced by a burly chap in taking the reigns!
After lunch of Polish sausage and beer, it was time to climb the tower. I regretted having such a large portion as the ascent of 200+ steps to the top was pretty tiring.
The view however was well worth the exertions and like recent such climbs in Verona, Bologna & Cologne I felt pleased with myself for making the effort.
The interior of the cathedral itself was also worth the entrance fee, particularly the ornate altarpiece area designed by Veit Stoss.
It is the largest Gothic altarpiece in the world and a national treasure of Poland and with good reason as the pictures show.
I finished my short stay with another large beer. I had very much enjoyed my second visit despite the fact that Kraków is now a hugely more popular destination. In ’92 it was mostly Poles visiting Pope John Paul II’s birthplace, but now fueled by low cost travel it is a veritable tourist hotspot.
It was lovely walking around in the May sunshine, but next time I may visit in Autumn in the hope that there are fewer visitors.