Holiday in Krakow

Thursday March 15th 2007

The thriller I am reading takes place in Krakow. That is very appropriate, because I am waiting for a flight to that very city. I visited Krakow in 2005 and worked up an appetite for more.

I persuaded my wife, Helle, that we should go, and of course my tales about cheap amber jewellery had no say in that matter. Months ago we booked a cheap flight and a hotel room in the old town.

From the gate in the international airport the bus drives all the way to domestic, and the plane could be the one that took us from Aalborg to Copenhagen. The crew however is different, and now the latest fashion in life jackets is presented on the plane's catwalk with a charming French accent instead of an incomprehensible Swedish. We land on time in Krakow at 12:20.

Going by bus or train is cheap, but a taxi can drive you to the door instead of the station. The chauffeur does not switch on the meter, but says that the price is fixed: 55 zloty (PLN). I doubt this, but 55 is cheap and Polish tax evasion is not my business.

Hotel Wawel in ul. Poselska is a renovated old palace, and the room is ready. It is very nice and spacious. Hotel Wawel got its name from the city's old royal castle, and for those interested in languages it is pronounced with a single V, open A and stress on the last syllable: "Vavel". For me however it is about 50 years too late to learn Polish.

Exploring Krakow's old town

The Market Hall

Tapestry with proud eagles

We unpack and walk to the city centre, the market square Rynek Glowny. The walk takes a bit more than 5 minutes. The square is big (200 x 200 metres), and in medieval times it must have been enormous.

The city hall once stood here, but now only the tower remains with a café in the basement. Next to the tower is the old market hall. It has many shops and stalls with souvenirs and jewellery. There is lots of amber, and it is cheap.

We walk through the hall and drop into the cosy café Pod Bialym Orlem in a deep gateway. We order Zywiec, the local beer. There is a carved wooden ceiling, huge wall paintings and the lower part of the walls is covered with red tapestry with white crowned eagles. The backs of the chairs are carved crowned eagles too. The beer is slightly sweet with lots of fruit and adequate hop.

The tower in ul. Florianska. Tempting amber shop in ul. Florianska. A deep gateway in ul. Florianska.
Click to enlarge

Just round the corner is ulica Florianska with its fashion and jewellery shops. At the end of the street a tower and some of the old city wall. A man plays brilliantly on an accordion in the tower's gateway. We stay a while and listen to Mozart and passages from Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Paintings are up for sale on the old city wall - the style could be described as 'coloured glazing'.

Paintings for sale Paintings for sale
Click to enlarge

The old town

Krakow's old town is one of the prettiest in Europe. Nearly all houses and palaces are now in good repair, and characteristically the houses are broader at the foundation as if to give strength to carry the floors above.

There are cobblestones in the streets, and street lamps of iron and glass are mounted on house walls. Many deep gateways lead to small courtyards with shops and bars. Useful shops are scarce. Fashion clothes, jewellery, glass, antiques, leather goods and restaurants prevail, and prices are remarkably low compared to Denmark - clothes in particular are cheap.

Posters and announcements show that the city is a cultural centre. All these things attract tourists, and Krakow tourism is important in a country where many are still unemployed.

Beautiful house in Rynek Glowny.

The Zywiec we had earlier must have been brewed with heavy water, so we settle on a street café and buy a semi-expensive espresso as a toilet ticket. We walk about looking at houses and shops before returning to the hotel at four.

I try to call restaurant 'Aqua e Vino', but the Polish machine at the other end does not speak English. One of our neighbours is exercising by breathing through a flute (recorder), and it sounds like a cat in heat and with respiratory problems. Let's get out!

Fattening at Szabla i Szklanka

We were up terribly early and are tired. So it is tempting to eat at the Polish/Hungarian restaurant next to the hotel. Making a reservation for later is no problem, and we continue to 'Aqua e Vino' and make a reservation for tomorrow. After a walk in the neighbourhood we return to the Polish/Hungarian restaurant, Szabla i Szklanka, which means something like 'A sword and a glass'.

Restaurant Szabla i Szklanka.

The place is quite cosy. On a shelf are jars with pickled peppers and cucumbers, and there are nice simple paintings on the walls. One or more glasses are depicted in all of them.

We order fried goose liver with pear in Tokay for starters. For main course it is pork with rice in a sauce with onion and mushrooms and to drink a Hungarian red Nagygombos 2003 and some water with gas.

The first to arrive however is an appetizer: slices of dry bread and three small bowls with goose fat, chopped onion and tomato (?) chutney with a hot finish. The girl says something about a house tradition. We get no plates, so it is probably customary to crumb on the table cloth.

A painting in the restaurant.

The first course is two large pieces of fried goose liver on thin slices of bread. The crispy pear in sweet Tokay wine offers an exciting counterplay against the fatty liver, which has been fried just right.

The main course is a slice of very tender pork resting on paprika-boiled rice. The pork and the rice are like an island in a sea of sauce. The sauce tastes okay, but it is like reduced cream: very fatty and heavy. It quickly gets 'yrrrg-oh-my'.

The red wine is light, slightly sweet and no match for the heavyweight meal, but at least it is colder than the water, which for some incomprehensible reason has been decanted - maybe to de-gasify it.

The bill says 186 PLN. I put a 200 bill on the tray and never see the change. Maybe because I put the bill in my pocket as a souvenir - who knows. I usually tip, but I am so old fashioned that I think it is for the guest to decide if and how much. We do not complain, but agree that this was our first and last fattening here.

2 glasses out of 5 2 glasses out of 5 2 glasses out of 5 2 glasses out of 5 2 glasses out of 5
Szabla i Szklanka

ul. Poselska 22, Krakow
Tel. (012) 426 54 40

Polish/Hungarian food. The meal was well prepared, but very heavy and fatty. The service seemed indifferent - neither unkind nor eager to make us feel comfortable.

Price level: medium.

We are exhausted after a long day and retire early. The tap water has a powerful smell of chlorine making fluoride in the toothpaste overkill.