Krakow is a beautiful city, there is no doubt about that. However, after four days both my husband and I felt like we’d seen what there was to see. The city was affected by the massive amounts of tourists visiting, and though beautiful it seemed to lack some of its soul. I find a city a lot more interesting if you can blend in with the inhabitants and see the city as they do. This seemed difficult in Krakow, as tourists dominated the urban picture. The city centre appeared to be abandoned by its inhabitants. As we visited in July, we shouldn’t have expected anything else, still it’s sad to see the city not being used as anything but a giant museum.
Most shops in the city centre must owe their existence to tourists looking for cheap and inauthentic memorabilia. The book shops had a good selection of books in English and other foreign languages, and books about Poland and Krakow were on every shelf. We visited two of the three major shopping centres in the city, and were pleasantly surprised by the atmospheres there. This seemed to be where the locals went. Polish was spoken everywhere, and not everyone understood English.
The shops varied from the typical brand stores; Puma, Nike, and the like, to similar shops with a lower price setting; the make-up store Inglot for example, seemed to compare well in quality to many of the high street brands in Sephora. Prices are ridiculous compared to prices in Norway, for most things, however, certain brands (again Puma and Nike) seem to have the same prices all over Europe. We did, however, find a few treasures hidden in the Jewish district.
We did try proper Polish cuisine, the restaurant could probably have been better though, though it seemed to be among the better at first sight. What we ordered sounded good, but looked worse, it was also very plain, both in taste, presentation and variation – Husband had a piece of meat and rice covered in gravy – with no salad, vegetables or anything to spice up the visuals or the taste. Food elsewhere was very good. Restaurants had varied menus, and the quality of even the cheapest locations seemed to be rather high.
Language was never a problem and most who were in contact with tourists spoke English quite well. I did however have an encounter with a shop assistant in a shop in one of the shopping centres. The assistant only spoke Polish, but pretended to understand everything I asked about. We actually held a long conversation, or it might be considered two monologues, between the two of us.
Near Krakow is Auschwitz Birkenau, a concentration camp from the second world war. We did not visit. Tour companies offer daily trips at quite a low cost from most hotels and also from the city centre. We visited the salt mines Wieliczka, which I have already talked about here.
I was a little disappointed by the city, but can only blame that on myself. We visited in July, when the city is crowded by tourists. I would have liked to go again, but then not in the worst tourist season. We walked and walked for hours every day, and even while moving away from the city centre, were unable to find the soul and spirit of the city, which I hope and believe would have been more easily found in October, rather than July.