In the centre of the wildly beautiful city of Krakow is the eclectic structure known as Wawel Castle. Commissioned by King Casimir III in the 13th century, Wawel Castle is a strange mix of nearly all the popular architectural styles of the 13th – 18th centuries – including medieval, gothic, Renaissance (particularly Italian), Baroque, Romanesque and more (neo-classical seems the only important style of the time missing from the list). The Wawel we see today is much altered from the original structure – parts were destroyed by fire, leading to other parts added on or rebuilt entirely. When it was occupied by the Prussian Army, it was changed to meet new needs and new standards – Wawel’s was modernised and its interior re-styled. Defensive structures were changed, and some buildings were removed. Long the residence of Polish kings during Poland‘s Golden Years and beyond, Wawel overlooks one of Poland’s most spectacular cities. In fact, Krakow is one of the few urban centres not razed during the devastating WWII (due to Hitler using it as a base camp). Today, as one of the largest castles in Poland, Wawel Castle is a member of UNESCO world heritage sites (alongside Krakow’s historic downtown). Inside, find museums and exhibition on art, architecture, history, ceramics, weaponry, gold, and even articles from the Orient. To visit is also the cathedral, the ‘lost’ basements where the foundations show what once was there, and cave leading to the banks of the river nicknamed “the Dragon’s Den,” home to the legendary Dragon of Wawel lived.
Pro tip: Wawel can be quite busy – try to visit in the off-peak season (or at least earlier in the day) if you can. Admission costs vary, see more here. Free admission is on Mondays from 9:30am – 1pm in April – October, and Sundays 10am – 4pm in November – March. Don’t miss the nearby fire-breathing dragon, a monument to the Wawel Dragon legend (it breathes fire in 5 minute intervals and can be activated by SMS).
Snow falls softly on this silent, barren town. The chilly air has driven most of the locals inside and kept most the tourists away. What’s special about this place is that this little town straddles both Eastern and Western Europe. Warsaw is the political and economic centre, Krakow, the cultural capital, and Gdansk, the gateway to the Baltics. While many imagine these places as the dark and somber Eastern Europe, little by little they are becoming more and more modern, upscale, and integrated with the western half of the continent. Lublin, however, feels exactly what you’d imagine from an Eastern European town, right down to the little houses, market squares, and light snowfall. Walk its small streets, feel the snow land on your head, and duck into a local establishment for pierogies and beer!
Glittering, colourful, elegant. Poland has been getting more and more tourism attention recently. Cities such as Warsaw, Krakow, and Gdansk have made several “Where to go in 2014” lists. Krakow’s main square was recently voted “Most beautiful market square” by Lonely Planet–a huge honour! And Wrocław was ranked third on the list, “ Top 10 beautiful places you’ve never heard of” by Places Must Seen. Perhaps Poland’s best-kept secret, Wrocław (pronounced “Vrah-tswav”) is slowly coming out of its shell. The city is a university town, and like many such towns, the vast numbers of students keep the city young and vibrant. It has a mixed history, as it was once part of Germany (called ‘Breslau’). After the war, when Poland’s borders shifted west and they lost the eastern frontier to Ukraine, the citizens of the now-Ukrainian town of L’vov were displaced all the over to the recently-vacated-by-the-Germans town of Wrocław–bringing with them tradition, cuisine, and culture from the Ukraine. It is normal to spot several “Ukrainian cuisine” restaurants here. The Rynek itself is–as the other website rated it–one of the Europe’s most beautiful cities, like a canvas splashed in ink. Bathed in early morning sunlight, the vivid colours and clear plazas become more spectacular.
Welcome to St Mary’s Cathedral, located in the main Rynek (town square) in Kraków, and home of the infamous trumpet player. Built in the 14th century, the cathedral is full of beautiful designs on its walls and ceilings, such as this one. Even more famous is the trumpeter, who, legend has it, played a tune called the Hejnał Mariacki, in 1241 to warn the city of the Mongol Invasion. Supposedly, he was shot in the throat before finishing the song – hence why, when the trumpet’s tune is played every hour (which it still is to this day), it cuts off mid-song (simulating the brave but unfortunate trumpeter’s demise). Unfortunately, there’s a small fee to take photos inside the cathedral, which seemed odd to me. At any rate, I didn’t have any change with me. So, I took a furtive photo, hence the weird angle. I actually like it even more like this!
This church is a beautiful example of a marble alter, no? No. It’s actually 100% paint., believe it or not! Marblizing, as it’s called, is a technique used to paint a surface to create the appearance of real marble when the cost or weight of actual marble would be too much. Instead, we have this wonderfully impressive yet frugally decorated church tucked away in a corner of Krakow, one of Poland’s most magnificent cities. Krakow is such a culturally-rich treasure trove that gems like this are not uncommon in the beautiful Polish city!