Poland is a bit of a rarity on our trip because we divided our month in the country between different cities. Two weeks in Warsaw, the current capital and business center, and now two weeks in Krakow, the old capital and tourist mecca. Krakow’s Old Town is jammed with beautiful old buildings – dozens of churches, the Cloth Hall, Wawel Castle – and all sizes of market squares. Many are original, since the city avoided destruction during the World Wars. Like many European cities, Krakow is very walkable, and each day we try to explore new streets.
Art seems to be everywhere (a recurring theme on this trip): decorating sides of gray buildings, scattered around parks, celebrated in new theatre buildings. There is a large number of murals painted across otherwise plain walls. Some will be temporary since they overlook pits waiting for concrete pours, and many celebrate the city’s culture. Along one highway we noticed an entire history of Poland painted across a berm just a couple hundred feel long (somehow they managed to get more in more Polish history than any textbook I had in high school).
Happily, we also came across the start of the Pierogi Festival completely by accident. We had already had a partial lunch and immediately decided that had been a mistake. The Small Market Square was set up with fifteen or so booths selling all kinds of pierogis. Every pierogi we’ve eaten in our lives fell woefully short of these. The selection in the US is usually some combination of onions, potato, and beef. Here, they were serving up puffy dough pillows filled with variations of duck, salmon, cabbage & mushroom, potato & bacon… Every stand had Ruskie, the most traditional kind, filled with potatoey and cheesey goodness. Each bite managed to be the best pierogi I’ve tasted. There were even dessert pierogis – banana & white chocolate, blueberry, raspberry. Thankfully the festival went on for five days, and wee may or may not have returned daily.
Krakow is full of Catholic churches. My favorite (so far) was the Church of St. Francis near the Jagiellonian University. There has been a church on the site for nearly 800 years, but most of the current version is much more recent. Decoration and windows were added during the early 1900s and reflect the best styles of the time. Walls and stained glass windows depict flowers and geometric patterned rainbows. The whole interior bursts with color – a contrast to many other churches that are much more reserved inside. However, every church we’ve looked in has a fantastically carved altarpiece and pulpit, usually made of dark wood and moderate amounts of gilding.
My early impression is that Warsaw is more livable for long-term stays, but that Krakow has a more charm. I do have to say, though, that the happiest surprise about Poland is now delicious the food is, especially anything that is/resembles a pastry.