Krakow

“be it for nothing other than the true beauty of Ojcow it was worth getting soaked -Chopin

The dragon of Wawel had a taste for livestock and young maidens, and for just terrorising villagers.
Prince Krakus despondant, knew something needed to be done. many knights tried to defeat the dragoon but were slain before a young, poor cobblers apprentice called Skuba took up the challenge of ending the terror.

The prize being the very daughter of Prince Krakus. Skuba succeeded where strong men failed by devising the ingenious solution of feeding the dragon, lamb filled with sulphur. This caused the dragon to thirst excessively, and it drank and drank, expanding and expanding before exploding and the terror was no more! Prince Krakus then fulfilled his promise and also set his palace over the dragon’s lair or Wawel Hill and Krakow was born. Or so goes one of the legends, one of many interesting stories from Poland.
See Wieliczka salt mines for another.

The Dragon today, if you buy one of the many souvenirs, seems to be a very happy, friendly cheerful, loveable creature! Not possibly a creature that will wreck havoc on his surroundings.
In fact you can see such a fire breathing dragon outside the cave itself by Wawel hill.
The fire breathing seven headed dragon (it actually appears to be one headed and six legs, I only found out later that it is actually multi headed) breathes out fire every few minutes or on demand to a text of smok to 7168.
It was great to see children amazed (some were actually frightened) by the burst of fire from the mouth of a head into the sky.

The town itself is unquestionably beautiful. It is almost impossible to speak of Poland as a tourist destination and omit Krakow. It has the largest Rynek (town hall) and the most beautiful and large old town of any city. The palace is full of history . The place that was once the capital and where power was brokered. Wawel being the location where Polish kings were crowned and the resting place of the catholic saint The Bishop of Krakow Stanislaus of Szczepanow is buried. Who Lonely Planet like to dub in controversial tone ‘the spiteful saint’.

The Bishop of Krakow Stanislaus of Szczepanow was, killed for apparently political motives or for pointing out the sexual immorality of the King by the King himself – Boleslaw II the Bold in 1079. The King in turn lost power, and Krakow fell under a curse, lost power and according to the Lonely Planet ,no Bishop called Stanislaus can reside in Krakow. With a previous attempt ending in an early death. It is a story I have been unable to verify and with my recollection of other inaccuracies over such stories can not confirm. In any case the Bishop is venerated in Poland as a saint. Wawel hill also has a nice panorama over Krakow but it is by no means the only beautiful view.

In Krakow I stayed at the curiously named Mosquito Hostel. Fortunately without a mosquito in sight :) I would sum up my experience of the hostel as having friendly staff with guests of mixed maturity.

There was a student festival earlier in the day which unfortunately I did not see. However it meant a party atmosphere and possibly a nice time to visit in the city. At night museums were open late and with an Australian I met (who was living in the UK) we went to the castle at night after getting something to eat in the Jewish Quarter.

It is impossible to mention Krakow and Jews without mentioning a dark period of its history.
Namely he massacres and deportation of Jews that took place during Nazi rule. The Auschwitz camp is very nearby. I elected not to visit in this trip but it is understandably a harrowing experience for those who visit. Krakow’s Jewish population deteriorated from a estimation of up to 80,000 to less than 6,000 by the end of the 40s.

I walked the Jewish quarter the next day where I came across an active synagogue (with a rabbis and other Jews entered). It appears the synagogue is shut at other times as a woman opened it up as he arrived. There is still a Jewish community no matter how small. Several other synagogues rely in the area that may not be active, a Jewish cemetery and other sites. One of the most interesting the Jewish museum . It takes a rather different approach of showing photos now of places once part of the Jewish community and details the lives of those that settled in Poland. It is a small but fascinating museum and also refreshing.

Hard Candy

With a name such as that it should be noted that if the name has any pejorative interpretation it would be accurate.
Perhaps the most famous of Krakow’s scammers it has been in existence for over a decade. Something which sounds odd unless it has the blessings of some corrupt power brokers.
The scam goes like this.. some girls will approach a foreigner, maybe ask for directions, try to establish if he is a foreigner, a tourist etc and then offer to take him somewhere to drink.

The place will be Hard Candy or a similar mafia bar such as Club Saxon or another place where the foreigner will be charged for 70 Euros per drink for him and also for those of the girls. And in any case he thought of escaping, handy henchmen to soften him up.

It is not the only scam in Krakow. transportation services (which are actually legal) charging ridiculous fees etc. Caution is needed before taking any taxi. Be clear with the rate.
I wasn’t approached and had no used of a taxi but knew of these scams before.

To read more simply search Hard Candy Krakow on Google for many more scam reports.

Another place (which actually has souvenirs worth purchasing) is the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice). Reputed to be the worlds oldest shopping mall. The building is attractive in equally attractive surroundings and the current construction from 1555. There are many cafes to choose from in the surroundings.

On the first day I arrived there was heavy police presence over a tiny lesbian and gay parade. The parade itself passed through very quickly but the need for the heavy police presence (both in numbers and arms) became apparent. When the parade drew the ire of a group of black-shirted fascists who threatened to cause disturbance, well to attempt to attack those in the parade and were driven back and even chased by police. I missed a very good photo opportunity as I was yards away from such a group as they were warned back, when I elected not to draw attention to the fascists who are likely to be anti foreigners too.

In Krakow I attended vespers at the beautiful Orthodox Church of the Assumption. I was not in Krakow on the day of the liturgy as I returned to Opole.