Browsing for take-home treasures
During the 15th century, traders peddled silks, spices and exotic Eastern delicacies beneath the ornate rooftop of Sukienice Cloth Hall. Trade is still going strong among its bustling stalls – though its visitors today are far more likely to shop for home-grown wares like highland wool slippers, carved wooden figurines, religious icons and exquisite amber jewelry.
Traipsing among the tombs of dead kings
Poland’s royal family and national heroes are laid to rest within the somber gothic interior of Wawel Cathedral. An air of reverence hangs in the air as you wander through a maze of grandiose sarcophagi and stately tombs, pausing to take stock of the elaborate frescoes and priceless paintings that adorn the walls.
Entering a dragon’s lair
Legends make up a vital part of Krakow’s heritage. A dragon fond of devouring the town’s pretty maidens allegedly besieged the city many centuries ago. The resourceful Prince Krak threw a sheep’s hide filled with salt into the beast’s lair; the dragon took the bait before rushing towards the Vistula to quench his thirst, drinking until bursting point (literally). A walk through the cavern takes you deep inside Wawel Hill before bring you face-to-face with a bronze statue of the infamous ‘Smok Wawelski’, rearing up in fury on the banks of the river.
Dancing to klezmer musi
Before the Holocaust, Kazimierz district bustled with the life of Krakow’s 65,000–strong Jewish community. Traces of their culture still remain in the kosher restaurants and renovated synagogues lining Kazimierz’s Main Square. Thanks to the Jewish Cultural Festival, on warm summer nights an electric range of sounds, from traditional Hassidic chants to klezmer-jazz fusion, drift out of the district’s bars and clubs.
Excavating subterranean salt
Some 12km southeast of Krakow, the UNESCO-listed Wieliczka Salt Mine has been in operation for over 700 years. Though salt isn’t the valuable commodity it once was, the mine’s air is believed to be therapeutic. A visit involves plunging down a mineshaft to explore a surreal world of tunnels, pits, lakes and chambers inhabited by human-sized salt sculptures. The crowning highlight is St Kinga’s Chapel, where everything, from the chandeliers to the altarpiece depicting da Vinci’s The Last Supper, is expertly crafted out of salt.
Indulging in winter comfort eating
Winters in Poland are picturesque but unforgivingly cold. So after an afternoon of wading through snowdrifts, a sign reading ‘Chlopskie Jadlo’ (‘Peasant’s Eatery’) is a lifeline for frostbitten toes. Light eaters are encouraged to lose their inhibitions as lard is smothered onto hunks of bread, hearty stews dished out in satisfying portions and hot soups spiked with sausage and egg.
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