Krakow and Zakopane: OUR MOST DECADENT TRIP

I love Krakow and the surrounding area. So let’s just clear this up. You’re not experiencing deja vu at the word Krakow. The familiarity is real. This makes my third time flying into and out of the Krakow airport and my third time writing here about a quick 4-ish/5-ish day trip.

I love the access to all the history Krakow offers you. I love the chances to reflect and challenge yourself to process everything that has happened here. Coming to this part of the world can leave you emotionally and intellectually exhausted. It’s why friends and acquaintances alike were rolling their eyes at the very mention of Poland whenever I brought it up in 2010. I couldn’t stop talking about it’s impact on me after my first trip.

But that’s not the sort of trip we had in mind this time. Instead, this trip was all about how to introduce my love of Poland to Cody while making it into as family-friendly a vacation it could be with a six month old.

Let’s also just be upfront about this. Traveling with a baby is not like traveling alone.

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Wow can you really spend a lot of time getting him ready to go out and then a lot of time walking to and fro just to make it back to nap time. As a baby-free adult, I was used to cramming sites into the ol’ itinerary that kept us at a quick march from early morning to late at night, because who needs time for sleep? There is world to be seen, people, personal claims to be staked onto this monument or that city. I have a story arc to populate!

I did the kind of trips where you need a day of rest after you get back from your vacation but never would have allowed that in my schedule because, hey, it’s another day for site-seeing!

The baby, on the other hand, sort of forces a more laissez-faire type of travel style, as we first enjoyed back in July. In Cordoba we didn’t feel guilty at all for taking advantage of the siesta hour in 102 degree heat. But, somehow, even though we did far fewer touristy things with the baby in tow this time in Poland, we ended up probably just as tired as we would have been without him attached to our chests.

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So, what were some of differences on this trip? Let’s get started.

First, lodging: Mosquito Hostel is a top notch hostel and would normally be my first choice for traveling on a budget. But with Master James’s sleeping habits we felt even a private room in any sort of shared accommodation would be a little too unkind to other occupants. So, this would make the first decision in what Cody and I dub The Most Decadent of All Our Trips: a one bedroom apartment in what we were told by our drivers was the was the newest and swankiest building in Krakow.

Next, transportation: That’s right, we had drivers. No trains for us. Not even any shared group tours.  For this trip with this baby we went private drivers all the way (because we are such fancy, demanding adults now), who all turned out to be lovely conversationalists, so there’s an extra plus (question: should you be tipping private drivers in every country? Do unopened bottles you didn’t have time/luggage space for count as adequate gifts?).

Now for activities: What did we do this time in Krakow?

1. Actually stopped and swayed to the music outside St. Florian’s (Floriańska) Gate, with a Costa cafe located a little too conveniently directly behind us.

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2. Took leisurely walks in previously untrodden parks.

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Planty Park connects St. Florian’s Gate to the Barbican, or you can take a different path to get to the commercial center

3. Shopped.  Goodness we shopped.

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The Cloth Hall will always offer an expedient way of getting rid of your zloty.

I don’t want to call this whole holiday a shopping trip, but with Christmas on the horizon, there were a few known assets in Krakow that made a trip seem inevitable.  And we were really able to accomplish a lot with a 20 lb observant owl strapped to our chests. I guess Krakow has that going for it. The shopping list included:

  • Wooden horses: Most importantly and probably most ridiculously was the urge to come back to Krakow to buy little wooden horses. Some years back I unknowingly began a tradition of buying these horses for my nieces and nephews. I say “unknowingly” and “tradition” because now with Jamesy and all his new cousins on my side of the family, I feel I now must make sure each and everyone of them has their own hand carved, hand painted horse from Poland whether or not they form the same sort of sentimental attachment to them that I do. I don’t know if they’re cheap or high quality or ‘authentic’ or not, but I bought them from the same vendor in the same Cloth Hall as I did seven years ago.  I felt a little foolish repeating myself to the vendor “Yes, I want FIVE of them” and then trying to pack the five sets of ungainly legs into one suitcase, but the neurosis – er, tradition –  wants what it wants.
  • Pottery: Polish pottery is ridiculously beautiful. And on this trip, in addition to the many gifts I wanted to bring back for others, I decided that being such a fancy, comfortable adult now meant I deserved some too. Mila‘s offers such a good, thorough experience and ships whatever you need (and pack it safely to ship to you!)
  • Amber jewelry: Don’t worry, we didn’t go too riche on this one. We stuck to a reputable vendor at the Cloth Hall instead of shopping out in town in the actual jewelers. However, the stuff in their windows was looking mighty unique and mighty pretty.
  • Strollers: well this was a bust. After the second day and what felt like broken backs, we convinced ourselves that we needed to get one of those little umbrella travel strollers. After a couple treks to the mall we did find strollers, but only the Cadillac of Cadillacs version that cost $400. Where are all the umbrella strollers hiding?

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4. New experience alert: Private tour to the resort town of Zakopane. Can you call us extravagant? Let’s just chalk this decision up as being the easiest way to get from point A to point B, my egoistic personal quest to insert a new destination into every trip, and well, let me remind you: Our Most Decadent Trip. To start, our charming driver took us through the countryside, past lovely little cottages and green hills, to the resort mountain town of Zakopane. We rode the cable car all the way up and because there was no snow to ski or sled upon, we just enjoyed the views, the vendors, and of course some delicious grilled mountain cheese with cranberry sauce!

Pause for a second. If you read my 2010 blog, this cheese should sound familiar. Let this really sink in. It took seven years, but the appetizer I had been dreaming about since my first trip to Poland was finally introduced back to my palette. When I had described to our driver what I had been yearning for, he told me, “I am returning you to heaven today.” He told me what to order (it was everywhere, restaurants, booths on the street, etc.) and Indeed! This particular version of melty mountain cheese tasted a little more “grilled” than I remembered, but was absolutely perfect with some hot soup on this cold, blustery type of day.

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Then we rode the elevator down the mountain and walked along prettily built roads with shops and restaurants built to conjure a sense of mountain holiday leisure.

This segues nicely into what we ate on our trip, as this is always a good question to ask when you want to know how happy someone is about their vacation or anytime off (seriously, just ask someone about their weekend. they’re always bringing up “Oh I ate at this restaurant!” or “I invented a new pie!” or “I just stayed home and ate cardboard pizza”). So, besides the melty mountain cheese with cranberry sauce, we dined on:

  • Pierogis. I don’t mean to brag, but we had pierogis for daaaaays. We ate the swanky ones and we ate the rustic versions. And guess what? They were all gooood. Falling somewhere between swanky and rustic is this place, which has now seen me three times in the last 7 years.  This makes my third time visiting this restaurant. Perogies
  • Street sausage. One of our awesome drivers recommended this experience, lauding it as, “just like the old days, like in Soviet times,” apparently when people lined up in the cold to get a hot bite. KielbasaOur driver was probably all of 20 years old, so I gather he wasn’t referring to his own memories of Soviet times, but we trusted him for knowing just the right place to get food on the street at 9pm. It was cold, dark, and misty when we set out from our apartment to the old Jewish quarter, but James was nestled snug and dry against Cody’s chest and we did the quick march that was needed for kielbasa, smoky mustard, fresh bread, and some hot beer (or mead? we didn’t have enough change so we didn’t opt for drinks). While the sausage was good, I have to say, what I really admired about the whole experience was the rhythm and ritual in which the other customers enjoyed their meal. We all stood around a shared, narrow table under a little tent next to the fryer. Cody and I observed as the others paused in their chit chat to concentrate on the task at hand. They sliced their kielbasa bite by bite, dipping each piece neatly from their fork into the mustard before popping it into their mouths. A sip of beer and then the knife and fork maneuver repeated itself with choral rhythm.
  • 20170904_155331.jpgCappuccinos and desserts: We visited many, many cafes with James, taking his little squeaks of discomfort throughout the day as a reason to momentarily escape the cold and unstrap him from whomever’s chest, so we could all have a bite to eat.                 This equated to the drinking of many, many delicious cappuccinos (Poland, who knew this was a hidden strength of yours?) and eating many warm slices of apple pie with an odd marzipan pastry or cheese cake thrown in on accident.
  • Beer. Brokreacja:  This was a new brand to us and we were thoroughly impressed by the Alchemist IPA (probably due to its American influence), so much so that we hunted for it in every supermarket we passed. We only found the brand at one express sized supermarket all the way up in the mall (which makes no sense, as they’ve won some kind of national championship according to their website) which was sooooo far to walk just to lug back a couple of heavy bottles. (This is where that umbrella stroller would have come in handy.) And then the worst taunt of fate arrived in the form of a fricking delivery van on our path the last morning before we had to leave for the airport. 
  • Where are you sold you wiley Brokreacja Alchemist IPA?

5. We ended the trip with an obligatory stroll up to the Wawel Castle to see the dragon breathe his fire breath while I recited to Cody the story about the princess and the shepherd with about 60% accuracy, before needing to catch our ride back to the airport.  20170906_101705.jpg

Coincidences of all coincidences, our driver was a recent PoliSci Master’s holder who desperately wants to visit Seattle with his Forestry-studying girlfriend so that they can be surrounded by the music culture of the early 90’s grunge scene. I don’t think we could welcome a better suited couple the PNW, what do you think people?

Someday I’m going to make it to the rest of Poland, but for this short trip with a baby, I figured this was as good as any place to start to transfer my love of Poland to Cody and dance to a polka with James on the street.

The Details:

Mode To and from Overnights Accommodation
Air Round trip Malaga to Krakow Krakow Angel Wawel Luxury Apartments
Transportation Useful phrases on this trip

English                                        =

 Polish
Private drivers, walking Yes Tak
No Nie
Thank you Dziękuję
Please Proszę

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