Another drizzly cold day in Europe, temperatures remained in the low 50s and everyone was bundled up for winter. My day started with a relaxing morning of catching up on emails and writing while drinking coffee in the hotel room. I decided to skip breakfast in order to start the day’s activities and then I was off.
About 300m from the hotel was the main strip Nowy Swiat which about a mile down takes you into the Old Town. The road is closed to most vehicles so it feels more like a large pedestrian walkway after it changes name to Krakowskie Przedmiescie. And no, I neither know how to pronounce that nor remember it! The street was lined with old buildings and beautiful cathedrals. Apparently 85% of the Old Town was destroyed during the war, though the city decided to restore it – which they did a lovely job of.
In the main square is what they refer to as the Royal Castle, though it’s not your traditional stone castle, it’s more stucco and palace looking. From there the streets get smaller and rounded/curvy until you land in the Old Town Square which reminded me of Ghent (in Belgium). It was completely cobblestone with outdoor eateries lining the square. The buildings encased it and were uniform in height but varied in color.
Just down the street was an overlook of the river and town across the way, which included the stadium that literally dominates the horizon. Clearly a focus of importance for the community. I took the back route into the Old Town which was void of tourists and allowed some unobstructed photos of the cobblestone streets and beautiful architecture. When I crossed through a castle-looking bridge I overheard an English speaking tour group. The sign said ‘free, please join’ so I did!
The guide had perfect English and was born and raised in Poland. With a great sense of humor, he took us through the Jewish Ghetto where he told us about the uprising. It seems during the war, they put all the Jews in a little tiny section of town, walled it off, and stripped them of their jobs in hopes they would die of starvation or disease. Eventually after they were famished they offered them food to come work at the concentration camps, which we all know turned into death camps. So sad…
From there he took us all around the Old Town and gave us a bit of history into how Poland has changed throughout the years. I hadn’t realized how much land wars it had been through – with Germany, Austria, Russia… It’s wild. After the tour ended, I made my way back to this potato bar I’d seen about a mile back. Time for lunch! This meat and potatoes girl was in heaven – I got one potato with goat cheese and chives and a second with sausage, bacon, and onion. Delicious!
The guidebook the free walking tour gave us recommended the two must-see museums were the Jewish Museum and the Uprising Museum. Lonely Planet had recommended the Castle, however, the walking tour booklet said it was mostly artwork (I’m more into architecture and people movements). So I decided on the Jewish Museum and made my way across town – just shy of 2 miles on foot. Thank goodness my shoes are comfortable!
The Jewish Museum started off with Jewish history from almost a century ago, which admittedly is difficult for me to get interested in. I skimmed the sections until 1939 which is when we got to the war. Somehow I hadn’t remembered that the vast majority of Jews in Europe were in Poland, nor had I remembered that because of this they built all of the concentration camps in Poland. The stories of the Jewish Ghetto and movement to the concentration camps and a breakdown of each camp were just heart wrenching.
Having lived in New York it is ever apparent there is an enormous Jewish population, very predominant. However, I didn’t realize it was mostly because during the war 80%+ of the emigration outside of Europe was to New York. Go figure! I wonder what was so appealing as opposed to closer locations. The next was 5.5% to Argentina and Latin America. Which I will admit found it a little peculiar when I was in Buenos Aires there was such a big Jewish population, but now it all makes sense! Anyhow it was a fascinating museum and very well done.
On the way back I stumbled upon Park Krasinskich as I saw a gorgeous mansion peaking through the trees and like a curious cat had to go see what it was. The park was splendid with a large duck pond and beautiful flowers. The house was enormous, like those French mansions you see outside of Paris. Wowee! Though I couldn’t tell if there was a way to view it and I wanted to catch the Castle Tour before it closed.
Sadly after getting to the Castle I realized my brochure was outdated, it was showing the summer schedule of closing at 6pm, however the winter schedule it closes at 4pm. Oh well, can’t see everything right. There was still another mile back to the hotel, so I started off on foot to get a little break before dinner.
Dinner tonight was a recommendation from Lonely Planet (which has yet to fail me – many countries and many meals later). The Restauracja Polka is located in the Castle Inn directly across from the Castle. Enter into the old world with a traditional look of florals and draperies. At one point likely living quarters, the restaurant is broken into different rooms each with their own look and feel. At first look it seems elegant, though the exposed wood tables and tourists in jeans quickly bring it to a more casual feel. The food was outstanding, by far the best on the trip. The server recommended the Wild Boar and a Polish dessert of cream and cherries. The favors were absolutely incredible.
It was a little over a mile walk back to the hotel and once there, it was time for bed…lots of walking today!