Warsaw station is simple and modern, with only 4 platforms and excellent electronic information boards. The Warsaw to Krakow train was similar to the one from Berlin except the cafe carriage was just a simple snack bar.
It was a pleasant four-hour journey and I met an Australian couple chasing up their family history in Poland and Austria. Surprisingly the new Krakow station is larger than Warsaw and appears even bigger because of a huge new shopping mall that surrounds it.
For simplicity I took a taxi to the Hotel Royal, which was next to Wawel castle and close to the Old Town. The taxi cost 25 zloty (£5) but the tram back the following evening was just 55 pence. Hotel Royal is a rather grand Art Nouveau building although inside it doesn’t quite live up to its exterior grandeur. Nevertheless, it’s in a fabulous location, ideally situated for exploring on foot, has helpful staff, and was good value.
Krakow was a royal city and the political and cultural centre of Poland, so it’s no surprise that it’s a treasure trove of Gothic and Renaissance architecture. It’s a very attractive city that was physically undamaged during the war because the Nazis wanted it as a trophy city, the same reason they never bombed Oxford. However, the city was deeply scared psychologically by the murder and mayhem of Nazi occupation.
The infamous death camp of Auschwitz is nearby but having recently visited Buchenwald in Weimar I couldn’t face the horrors of another concentration camp so soon. However, I did visit the impressive Oskar Schindler’s factory, now a top museum in Krakow. It’s not simply a collection of artefacts but is housed in the original factory and uses an elaborate system of audiovisual recreations using genuine film footage, black and white photographs and sound recordings.
It is a chillingly powerful and atmospheric record of Krakow under the Nazi jackboot and it doesn’t downplay any of the horrors from the new generation. There are also a number of relics of Schindler’s life at the factory.
Many of the street scenes in Schindler’s List were filmed in the Krakow ghetto and a plethora of tours, in strange little 4-8 person electric golf buggy like vehicles, are available. These are excellent for the less mobile (or lazy) visitor but I simply walked through the small ghetto, crossed the Vistula River and entered the factory myself.
Krakow’s beautiful Market Square is said to be the largest in Europe and was creepily renamed Adolf Hitler platz during the Nazi occupation. Now it’s lined with cafes and restaurants with a beautiful Gothic market building of tourist shops in the centre. Usually these prime tourist venues hike their prices, but not here; a one and half litre jug of beer was £2.20 and on another occasion an excellent pizza plus beer cost £3.50.
My hotel, was located on the Planty, which is a green ring surrounding the old town where the original city walls were. This is a wonderful space for local people where in most cities it would have been sold to developers or converted into a ring road, but in Krakow it has become the city’s green jewel.
• Read InterRailing is for Seniors too! – Trip 1: London to Warsaw
• Read InterRailing is for Seniors too! – Trip 2: Warsaw
• Read InterRailing is for Seniors too! – Trip 4: The night train to Vienna
• Read InterRailing is for Seniors too! – Trip 5: Vienna
• Read InterRailing is for Seniors too! – Trip 6: Vienna to Salzburg
• Read InterRailing is for Seniors too! – Trip 7: Salzburg
• Read InterRailing is for Seniors too! – Trip 8: Salzburg – Sound of Music tour
• Read InterRailing is for Seniors too! – Trip 9: Salzburg-Brussels-London