Solo Travel for Introverts Ratings
Sensory Calm (5 / 5) – Compared to major cities in Western Europe, the place is less crowded and more conservative. Perfect for quiet types.
Solo-Friendliness (5 / 5) – Many visitors to the city are solo backpackers and tourism is built around adventurers.
Commute Friendly (4 / 5) – Well connect by trains. Excellent public transport.
Predictability (4 / 5) – Fairly predictable. The currency is Zloty. Make sure you get a decent exchange rate from Euros or US Dollars. Spend local currency wherever possible, as there are hidden charges on EUR & USD.
Safety (4 / 5) – High safety, low crime. Poland is religious, hence, dress modestly for churches. Read Inclusive Travel Alert at the bottom of this article.
Nerdy stuff – (5 / 5) – Many museums catering to a layered history of many eras. There’s pretty architecture everywhere.
What and Where?
Krakow is situated in Southern Poland across the Vistula river. It is close to the borders of Czech Republic, Slovakia and Ukraine, and thus, is an excellent choice to visit in Central and Eastern Europe.
The easiest way to get here is taking a flight to Munich, Berlin or Vienna and take a train. I chose to take an extra leg in flight in landed in Katowice Airport, and from there, took a nice ride across the Polish countryside. Read more about my bumpy unorthodox way to this city.
Here’s the tale I learned of Krakow’s founding – A long time ago, there lived a terrifying dragon of Wavel, who demanded cattle sacrifices. A brilliant young man, by the name Krakus, fed the Wavel dragon cattle-skin filled with smoldering coal and burned the dragon from inside out. To commemorate him, Wavel valley was revamped into a new city Krakow. Not to leave the poor dragon out, there is a statue of it breathing fire at Wavel Castle.
I started my exploration at the Old city from St. Mary’s Basilica – iconic for its two towers of unequal length. The two towers were built by brothers who wanted to show the world tower was taller. We went up the tip of the taller brother’s tower, to have a full view of the medieval city.
From here, I also witnessed the historic Bugle Call of Krakow. The trumpeter (a continuous job from the medieval era) plays a bugle and waves at all four directions of the city. But he stops the music abruptly without completing the song. This is to honor the medieval trumpeter who sang the song to alert the city when the Mongols gathered at its walls for an ambush. To prevent alerting of the defenses, the Mongols pointed their arrows at him, but he decided waking up the city was more important than his life, and continued to play until he was shot dead, ending the song, unfinis….
Reacting to medieval persecution of Jewish folk, the tolerant kings of Krakow like Casimir set up the General Charter of Jewish Liberties and invited Jewish families to settle down in Kazimierz neighborhood (named after him). This neighborhood soon flourished into a cosmopolitan hub of Jewish philosophers, scientists, physicians and Talmudists.
Jewish markets often brought rare items from abroad and there was a medieval saying – “If you can’t find it in the Jewish market, you aren’t going to find it in the country.”
A day trip away from Krakow is the medieval village of Oswiecim. When Germany invaded Poland, the Nazi occupiers renamed it to Auschwitz and committed their most infamous genocide here of Jewish, Gypsy, Slavic and non-Germanic families. It’s a place to pay tribute to the victims of the Holocaust and vow to never let minorities and disenfranchised people get rounded up, taken into camps and made to “disappear”. Look around you and stay vigilant!
From Communism Days
Poland has an unfortunate past of being subjected to authoritarianism even after liberation from Nazis. During the food shortages of the communist regime, Milk Bars became popular. These were Welfare / Rationed cafeterias that provided simple food like milk and bread to working class folks. Today, some of them are historically preserved and turned into affordable canteens, where you can have coffee, cabbage soups and breads for almost nothing.
During my first day, when I headed out early morning and everything else was closed, Bar Mlecny Gornik came to our rescue, and I’ll be forever grateful to the sturdy Canteen lady who poured ground coffee into hot water for me free of charge, and instructed to keep sipping at the top while allowing the coffee beans to settle at the bottom. There were other food in the pantry like open-faced sandwiches, potatoes and cabbage-rolls.
There are numerous Soviet-themed bars in Krakow. My favorite bar-and-quick eats was Pijalnia Wodki I Piwa. I had shots of numerous flavors of Schnapps and local liqueur such as almond, vanilla, walnut, cherry, peach, vanilla and banana. On the side, for food, I pointed at something on the menu that turned out to be buttered toast with cheese – the homeliest meal at the pub. The walls are lined with old newspapers and propaganda posters including one about prohibition, which this bar took inspiration from.
The Young Krakow
After a few interactions, I found that the younger generation of Poland enjoy the same things as rest of the world – an unforgettable story at the bar on Friday night, crying over wine and a romantic comedy, doing 40-day youtube challenges etc. However, every literature, cinema and song of Poland is only about the horrors of the past. While the sorrows of the older generation must never be forgotten, their validation should not come from robbing the younger generation of their happiness. The younger Poland is happy and vibrant, and this is the Real Poland.
For Next Time
The Wavel Castle is definitely on my list for next time, along with the legendary dragon statue, that emits fire.
Another attraction which I will do next time is the Wieliczka Salt Mine. A short distance from Krakow, the salt mine has a history of continuous operation going back to 13th century, and contains sculptures of saints, kings and other art recreations in a giant museum space – all made of salt.
Inclusive Travel Alert – Poland has been reported to have a regression in the socio-political mood, with increasing bigotry towards immigrants and LGBT+ folks, especially the South-Eastern part of the country. While staying in major cosmopolitan cities is safe as they are modern and diverse, read current travel advisories before planning a trip here.