About Sasha H
Lives in Healey, United Kingdom
Since Jan 2015
I've swum with wild dolphins in the Maldives, fed baby kangaroos in Australia, been lost in the Sierra Nevada and crash-landed in a hot-air balloon in Poland – having spent the last decade travelling and freelancing, I am a joyful, nosy visitor to other countries, always meeting new experiences head on. I enjoy digging into the culture, listening to what's happening around me and taking thousands of photos on the way. Thanks to two decades of travelling extensively through Europe, the Far East and the Caribbean, I know the cities and countries I write about inside out. And even though I live in the Yorkshire Dales – surely the most beautiful place on earth – I never lose my enthusiasm for visiting my favourite cities in Italy and Poland or discovering new places to explore.
Historic walking areas, Landmarks & points of interest
Religious sites, Architectural buildings
Historic sites, Malls
Castles, Historic sites, Historic walking areas
Neighbourhoods, Historic walking areas
Historic sites, History museums, Museums
Poland’s most beautiful medieval market square is also its biggest; at 200 square meters the Rynek Główny (Main Market Square) is the social hub of Krakow, lined with pastel-colored townhouses and clusters of cafes and restaurants that spread onto the cobblestones in summer. It should be your number-one stop for the horse-and-carriage tours, the flower stalls, the weekend antiques market and the never-ending supply of jugglers and living statues. If that’s not enough, the Rynek is also home to three of Krakow’s biggest attractions: St Mary’s Basilica, the Cloth Hall and the city’s newest, glossiest museum: the Rynek Underground.
Occupying pole position at the southeast corner of the Rynek is the misleadingly plain red-brick exterior of St Mary’s Basilica, chiefly admired for its mismatched spires; the northern tower stands 80 meters high and it is here that the traditional hourly bugle call rings out across the city. The interior of the church could not be more different — a mad Baroque frenzy of adornment, where a sky-blue ceiling scattered with gold stars competes for attention with gleaming stained-glass windows, patterned marble flooring and altar paintings by 19th-century masters. And yet all of this is outshone still by the immense, intricately carved altarpiece, one of Poland’s artistic treasures and the best work of sculptor Veit Stoss, who was much in demand for his wood-carving skills in 15th-century central Europe.
Sitting smack in the middle of the Rynek, the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) has its origins in medieval times and started life as a medieval trading hall — the world’s first undercover shopping mall. Today its delicate, Neo-Gothic proportions hide a souvenir-hunter’s paradise on its ground floor, with scores of market stalls flogging brightly costumed wooden puppets, hand-painted eggs, cheery textiles and decently-priced amber and jet jewelry. It has a surprise on the upper floor too, in the shape of the glorious but sadly often-overlooked gallery of 19th-century Polish Art (Galeria Sztuki Polskiej XIX Wieku), displaying vast historical canvasses by Jan Matejko and abstract work by the nation’s favorite, Witkacy.
Krakow’s newest, flashiest museum has been carved out – at vast expense – directly underneath the Cloth Hall and sits at the medieval level of the city. It provides a thoughtful jaunt through the historical and cultural development of Krakow using clever multi-media presentations, interactive models, touch-screens and multi-lingual labeling. Highlights include walking among the excavated walls of the medieval marketplace, getting weighed in medieval units and the films showcasing Poland’s past.
The oldest restaurant in Krakow (Wierzynek opened its doors in 1364) is also one of its best, with elegant surroundings, historic portraits and weaponry on the walls, decorative timbered ceilings and suitably hushed service. The excellent menu teams the very finest of Polish cuisine with contemporary flair to produce dishes such as venison tartar and wild boar goulash.
At the end of Krakow’s Royal Route — the path taken by medieval Polish kings on their way to their coronation — Wawel Castle sits on a hill south of the Old Town and is Poland’s emotional heart. This jumble of palace, chapels, cathedral, colonnaded courtyards, armories and crypts sits behind fortified walls and was built in a clash of Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance styles from the 14th century onwards. Highlights of a visit here include Poland’s Crown Jewels in the treasury; the royal tombs and Russian murals in the cathedral; and the highly decorative apartments and state art collections in the castle.
Immortalized by Spielberg’s award-winning film Schindler’s List, Oskar Schindler was a Nazi who saved the lives of hundreds of Polish Jews by employing them in his enamel factory. Today that factory operates as a profoundly moving museum of the Holocaust in Krakow, utilizing graphic images, 3D dioramas, video testimonies and interactive displays that run chronologically from the arrival of the Nazis in 1939, through the gradual extinction of the city and its inhabitants in the death camps of Płaszów and Auschwitz-Birkenau, and on to liberation in 1945.
An award-winning and minuscule museum in Kazimierz, Galicia features a heart-warming collection of rarely seen images of Jewish life during the 20 years around World War II, as well as an exhibition celebrating Jewish culture in Eastern Europe. It is strangely almost unknown on the Krakow tourist trail, which makes a visit doubly worth the effort.
Buzzy Kazimierz is the former Jewish ghetto that today houses some of the wackiest, most stylish independent stores, art galleries, bars and clubs in Krakow. It’s best to tour the tangle of streets and hidden courtyards off the main square of Plac Nowy and find a spot that suits your mood to sit back with a coffee and watch bohemian Krakow pass by.
Krakow’s grandest beer hall is also one of its most popular; you may have to stand in line at the city’s longest bar to get your hands on a glass of home-brewed honey beer but the taste will be worth it. This is also the place for sampling good-old Polish home cooking, as Stara Zajezdnia cooks up dishes such as pork schnitzel and pierogi (dumplings stuffed with meat or cheese) at a cracking price.
After getting a feel for Krakow city, it’s time to bite the bullet and visit Auschwitz in otherwise-unremarkable Oświęcim, west of Krakow. Touring the site of the systematic extermination of 1.1 million Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and Soviet prisoners of war is never going to be easy, but it’s a deeply emotional and thought-provoking experience. A guided tour of the museum reveals austere prison blocks, the execution yard, and the only remaining solitary gas chamber, standing silent witness to the hundreds of thousands who died there. At Birkenau you’ll spot the iconic railway arch through which cramped trains brought throngs of unsuspecting prisoners to their deaths; at the far end of the decaying rows of wooden barracks there’s a stone memorial that provides the only flicker of hope in this devastating reminder of the Holocaust.
Fryderyk Chopin is Poland’s best-loved composer and an uplifting evening unwinding to his tinkling piano concertos is one of the best after-dark activities you can opt for in Krakow. Regular concerts are held in a 16th-century Gothic-paneled hall in the elegant Bonerowski Palace on the Rynek.