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Krakow, Poland

Cracking Krakow
Into the Heart of Poland

Day 3

The Kazimierz District

Spend your final day exploring the twisting streets of the Kazimierz District, where many of the buildings are in the process of being renovated. While these serene streets now echo with the din of patrons at trendy restaurants, smoky cafés and bars, the silent synagogues are the last vestiges of what was once a bustling Jewish Quarter prior to World War II. In the 15th century, the Jewish population of Kraków was forced to resettle in the nearby town of Kazimierz, whose walls were finally torn down in 1822 to allow the Jewish population to integrate with other Poles. During World War II, the Jewish community was again relocated—this time to Podgórze, south of Vistula River and today another Kraków neighborhood.

Housed in a prayer house dating from the 1880s, the Centre for Jewish Culture (ul. Meiselsa 17) features exhibitions of contemporary Jewish artwork, lectures, and concerts that educate and reinforce the memory of the Jewish community in Poland.

It was also in this neighborhood that Steven Spielberg filmed scenes for his award-winning movie, "Schindler’s List", based on the life story of industrialist Oskar Schindler, who saved hundreds of Jewish lives during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Fabrika Oskara Schindlera, the Schindler factory, is located in Podgórze at ul. Lipowa 4.

At Plac Bohaterow Getta 18 you’ll find the Pharmacy Under of the Eagle, where Tadeusz Pankiewicz, a Gentile, maintained his pharmaceutical shop inside the Ghetto during the war. It’s now a museum dedicated to life in the Ghetto. Nearby, a small remnant of the Ghetto wall can be seen at the southwestern end of ul. Lwowska.

Poland's oldest synagogue

Continue to the 15th-century Stara Synagoga, or Old Synagogue, Poland’s oldest synagogue. Here, on ul. Szeroka, what was once the main destination for Jewish culture now houses the Museum of the History and the Culture of Kraków Jews. The bright interior highlights a large 16th-century replica of an ornate black iron bimah (pulpit), which dominates the center of the synagogue and is surrounded by exhibits that include life stories evidenced by historical records, photographs, and various personal possessions.

Established in 1553

Return to modern Jewish life in the district with a walk over to the 15th-century Remuh Synagogue on (ul. Szeroka 40) and the city’s only remaining active Orthodox synagogue. Its Renaissance-designed cabinet housing the Torah is the original that was saved from destruction. Remuh’s cemetery also escaped ruin, and here you can see intriguing Renaissance grave markers. Note that visitors are expected to cover their heads and pay a small entrance fee.

It might be time to take a break and delve into the revitalized square in front of the Old Synagogue. This large square is lined with trendy multicolored restaurants and a small leafy-green area with benches where you can sit in quiet contemplation. Szara Kazimierz, across the way at ul. Szeroka 39, is an elegant contemporary eatery both in cuisine and décor. Large colorful paintings stand out in the bright interiors, and the flavorful fusion of international cuisines is prepared quickly and with flair. Feast inside or dine outdoors if weather permits.

If you have extra energy and want to experience a bit of Polish kitsch for the rest of the day, head back to the railway station (ul. Worcella) and catch one of the mini-buses that leave every ten minutes for the Wieliczka Salt Mines. A UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates from the 13th century, these are the oldest mines in the world. They contain 215 miles of tunnels, though only 1.25 miles of passageways are open to the public. The salt trade was a major asset to the local economy; salt production eventually totaled a third of the royal income. If the work was grueling, at least the miners found some artistic relief: The Chapel of St. Kinga, named after Princess Kinga of Hungary, is a complete underground church embellished with salt-carved chandeliers and altar. During the Communist period, workers were “encouraged” to create more non-denominational sculptures—thus were born several salt-mining dwarves.

Restaurant Wierzynek is located in two ancient buildings

Dinner will probably be on your mind after all that salt! At ul. Jana you can sample your last taste of Polish cuisine—peasant style—at Chlopski Jadlo. Here you can even eat in bed—at a table made to look like a bed, anyway. Portions are hearty and reasonably priced. The pierogis arrive steaming and the kielbasa is zesty. Beware of the hunk of bread: As is customary in many Eastern European restaurants, if you eat it you pay for it. And that spread isn’t butter, it’s probably lard. If you’d like a more sophisticated dining experience, the famous Restaurant Wierzynek (Rynek Glówny 15), which dates from 1364, overlooks the square and has hosted many a celebrity.

Finish your last night in this rich city by dropping in at the Budda Drink & Garden Bar (Rynek Glówny 6). The lovely courtyard will lead you past the stained-glass entry and leave you staring at the spiral staircase topped by a turban-esque banquette. It is hoped you’ll be in the company of that special someone, because the Kama-Sutra décor says it all. In addition to mellow music, earthy tones and the, um, unique interior design, this bar serves up clever cocktails that are just right for the cozy booths.

For more information on Krakow, go to www.poland.travel/en-us/, the official site of the Polish National Tourist Office.


MORE KRAKOW INFORMATION

P010907
(Updated: 05/29/08 HC)

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