Krakow Is Best Savored Slowly

Krakow's landmarks, including its market square, have survived occupation and communism.
Krakow's landmarks, including its market square, have survived occupation and communism. (Courtesy of the Polish National Tourist Office)
By Ellen Creager
Detroit Free Press
Sunday, August 31, 2008

KRAKOW, Poland -- Completely enchanting. Worth every zloty. Gracious and romantic. Exciting. Complex. Historic.

If you stay in Krakow a day, you will wish you had stayed a week. If you stay a week, you will wish you had stayed two.

What's the attraction? Krakow is part college town and part delicious fairy tale.

It was from this beautiful region that hundreds of thousands of Poles emigrated to Detroit, Chicago and other American cities around 1900. They fled occupation, oppression, poverty and high taxes, leaving this place to make their fortune in a new land.

But what a treasure the city is now. Go to see it and you'll be a rare American doing so. Lacking the cachet of Italy, France or the United Kingdom, Poland got just 331,000 American visitors last year, which is a shame because Poland, which does not yet use the euro, is one of the most affordable spots in Europe.

My favorite things about Krakow?

For an old city, it feels very young. Since Copernicus was an undergrad here at Jagiellonian University in the 1400s, Krakow has been buzzing with students.

It is a 1,000-year-old city that has never been bombed. Occupied, yes. Defiled, yes. Scene of sorrows and evils, Nazis and Communists, yes. But its 14th- to 16th-century landmarks -- its churches, medieval towers and grand, stunning market square -- have survived it all.

And there's more. Quaintly, a trumpeter plays a song every hour on the hour in the tower of a local church, just to let people know that all is well. The once bereft Jewish section of town, Kazimierz, has sprung back to life.

The city has a huge castle. Delightful food. Classical music every night. And a local priest (Karol Wojtyla was his name; you may have heard of him) made good as pope.

But first, a bit of background.

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