On a gloomy rainy August day in Krakow, there was nothing better than to explore Krakow’s Kazimierz neighborhood. People think of it as the Jewish quarter, but I think of it as the city’s outsider neighborhood. Yes, it formerly contained the area where Krakow’s Jewish culture thrived, and is now where the city’s tiny Jewish culture is making a comeback; but with its low rents and trendy dive bars, it is also where many university students live and a lively Bohemian-style culture exists.
Therese and I initially tried to explore Kazimierz on our own, taking a taxi there and then following a walking tour I found in The Marvels of Krakow 2015. But that walking tour seemed to include a lot of walking with not much pay-off in the way of sights, and some of the directions were not very clear (which corner is this incredible church supposed to be on again?). So Therese suggested we head back to Rynek Glowny and join the Free Walking Tour of Kazimierz that was scheduled to begin at 11am. We hustled back to the square, more than a mile in distance from where we were at that point, bought a couple of umbrellas just before the skies opened up, and joined the tour in front of St. Mary’s Basilica.
I’ll give you the highlights of the tour in a minute, but I have to say, while it was instructive to learn about the history of the Jewish culture in Kazimierz, we are not Holocaust junkies, and chasing down the spots where Stephen Spielberg filmed such and such scene in Schindler’s List just ain’t our thing. If that is your thing, you’ll have lots of fun. At the end of the tour, we were still not convinced that Kazimierz is really worth a day (I will not go to great lengths to defend myself from readers who may detect anti-semitism in my remarks – I have been to other cities like Prague and Budapest whose much more substantial Jewish quarters better reward the time spent, in my view). But anyway…
Stara Synagogue is a sort of Jewish museum (although there is actually another building that bears that designation).
Isaak Synagogue has a charming story behind its origin – the original Isaak supposedly had a dream that he would find money under Prague’s Charles Bridge with which he might build a synagogue. When he got to Charles Bridge, a soldier there told him that he had had a dream that Isaak would find money in Krakow. Isaak returned to Krakow, and found a bag of money there. And built the synagogue, which still exists.
We visited the monument to the Jewish Ghetto, and finished the tour at the Schindler Factory, which is now a museum. On Mondays, the Factory has free admission, but it also only stays open to 2pm. Since it was nearly that time when we arrived there, and we didn’t have that much interest in seeing the museum anyway, Therese and I made a bee-line for a taxi, and headed back to Plac Wolnica, to eat lunch at an appealing restaurant we had seen there, Marchewka z Groszkiem.
We were so relieved to sit down and contemplate a home-y, satisfying lunch. Not only was the day damp and chilly, but the guide had driven us, covering a couple of miles in the 3 hours of the tour. So we were feeling beat, and glad to have a meal, and return to proceeding at our own pace with less of an agenda. I had a plate of pierogis and Therese had pork belly, and we left Marchewka z Groszkiem feeling recharged.
After a nice leisurely walk, we arrived at a place I had been looking forward to since we arrived in Krakow, Soya Cafe. This is one of the city’s few establishments that sells vegan (i.e., dairy free) baked goods.
I tried slices of two cakes they were selling at Soya Cafe that day, and they both were really really good. Therese got a coffee drink with steamed frothy coconut milk which looked great – she is not really into coffee with anything other than dairy milk, but she said it was good for what it was. The young lady manning the counter was very sweet, but surprisingly spoke very little English (most university-aged people we met in Krakow spoke very good English).
It is unfortunate, to me, that this shop is one block removed from one of the busy streets, Stradomska, which connects Kazimierz to the Wawel Castle and Old Town. When we visited, the shop was empty. If it was on a busier street, it would probably get more business. Now, surrounded by closed industrial buildings, the only way it gets any traffic is if you have heard about it and are looking for it.
Just a block further north on Stradomska, across the street from the Wawel Castle plateau, is the Church of Saint Bernardino.
This Baroque church is delightful, but perhaps the most delightful aspect of our visit was the young university student who was serving as docent. He was happy to tell us about the church, and when we asked him about himself, he enthusiastically told us about his engineering studies.
The day before, we had passed Krakow’s Jesuit church, but it was near closing time. On this day, we passed there with plenty of time to visit, and so we stopped in. There was an organ concert imminent, but we tiptoed quietly around as the concert began.
You can always count on a Jesuit church to have lots of sumptuous Baroque details, and as you can see in the photos above, this was certainly the case at the Church of Saints Peter and Paul.
To complete the afternoon, we wanted to visit the nearby Dominican Church.
Unfortunately, mass was beginning at that time, and so we were not allowed to enter the church. I checked the mass schedule to get an idea of when might be a good time to visit the church, but I couldn’t figure out the schedule. What I read made it seem as if the church was busy with activities basically all day long. So reluctantly, I shrugged my shoulders and we gave up on that one.
The day ended just as the previous day, with a taxi ride back to Hotel Kosciuszko and a lovely dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. Halfway through our time in Krakow, with the exception of the tour of Kazimierz, we were feeling like we loved this city and looked forward to our remaining days there.