Why haven’t I visited Krakow sooner with my children?

I have wanted to take my children to Krakow for quite a while, since they have reached the age when they can appreciate real sightseeing and would not be bored by walking the streets of  cities full of history any more. However, we reached a point, where they had already seen Rome and Paris, and London, and still have never been to Krakow, the cradle of polish national heritige. A shame! I think I was waiting to become more competent as a guide for my children, and overwhelmed by the educational and patriotical duty. Finally I decided we couldn’t wait any more. I was not going to become an expert historian and had to embrace my ignorance and  went with my family to Krakow to learn alongside them. I also took Lola, my travelling Sylvanian with me to raise my spirit and set things on a fun level.  Which has worked very well. You can’t be too concerned with serious matters having a miniature elephant in a pink dress travelling with you. Such a relief!

On our way to Krakow

Some thoughts on the weather and our guest house

This majówka ( that’s what we call a weekend followed by bank holidays on  1st and 3rd May) has been quite cold and cloudy, and it rained a bit. It was a good weather for sightseeing, but not for taking pictures. We don’t have many own good photos from Krakow, unfortunately. But many good memories to keep!

First of all, our Guest House. A little peaceful oasis in the centre of lively town. There was a well kept garden and a view of Wawel Castle from our balkony.

Lola at our balkony-you can see Wawel behind the tree. Probably when there are more leaves you can’t see it as clearly as in early May.

The Old Town, the legends about Krakow pigeons and St. Mary’s Church towers, and the broken anthem.

We started our Krakow adventure by visiting the Old Town, which was one of the 12 places on the first ever UNESCO list of treasures. There you can find what guidebooks say is the largest city market square in Europe. I have no idea why I have no photos of our trip to the Old Town- probably we were too busy  sharing stories and legends associated with Krakow. There are so many of them, I can’t possibly mention all !

A. My son has just had a project at school where he chose to work on the legend about Krakow pigeons, so he retold us the story. The pigeons are an inseparable element of the Krakow marketplace and Planty ( the park), and some believe them to be enchanted soldiers of an unresponsible prince. Te prince wanted to be king, but had no funds. He went to a witch for help, and she turned his swordsman into birds, so that they could fly up the towers of the St Mary’s Church and nibble the walls. The little pieces fell down , turning into gold. The prince took the gold and went to Rome for pope’s permission to be king. His soldiers were to be released from the spell after he came back. But he spent all his money at drinks and women and never made it either to Rome or back home. That is why his people remain enchanted to this day. Walking along the Planty, you have to look out above your heads for the pigeons, otherwise you might end up really dirty.

                                                    Kracow pigeons and St Mary’s Church  (Krakow Old Town)                                                       copyright Marcin Makówka source

You can read one of the extended versions of The Legend about Krakow’s pigeons here.

   B.There are at least two more stories you need to know about St.Mary’s church, in case your child or anyone elses asks you questions. Why is one of the towers shorter? The legend says, the towers where built by two brothers, one of them more skilled. The second brother was envious, that the other finished his tower sooner, and killed him. Then, killed himself out of grief and guilt, never finishing the second tower.

   C.The other question you might be asked is why does St. Mary’s trumpet call always stop on the broken note? According to the legend, the brave trumpeter once noticed Mongols attacking the city and raised an alarm. He played until one of the mogol arrows went through his throat. This anthem is played at every hour of the day and night from four windows of the St Mary’s tower, always stopping abruptly in the middle. The signal at 12 am is broadcasted on the polish national radio.

THE WAWEL CASTLE- The Royal Residency for many ages

I could spend days at Wawel sucking in all the interesting facts and legends. We had only half a day, so this was rather only a sneek peak into this magnificent historical site. There were many options. We chose collectively to buy tickets for two royal rooms tours (I insisted, and highly recommend them ), the armory, and the cathedral (my husband ) and to visit Dragons Den and Sandomierska Tower (childrens choices). Unfortunately, we had no time to see the Sigismunds Bell nor the Cathedral’s crypts. There were also an architectural tour and some more exhibitions left for us to see next time we come to Krakow.

Royal State Rooms and Private Apartments

Absolutely a must-see for anyone interested in history and interiors! Splendid exhibitions.

The Wawel Cathedral

Wawel Cathedral on a rainy day

Looking at the Wawel Cathedral the first impression was- what in earth style was this? It was such a mixture of different architectural styles that you could hardly believe it was possible it could work. But somehow it did. The subsequent changes corresponded with the historical events and consecutive monarchs. You were not allowed to take pictures inside, so I don’t have any of my own. The tour inside was like a journey through many ages. Literally every step took you to another story. One of my favourites had always been a story about medieval Queen Jadwiga. Mainly because it involved some romantic legendary parts. There was her tomb monument where she was pictured with a dog at her feet.

Nagrobek_Jadwigi_Andegaweńskiej (2)
Queen Jadwiga’s tomb at Wawel’s Cathedral (source)

The history and legend of Queen Jadwiga

Jadwiga was coronated the first female king of Poland at the age of 11 ( younger than my children are now). She was supposed to marry (at the legal age of 12) her fiance Wilhelm, the prince of Austria, whom she liked and even fell in love with him. The polish noblemen had a different idea. They  insisted on her marriage with Jagiełło, the grand duke of Lithuania. He was much older and, to catholic Jadwiga’s terror, a pagan. He was described as “The Bear” and she did not believe his will to be babtised to be true, but a political move.

When William came for his wedding with Jadwiga at Wawel, the lords of Poland tried to capture him, and he had to run away through the chimney. Jadwiga was determined to marry her beloved despite all council, so the nobles closed the gates to prevent her from doing so and pretended they didn’t know were the key was. The chronicle says, Jadwiga took an axe and tried to destroy the castle gates, but she did not have enough strengh to do so.( She was a young girl, after all).  One day she was praying in front of a black Jesus sculpture at Wawel, and something happend there, so that she changed her mind and sacrified personal happiness for national good. She commanded her dear lover to go away and never come back, and William hated her for that ever after.

Władysław Jagiełło was baptised and married Jadwiga who was 12 at the time (and he was at least 24 or maybe even in his thirties). I like to believe in stories that say, that they had good relationship and she came to love him with time. She was a smart diplomat and politician, supported charity and education. She died at 26, in her testament supporting her husband on the polish throne and recommending him his next wife. King’s Władysław II Jagiełło reign started the Jagiellonian dynasty in Poland, one of the most influential dynasties of these times in Europe, and was considered to be the beginning of Poland’s Golden Age. Jadwiga was very much loved by common people, who worshipped her after her death. She was later canonized a saint of Catholic Church. You can see her sculpture at the Royal Cathedral, as well as the miraculous black cross she used to pray at.

Jadwiga by Bacciarelli (the painting is in Warsaw) source

 The view from Sandomierska Tower, Dragons Den and the Dragon himself.

The Sandomierska Tower is not very high, fortunately, because my children insisted on climbing. The view at Wawel and Krakow is worth buying the ticket.

Wawel view from Sandomierska T
View from Sandomierska Tower ( Wawel Hill)

Travelling with children, it is a must to walk down the Wawel Hill via Dragons Den. (Tickets required. This attraction is seasonal). The cave isn’t very big, but indeed it is a cave, and most importantly, is believed to once have been the home of the legendary Krakow Dragon. There is a  monument of him at the exit of the den, occupied usually by large number of children. It was too crowded for Lola to show herself, but look whom we met at the spot.

Star-Lord from ‘The Guardians of the Galaxy’ in front of the Krakow Dragon’s monument (blurry)
Dragon’s Den is very popular among younger tourists.

The Dragon was spreading terror in the times of legendary prince Krak, the founder of Krakow. He used to eat sheep and people, especially young virgins. A smart shoemaker put loads of sulphur in a dead sheep and left it for the dragon to eat. The beast swallowed the bait, but the sulphur was a bit too spicy even for him, so he drank plenty of water from Vistula to stop the heartburn. He drank so much, that eventually exploded and that was the end to the evil dragon. Long after that,  the era of friendly mascot dragons has come. They are one of the symbols of Krakow and nobody is afraid of them any more.

Lola and the Krakow Dragons

Few thoughts on restaurants and pubs in Krakow

Everyone will find his own favourite places in Krakow. You can do pub crawling here, for wich the foreign tourists are known for. Travelling with children, we  dined at a little cheap but climatic inn were you can eat a big bowl of soup and a decent main course for 14 PLN (ca 3 GBP or 4 Euro), and is always full of locals and polish tourists.

Wieliczka Salt Mines

20 minutes from Krakow by car, the salt mines are another favourite site to visit both for children and their parents. Another, apart from Krakow Old City, place registered on the first UNESCO list of wonderful heritage. Labyrinth of corridors 135 metres under ground, beautiful caves and sculptered in salt chapels and statues, 6 metres salt chandeliers, and, of course, plenty of stories and legends!

You have to go down 800 steps to the Wieliczka salt mines. I took this photo half way down.
Dwarfs in Wieliczka Salt Mines
One of the saline lakes in Wieliczka ( photo: Shutterstock)
Lola and The Treasurer(  The legendary spirit of Wieliczka)

After the tour, we had a quick lunch in the underground before going up out of the mines in an old fashioned lift (chills!)

Lola’s taking a barrel of salt with her back to Sylvania.

There are more legends and stories worth checking out, but I can’t find reliable links in english for all them. The story of Pan Twardowski the sorcerer, the history and legend of Saint Stanislav, the legend behind Lajkonik tradition, the story of the Yellow Peaked Shoe found beind the famous altar in St. Mary’s Church. And many more to discover…

We are definitely going back to Krakow some time to discover more fascinating places and stories.

Useful links: 

Wawel Castle: http://wawel.krakow.pl/en/

Wieliczka Salt Mine: http://www.wieliczka-saltmine.com/

The legend about Krakow Pigeons

The legend of Krakow Princess Wanda, who didn’t want to marry a German prince link

Some more Krakow legends

The legend of Saint Kinga and Wieliczka Salt Mines link

Te original 1978 UNESCO World Heritage list ( 12 sites)