the past few years, I have had the good fortune to live in a very interesting
city, one that, despite its small size, packs a considerable amount of
cultural attraction. Krakow is becoming more recognized, particularly
in Europe, as a place worth visiting.
are coming for cheap stag weekends from Britain, to enjoy great beer and
nightlife at a fraction of the price they would pay at home. But increasingly,
there are some more discerning visitors who take advantage of the lower-cost
flights to sample the special atmosphere and surrounding attractions. And
then there are young people who take advantage of both - sightseeing during
the day and getting to know the great nightlife of this bustling student
city by night.
I first arrived
in Krakow in December of 2004, intending to finish a TEFL certificate in
Prague and to start a new life there. As I had previously lived in Berlin
and had visited Warsaw and Prague before, I felt fairly comfortable in
the region and was attracted by the old-world charms that exist in Central
Europe. Krakow was a place I had heard of but had never visited, overshadowed
perhaps by the much better known (at the time) cultural center of Prague.
I cant say
that I was so impressed that I considered living there. A trip to Prague
the following spring though thoroughly wowed me to say the least - I
found the place to be incredibly beautiful, rich in culture, history and
art, and with a bustling cosmopolitan spirit. When I returned home after
college, it was this combination of cosmopolitan spirit and old-world charm
that again attracted me to the place. I had heard about people teaching
there, as a friend had recently finished a TEFL Certification and had started
working and enjoying the eclectic atmosphere. This included not only
taking in the local culture but also the fascinating mosaic which is the
expatriate community which exists in many of these places, and is truly
a world of its own.
days I spent in Krakow at the end of 2004, which included ringing in the
new year in one of the largest medieval squares in Europe (though not large
enough to accommodate all the people there) was definitely an experience
to remember. All the Poles I met there were very approachable, and
I found the city to be small but beautiful. Upon coming to Prague, and
living there for the month duration of my course, I found an equally beautiful
city but with many differences. The size of the city was one thing (Prague
has 1.2 million people, Krakow only 700,000) but also the sheer extent
of the tourism and commercialism that had affected the place. While Prague
certainly has a great atmosphere, I found it just a bit too overpowering.
wanted a more genuine cultural experience, where I wouldnt hear English
everywhere and see other Americans on a daily basis. So I returned to Krakow
in February 2005, finding a job and an apartment fairly easily upon arrival.
learned my mistake by going to the big-name Real Estate Agencies in Prague,
where I was required to pay one months rent over to the agent, I instead
went to the Student Agency in Krakow, which charged little or no fee. These
agencies are used to dealing with students so there are also usually more
bargains to be found. I was also able to quickly select the place I wanted,
from a list of available places listed by area, size, and amenities available.
was rented a 90m apartment, right in the center of town, for a little over
$300 a month, plus utilities. I recommend taking your time to find these
apartments, as the ones listed with the agencies catering to foreigners
will definitely be higher priced. It is of course always possible to reduce
the cost by getting a flatmate to share the place. It has its social benefits
as well - it was nice to live with another English-speaker in an otherwise
linguistically foreign place.
I have to
say that I was very pleasantly surprised in the beginning about my new
life in the city. Poles are fairly friendly and it is not too hard to strike
up a conversation, particularly if you are a foreigner and can speak English.
in many other places around the world, the young people are fairly good
at and interested in practicing their English with a native speaker.
I also found
that it is a great place to meet and interact with other English speakers,
who are usually more or less united by the experience of being in a foreign
country and speaking the same language.I know many English people who
say that it is much easier to meet people from all over the world abroad
since foreigners are usually more open to meeting other foreigners.
of the city and its surroundings are varied and fascinating: parks,
museums, bars, restaurants, clubs, the Main Square, Wawel Castle are all
within easy walking distance of each other.Not far from Krakow also is
the town of Zakopane, nestled at the foot of the High Tatra Mountains and
a major ski center for Poland. Across the border in Slovakia await even
more spectacular peaks and legendary spa towns where you can soak up the
waters, get a massage, ski and relax at a fraction of the price you would
pay in the Alps.
course it is possible to visit the other fascinating cities in the area;
Prague, Bratislava, Vienna and Budapest are between 6-9 hours away by train.
Low-cost airlines connect the city with Berlin, London, Paris, Amsterdam,
Glasgow, Dublin, Barcelona and Rome, among others. So-called autokar services
have also recently opened, providing for even cheaper and faster connections
to Vienna and other cities. A friend of mine recently used one of these
services to go from Krakow to Vienna and back for 60 Euros! These are usually
a minibus service. In Krakow itself, you would be surprised at the
variety of cheap services and entertainments that are available. A pint
of good cold beer usually costs $2 and in some places as low as $1.30,
although across the border in Slovakia it can be bought for even half that
price. Except for a few places on Saturday nights, and the occasional concert,
there is almost never a cover fee to get into a club. There is also a philharmonic
orchestra, an opera house, many art museums, and classical concerts which
take place, usually in one of the many churches around town. I know of
a place in Krakow where an hour-long massage will cost you US$6!
When it comes
to food, you will find many places where a meal is available for as little
as US$4 , sometimes even as low as three. Usually, this is standard meat
and potatoes Polish fare, but there is also an inexpensive restaurant serving
vegetarian food buffet style, where a big plate costs you only US$4.
Other things such as pizza and Italian food can cost a bit more, and it
seems that most ethnic food is aimed at the tourist dollar, which means
it is rarely a bargain but still reasonable considering Western prices.
As for lodging,
I have to say that I believe, far and away, the best deal is with apartments.
Whether you are one or two people or a much larger group, the space and
amenities available (including full kitchens, refrigerators, and sometimes
washing machines) make it the best option when it comes to comfort while
staying the city. The prices are usually the same as a comparable hotel
room, which usually is far less spacious. Most food products, including
fresh bread and cheeses, are available at local markets, offering further
savings should you choose to go this route.
As far as
arriving in Krakow, there are now more cheap airlines serving the city
than ever, making it possible to reach the city from all corners of Europe,
sometimes only paying taxes on the flight, particularly if you can buy
in advance. With the tourism in the city nearly doubling in the last
year, competition among low-cost carriers means big discounts for you.
Because of these cheap flights, more and more people who would normally
not come to the city have started coming, and many are returning time and
time again once they discover what the place has to offer.
While not yet
as popular (or, one might say,touristy) as Prague or Budapest, Krakow has
its own definite charms and also is located in a very popular area with
many sights to see, such as the Tatra Mountains, Wieliczka Salt Mine and
the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. The latter should be a must-see
for anyone coming to the region, and is one of the main draws, despite
the very tragic and somber atmosphere of the place.
All in all,
I definitely believe that Krakow should be on your big list, even if you
have been to Prague or Budapest already, and that you should consider spending
some time here in a perhaps lesser-known, but equally captivating city!
by James Beckley, who is 24 years old and from America. He spent the
last two years teaching english and living in Krakow, a city he is has
grown to love. Very fond of Europe, he has been coming there since he was
13, speaks several of its languages, and has lived in many of its countries,
including France, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Poland.