We were reluctant to leave Zakopane on Thursday morning, but also excited about returning to Krakow. We successfully navigated our way back to Sylwia and Marek's apartment (well, the taxi driver did), and we settled in for an afternoon of relaxing, reading, and reacquainting ourselves with the world of the Internet. We could easily have taken a bus into the Old Town, and I felt a bit guilty for not doing so, but I think we were both ready to just take a rest from being continually on the go. Sylwia and Marek were both home before 6, and they had some ideas for the evening.
We drove into town, stopping at several sites along the way. First, we stopped at an old quarry that has been flooded and now is a popular place for people living on the outskirts of town to picnic and swim (illegally). I had been there with Sylwia the last time I visited Krakow. Next we stopped at a place I hadn't been before, the Kosciuszko Mound. The mound is a monument built in the 1820's to Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a Pole who fought in the American Revolution as well as leading an uprising during the time of the second partition of Poland. It's a big, steep hill that challenged all of us who don't like heights. But, as usual, the view from the top was worth it. The entire city of Krakow was laid out before us, looking ridiculously tiny. We took some photos and then headed into town.
In the Old Town, Sylwia was eager to show us a new hotel that has a spectacular terrace overlooking the market square. The evening light was absolutely perfect for pictures with the beautiful Kosciol Mariacki in the background, and we then settled in for drinks. Before we knew it, our quiet rooftop retreat became the scene of a very sophisticated (i.e. oddly dressed) gathering celebrating some recent exhibit at the National Museum. One of the first couples that emerged from the elevator consisted of a woman wearing the most godawful yellow, ruffly dress which I thought of as "the canary outfit." Her companion was an extremely hip-looking Asian fellow with spiky hair and a carefully mussed suit. As we finished our drinks, we saw more and more outlandish outfits, matched with shoes so ugly that we knew they must be high fashion. We left just about when things got unbearably posh. I think all of us were a bit excited to have witnessed such a spectacle, even if we outwardly laughed at some of the most unusual garb.
By now we had worked up quite an appetite, so there was only one place to go: Chimera, Krakow's famous salad bar, where just a few zloty buys a plate stuffed with 7 kinds of salad. We ate in the atmospheric basement dining room and enjoyed our food immensely.
After dinner, Marek offered to take us on a tour of some of Krakow's pubs and clubs, most of which he remembered from his university days. Most of the bars in Krakow are in the basements of old buildings and are truly impressive, with room after room of vaulted brick ceilings and couches. Keegan was duly impressed. It was interesting to see the variety of bars you could choose from - some were so smoky you could hardly breathe, and others were curiously airy. We went into one bar where all of the men had long, wavy hair and black t-shirts. Some were full of young people dancing and others with older people talking earnestly. It could take years to fully explore the bar scene and get to know which places were best to go when. Good thing we had Marek as our guide!
Miraculously, Sylwia and Marek made it out to work on Friday morning, leaving us with a huge breakfast (thanks, Sylwia!), and a free day ahead of us. We decided to visit Wawel Castle. We took the bus into town and crossed a bridge over the Wisla River to head up to the castle. Once we got there, we realized that....
....the courtyard was full of schoolchildren! Agh! But we forged bravely on and managed to explore the beautiful grounds of the castle, the cathedral museum (with a whole room dedicated to Pope John Paul II), and the ticket office. Finally we decided we'd try to see the cathedral. The interior of the cathedral is really beautiful, with a number of royal tombs and beautiful carvings and stained glass. My favorite is the tomb of Jadwiga, and early queen of Poland, whose white marble sarcophagus shows the beautiful queen in repose with a lithe and peaceful dog lying at her feet.
I've always enjoyed visiting the bell tower in the cathedral because the massive church bells are impressive and because there's a stunning view of the Old Town from the tower. This time, it was slightly less enjoyable. We were, as usual, surrounded by a mob of school kids, so the wooden stairs and odd little passageways were extra claustrophobic, and we couldn't linger long in front of the view. But I'm glad Keegan got to see it anyway.
After we finished our cathedral tour, we had a quick lunch in a new cafe they've built in the courtyard, and I got to try strawberry pierogies! I felt lucky that we were in Poland during strawberry season, since I've never gotten to have these deliciously sweet dumplings before. I also had some truly delicious bean soup. We finished just in time to take our guided tour of the Royal Palace, which was interesting. Talk about some unique architecture and elaborate furnishings! Our guide did a great job, but I absolutely loved to hear the way she said century. "The eighteenth cen-TCHREE!"
Free from the company of the hordes at last, we wandered up towards the Kosciol Mariacki to see about climbing up to the bell tower where the trumpeter of Krakow plays his bugle every hour. Sylwia had mentioned that tourists could pay to climb the tower now, and I had never been, so I was pretty excited about this chance. We headed over to the tower where a man selling postcards pointed us to the tower door. There we paid a fireman (they are the ones who are in charge of playing the trumpet) 5 zl. apiece to climb up. Good deal, if you ask me! It was not obvious that the tower was open to tourists, so Keegan and I only encountered one other couple at the top. The fireman told us we could open the windows of the tower to take pictures, and we had a great time taking in all the views of the city. Then, finally, the fireman joined us at the top and opened the windows to begin playing the trumpet call, the hejnal. So cool! If you are ever in Krakow, I highly recommend climbing the tower close to the hour so you can see it too!
By the time we had a quick beer in the main market square, it was time to head back to the apartment to meet Sylwia and Marek for dinner. We picked Marek up at his English lesson and then started a drive to find the ruins of an old castle that they had visited before. It's a good thing we had "native guides" because we would NEVER have found this place on our own! But it was beautiful, especially in the light of the setting sun. We had a lot of fun scrambling around over the rocks, climbing up the ruins, and of course, taking a billion and one pictures.
After the castle, we headed on to the restaurant that Marek's uncle owns. It is styled like the restaurants in Zakopane - all wood, with a huge grill and lots of "country" style. We sipped some honey vodka and ate delicious homemade bread while we waited for our orders. When they arrived, we were definitely taken aback - the portions were huge! Sylwia's meat was the size of, well, a small animal, and my sausage was definitely more than a foot-long. Keegan called it the amazing yard-long sausage. We dug in with gusto, but I don't think any of us finished more than half of what was on our plates, even the men. After we had all asked for boxes, the waitress came out with a cake with candles on it - I was so surprised! As we dug into the cake, it headed past midnight, and it was officially my birthday. What a wonderful way to start the celebration!
Saturday started out with another huge breakfast, including the copious remains of dinner from the night before. By the time we were all fed and packed and ready to go into town, it was after noon! I had made reservations at the Hotel Copernicus, one of the nicest hotels in Krakow, as a birthday present, and we packed our bulging suitcases into Sylwia and Marek's tiny car so we could go check in. The hotel was really beautiful, with an amazing atrium, a rooftop terrace with a gorgeous view of Wawel, and the coolest basement swimming pool you have ever seen. There are pictures here. I've always wanted to stay in a super-swank hotel on my honeymoon, and since it was also my birthday, I felt that a stay in the lap of luxury was just the thing.
After we were finished checking out the hotel, we headed into town for some refreshments. We decided to visit the Jama Michalika, a famous hangout for artists and literati in 19th century Krakow. Of course, it is also a must for a Michalik (even an ex-Michalik like me) visiting Krakow to stop in at this cafe. We had some cake and iced tea in the cave-like interior, and enjoyed looking at the stained glass and interesting sketches on the walls.
Next it was time for some souvenir shopping. I was able to find some beautiful amber jewelry, and we also fell in love with a pottery stall and bought a really gorgeous hand-painted soup tureen and a spoon rest. After shopping, we split up with Sylwia and Marek and headed back to the hotel, where Keegan surprised me with a beautiful amber bracelet and necklace, and we enjoyed drinks on the rooftop terrace. It was a beautiful afternoon, but also a bit melancholy since we knew we were leaving the next day.
For dinner, we met up with Sylwia and Marek again at one of my favorite Italian restaurants, Corleone. The outdoor seating area there is one of the most pleasant places I've ever eaten - a secluded courtyard filled with flowers and candlelight.
After dinner, I wanted to take Keegan out for drinks at u Louisa, which makes fantastic White Russians, and other good mixed drinks, too. But when we got there, there was a particularly rowdy bachelorette party going on, featuring at least 10 girls dressed up with bunny ears and little bunny tails. We decided a different scene might be in order, so we went back to Buddha and found a nice table in the corner of the upstairs at which to end our trip in style. Ten days have never gone so fast, let me tell you!
We were so happy with how everything turned out, and we really can't thank Sylwia, Marek, Sylwia's parents, and Jurek enough for their hospitality, good cooking, and chauffeuring services. We'll see you all again, I'm sure, on our next anniversary trip to Poland!