Images from a trip to Poland's former capital

Kraków In Pictures

The research period included Valentine's Day, a tough day for travel writers. Restaurants are jammed with canoodling couples, and waiters take a dim view toward single guys hanging out on their own. I muddled through and on my way home caught the Bernatek footbridge aglow in deep red. It cheered me up. Photo by Mark Baker.
Fortunately, I was able to hook up with an attractive woman on this trip. The only drawback was that she didn't mention anything about the ermine on her Tinder profile. Checking out Leonardo Da Vinci's 'Lady With An Ermine' at the National Museum. Photo by Mark Baker.
I've walked past the decaying facade of the High Synagogue in Kazimierz many times over the years and it never ceases to amaze me. Every time I pop into the bookstore here and see the comprehensive collection of Judaica and Holocaust literature, I remember why I became a travel writer in the first place. Photo by Mark Baker.
I'd finished my tour of Nowa Huta's Museum of the Polish People's Republic when I noticed this display of 1960s Polish ceramics in the lobby. Turns out the museum has an awesome gift shop where you can buy lots of retro stuff like this. Photo by Mark Baker.
I was lucky to get nice weather during most of the trip. On this particular day, the sun didn’t know whether or not it wanted to come out, but Kraków’s main square still look great as usual. Photo by Mark Baker.
Poles seem to love museums where are you go underground. The good people of Nowa Huta have recently rediscovered all of the old atomic shelters they built in the 1950s and ‘60s. You can now tour several of these. Photo by Mark Baker.
I spent one afternoon taking a stroll through the former Nazi-built Jewish ghetto of Podgórze. This is the Plac Bohaterów Getta, the largest open space in the ghetto and where residents would have to appear prior to their deportations. These days, it's marked by an art installation of empty chairs meant to symbolize the residents who are no longer with us. Photo by Mark Baker.
This tiny church, St. Benedict's, is something like 900 years old and one of the oldest places of worship in the city. It’s another one of those oddities of Podgórze that you have to climb in order to see. Unfortunately, it’s only open one day in the year and that day didn’t happen to fall during my three-week stay. Photo by Mark Baker.
This is probably the most famous courtyard in the former Jewish quarter of Kazimierz. It’s nothing special on its own but was used by Steven Spielberg in the movie "Schindler’s List" as a stand-in for the Podgórze Jewish ghetto. Tour groups pile through here every couple of minutes. Photo by Mark Baker.
I had the privilege of crossing this footbridge between Kazimierz and Podgórze several times a day on my trip and always marveled at the bridge's simple beauty -- and these dangling circus figures. Photo by Mark Baker.
I have a soft spot for abstract art from the 1950s. I especially love the art from that time that came out of Central Europe. This abstract from 1958 is by the Polish artist Stefan Berdak. If I were a better art thief, I would have brought it back to my apartment in Prague. Photo by Mark Baker.
I got my haircut about midway through the trip. This kid was getting his haircut before me and couldn’t resist snapping a photo. As I was taking the picture, the song "Dragostea Din Tei" by the Romanian/Moldovan pop group O-zone came on the radio. It felt like a clash of research trips. Photo by Mark Baker.
A classic photo from ul Szeroka, the main street and square of the old Jewish quarter in Kazimierz. These days, it’s also at the center of the city's tourist boom and home to a dozen old-school Jewish restaurants, like the one in the photo. Photo by Mark Baker.
I eat gluten-free and much of traditional Polish cuisine is off-limits. Fortunately for me, the Cafe Młynek in Kazimierz serves a very good rendition of gluten-free Polish potato pancakes, including a huge ladle of mushrooms on top. Photo by Mark Baker.
There were lots of great things to eat, but I kept coming back to this simple plate of hummus and falafel. Hummus is undergoing a renaissance in Kraków and there are lots of good places to find it. The best, though, was at this simple stand-up falafel joint in Podgórze. Photo by Mark Baker.
This building in Nowa Huta marks an important departure point where architecture turned away from post-war socialist-realism and toward more modern concepts, based on styles in France and Scandinavia. It might not look like it from the photo, but this building is an attractive rendition of 1960s-era public housing. Photo by Mark Baker.
My friend Olga, who runs a literary festival highlighting the work of the Polish Nobel laureate Czesław Miłosz, arranged for me to pop into Miłosz's old apartment. He’s been gone 15 years, but the apartment still looks as if he stepped out a couple of minutes ago to buy groceries. Photo by Mark Baker.
I hadn't realized how old and well-preserved the small cemetery behind the Remuh Synagogue in Kazimierz really was. The tiny synagogue and burial ground date back to the 16th century, when the area was the first emerging as a center of Jewish life. Photo by Mark Baker.
I have been to Kraków many times in the past, but this was my first-ever visit to the renowned Rakowicki Cemetery. I turned up late in the afternoon and managed to catch the last rays of sunshine as they passed across those grand tombstones. Photo by Mark Baker.
The grounds of the Nazi-run Płaszów concentration and labor camp, about 3 kms from the former Jewish quarter at Kazimierz. Not as well-known as the other camps, nevertheless tens of thousands of people were held here as laborers or prisoners on their way to other camps, including Auschwitz. Now, there's talk of developing these fields into condominiums. Photo by Mark Baker.
Nothing quite captures the former Jewish quarter of Kazimierz better than this old junk and antique shop in the basement of the Jewish cultural center. I remember visiting here four years ago, and I am pretty sure that nothing had changed since that trip. Photo by Mark Baker.
I have mixed feelings about these horse-drawn carriages on Kraków's main square. They're undeniably photogenic and add atmosphere, but I feel for the horses who have to carry visitors all day long. The city monitors the health of the horses and says conditions are humane -- except on the very hottest days of summer. Photo by Mark Baker.
Kraków and Poland generally are littered with memories of World War II. This open field is all that’s left of the Płaszów concentration and labor camp, just outside the city. The fields have been fallow for several decades, but private developers may soon begin building high-rise residences here. Photo by Mark Baker.
The Kraków suburb of Podgórze is best known as the home of the former Nazi-built Jewish ghetto and for Oscar Schindler‘s former enamel factory. But it has lots of other attractions to offer. High in the hills, you'll find this abandoned Austrian fortress from the 19th century. Photo by Mark Baker.

Comments

  1. Wonderful photos! Krakow is one of my favorite cities anywhere, and this post makes me so eager to return for another visit. (After your new Pocket Guide comes out, of course.)

    • Thank you, Summer. Give me a head’s up before you go and maybe I can point you toward some good food and drink!

  2. Really enjoyed your photo diary! Such fascinating little spots I’d wager hardly any foreigners know about. Makes me regret cancelling a Krakow visit last year (and making me vow to plan one for next year or sooner).

  3. Fantastic photos and commentary, Mark! Thank you. Makes me want to plan a Krakow tour with family. I was there once years ago on a work trip but haven’t managed to get back again. Emily

    • Thank you for reading and leaving a comment! I really appreciate it. Please let me know if you guys do decide to do a family trip. Mark

  4. Gorgeous pictures! I need to return to Krakow to find some of the places you photographed. I also need to find that hummus joint.

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About the author

Mark Baker

I’m an independent journalist and travel writer who’s lived in Central Europe for more than two decades. I love the history, literature, culture, and mystery of this often-overlooked corner of Europe, and I make my living writing articles and guidebooks about the region. Much of what I write eventually finds its way into commercial print or digital outlets, but a lot of it does not.

That's my aim with this travel website: to find a space for stories and experiences that fall outside the publishing mainstream.

You’ll find a mix of stories here. Some will be familiar “what to see and do” travel articles on particular destinations. Others will be tales of “adventure” (usually with a comic twist) from life on the road. I'll also share tips about living in my adopted hometown of Prague and stories from a more-distant (but seemingly ever-present) past, when Central Europe was the “Eastern bloc” and I was a full-time journalist trying my best to cover it. I hope you enjoy.

Tales of Travel & Adventure in Central Europe
Mark Baker