Culture-Vulturing in Krakow

I’m getting ready to move onto Europe next week – and it’s been fun and games getting it all organised. When I ran through my travel schedule with Mum, she remarked that it seemed a bit punishing. It probably is a bit. However, living so far away in Australia, I’m hell bent on immersing myself in all things European and making the most of every minute.

The organisational challenge started with the luggage. I always vow to pack lightly and never do. To get my luggage down to Ryan Air’s strict 20kg, I’ve already crammed a jiffy bag with shoes and clothes and sent it home via sea mail, left a bag, two more pairs of shoes and other ‘stuff’ in a cupboard at Mum’s house (too bad, I will simply have to come back and get them), and promised my father that I won’t bring so much next time. Star that he is, he helped me pack, carefully protecting my bone china cups in bubble wrap and scarves. Thankfully, I am allowed 10kg of hand luggage as well but both cases are straining at the seams. No room for anything more – it’s a bit like that scene with the fat man in Monty Python’s Life of Brian – one more wafer thin mint and it would explode!

Up until now I’ve always been ultra frugal when travelling and battled around – luggage in tow – on public transport rather than take taxis. One time I stopped off in Japan on my way back to Melbourne. I flew in, jet-lagged and a bit hazy, from Manchester and got lost in Kyoto Station ending up in a beeping and flashing electronics store. I finally found the right bus, hauled on my cases and mustered the right change, but was universally unpopular with my fellow travellers who sighed, shot me angry looks and tut-tutted at the amount of space I was taking up. Even the unfailingly polite Japanese struggle to maintain their dignity in the rush hour!

My airbnb host in Krakow recommended MEGA taxis as they are apparently much cheaper than the taxis at the airport. I tried calling them but they put the phone down on me, either because they didn’t speak English or were put off by an overseas number. So we went down the road (I’m in London) to my sister’s Polish builder’s DIY shop, and his sister Annette called them for me. To cut a long story that won’t work but at least I tried!

I’ve got a magazine commission and am writing about some of Krakow’s most interesting museums. Poland’s cultural capital boasts more than 40 museums and galleries – after extensive research I whittled my hit list down to seven. Working out when to go to what museum was as complicated as organising a business trip.  Not surprisingly they are all shut on 11th November as it is Independence Day, which, I have now learnt, commemorates the anniversary of the restoration of the a Polish state ­– the Second Polish Republic in 1918.

Luckily several companies run tours to Auschwitz that day so all is not lost. The company recommended by Trip Advisor was crazily expensive making me wonder if the tour was running just for me in a stretch limo! So I rang the Tourist Information Office and found a much better deal including a free lunch.  This was more like it!

Some of the other museums on my list – I’ve chosen an eclectic mix from a stained glass workshop to a pharmacy museum, a town house, an underground archaeological museum, Schindler’s factory and more – have strange opening hours. One is only open from 12-7, one has guided tours in English on Thursdays and Saturdays at 12, others have erratic winter opening hours such as 14.00 to 15.20 and so it goes on. With a bit of luck and organisation, I should manage to see at least five out of the seven!

I’m sure I’ll get time in between all this culture-vulturing to sit in cafes and watch the world go by or catch a few notes of a Chopin drifting out of some ancient church or concert hall, peruse the markets, chat to the locals, perhaps dine in a Jewish restaurant in the old town or take advantage of whatever other opportunities come my way. I doubt I’ll be up to much nightlife; after three days of running around, my flight to Vienna leaves at 6.25 in the morning. But I’m not complaining as I’ll be in Vienna by 10am and ready for the next adventure.

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