Krakow was the first city of our European adventure, and we only had a few hours there before catching a train to Zakopane.
We left San Francisco on a Monday night and it was late Tuesday night by the time we arrived in Krakow. So I really didn't feel like I was on vacation, or have that magical "I'm in Europe" feeling until Wednesday morning when we woke up early to see the town. To get to the old town from our hotel we walked through part of a university campus that looked like it had been around for over a hundred years. I got the "I'm in Europe!" feeling and it didn't let go. Everything is just so old and so different.
It was so early that the markets and restaurants hadn't opened yet and the old town was a ghost town. It was great to walk around and take some pictures before the area got crowded. We were just in awe of everything. It was the first time in Poland for both of us, and we decided right away that we love it and wish we could spend several days in Krakow instead of just a few hours.
Empty Old Town
We walked down to Wawel Castle. You can walk around the grounds before the buildings open for tours, so we spent some time just walking and looking. There was mass going on at the cathedral so we didn't go in but we listened to the hymns from outside.
Cathedral at Wawel Castle
We didn't feel the need to do one of the organized tours of the castle. We did decide to do one of the touristy kids' attractions, though, the Dragon's Den. It's a deep spiral staircase into the center of the earth where it's said the dragon of Krakow resides. It was fun! When you get out on the other side you're at the bank of the river and there's a metal dragon sculpture that breathes fire.
We walked along the river for a few minutes. It was getting hot and humid so we decided to head back into town for lunch. The town square was packed with people! We couldn't have stopped for a photo if we wanted to, there were so many people around. We found a place for lunch, where Mike had pierogi, then went back to the hotel to pick up our bags and head to the train station.
Arch at Wawel Castle
At the train station we had an hour or so to wait for our train, but we noticed on the board that an earlier train to Zakopane was running late and just getting ready to leave. So we ran to the platform and hopped on, and we were on our way to another adventure!
Adventure may be an understatement. At the next stop, some drunk young men sat in our compartment and really started to bug us. They didn't have tickets, and the conductor didn't seem to care. They kept asking us for just 5 zloty or offering to trade books with them. We were unable to relax and enjoy the ride. Eventually we got up and left, finding a compartment to ourselves in another car and hoped they wouldn't look for us.
View from the train
They didn't find us, but the train trip only slightly improved. Taking the train from Krakow to Zakopane is a local joke. The trip takes over 4 hours, when the bus only takes 2. The train system hasn't been updated in a loooooong time. And neither have the trains themselves. It was hot and the windows only cracked open a few inches. And we were expecting more scenery, and occassionally a farm or small town would whiz by, but nothing really cool until the last hour of the trip when we could finally see the mountains. I got excited when I noticed all the trees had become pine trees.
Despite leaving over an hour earlier than we had planned, we arrived in Zakopane exactly an hour earlier than we were scheduled to. My cousin was picking us up at the station. We tried to call him, but couldn't find a pay phone that took coins; they were all calling cards only. So we sat and waited.
But Zakopane has to be its own post.
(Clicking on any photo will take you to the full size on flickr.)