Slow City Guide: Krakow

Hania Hakiel reveals 13 ‘slow-style’ spots in her native city…

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Tomasza Street in Krakow. Image by Hania Hakiel.

Why 13? Krakowers are infamous for being excessively superstitious. We don’t for example, ever get married in any month with an ‘r’ in the name – because an ‘r’ in the name means the inevitable and tragic death of the husband shortly after the party. But not only will I have my wedding this PazdzieRnik (October), I also find that picking an unlucky number is a thrilling game with my made-in-Krakow self.

Though I now live in Berlin, I feel and act like a local whenever I return to my native city. I feel at home on every corner, in every street, on every tram – yes, even when I find a burger place has replaced my favourite antique bookshop. Here are some of my favourite spots in my favourite city in the world…

#1 Start the day at Cafe Cheder

Start your day at Cafe Cheder in the heart of the Kazimierz district. In Krakow, Christian and Jewish traditions have been melting intensely for at least 800 years, and every guidebook will tell you this was a Jewish neighborhood before the War. Today, there are only a few places where menorahs and Stars of David don’t seem artificially copied from a historical photo and randomly pasted into the cityscape.

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Cafe Cheder. Image by Hania Hakiel

Run by people whose love to Jewish culture is passionate and real, Cheder offers the sweetest morning feast; a piece of challah with honey walnuts and a cup of coffee brewed in a traditional finjan kettle, with the addition of oriental spices and brown sugar.

Challah? It’s a Jewish sweetbread that looks like a downy plait. In Polish we call it chałka and it is also what my mum used to give me for breakfast when I was still a child and believed that food is good only when it is sweet; I loved it with thick layers of butter and home-made plum marmalade.

#2 Second breakfast at Piekarnia Mojego Taty

In Poland, we always have two breakfasts; the first one early in the morning and the second around 11 am. For the later of the two, grab a roll at Piekarnia Mojego Taty (literally: My Father’s Bakery). The ceramic bread stove has been there since 1914 and with the first bite of a rye roll with cumin or a kukiełka (a white thick pie with the best quality sausage and cheese), you can re-discover the days when ‘preservative-free’, ‘bio’, ‘organic’ and ‘rich’ were not slogans but a natural way of production. My favourite loaf here by the way is made with potatoes. It weighs around 6kg and, while soft, contains zero chemicals.

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Piekarnia Mojego Taty. Image by Hania Hakiel

#3 A stroll along the Vistula river

After two breakfasts you’ll obviously have some calories to burn. It doesn’t matter which direction you opt for, you will find couples cuddling on the grass (when it’s warm enough of course), at least ten churches, cheap and kitschy fast-food stalls and…well, let the river surprise you. The most popular spot to start a stroll is Jubilat, a shopping mall from the socialist times that hasn’t changed much since the gloomiest days of the 80s. Maybe the shelves are not empty anymore, but it feels like time has stood still here, thanks partly to the permanently exasperated shop-keepers…

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At the Vistula River. Image by Hania Hakiel

#4 Visit the Farmers’ Markets

We call farmers markets plac or targ in Poland – and every neighbourhood has at least three of them. From Monday to Saturday, hundreds of local farmers, butchers, fishermen, beekeepers, and women selling homemade cakes and bread make the pilgrimage to Krakow and spread out across the city.

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Stary Kleparz Street Market. Image by Hania Hakiel

My favourite targ is at Stary Kleparz. It’s located in the heart of the Old Town, yet still somehow preserved from tourists and their cameras. Last time I went shopping there with my mother we bought a kilo of brusznica (lingonberries in English); a jar of stinging nettle honey (miod pokrzywowy); and bundz (a typical sheep milk cheese from the Polish Tatra Mountains) and of course, there is even more to discover.

#5 Coffee at Eszeweria

Have your second coffee in Eszeweria. As a high-school student I regularly ended up here when physics or maths lessons felt like a waste of time. With a pot of cherry tea I let hours pass by while reading books and observing people. It was also here that most of the teenage romances I know obtained their passionate starts and dramatic ends…Funnily enough the place hasn’t changed at all since then. The same sweet smell of an alchemist’s cave and the warm light will probably stay forever. They even still serve my favoured cherry tea in a simple clay pot…

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Cafe Eszeweria. Image by Hania Hakiel

#6 Visit my grandmother!

In Berlin’s DDR Museum there is a living room of the kind normally found in the East’s concrete-slab apartment. I smiled, as it was the kind of flat I grew up in, and which my grandmother still lives in – and enjoys – today. She is always enthusiastic about welcoming my foreign friends, and never gets bored of having her portrait taken with her Frania washing machine. Contact me if you want your own 70s-styled pre-Instagram photo. If you’re extra lucky she will have kotlet or pierogi.

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My grandmother’s Frania washing machine. Image by Hania Hakiel

#7 Cafe Szafe

Cafe Szafe is somewhat unusual in that it features a table for two inside a voluminous antique wardrobe, which can be closed from the inside. They often have live gigs here, making it a good – and romantic – spot to discover Krakow’s dynamic young music scene in an intimate and affectionate way.

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Cafe Szafe. Image by Hania Hakiel

#8 Local Shopping

Hunt for local design, folk sculptures and contemporary paintings on Jozefa street. Yes, it is a jungle of tacky souvenirs too, but Krakowers also buy each other presents in these cute galleries. For my 20th birthday I got at least five pairs of hand-made earrings and a bag made by a recycling artist from this street…

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Jozefa Street. Image by Hania Hakiel

#9 Dinner at Cafe Camelot

Simple medieval walls decorated with naive art mingles with the luscious smells of fresh apple pie, candle smoke and the sounds of gentle jazz music. Camelot makes great veggie pies and salads, and have a good selection of wines and tea with raspberry marmalade. On Friday and Saturday nights the basement changes into a cabaret-style venue with poetry, burlesque and chansons offering a charming fin de siècle ambiance.

 

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Cafe Camelot. Image by Hania Hakiel

#10 STReat Slow Food

If you don’t have much of a dinner budget, I can recommend the new hipster-favourite: the STReat Slow Food truck, which you’ll find parked on Kupa Street No. 10. Their success story is based around three friends whose ketchup is made of real tomatoes plucked straight from their own garden, and other local and seasonal products used with creativity in burgers that come with marinated curry-radish and slices of pumpkin baked in rosemary, garlic and honey.

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STReat Slow Food truck. Image by Hania Hakiel

#11 Book Shopping

Grasp a volume of poetry by Wisława Szymborska or Czesław Miłosz, Nobel Prize winners who both lived only a few streets from Massolit, a cozy English bookshop and cafe. Every time I visit the place, I feel like I’ve entered the private apartment of an old-fashioned bibliophile. The space, with its 20,000 volumes on display, is embellished with hand-made lace on antique tables and a dark, wooden kitchen, where visitors can find fresh bagels with peanut better and jam; or, if it’s a Sunday, a delicious raspberry chocolate cream cake.

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Massolit Bookshop and Cafe. Image by Hania Hakiel

And by the way, Massolit has strong collections relating to Women’s Studies, Jewish Studies, Polish and Central/East European Literature and History, but also has kids in mind. There is strict no smoking policy and a special corner to leaf through children’s classics or even draw a dragon found in a fairy tale. It was here that I read my first book fully in English: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe…I was 21 and it took one week of daily visits.

#12 Come in Spring

Although many tourists come to Krakow in summer, I’d advise arriving in spring if you can. The students are still around, fruit-trees blooms across the city and all the best happenings take place: the Photomonth, the Krakow Film Festival, the International Soup Festival and the Dragons’ Parade, to name just a few.

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Krakow in Spring. Image by Hania Hakiel

#13

Get lost! Lose the guidebook and let Krakow surprise you; you won’t be disappointed…

Interested in reading more about Poland? Check out our Slow City guide to Warsaw here.

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