Certain places in the world have become so inundated with visitors, all those little things that made them so special and unique have simply become commercialised.
They’ve become inaccessible, like Stonehenge where a small number of enthusiasts would walk around the ancient stones, trying to understand a long-forgotten ancient world, but now they have to stand behind barriers, among a fiery army of global tourists armed with their weapons of photography.
They’ve become damaged, such as Machu Picchu, with soil erosion, caused from the daily onslaught of some 1800 visitors en masse.
They’ve been McDonalised, where the local economy depends solely on tourism, prices have rocketed, and they’re often full of American tourists (Amsterdam and Munich to name but a few).
Krakow, the ancient capital of Poland, was once a hidden gem which lay deep behind the Iron Curtain. With the fall of the wall and the opening to the west, the slow process of commercialising every segment of the city is well underway. I find wherever I travel, the locals have managed, in some desperate plight, to save some of the city for themselves. The trouble is, you need to get behind their lines to be in the know. Krakow has many things to offer visitors; the most popular probably being the Old Market Square, Wawel Castle, and Auschwitz.
But what about those hidden gems that the locals keep to themselves?
If you go to Wawel Castle, you’ll probably very quickly discover you’re a stones throw from the Jewish quarter. But once you’re done with all the touristy stuff (the Synagogue, the Jewish Culture Museum, and Plac Nowy), get your map and head towards a major street called Starowiślna.
In the square area between Plac Nowy and Starowiślna, you’ll discover a wealth of very individual coffee shops, all in their own style, full of locals. Head to Dajwor street and you’ll land yourself the real-deal when it comes to authentic Jewish cuisine – and you’ll surprise yourself at the difference in price! Try to get a meat dish which contains plums and peaches – very unique, very Jewish and very delicious.
Auschwitz is a truly unique experience and an important one too. I wouldn’t want to take anything away from that. But if you want to bestow upon something which has truly been abandoned by history, then you need to cross the river. Using Wawel Castle and the Jewish quarter as our starting point, head over the bridge on Krakowska St and walk straight ahead all the way to the big church you can see in front of you on the hill. You need to follow the small streets left which go around the church and you’ll eventually find yourself crossing a motorway on a footpath.Once you’ve crossed the motorway, take a second to stop. Look down to the right – do you see railways and an abandoned station? This was the stopping point for Hitler’s concentration trains, carrying millions of Jews to their death. Continue walking and you’ll soon realise the path will lead you to a park and then up a very unusual hill (unusual because it is clear man-made and it is extremely steep).
Get yourself to the top of the hill to get sight of the whole of Krakow (and I mean literally the whole of Krakow). It is a beautiful sight. Try using your map to guide you to see if you can spot the Mariacka Basilica on the Old Market Square.
Once you’re finished admiring the cityscape, turn 180 degrees and look down a little. Do you see that cornered off, unused area with a tower in the middle, in what looks like a man-made hole or a quarry? Not only is that the remnants of a concentration camp, untouched for decades, it is also the site where they shot Schindler’s List.