Our second Eastern European destination was Kraków, a quaint city in Poland.
Even though Budapest doesn’t seem too far from Kraków, there are no fast trains to connect the two. Pretty much your only options are to take an overnight train, fly, or by car. I actually found a helpful car service that does all sorts of trips within Western and Eastern European cities. Our driver picked us up at our apartment in Budapest and drove us through Slovakia and then to Poland.
Along the way we stopped at Orava Castle in the village of Oravský Podzámok in Slovakia. The castle was built in the 13th century during the Kingdom of Hungary. Originally, it was built in a Romanesque and Gothic style and later reconstructed as a Renaissance and Neo-Gothic structure.
Once arriving in Kraków, we checked into our cute humble apartment.
After settling in we walked past the Kraków Barbican, basically an outpost that once connected to the city walls and is a gateway to the historic center. Once going through St. Florian’s Gate, a Gothic tower built in the 14th century, you have entered the Old Town. Eventually you will reach Rynek Główny, the main square of the Old Town that is beyond beautiful. On one side you’ll see St. Mary’s Basilica, a Gothic church built in the 14th century which is a prime example of Polish Gothic architecture. On the other side of the plaza is Cloth Hall, a long hall of various vendors that once served as a major international center of trade dating as far back as the 15th century. Behind Cloth Hall, there are outdoor food vendors serving up enticing Polish delights.
Our first night in Kraków we dined at Restaurant Starka, a cozy restaurant with an eclectic mix of Polish cuisine.
Instead of butter, Polish people eat whipped lardo with their bread. While it wasn’t bad, I prefer my butter instead and the lardo was not even close to being as good as Lardo di Colonnata unfortunately.
Grilled pork sausage was served with their homemade horseradish, a sweet bbq type sauce, and sour gherkins. A tasty appetizer.
Who doesn’t love bacon wrapped around prunes? Something about the sweetness of the dried fruit with the fatty salty bacon just works.
The cognac pepper sauce made this dish. With a vibrant carrot purée, this was a delicious main dish with tender pork and an assortment of vegetables.
Definitely not a traditional Polish dish but I was craving a salad. I loved the addition of edamame and cashews with the sesame dressing.
If you’ve been reading my posts, you know I love apple flavored desserts so this should be no surprise that I had to order this.
Of course Tommy is more of a chocolate lover so this was all his.
For our first dinner, we were both stuffed and happy about our meal. Restaurant Starka also had live music and I loved singing along during my dinner! If you’re ever in Kraków, I would recommended coming here for a delicious and affordable meal. My rating is a 8/10.
The next day we had lunch at Przystanek Pierogarnia, a tiny shop where most people do take-out. We were lucky to grab one of the very few seats to enjoy our food. We ordered two kinds of pierogi: z miesem (pork meat) and ruskie (potatoes and cottage cheese) all topped with caramelized onions. I’d have to say these were the best pierogi I’ve ever had. Both fillings were extremely well seasoned and flavorful and the dough was soft. We also got fasolka po bretońsku (Polish white beans with sausage and tomatoes) and it was so delectable that I could have licked the bowl.
After a beyond satisfying lunch we walked to the Jewish Ghetto, one of the major Metropolitan ghettos created by Nazi Germany during World War II. Ghetto Heroes Square, a main square within the ghetto, has 33 cast iron and bronze memorial chairs. These represent the tragedy of Polish Jews who were imprisoned and murdered in the ghetto or in death camps during the war. Next to the square is Apteka Pod Orłem or Eagle Pharmacy where pharmacist Tadeusz Pankiewicz and his staff risked their lives to help Jews during the war. They smuggled food and even offered shelter for Jews facing deportation to the camps. Lastly, we visited a fragment of the Ghetto Wall which serves as evidence of the ghetto. On the commemorative plaque written in Hebrew and Polish it says “Here they lived, suffered and died at the hands of the German torturers. From here they began their final journey to the death camps.”
After the Jewish Ghetto we walked to Skalka, also known as Church on the Rock. The crypt underneath the church serves as a burial for distinguished Poles. After we walked to Wawel Castle, one of the largest castles in the country which shows numerous architectural styles of medieval, renaissance, and baroque periods. Located on Wawel Hill, the Wawel Cathedral is over 900 years old! Lastly, we saw Saints Peter and Paul Church that dates back to the 16th century.
We also bought some fresh produce at the farmer’s market near our apartment.
Our second night in Kraków we dined at Albertina, a more fine dining restaurant that looked promising but fell extremely short.
The bread and butter might be one of the better things we had during our meal sadly.
I just didn’t understand the combination of smoked fish with the slimy seaweed and goat cheese. It was strange and odd.
The smoked trout tartare itself was completely under seasoned and desperately needed salt. The cucumber foam around the tartare wasn’t refreshing and bright as you might imagine.
The sesame seed encrusted scallops were actually tender and I enjoyed the endive braised in orange juice.
This was the strongest dish of the meal. The bisque had a nice rich flavor but could have had more depth and complexity. The wholemeal cracker was dry and brittle, a buttery flaky cracker would have been so much better.
After having delicious monkfish at Costes Downtown in Budapest, this was appalling. The fish was beyond dry and almost had a strange flaky texture. I barely ate the fish but finished most of the vegetables underneath which needed seasoning. The tapioca risotto on the side was so peculiar with that gummy jelly like quality.
The wild boar had an unpleasant gamey flavor and the chestnut purée was overly sweet.
Since we weren’t thrilled about our meal, we opted to not order desserts. I had such high expectations for Albertina as reviews online were glowing. I felt like a lot of the dishes lacked seasoning; servers would ask if you would like more salt and pepper table side but the dish should already be properly seasoned. The dishes lacked flavor, refinement, and basic cooking techniques. Perhaps the kitchen is too focused on creativity and presentation that the most important aspects such as making the food taste good and proper cooking techniques are lost. Therefore my rating is a 5/10.
Our final day in Kraków was a day excursion to the town of Oświęcim, a little over an hour away, where one of the most notorious concentration camp is located. Our three hour tour began at Auschwitz I, the original concentration camp and much smaller than Auschwitz II-Birkenau, which was first constructed to hold Polish political prisoners starting in 1940. By 1941, there were 10,900 Polish prisoners and the first extermination began to take place. Like in the majority of Nazi concentration camps, the motto “Arbeit Macht Frei” (work sets you free or work brings freedom) was displayed at the gates of Auschwitz I.
Construction of Auschwitz II–Birkenau started in 1941 since Auschwitz I was becoming overcrowded. This eventually became the major site of the Nazis’ “Final Solution” during the Holocaust where their goal was to annihilate the Jewish people. What was once a labor camp became an extermination camp. The first gas chamber was operational by 1942 and a second gas chamber was quickly added afterwards, where mass killings occurred until early 1943. The Nazis then decided to increase the amount of killings by using a mortuary and converting it into a killing factory called Crematorium II. Zyklon B, a lethal cyanide poison, was dropped into the chambers and used to kill prisoners. Crematorium III was built with the same design and later that year Crematoria IV and V were constructed. By the summer of 1943 all four crematoria were functional where the majority of victims were killed. By 1945, Soviet troops approached the camps and liberated the surviving prisoners.
Without a doubt, visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau was a harrowing experience. It’s unimaginable what atrocities occurred there and how these prisoners were treated and how they spent their last days. Truly heartbreaking. If you ever have the opportunity to visit, I highly suggest it.
Our final night in Kraków we had dinner at a traditional Polish restaurant called Pod Aniolami in the city center.
Once again bread with lardo makes an appearance.
These pierogi were outstanding. The ones we tried earlier on our trip were boiled but these were pan fried with a nice golden brown crust. I could have easily ordered another round.
I was excited to try this traditional dish but I was so disappointed by this borscht soup. In my mind, I was expecting a thicker soup with chunks of beautiful beets, a dollop of sour cream, and fresh herbs. Instead I got a vinegary, watery, beet flavored liquid.
Nicely charred pork loin with smoked sweet plums served with a nice dollop of homemade horseradish. Loved the addition of baked apple with cranberries on the side.
Grilled trout was prepared with fresh herbs and a lemon wedge on the side. Simple yet delicious.
This apple pie was decent but I preferred the one I had a few nights before.
A traditional style cheesecake that neither of us were crazy about. They use a different kind of cheese that makes for an almost floury texture.
Pod Aniolami is a favorite amongst tourists and I can see why. From the tasty homey cuisine to the rustic ambience, overall the experience was great. Therefore my rating is a 7.5-8/10.
Before heading home we bought a few donuts for the next day’s breakfast.
Kraków isn’t the most popular tourist destination but I’m so happy that I visited. The Old Town was one of the most charming historic centers I’ve ever visited, the Polish people were extremely kind, and the cuisine was comforting and delicious. If you’re looking for offbeat destination filled with culture, history, and food, look no further.