Krakow, Poland wasn’t even on my list of places to visit, but a friend in Florence had lived there for 4 years and loved it and was returning for a visit and invited me to go along. Boy am I glad that I did! Krakow is one of those sleeper cities. Still a little under the cloud of communism, it is becoming everything that it “can be”. Think about Prague and how it has become such a hot tourist attraction and I think that you will find Krakow close on its heels in the coming years.
Krakow is easy to get to from Florence….and cheap! I took a 100 euro flight on Ryan Air from Pisa and in two hours I was in Krakow. I rented an apartment through Krakow City Apartments and was delighted with the location, price and amenities (aside from the fact that the internet did not work well).
The food in Krakow is much more international than I had expected and the prices are so low, you can’t even believe it. Of course, the National drink is Vodka, which I happen to love, and it was fun to try new ones. Many of the restaurants gave you a vodka at the end of the meal, which I never refused!
There are lots of things to do here, my favorite being to sit in the large Market Square (the largest square in Europe) and people watch. There is the beautiful church of St. Mary’s where a trumpeter blows his horn in the four directions on the hour, The Cloth market, the Flower Market, and food and wares market are on the other side, and lots of terraced restaurants to have a meal or drink. Sometimes there are street musicians as well.
There are historic buildings and churches dating back to the 11th century and you can also visit Wawel Castle, where I saw Leonardo Da Vinci’s Girl with the Ermine! The castle grounds are really lovely and it is a nice walk to the castle and back down the Royal Way where many antique churches are located.
Easter in Florence is a real celebration. Not that I think Italians are all that religious. The churches are mostly empty and the nuns and priests are mostly from the Philippines and other countries. All that being said, it doesn’t stop everyone from participating in the celebrations. Some of these traditions are centuries old, like the giant cart that rolls through the city to the front of the Duomo where it explodes with fireworks, doves and flags. It is called the Scoppio del Carro and is 30 feet tall and has been in existence for over 500 years. It was a gift to the city from the Pazzi family.
I have seen this event in person, but having seen it once, I am not really willing to put up with the crowds. The entire Piazza della Duomo is full of people. The front section of the Duomo is blocked off, so because the baptistery sits there, there is really not an opportunity to see much.
Now I have found the perfect solution! The “Carro” is housed on via il Prato, the connecting street to Borgo Ognissanti. The oxen and the parade of costumed musicians and flag throwers make their way right down my street! I wake up with the drums, throw open my windows and listen to the music and take a few snaps from the window.
Afterwards I am free to read my emails, drink my coffee and have a leisurely breakfast in the 2 hours that the parade will take to get in front of the Duomo, get set up and actually start the fireworks at 11. All of this is televised so while I am reading my emails and sipping my coffee I can also watch the festivities! Yeah!
If you are visiting Florence for the first time, you will undoubtedly want to join the hoards of people to try and “see” what is going on. At minimum, you will be able to see the parade, costumes and the music. Hopefully you will get a look at the beautiful oxen with their flowered headdresses. If you have seen it before, maybe you want to take a tip from me!
I Ghibellini is my “go to” restaurant. I especially love it in the warmer months because it has a large terrace for eating outside that is in Piazza San Pier Maggiore, a beautiful small secluded piazza that will make you feel like you are on a movie set!
They have a wide variety of menu items. Their pizza has the thinnest crust in town, if you are a fan of that like I am, and they have some wonderful pastas and grilled meats. Service here is probably better than most of the restaurants I have been to in Florence, and the food is fabulous!
The restaurant inside is very large, so if you have a large party, consider this spot. Not many restaurants can easily accommodate larger parties at meal times. They have a good house wine, and some wonderful desserts. This is still a family owned business that I have frequented for 6 years now and I am always happy with my meal, the atmosphere and the prices.
They are closed on Wednesday which is unusual, so be careful about that! They are opened all other days of the week from 12-2:30 and 7-11.