In this edition of the Euroculture City Guides, Rachele de Felice (Italian) will tell you about her experiences and recommendations for her current homebase, Kraków, where she has just finished studying at the Jagiellonian University for her second semester, after finishing her first semester at the University of Groningen.
The City Guide Project is led by Paola Gosio and Felix Lengers
Euroculturer Magazine (EM): Why did you choose to study and live in this particular city?
Rachele de Felice (RF): I guess the two most focal points that motivated me to go to Kraków were firstly, the fact that I have travelled and lived in several Western/Southern European countries but have never made it to the East. In terms of experience, I thought Eastern Europe would definitely be the place that would challenge me the most to come out of my comfort zone. As Kraków has a reputation of being very international as well, I thought it would be a great option for me to gain a first-hand experience of life in Central Eastern Europe. Secondly, the focus of the IES at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków really caught my attention. I wanted to broaden my horizon in terms of learning about this region and the courses they offered for the 2nd semester also sounded the most interesting to me. Looking at my current situation, I feel I made the right choice.
EM: What are the aspects you appreciate the most about the city and which ones are those that you like less?
RF: What I love about the city is that its looks and architecture are just super beautiful and in my opinion, it is the perfect size as well. I enjoy wandering through the city centre and even though Kraków is the 2nd biggest city in Poland, everything is fairly closely located, and you can easily walk to all the hotspots, especially when you live close to the Rynek, which is the main square in Kraków. There is a lot of history to this city and I feel like you discover something new each time when you go exploring. It also has a lot of very hipstercafés and restaurants, which hits close to home for me. I’m a big coffeeholic and I can guarantee that any coffee lover and foodie will get their money’s worth in this city. There is a « Bar Mleczny » almost on every corner where you can buy Pierogis and other Polish dishes for very little money, I don’t think I have to add more right?
Something I don’t like as much about the city are the doves. I do not think I have ever seen a city that has more doves than here and they leave their marks everywhere as you can imagine. I also notice a lot of police everywhere. I am not sure whether that is due to the pandemic or just in general, but it definitely leaves an impression on you. So far, weatherwise, I must say I wasn’t very lucky either. Although spring has sprung, the weather is still quite bad and some days/nights it gets very cold, plus it can rain a lot, which has been hard on my Southern European soul.
EM: Was it easy to communicate with the locals or did you encounter any issues ? Do you have any tips on how to deal with the language barrier?
RF: In and around the city centre most people will be able to communicate in English with you, which definitely helps. However, once you go a bit outside the main square and try to communicate with people above a certain age, English is not very commonly used and known anymore, and you will have to rely on any gestures you can imagine in order to bridge the language barrier. For me, knowing a Slavic language has definitely helped a little bit in certain situations, as well as using Google Translate in certain situations, of course. It definitely helps to get familiar with some basic phrases in Polish. Another tip I can give you is to get to know international students with Polish roots or local “Krakowians”. It will increase your own experience in the city and it’s always handy to know someone who can help you out with the local language sometimes, when really needed.
EM: If you were in the city for 1 day as a tourist, what would you certainly do?
RF: I would suggest to go and visit the Rynek and walk around there, visit a Milk Bar for some Pierogia and Polish salads or soups. After I would suggest exploring the ulica Florianska, which is Krakow’s main shopping street and just a stunner to walk down. I would also suggest visiting Stary Kleparz, a really nice market in the north of the city, where you get to mingle with locals and experience the perks of a globalized world, hence trying dierent foods and groceries from all sorts of dierent cultures and countries. I would then continue to the Wawel Castle by the river, have a look around that area, which is super beautiful especially on a sunny day. After that I would definitely continue to Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter, get some local food, a coee to go, maybe a « Good Lood », which is a local ice cream chain that Polish people go crazy for (and I must say as half-Italian, the ice cream is really not bad at all and worth a try). Have a look at all the beautiful synagogues in Kazimierz, walk to Plac Nowy for a Zapiekanka, and admire all the beautiful gratis on the way. Enjoy the sunshine and architecture and as a culmination of the day in Kraków, I would recommend having a walk around the « green circle » that surrounds the city centre, where you can also easily stop and admire the dierent sights and views of the city. At the end of the daytrip, I would recommend checking out the southern part of the city and to have some food and beers at Hala Forum. There you can enjoy the sunset and views of the city next to the river and after you can check out Kraków from above by taking the hot air balloon that is right next to Forum.
EM: Do you have recommendations on nice places in the surroundings of the city to take daytrips to?
RF: The Tatras mountains are only a few hours away, that could definitely be a great option, as well as the famous Salt Mine close to Kraków. A must-see in my opinion, though horrible of course, is also the concentration camp in Oświęcim. And while you’re in Kraków, I can also recommend the dierent hills surrounding the city for a visit, as well as the hot air balloon at the riverside, where you get a great view of Kraków from above.
EM: What would you consider the best local dishes and which places serve them best?
RF: Well, that is an easy one. I would definitely say Pierogi, and in my opinion, you can just try any of the « Bar Mleczny » in the city. The more basic and run-down the place looks like, the better the food from my experience, so look out for the Milk Bars and get some Polish dumplings for lunch with local salads. My favourite ones are for sure “Pierogi Ruskie”, although the ones with cabbage and mushrooms are also delicious. I really cannot get enough of them anyway and they are a must try when in Poland. If you care to try some Polish sausage/meat and cheese, I can recommend the market called Stary Kleparz, where local farmers will sell their products for very little money.
EM: Do you have some recommendations of good restaurants for vegans and vegetarians and other special diets?
RF: Although Polish cuisine in general is very meat-focused, quite surprisingly, Kraków has a lot of vegan/vegetarian restaurants and options. A few good vegan places that come to mind right now are Mazaya, which has more Middle Eastern food; Veganic, which has a very diverse menu with Polish, Asian and American influences and Krowarzywa, which offers some delicious vegan burgers. One of my favourite places for coffee is Szklarnia in the north of the city, a cute little coffeeshop that only sells their coffees with dairy-free milk and the staff there is super great, it is definitely worth paying a visit!
EM: Where you would go to have a drink or on a night out with friends?
RF: Options at the moment are limited, but as it stands now, there are a few places open and most international students go there to mingle. You have the classical “dive bars”, Korba and Gospoda Koko, which are low key places with a very chilled atmosphere. If you fancy something a bit more extravagant, I can recommend Mr. Black, a super nice cocktail bar with some Great Gatsby vibes. If you like Karaoke, Dutch Point is your go-to place in Kraków. For a great view of Kraków in the summer right by the riverside, check out Hala Forum, which is a food court which has a really nice outside area with deckchairs. The food there is really delicious, the beers cold and fairly cheap as well. After that, you can continue towards Kazimierz, especially around Plac Nowy options are numerous and plenty, plus, should you get hungry in-between you can just quickly grab one of the famous Zapiekanka’s at one of many stalls in the middle of the square. Otherwise, I can also highly recommend organizing get togethers at people’s houses, from my experience, those evenings always ended up being the most memorable ones because you get to talk properly and to know each other in a more private setting.
EM: How do the prices of the city compare with the one you were in for your other semester? What were some of the cheaper goods and what were some of the more expensive goods? (e.g food, museums, public transport)
RF: In general Poland is a lot cheaper than the Netherlands, where I lived in the 1st semester. Food I would say costs a bit less although the prices seem to be adapted more and more. Eating out and going for drinks is super cheap, most places will charge you half of what you would pay in Western European countries. Surprisingly, the coee is very expensive though. It almost compares to Dutch prices in certain places. However, if you are on a budget, you can get a huge lunch at any Milk Bar for about 2-3 euro’s, and it will keep you full all day. Public transport I must admit is quite expensive in Kraków when you compare it to other European cities, however, everything is within walking distance, so you will only need public transport occasionally. . Long-term train journeys, on the other hand, are such a bargain.
EM: Which websites/sources did you use to find an apartment in the city and what tips would you give to someone moving in the city?
RF: I was quite lucky, as I got my room through a fellow student. I would hence really recommend getting to know people from your own degree or course who might have pursued the same path or that have spent time previously in Kraków, as they will probably be able to provide you with some contacts. Kraków seems smaller than it looks like and both locals and expats know each other and are willing to help students out a lot. From what I gathered from other conversations with people, I can also recommend the various Facebook groups for international and Erasmus students in Kraków, as there are always some opportunities going when it comes to accommodation.
EM: In short, to whom would you recommend choosing your city as an Euroculture semester destination?
RF: To be honest, I would recommend this city to anyone who would like to get an overall great (first) experience in Central Eastern Europe. They say “Kraków is a trap”, but for all the good reasons, and once you lived here for a while and experience the city, you’ll know the meaning of it. Moving to Kraków was at this stage of my life probably the best thing I could do for myself and because I had no expectations whatsoever, it ended up greatly exceeding my expectations.
Picture Credits: Personal Pictures