Top Menu

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Pinterest Instagram RSS

Learning Life Lessons in Krakow

Krakow's Main Market Square and the Cloth Market at night.

There are some days when you are traveling that you really don’t want to tour another church or visit another museum. There are some days when you travel that you just want to be in the moment. For us, Krakow was just such a place. Our goal for deep cultural immersion was abandoned in favor of a slower pace. What started out as sightseeing became a Krakow vodka tasting stroll – complete with several important life lessons.

Other cities have their pub crawls and beer tours and even their progressive cocktail mixology. But Krakow has vodka. And lots of it. But our initial objective was not exploring Krakow’s vodka scene – it was exploring the city’s rich history. I had previously visited Warsaw and was not tremendously impressed. Everyone has always said Krakow is so much nicer than Warsaw, so I was looked forward to seeing the city for myself.

On our Krakow walking tour, we discovered the Planty - a park that rings the historic Old Town.

Krakow’s Planty

Leaving our hotel and walking through the Planty, our mission was a self-guided Krakow walking tour of the Royal Way. We meandered through the Barbican and the Florian Gate, with its painting of the Black Madonna inside. We got no further than Florianska Street before our first unexpected diversion of the day – an extra-long morning coffee break at a local coffee shop.

During our Krakow walking tour, we encountered this beautifully decorated building on Florianska Street in the Old Town.

A building on Florianska Street

By the time we reached St. Mary’s Church on the Main Market Square for the hourly bugling of the hejnal song, we were hopelessly off our schedule. And once we’d walked through the Cloth Market stalls shopping for souvenirs, all pretense of an educational self-guided walking tour was abandoned.

Krakow's Main Market Square and St. Mary's Basilica.

Krakow’s Main Market Square and St. Mary’s Basilica

Instead, it was time to eat. We had a lunch at one of the places on the square. I had the Tyskie local beer during lunch. During lunch, Laura suggested we should try some of the flavored vodkas that are famous in Krakow. According to comments on the Internet travel forums, nearly every bar in Krakow has amazing vodka and can do a tasting for you. While we learned that every bar has vodka, their ability to do anything remotely close to a vodka tasting varies greatly (as does the quality of the vodka). For example, vodka at the lunch establishment on the Main Market Square was a shot of something vaguely reminiscent of gasoline. Clearly, not every bar in Krakow has good vodka. We were on a quest.

Sculpture in front of Krakow's town hall and the Cloth Market.

But before starting off on our Krakow vodka tasting, we stopped by the dark St. Francis’ Basillica. This was the home church of Karol Wojtyła before he moved to Rome and became Pope John Paul II – the hometown boy who made good. Or, The Greatest Pole, as the locals call him. I had seen John Paul II at the 8th World Youth Day in 1993. My interest in delaying our vodka tasting was to see the little gold plaque on the pew where he used to pray.

A highlight on our Krakow walking tour was Pope John Paul II's residence.

Pope John Paul II’s residence in Krakow

Emerging from the church into the cool air, we detected a faint odor. That odor could be only one thing: grilled meat. In a small square, we happened on a local festival. To this day, we’re not entirely sure what was being celebrated. There was a stage with music and dancing. There were some vendors selling all forms of delicious Polish food. But there was no vodka. We abandoned our Krakow walking tour and the festivities in the square in search of distilled spirits.

Grilled food being prepared at a festival in Krakow, Poland.

Walking into the former Jewish ghetto of Krakow, we found what we were looking for. At a simple intersection there was a bar. It was like so many other bars in that part of the city – empty in the middle of the afternoon with the lights off. Walking into the darkness of the bar Trojkat, a pleasant young woman welcomed us and began to discuss the distillation process. We sampled Raciborska flavored vodkas, which were all organic. This is what we were looking for. The raw vodka which tasted like gasoline at lunch was replaced by a subtle honey flavor. The vodkas were smooth and warming on a cool day!

A cemetery in the Jewish ghetto of Krakow.

Leaving Trojkat, our Krakow vodka tasting stroll continued and we found ourselves wandering some more. And we found another bar, this one featuring cocktails. We learned a lot about Polish vodka. We discovered a brand of vodka called Żubrówka – also known as bison grass vodka. As it turns out, bison are found other places outside of North America. A small herd lives in Eastern Poland near the Belarus border and feeds on a special kind of wild grass. Each bottle of Żubrówka contains a single blade of the Polish bison grass. And because of this, the U.S. government banned the original version from being imported to the U.S. (we get a “nearly identical” product). At the bar, we indulged in a drink they called Tatanka (yes, just like the American bison). Tatanka is a chilled cocktail of Żubrówka and apple juice – and it was very soothing.

Doing a Krakow vodka tasting at the Trojkat bar in the Jewish ghetto section of the city.

Vodka tasting at Trojkat in the Jewish ghetto

Any Krakow vodka tasting will inevitably involve a visit to the tiny Wodka Bar. The bar has two tables and a couple of bar stools. Wodka Bar is microscopically small. But it packs a tremendous punch. Here, visitors can sample whole flights of vodka – dozens and dozens of different flavors. We tried the plum, black currant, hazelnut, pear, lemon and cherry vodkas from the Soplicka brand. The cherry tasted vaguely like Cherry Nyquil, but the plum, pear and lemon were very good. The Wodka Bar is decorated in gritty photos by Emiliano Chuck Perillo of transsexual prostitutes in Mexico, an odd decorating motif. But somewhere between the pear and lemon vodkas, it dawned on me how the day had really gotten away from us. But did the day really get away? Did we really waste an entire day in Krakow?

Doing a vodka tasting at the Wodka Bar in Krakow's Old Town.

At the Wodka Bar

When we travel, we try to pack in as much as possible. We only have a handful of vacation days every year, so we try to make every minute count. But sometimes that leads to burn out. On this trip to Krakow, we had spent a long day visiting the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp the day before. So maybe we were more inclined to take it easy.

Poland-Krakow-1

But maybe Krakow was teaching us a lesson about how we travel. Thinking about it, we realized it is important to always have a plan – but to know when it is time to abandon the plan. Krakow taught us to follow our nose, because it can lead to unexpected treasures. But most importantly, our Krakow vodka tasting adventure taught us that Being can be sometimes be more important than Doing.

Thank you Krakow! Hope to see you again soon.

A few more Krakow photos:

Statue of the muse at the Adam Mickiewicz Monument in Krakow's Main Market Square.

In the main market square

Artists selling their paintings inside the main gate off of Florianska Street in Krakow.

Artists off of Florianska Street

Location signs on our Krakow walking tour.

The altar in St. Mary's Basilica in Krakow, Poland.

St. Mary’s Basilica altar






Need Another Hit? Related Posts

Subscribe to our email newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter
  • Get exclusive content
  • Receive personal updates
  • Sneak peeks of future trips

What do you think about Learning Life Lessons in Krakow?

  1. Jeremy February 20, 2015 at 9:06 pm #

    Good to see that your Krakow trip worked out well. It’s one of my favorite places in Central Europe!
    Jeremy recently posted…6 Small Cities in New York State Worth Checking Out if You’re Visiting NYCMy Profile

    • Lance Longwell February 20, 2015 at 11:36 pm #

      Thanks Jeremy. We had a great time, but I also feel like we missed things. Next time…

  2. Denise February 24, 2015 at 3:54 pm #

    I am going to Kraków for the first time in September…this post was very helpful as I am really looking forward to doing a vodka tasting! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  3. Shobha March 5, 2015 at 2:46 pm #

    I went to Krakow a few years back! (pre-blogging). I had the best time sightseeing and doing a ‘vodka’ tour. My friend and I picked vodkas based on how pretty the bottles were – a lot of it was a blur but I remember my favourite one was a bottle that looked like stained glass. thanks for the trip down memory lane!

  4. Lesley Peterson March 11, 2015 at 12:45 pm #

    Open-air art gallery on Florianska Street, gorgeous architecture, grilled meat festival and plenty of ‘wodka’–sounds like a perfect day!
    Lesley Peterson recently posted…Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s the Time at the AGOMy Profile

  5. Jolanta aka Casual Traveler March 11, 2015 at 9:44 pm #

    Laughing out loud. I’m going to skip vodka (hate the stuff), but it looks like you still saw some interesting stuff, so I’m going to pin this to my Krakow board. I want to find some of the stuff in your photos (the sign posts, for instance).
    Jolanta aka Casual Traveler recently posted…Apartamentos en Merida (Spain) – A ReviewMy Profile

    • Lance Longwell March 19, 2015 at 2:21 pm #

      I’m actually not a big drinker. And the idea of just swigging vodka seems pretty revolting to me. However, there’s a smoothness to Polish vodka. It’s not like the neutral grain spirits that are bottled here here in the U.S. and called vodka.

  6. Steve Skabrat March 12, 2015 at 3:57 pm #

    Great post! You have captured the best of Krakow in an interesting way. Whenever I go to Poland to visit my relatives in nearby Pszczyna, I make sure to squeeze in a day in Krakow. I haven’t done the vodka tasting stroll yet, but now I know what to do on my next visit.

  7. Casey @ A Cruising Couple April 4, 2015 at 12:59 am #

    Love this post! I really want to visit Poland one day, Krakow in particular. I’m half Polish, so I feel like I just have to go and experience the culture first-hand! Your photos in particular make me want to jump on a plane right now. Maybe in 2016 we’ll be lucky enough to plan a trip. And yes, being is so so important! I know it’s SO corny, but I love the saying that we are human beings, not human doings 😉

  8. Jennifer April 8, 2015 at 8:47 am #

    As my last name indicates, I have some Polish heritage and am just dying to go explore there! Your photos of Krakow are beautiful.
    Jennifer recently posted…Eccleston Square: London’s Bou”tech” HotelMy Profile

  9. Ayngelina April 20, 2015 at 4:20 pm #

    Totally agree I like to be prepared but sometimes you just have to let go.
    Ayngelina recently posted…Easy Argentinean Chimichurri RecipeMy Profile

  10. Diana Edelman April 20, 2015 at 5:42 pm #

    I loved my time in Krakow. Had I known about its notoriety for vodka, I would have done what you did!!
    Diana Edelman recently posted…When you go numbMy Profile

  11. Leah April 22, 2015 at 12:13 am #

    I really like the takeaway lesson here…that it’s good to have a plan but also important to knwo when to abandon it. Totally on point. A vodka tasting sounds awesome, too! Not a wasted day in my opinion 🙂
    Leah recently posted…A Leavenworth Staycation at Run of the River Inn & RefugeMy Profile

  12. Karolina September 18, 2016 at 4:16 pm #

    Aww I love this post! I have been living in Krakow for 2 years and it made miss this city even more. Thank you for this article and the beautiful photos.
    Karolina recently posted…The ultimate guide to Zamosc – Polish pearl of renaissanceMy Profile

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge

Pin It on Pinterest

Shares
Share This