My final day in Krakow was a bit slower than the previous few days. I began with Sunday Mass at the Dominican-run Church of the Holy Trinity. I am getting more and more of a sense of the real vibrancy of the Church in Poland. The place was packed – literally standing room only – with people of all ages. And the assembly seemed engaged in the liturgy and especially in their personal faith and prayer life. It was really an exraordinary Mass.
After lunch (sour rye soup and cabbage/mushroom pierogi), I walked to the former Jewish district of Krakow -Kazimierz. Krakow was home to a large and thriving Jewish community prior to World War II, and this is where most of them lived. Not many survived the Holocuast, and only a few of those who did returned to Krakow. Among the places I visited in Kazimierz was Isaac Synagogue, built in the 1680s and still a place of prayer today. The story of Krakow’s Jewish community is told beautifully in the book and movie Schindler’s List, which I highly recommend for those coming here for World Youth Day. The history of Krakow’s Jews is an integral part of this city.
Having now traveled by train to Warsaw in preparation for an early morning flight to my next destination, here are some general take-aways from my time in Krakow to help those who will be coming for World Youth Day in July:
– Be prepared to walk a lot! I walked about 13 miles each of my two full days in the city, and that was combined with some public transit as well. Krakow is very much a walking city with wide sidewalks and great things to see along the way. With where our hotel is located and knowing the locations of the main events, we will be walking a lot. So if you’re not used to long, sustained walking – start now!
– Public transit is also great – easy to use and well-run – but it’s a fairly small system of trams and buses that will be taxed by the large crowds of World Youth Day. The good news is that our hotel is near a tram stop and outside the main part of the city, so those things should both work in our favor.
– Language – many people speak English, especially those in the tourist sector. And signs at major sites and transportation centers are in both Polish and English. I had no problem survivng on my handful of Polish phrases.
– Money – right now there is a great exchange rate between the US Dollar and the Polish Zloty – about 4 zloty to 1 dollar. Which means that prices are very reasonable. My lunch today – soup, pierogi, and a bottle of water at a sit down restaurant in the Old City – cost about $9. Lunch earlier in the week bought at a grocery store – an apple, a high-protein yogurt, a paczki doughtnut, and a bottle of water – cost about $2.50. And a nice dinner at a restaurant right off the main square with a glass of wine and dessert was less than $25. ATMs are easy to find and use, and most places accept credit cards, although I stuck with cash most of the time.
– Speaking of food, Polish cuisine is hearty and carb-heavy with lots of bread, dumplings, potatoes, and more bread. I enjoyed everying I ate, including a lot of different Polish specialties, from barscsz (beet soup) to roasted goose. There are some great pretzel/bagels sold from stands all over the city for grab-and-go snacks – of course, bread again. After Polish, the second most abundant cuisine in Krakow seems to be Italian, and the pizza I had down the street from St. John Paul’s home in Debniki was excellent!
– The Polish people love their Pope – St. John Paul II. Statues, paintings, and signs of him are everywhere and mark virtually every place he ever visited in Krakow. For example, in the Franciscan Church, there is a placque that marks the pew where he used to oray when he lived in the Archbishop’s residence across the street. There is also a great devotion to St. Faustina and Divine Mercy – but I got the sense that it is more realized in pilgrimages to the Divine Mercy Sanctuary, whereas devotion to St. John Paul II is all over the city.
All in all, Krakow will be a wonderful host city for World Youth Day, and the locals are looking forward to welcoming the world and sharing their city of Saints. I can’t wait to be a part of it!