Kraków: Of Kings, Castles and Pierogi

After a goulash-filled week in Prague, my newfound travel buddy and I decided to make moves.

Three trains, one transportation mishap (we got off one of the trains a stop early, but it worked out!), many cat naps, and seven hours later, Andrée and I made it to Kraków, Poland!

Once the capital of Poland for more than 500 years, Kraków is now a bustling city of nearly 800,000 people and the cultural hub of the country. But Kraków is old—unbelievably old.

Stone tools dating back to 50,000 BCE were found on Wawel Hill, and the city’s name originates from Krakus, a mythical ruler who supposedly slayed the Wawel Dragon. The city was a bustling trade center in 965, and the castle was built in the 1300s.

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As an American whose country’s oldest buildings date back to the 1700s, this kind of history is hard to wrap my head around! All of Europe (and especially Israel) has been blowing me away with the ancient architecture!

The heart of Kraków is the Stare Miasto, or Old Town. Smack in the middle is Rynek Główny, the largest medieval town square in Europe.

Filled with vendors and local craftspeople, the square is surrounded by historic houses, palaces, towers and churches.

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Prague Finale: John Lennon Wall and Charles Bridge

December 8, 1980: Beatles rocker John Lennon was shot to death in the entrance of his New York apartment building.

A pacifist hero in the eyes of many young Czechs during a time of political revolution, Lennon was soon memorialized in Prague. His image was painted on a wall in a secluded square near the Charles Bridge, and political graffiti and Beatles lyrics were soon added.

Despite the best whitewashing efforts of the police and the property owners, the Lennon Wall has been continuously evolving for the past three decades: layer upon layer of lyrics, wishes for peace and sketches of the man whose voice guided a generation.

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Prague: Bohemian Wonderland

Though Israel was a sunny paradise, I decided to break the cycle of my Tel Aviv lifestyle (beach all day, party all night) and head into Europe.

The cheapest ticket I could find using Skyscanner, my favorite airfare app, was Prague!

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Two of my favorite Prague buildings are located in Old Town Square: the astronomical clock tower and the Church of Our Lady before Tyn.

Both were built in the 1400s, and are impressive feats. The church is a classic example of gothic architecture and dominates the city skyline. The clock is the oldest functioning astronomical clock in the world. Who cares about the latest iPhone?

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The Prague Castle, Pražský hrad, is officially the world’s largest castle and dates back to the ninth century.

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This is a breathtakingly beautiful city. Twice the capital of Europe, the historical capital of Bohemia, and now the capital of the Czech Republic, Prague is a city of two million people that feels like the place Belle would call home.

The architecture is an array of styles that span the history of time. Romanesque, baroque, gothic, art nouveau, cubism…it’s everything at once, but it works.

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To plan or not to plan?

There is only one thing I know for sure about my upcoming trip: I leave on September 1.

Beyond that, I have nothing planned. 

No next flight, no hostels booked, no idea what happens after I leave the rest of my Birthright group at the airport.

For all I know, I could get on a flight to Berlin, or Budapest, or Amsterdam, or Dublin.

Right now, I’m leaving everything up to chance and how I feel in the moment.

What if I make a new best friend on my trip who wants to camp on a beach in Tel Aviv? What if inspiration strikes at the airport and I decide to jet to Warsaw? What if I find a $75 flight to Rome?

After reading countless guidebooks and travel blogs, I’m confident in my decision to travel alone. Living in major cities has given me enough street smarts and confidence to deal with most situations. I also want the freedom to chose what cities and attractions I visit, when I want to wake up, and how to spend my time.

I have a long list of places I want to visit over the next three months, including but not limited to:

  • Paris
  • Amsterdam
  • Brussels
  • Zurich
  • Vienna
  • Rome
  • Budapest
  • Prague
  • Hamburg
  • Munich
  • Berlin
  • Cologne
  • Lisbon
  • Porto
  • Barcelona
  • Seville
  • Greece
  • Croatia
  • Ireland

…but I know I probably won’t make it to all of them.