Munich. Prague. Vienna. Bratislava. Copenhagen. Traveling around in Europe I was well aware that this is where some of the best Christmas markets in the world take place each year. I thought I might have time to make a quick trip to see one of them while I was in Poland, but it turned out that was not the case. I was headed to Cracow (or Krakow) from Ukraine and I decided I that it would be better to spend all my time there and not try to cram in another city (5 cities in two weeks was more than enough).
The location of my hostel, Goodbye Lenin, was perfect—right in the middle of the Old Town in between Market Square and Wawel Castle. On my first night there I decided to get out and reacquaint myself with Cracow. I had visited for a couple of days back in 2003 and just on the walk from the train station to my hostel I could already tell it was not the same place that I had left. More English, more smiles, and more money!
The first place I headed was the famous Market Square. It is the largest medieval square in Europe and where most of the magic in Cracow happens. Stepping out from my hostel, I was greeted by the festively illuminated Grodzka Street. As I began walking towards the square I could hear singing getting louder and louder. What could that be? It sounded like Christmas carols. Imagine my surprise and elation to learn that I was headed towards the largest Christmas market in Poland. As luck would have it, I had arrived on the opening weekend!
I had arrived just in time for a Christmas performance on the main stage. Christmas trees were everywhere, lights were strung across all the streets and market stalls, delicious smells were wafting through the air, mulled wine was flowing…it was Christmastime in Cracow.
When I said wine was flowing, it was really flowing. Queues were forming behind these huge barrels serving Grzaniec Galicyjski so I knew it had to try it for myself. It’s Poland’s version of mulled wine.
There were also quite a few stands selling these small smoked pastries. I had no idea what they were, but I thought I should try it anyway.
Best decision of my life. It was some sort of smoked cheese with cranberry sauce on top. I wish I knew the proper name because now I am in love.
I went back to the market everyday I was in town; I just couldn’t get enough of the holiday spirit that was in the air and how cozy it all felt. On my last day there I was craving a smoked cheese so I thought I’d grab one before I headed to the train. As I was sitting there scarfing it down, a procession of Santas on motorcycles passed right by me.
Sometimes it gets lonely on the road, especially around the holidays when you know loved ones back home are celebrating without you. For a gypsy, nomad, or wanderer, being “home for the holidays” is not always possible. Instead, the world is our “home” and the traditions we celebrate depend on where we are for the time being. I find something very special about that experience as well, and although I admit I was a little sad to miss out on the holiday season back home, I wouldn’t trade my Christmastime in Cracow for anything else in the world.