From City Wall to Planty Park

Planty Park? The Polish name seems to mean park of plants, or something to that effect. You’d think the city would have come up with something more evocative of Kraków’s distinguished past, but so be it. This marvelous urban green way is one of features that gives Kraków its captivating charm.

Like many ancient and medieval European cities, for many years, the historic urban core of Kraków was enclosed by a defensive wall and a moat. Eventually, as artillery that could fire explosive projectiles replaced catapults hurling stones, walls lost their defensive edge and cities began to remove them. In the 1800s, Kraków replaced its wall and moat with a green beltway that rings the city’s Old Town.

Today Planty Park is a beautiful common space with lengthy walkways shaded by stately trees. While it never felt crowded to me, the park was full of people, from locals going about their business to visitors with cameras. A place for strolling, quality thinking time, meeting friends, texting, or catching some morning rays.

Finally, when you have walked your fill or gotten where you are going, the city is never far away.

Busy Old Town, Kraków, Poland

The last stop on my trip was Kraków, Poland’s second largest city in the south of the country. During the three weeks since I had left Vietnam, I had covered a lot of ground in Europe, dozens of kilometers walking about the places I stopped and hundreds of kilometers in trains connecting me to destinations in Austria, Slovenia, Italy, Czechia, and Poland, all of which I was visiting for the first time. I had enjoyed myself throughout, but by the time I got to Kraków, I was suffering from a mild case of travel fatigue.

In fact, Kraków turned out to be an ideal place for this rather weary traveler to end his trip. Most importantly for me, the city is considerably smaller than Prague or Vienna, in terms of both area and population; it was much easier to get around Kraków. The main island of Venice is also small, but it is a difficult place to find one’s way, whereas Kraków is wonderfully simple.

Kraków is beautiful, and it is obvious that considerable effort has gone into preserving the historical character of this very old city, the origins of which date back to the 10th century of the Common Era. For hundreds of years, Kraków was home to Polish kings; today the city’s museums house relics of Polish royalty. The Kraków Old Town and Wawel Castle, both UNESCO World Heritage sites, are at the heart of what was medieval Kraków. I spent a good deal of my four days in Kraków walking around this part of the city. There were other places to see in and around Kraków, but I was content to limit the scope of my visit. When I visit a Kraków (or Vienna, Prague, of Venice) for three or four days, I am well aware that going to one site means, in effect, that I have chosen not to go a dozen or more other sites. I give little thought to this, nor do I feel compelled to move “must see” attractions to the head of my list of places to see.

St. Mark’s and the Doge’s Palace in Venice were impressive indeed, but walking through some of the small calle was the most exciting part of my visit to Venice. Several years ago in Paris, I waited in the long line to get into the Louvre and stood with the crowd holding iPhones in the air to get a shot of the Mona Lisa. I can tick the Have Seen box for that painting, but honestly I was not very impressed. It was the huge Renoir’s hanging in the Musée d’Orsay and the sculpture in the small Rodin Museum, which I entered to escape an oppressively hot July day, that left me breathless.

But I am straying from delightful Kraków. The image here was taken in the medieval market square at the center of the Kraków Old Town. It is late afternoon on a busy Friday. St. Mary’s Basilica, built in the 14th century in the Polish Gothic style, is on the left. A section of the massive Cloth Hall is one the right. This was an important trading center for merchants throughout Europe for many years. Today it is filled with stalls selling souvenirs to tourists. I bought a number of t-shirts of the I Love Poland variety to give as gifts when I got home.