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Eastern secrets

Morag Bruce explores Poland’s former capital, Krakow,

here is something inherent

to secrets that make them

the most wantonly tellable pieces of information. Krakow is a bit like that. A big. gorgeous secret that you feel protective of, but ultimately selfish about not sharing. Unlike Warsaw. Krakow’s buildings were left largely untouched by World War II and. due to religious tolerance in the 16th century, its cathedrals escaped the devastating effects of the Reformation. The city is like one massive museum. a fact recognised in 1978 when it was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. Look at the baroque architecture with its flourishes and grandeur. and imagine what those walls have seen. This year. Poland is celebrating 25 years of Solidarity. a trade union federation founded in the shipyards of Gdansk which would eventually help to bring down Communism in eastern Europe. Krakow (pronounced ‘Krak-oof‘) is taking its relatively new-found freedoms and moving on. Its people are

welcoming and keen to involve you in their city. I got talking to Aldo. a Krakow-born urban regeneration consultant. who explained that the now bustling. fashionable square in the Jewish Quarter (Kazimierz) wasn‘t somewhere you would visit after dark ten years ago. He thinks the rate of progress will only quicken with places such as the site of Oscar Schindler’s factory across the river Wisla. which currently lies largely derelict. being developed to accommodate the influx of visitors.

Horse-and-cart tours are Krakow‘s only tangible tourist trap; so far it remains free of open-top bus tours. Gleaming new trams glide down tree-lined streets alongside rickety vintage models. but walking allows the chance to take control. This is not a place for a rigid itinerary go to what catches your eye. Look up and down; some of the most beautiful places to eat


| Krakéw’s massive square and Cloth Hall (main pic); and life at a relaxed pace on the streets of the city (below)

and finds a city with a dramatic past and a bright future.

and drink are on the first floor of ;

buildings that may on first inspection appear to be houses. or below street level in caverns and

basements. Candlelit bars. bohemian and wonderful. are everywhere. Singer in Kazimierz’s main square. so-called because of its use of old sewing machines as


tables. closes (according the barman) ‘when everybody has left’. Leaving an exuberant vodka— fuelled. still-dancing crowd at 5am makes one wonder if they ever do. See things from a different perspective by hiring a bike and cycling along the river. undemeath

the medieval Wawel Castle. past Kazimierz and into the suburbs. where you‘ll find steelworks. high- rise blocks. new shopping centres and motorways. Wander up past the train station to the botanic gardens with their geometric glass palm houses and immaculate borders. On a Saturday it‘s where Krakow’s newly married couples go to take their wedding pictures. Watching scores of brides in gleaming white posing amongst the Dahlias is a surreal sight.

The 13th century St Mary’s Basilica. which dominates the old town‘s main square. might be brick— built and austere. but inside is a confection of gold. blue and red. all the way to the top of its 81-metre- high towers. Krakow's beautiful churches are often used as classical music venues, so keep an eye on billboards for Krakow Philharmonic concerts. Vivaldi and Mozart sound even more magnificent in medieval. candlelit surroundings.

Everything in Krakow is cheap.

6-20 Oct 2005 THE LIST 93