August 20, 2018
Bean counters often fail us. The official population of Krakow is 750 thousand, about the size of Leeds. Dig a little deeper and you discover 1 ½ million live in the surrounding suburbs. 8 million live in a hundred kilometre radius.
And they’ve all decided to attend the ball on this Sunday night in the middle of August.
Perhaps it seems so because the city concentrates its visitors into a central market area. Tall regal buildings (like the Cloth Hall rebuilt in 1555 in the Renaissance style, the Town Hall tower, or the 10th century Church of St. Adalbert) lifted straight from the pages of a Hans Christian Anderson story set the stage. The fairytale unfolds with a carousel of horse-drawn carriages whisking visitors to and from Wawel Castle (seat of Polish kings from 1038 until the capital moved to Warsaw in 1596).
A large stage seats an orchestra, their melodies illuminate even the deepest darkest corners of this (one of Europe’s largest) medieval square. Laser beams and dancers provide a feast for the eyes. Market stalls waft home cooked sausage to tempt rumbling stomaches.
We bump into a troop of exuberant young ladies. They are dancers, just off stage, they explain. They need help to calm down. Their eyes sparkle with endorphins; their speech crackles with Adrenalin. They’re proud to entertain Kraków. And rightly so, for it’s not an insignificant crowd.
All of the great and the good of the region have turned out. There are people on Penny Farthings, smugly surfing the streets. There are people on horseback, trotting in time. There are people on trams who smile at my camera. There are nuns that wave, clowns that gurn, bikers, eaters, dancers, shoppers.
Hungarian dancers aside, it’s all a little overwhelming. The problem with popular, heaving cities (and I speak as a native of London) is that you need to prepare and book everything in advance. If, like me, you tend to rock up somewhere and expect to be on the guest list, disappointment awaits. Want to view ‘Lady with Ermine‘ (one of Leonardo’s best preserved paintings) in the magnificent surroundings of Wawel Castle? Good luck with that. There are no tickets until the end of the week. Rynek Underground looks amazing (I really want to learn how to bury a suspected vampire) but, according to Atlas Obscura, ’occupancy is limited to 300 at a time, visitors are advised to buy tickets in advance for a particular entry time.’ We don’t even try. We return to the van feeling a little dejected. Bean counters take note.