I had assumed that we would walk there, since it would only take about an hour and we could be along the river for some of the time. Cameron, however, preferred the tram so we gave that a go, instead. It turns out it was quite easy, especially since we had already downloaded Krakow's public transportation app, Jakdojade. For just $0.80 each, we were able to get to the foot of the Park within five minutes, for virtually no stress at all! The nearest tram station is two blocks away from our apartment and the tram comes every ten minutes. It wasn't necessarily early Saturday morning (we had slept in until almost 10am-shock!) but there still weren't too many people out so we had no problems getting seats in our tram car.
At the final stop, we got off with another out-and-about family, and started our walk uphill through a quiet, stone- and wood-heavy neighborhood. Even though it was clearly residential, we still passed by a restaurant; clearly everyone goes out to eat around here. When Cameron and I were first house hunting we saw a number of single-family homes for rent nestled into this park, and knowing how easy public transportation is I wish we had considered looking into some of them.
Just a few blocks up from the tram stop we transitioned from neighborhood into cemetery and then into full-on park. It seems everyone was out, and we saw representatives from every age group. Most people seemed to be out for a leisurely stroll, but there were also a few runners and bikers as well. I told Cameron that if we saw someone selling the unpronounceable Polish bagel-like treats (obwarzanek) that I would want to stop and buy one. The path was long and straight, so when we saw a stone staircase to our right we took it. At the top of the stairwell was a large brick fortress. As we walked around the structure we came into sight of the first mound- quite literally a large grassy hill that was fortified by a surrounding brick wall. I had never seen anything like it. Rather than paying the few złowty entrance fee to climb the mound, we elected to come back with our first US visitors but to continue on with our hike for the day.
We could have continued on the main, straight, paved path, but instead started to meander through a more woodsy dirt path. Perhaps Cameron had a destination in mind (he always has his GPS open) but I was happy to haphazardly choose each time we came to an intersection. There were lots of mountain bikers out and it definitely was a good trail system for them–not too rooty but with lots of roller coaster-type humps. Sporadically the trees would open up on our right and we would get views of some of the city, which Cameron kept referring to as "the Polish countryside." As we continued along, we tried to avoid the main path without dropping too much elevation, but eventually we had to start going down again. At the bottom of the hill we intersected a road and evaluated what we wanted to do next. We could turn around and go back the way we came, we could follow the road to a bus stop, or we could continue on to a second section of park. Naturally, we opted for option three.
Perhaps we could have continued on to the second mound, but once we hit another road (I think very near the zoo) we decided to sit on a bench, eat our packed lunch, and then make our way to a bus stop. It wasn't a far walk to the bus, and I very much toyed with the idea of getting one of the bagels from the vendor waiting at the stop, but since the bus was near I talked myself out of it. The bus was just as easy as the tram, and it took us just a few blocks away from our house. After swapping out our hiking gear for shopping gear, we returned to the bus stop and set out for IKEA.
IKEA is located in a shopping center-heavy section of the city, about 3km outside of where we live. In addition to a mall, there were some other large home decor and appliances stores clustered in the same space as IKEA. Despite our apartment being furnished, it was only stocked with the bare essentials, and we need more than four forks and one oven mitt to support the cooking we do at home. It was the same experience as any other IKEA I had been in, where they lead you through a maze of cute, well-stocked showrooms. Along the way there are stockpiles of one small item found in the room: photo frame, shoe organizers, spice jars, etc. There are little shortcuts sprinkled throughout the space, but it seems like a fallacy to not follow the full path.
We had already done a pretty good job of filling our bag by the time we reached the halfway point, always identifiable by the cafeteria-style restaurant. Even though it was mid-afternoon and not that long since we had last eaten, we waited in line for a meal (later Cameron's coworker commented that it was a very Polish thing to do to go to IKEA to eat). I had a salmon filet with beets and buckwheat while Cameron ate Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes and gravy. We shared a fresh-squeezed strawberry juice as a special treat, but talked ourselves out of the various cake-like desserts available. Our combined meals probably cost about $12.
Once refueled, the assembly line took us downstairs to the real chaos where everything is for sale. Anything that we had admired upstairs was claimable in a pile somewhere down below, so we filled our cart with Tupperware, silverware, kitchen utensils, a cutting board, a pot set, a frying pan, napkins, coasters, place mats, and anything else that caught our fancy. We had to stick with small things we could bag up and bring back on the bus with us, however we already have plans to come back with the car (once it's shipped) for wardrobes, shelving, and rugs.
Disappointingly, we weren't able to find any king-sized sheets, even though I'm fairly certain our bed set origionally came from IKEA. I've scoured a few home decor shops in Krakow and only found one king-sized set: a boring all-white set at H&M's home section. It seems like king beds are virtually nonexistent, so I'm not sure how we ended up with one. We probably will have to buy sheets to bring back with us the next time we're in the US, since the only set we currently have seems to have been hand-made by one of the previous tenants.
We made it home to unload our haul and cooked some lentils and cauliflower in our new pots. Our favorite television station had a Polish singing show on where it seems like contestants sing songs to the original artist while he sings along as support. Of course I didn't understand anything, but I did pick up on the word for "breakfast" in one of the better-sung numbers. Each night after dinner Cameron and I have some sort of treat; right now it is some chocolate-covered hazelnut wafers. It's probably a bad habit to get into but it is a fun browsing the cookie aisle at the grocery store.
Sunday morning was pretty uninteresting. We lollygagged around the house since all of the stores are closed on Sundays, with a few exceptions for restaurants and single employee-run stores. I turned on the TV to see if there was any election coverage, but it was just mass on live-feed. I later learned that there is a media blackout the day before and the day of elections, and that you can get fined for even posting something on Facebook about a candidate. The intention is to avoid swaying the voter turnout. I attempted to make pancakes, but without milk or baking powder they were mostly just dense buttery dough blobs with Nutella.
By early afternoon I was restless and pervasive enough to talk Cameron into going for a walk somewhere. We made it down to the river (about 0.25km away) and then turned around to change. I was dressed for fall in long pants and a long sleeved shirt, but I swapped those for shorts, a tank top, and a sun hat before heading out again. Since I hadn't yet gone to the castle, that was our first stop, but it was crowded! It's a long flight of stairs to get up to the castle gates and the line was moving very slowly. Once on top, though, it opened up to a large courtyard with multiple gardens and restaurants. People are allowed to move around fairly freely from one courtyard to another, and as we explored the space it was clear that the castle operated as it's own small city for some time. There was a little bit of literature sprinkled throughout the grounds, however they strongly encourage you take one of the many tours offered which let you into different parts of the castle, cathedral, and "dragon's den." Given the crowds, we decided to put off a tour until another day.
We continued our exploration outside of the castle, looking for streets neither of us had been down, and for ice cream shops that were not swamped with mobs of people. We found a few of the former but none of the later. There were a number of the obwarzanek vendors (the bagels) and we finally bought our first two: one that was multi-seeded and one with cheese. They were pretty tasty, and I could see myself eating those one a regular basis. As we continued to wander, we found a gelato place with only a few customers ahead of us, so we stopped in for a scoop each to satiate ourselves on the walk home.
Walking through the residential neighborhood to the start of our Saturday morning walk
A view of the mound surrounded by the brick fortress
What Cameron calls "the Polish countryside"
What I think more aptly is the Polish countryside
Enjoying a mid-afternoon meal at IKEA
The main plaza at the castle. I think this is the castle's primary cathedral.
A side plaza at the castle; apparently it is used commonly for wedding photos since it's all white.
Weekend crowds in Old Town