Sunday, June 20, 2021

Visit Me (and the Museums) in Krakow!

"As of June 19th, 2021 United States nationals and legal residents are permitted to lawfully enter Poland." –Polish Tourism Organisation

I found out yesterday morning from the tour guide on a free walking tour of the Kazimierz (the Jewish quarter). Even though I didn't learn much new from the tour itself (I mean, I live in Kazimierz), but that little nugget of information was worth it! Plus, I learned that a main road near historically was river bed, and that the plaza I live near, Plac Wolnica, used to be 4x as big as it currently is. The free walking tours are great, and if you get a chance to visit I will highly recommend you take one or two of them.

Speaking of visiting, did I mention that you can? And you should! I was looking up flights for my parents (from El Paso, TX to Krakow), and round trip was less than $1300, and I'm guessing if you fly out from a more major US airport it will probably be even less. I know it's not cheap, but it's also not that bad for international travel. Plus, if you visit accommodations are free! My flat can comfortably accommodate at least five guests. Mom and Dad will be here a few weeks in July, but the more the merrier if you ask me. You just need to come before we fly out on 15 August. When you come, we can get some tasty treats and tasty views, like this:

Fancy ice cream on the square is my favorite part of living in Europe. 

If that doesn't convince you, maybe my river of the museums in town will. I've already written about some of my favorites, so I won't spend a lot of time on those, except to give an overall rating:

My first Krakow museum, HistoryLand, was a real treat! 8/10—it's great if you like Legos and overview history, but you definitely need to pay for the audio guide. 

The only reason to visit the Princess Czartoryski Museum is to see DaVinci's Lady with the Ermine—5/10.

Galicia Jewish Museum takes an interesting approach to history telling, but it's not really my style of museum—7/10.

I just wrote a raving review for Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum last week, and so my 10/10 rating shouldn't be a surprise.

Now for the new reviews. Shall we go from worst to best?

Time marked by the layers of earth in the Underground Museum. 

With only 4/10—the Rynek Underground Museum. The concept is good, because clearly there's going to be some good stuff buried beneath an 800-year-old city, but it felt so...fabricated. I didn't go with a guide, and I'm sure that would have made it better, but I'm not willing to go back a second time to test that theory.

There were some interesting pieces in the National Museum, but there was a too much religious art to sift through to find the more unique pieces. 

The National Museum in Krakow is huge and I only saw two of the exhibits, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. I give it a 6/10, mostly because I can't remember much of it. It had a big chain of religious art and artifacts, and there was a little bit of a history tour through the art extending from medieval times to the mid-1900s. It was both overwhelming in scope and underwhelming in presentation. I'm sure there is a lot worth seeing, but I'm not sure if it's worth it for me. 

"Kunst Macht Frei" translates to art makes you free; it's a play on the "Arbeit Macht Frei" gate leading into Auschwitz. 

I always think I like contemporary art museums, but maybe I don't? MOCAK (Museum of Contemporary Art Krakow) had a pretty interesting setup when I went—the temporary exhibit was WWII related, so it felt like a history and art museum in one. Some of the art was fun, and some was really good, but a lot of it felt like the artists were trying to create massive meaningful imagery but without enough noticeable skills to back it up. 6/10 from me. 

Views from the top of the City Hall Tower on a clear day. You can't walk out on the terrace but they have it set up so you can still see pretty well. 

I give 7/10 for the City Hall Tower. It's fun climbing the steep uneven stairs that open up to the top clock tower. From the top there are lovely views of Old Town and the surrounding city. If it's too much of a climb, there are side rooms off of the staircase that have some historical displays educating on the history of the tower and the clockwork. The real reason to go is the view and the information is an added bonus.

Looking at old photos through a magnifying lens in the Schindler's Factory Museum. 

Schindler's Factory is the best museum in town—9/10. The curators do a really nice job of presenting information in many different formats so as you move from room to room you are looking at the information through a new lens (sometimes, literally looking through lenses). The only reason this isn't a 10/10 is because it's more of a general WWII museum, and I would have liked to learn more about the specifics of Schindler's Factory.

Deep in the bowls of the Lost Wawel exhibit. In my opinion, this is a much more interesting way to see old Krakow than the Underground Museum provides. 

Wawel (the castle) also doubles as a museum, but there are so many exhibits that you buy tickets for separately that it's hard to think of it as a single cohesive space. I've seen the Dragon's Den (fun but not much to see—5/10),  Wawel Recovered (too architect-focused for me—4/10), and Lost Wawel (a super cool sneak-peak into the depths of the castle—8/10). Even if you don't seen any of the formal exhibits, it's very worth walking through the castle grounds, which is why my overall rating is a must see for anyone visiting Krakow. 

Blocks of salt that came from Wieliczka Salt Mine and are on display at MOCAK. 

But that's not all. There are still tons of museums I haven't been: Museum of Municipal Engineering, Pharmacy Museum, Manggha Center, the Old Synagog...and then many more. We saw the grounds of the Aviation Museum, and I half-jokingly really want to go to the Museum of Illusion, but the main spat that I will make an effort to see before we move is the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Visit me and maybe we can go together *wink wink! 

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