When I was two years old I lived in Kraków, Poland, with my mom and my grandmother while my mom attended a study abroad program at Jagellonian University. I can't tell you whether the scant memories I have of the time are true or are simply constructed from the photos we have and the stories my mom has told me. My mom loved her time living in Kraków. We resided in a post-communism apartment building to the north of the old town which probably matched every building around it, and during the day while my mom was in class my grandma would take care of me. It is during our time in Poland that my grandma taught me to read, quite avidly, if only because there wasn't much else to do. It was only a few years after the fall of the Berlin wall, after all, and very few people spoke English and my grandma, despite being Polish herself, did not speak the language. (When we returned to the states this would create a bit of a dilemma when no preschool would believe that a 2 year old could read as skillfully as I did. It's a major reason why my mom sent me to a private school when I was little -- because I was already too far ahead of the students who were only just learning the alphabet, let alone reading entire books. Evidentially, my mom tells me that I used to read stories to the whole class. I guess I was always comfortable with the limelight...) Anyways, living in Kraków likely shaped my personality heavily and it's not a huge surprise that I love to travel so much now -- I've been traveling almost all of my life. A bit of family background, of the little that I know, is that my grandfather's grandparents lived in Kraków and migrated to Michigan sometime in the early 20th century.
So my mom wanted to revisit Kraków, 18 years later, and we found ourselves back in Poland. And in Poland we had the absolute pleasure of rain during almost the entire trip. Please detect the sarcasm -- I hate rain and I hate rain even more when I travel and have to be out in it getting wet and gross. Even when it wasn't raining we barely saw the sun or sky behind the clouds and it gave a sodden gloom to everything we saw. In all fairness, I'm sure Krakow is a lovely place, but my experience of it this time was decidedly lackluster. We took a driving tour of the city the first day (not a walking tour due to my foot), where we saw some churches and monuments and learned some history. We drove out to Auschwitz, which as I'm sure you can imagine was extremely somber. We also did a tour of the salt mines which was pretty interesting but put me in a bad mood when we were made to wait over an hour for a tour because of my injured foot -- they sent us down ahead of our group so I wouldn't have to do as many stairs but apparently forgot about us and we finally had to join a random tour when we heard a woman speaking English. Further, our hotel, while considered one the nicest in the old town, was just that: old. Our room was big but the A/C barely worked which made it miserably hot and it all felt very musty. We did have some good food during our time -- first some authentic Polish cuisine at Restauracja Pod Aniołami for lunch the second day, then at Restauracja Farina for a seafood dinner one night, both of which I would highly recommend.
Kraków's main square is famous as the largest medieval square still in existence and Krakow was lucky to have retained much of its historical structure because it was never directly bombed (unlike Warsaw, which was leveled). There is an underground museum beneath the main square where a trove of medieval artifacts were discovered in the early 2000s. Its Jewish quarter is said to be a trendy area of the city, though we didn't get a chance to explore it much.
Ultimately, I feel like I missed something with Kraków because so many people I know that have been rave about it being one of their favorite places, yet I was very underwhelmed. I might have to go back someday and see if I can have a better experience (and better weather).