My experience, the trip and facts about Krakows are taken in June and September 2003
Old Town: Downtown, around Main Square
Wawel Hill: The castle district just south of downtown
Kazimierz: The old Jewish quarters
Krakow by night
Population: 756 000 (1 403 000)
FACTS AND MY EXPERIENCE OF KRAKOW:
Kraków is the former capital of Poland (from 1038-1596) and the 3rd largest city of Poland, with just 20 000 inhabitants less than Lodz, the 2nd largest.
While Warsaw is the capital and commercial center of Poland, Krakow is the spiritual, educational and cultural capital of Poland. It is a much calmer city than Warsaw and despite the size, it feels like a small city with less than 100 000 inhabitants in the city center. The Vistula River (Wisla) flows just south and west of the city center, the same river that flows through Warsaw. Kraków is definately one of Europe's most beautiful city with a city center that most cities can just admire. Very old buildings, churches and squares, together and horse carriages are all contributing to the nice atmosphere of the past. However, as soon as you leave the immediate downtown area (still in the inner city) more than half of all buildings are very rundown with unpainted grey facades and the further you go from the city center, the more you will see of ugly commie blocks, the rundown houses and torn down abandoned buildings, many of them are planned to be replaced with modern office and residential buildings in the near future. I guess we have to blame the communists for that... However, we were mostly in the city center, but our hostel was located some blocks to the north, but still in central Krakow, in a rundown but still nice area with a potential if the buildings will be renovated in the future (that I believe it will). And people were parking everywhere: on the pavements, on the in the middle of intersections. Even if the cars were not visible around Market Square (Rynek Glowny), there was heavy traffic outside the immediate city center and it was hard to walk on the pavements since cars that were parked there took up almost all the space. However, then coming from Sweden where rundown houses almost don't exist and "everything is forbidden" I can truly see a charm in a city were everything is not perfect. The core of Krakow is the Main Market Square, centered around the old medieval Market hall. Around the city center, pedestrian streets with beautiful historical buildings -many of them really looks extraordinary- are situated, and there are churches everywhere. Just south of downtown, you can see synagogues in Kazimierz, the Jewish quarters and Wawel Hill, where the Wawel Castle is situated. There is a big university in the city, one of Europe's oldiest, situated at the nice Planty Park. The university and the park together was one of the reasons why we made comparisions with the smaller university city Lund in Sweden. The blue trams, buses and electric buses are all parts of the streetscape. However, there is no metro in the city. We stayed in Kraków for just one and a half day, but it was enough to see the most important parts of the city. It was mostly cloudy and it even rained at some occasions, but it was also warm and sunny for a short time.
THE TRAIN TRIPS FROM WARSAW TO KRAKOW AND FROM KRAKOW TO BUDAPEST:
From Warsaw to Krakow:
First we were tavelling from Warsaw to Krakow by train, a very slow train that we captured around 1 PM. This journey took 5 hours in a hot and narrow compartment that we had to share with 4 other people. The journey became better when it became cloudy and I stood by the windows and watched the landscape, that was a mix of forests and fields. It was mostly flat, but when we got closer to Krakow, it became more hilly. The largest cities were the train stop were Radom and Kielce, both cities have more than 200 000 inhabitants, have a tall church in the center and commie blocks in the outskirts. The ticket was very cheap, I think it costed 50 zlotys (about 16 euro) or something like that.
From Krakow to Budapest:
We was almost in chock when we heard that the short trip between Krakow to Budapest (that would take about 4 hours in Sweden), should take 11 hours! So we decided to take the night train to kill some time.
And we had to share an even more narrow sleeping compartment together with a nice old Englishman, that talked to us a lot about WW2 and his religious experiences. 3 beds were located on top of each other and the uppermost was located right behind the ceiling with no views and there were no seats anywhere if you were not able to sleep. The train went through both Czech Republic and Slovakia, but as it was dark and we were sleeping (though it was hard to sleep on the train and I was somethimes awake)
Except for some railways, some trains, some warehouses and trees in Brno and Ostrava and Slovakia I didn't see much. I think the train passed through Bratislava too. Early on the Friday morning (around 8 o´clock) after having very little sleep, we reached the outskirts of Budapest.