For my first ever trip to Poland I was very curious and excited to see what Kraków would be like. It is no secret that Poland tends to be portrayed as a run down poor country, but the truth turned out to be somewhere between the stereotype and the overly exaggerated portrayal of a luxurious country in polish cinema.
We traveled to Kraków using a car sharing site, which also happened to be a first for me. Again my preconceived opinion led me to believe that all car sharing tends to be broke students with their old run down cars, looking for extra cash injection in order to afford traveling somewhere. Happily, I was proven wrong again. Our ride was actually a very nice, intelligent, truck driver with his nice BMW driving home for the weekend to visit family. The 9 hour drive was tedious, but no where near as bad as I thought it would be.
After sleeping in, we took a short walk to a train station and rode a Tram into the city center. I was extremely surprised that the public transportation appears to be even more advanced than that of Munich, which is all being replaced or has been replaced.
My first stop on my list was the Pawilon Wyspiańskiego. Designed by Krzysztof Ingarden of Ingarden & Ewy Architects and completed in 2007. It is the home of the Kraków Festival Office and Municipal Information Network as well as one of the main tourist information offices in the city center.
The building has an incredibly interesting façade consisting of rows of trapezoidal terra-cotta elements that can be rotated to let in more or less light. Behind these elements sits a modern minimalistic glass curtain wall. Facing the main square are three stained glass windows designed by Stanisław Wyspiański originally intended for the Wawel chapel. Overall the building does a great job blending more traditional materials in a more modern form. I loved the stamped designs in the terra-cotta elements and how the glass curtain wall seems to magically appear as one walks along the building. I was disappointed however in the evening that it wasn’t lit up more. The façade could have been used to create wonderful shadows on the adjacent square at night.
After stopping off and having a smoothie in the Rynek Główny we then headed south towards the river down Grodzka Street to look at a the Park Inn Hotel, which is a modern building by J.Mayer.H Architects. The building had captured my attention online with its modern form and sleek Apple-like brushed metal façade. The reality is sadly not as impressive or sleek as the building is now hidden behind signs, flashy banners, lamp posts, and construction fences from the neighboring building project. It is however still a beautiful building that reminds me of something from a Stanley Kubrick film, it is just sad that it gets hidden behind mundane and ugly obstructions.
We decided to head back up to the north side of the river and walk through the Kazimierz neighborhood, as recommended by our driver on the ride over. The area is filled with tall old apartment buildings similar to the style in Munich. The beauty here however though, is that they are the original buildings and not rebuilds like in Germany. At first sight they also look very rundown and dirty. I find this gorgeous however, as it keeps the building true to its origins. I even find them so dark and rundown that they don’t even look dirty anymore. They just look rustic. The worn look also helps to amplify the details in the moldings and carvings on the façades and window frames, bringing out even more beauty.
To cross back over to the south side of the river, we took the Laetus Bernatek Footbridge, which was another point of interest on my list of things for Kraków. The bridge was named after Father Laetus Bernatek, a cravovian monk who constructed the Bonifrater Hospital in the city. The 145 meter long footbridge was built between the Piłsudski and Powstańców Śląskich bridges to connect the Kazimierz and Podgórze neighborhoods, that lay on opposite sides of the Vistula River, and to provide safer means of crossing for pedestrians, cyclists and the disabled.
A quick look in my portfolio and anyone would be quick to realize that I love photographing bridges, and the Laetus Bernatek Footbridge is no exception. The large amount of fine cables leading down from a bulky arch down to two pathways creates great visuals, and like many bridges it has quickly become covered with locks, engraved with lovers initials and names. I know it is cliche, but I can never resist photographing along the railing with all the locks blurring away into the distance.
A lucky find was the Museum of The Art of Tadeusz Kantor Cricoteka with is still under construction. It’s designed by nsMoonStudio and reaches up and over a pre existing pitch roofed building beneath it. This has the brilliant effect that you can see the pre existing building reflected below, allowing you to see even the roof.
Our final stop for the day was the MOCAK, Museum of Contemporary Art in Kraków, which is located in the south east corner of the city, on the premises that used to be Schindler’s factory during World War II. It was designed by Claudio Nardi Architects and completed in 2010. The modern glass building takes the form of a stereotypical factory with its multiple, un-symetrcial, pitched roofs. Sadly, we were not in the mood due to the hot weather, nor did we really have the time to go inside, but from the exterior one can quickly figure out the reason for the design choices, with it being on the former site of historically important factory.
With the majority of the buildings on my list seen, and photographed despite sub-optimal lighting, it was time to grab a bite to eat and then head out for some fun in the evening.