Season’s Greetings From Krakow


I thought that after the darkness of Auschwitz and Birkenau would come time for happier things. The tragedy at the Strasbourg Christmas market overshadowed that – I was in the same market two years ago, and what astounded then me is that it is the most secure market I’d ever visited, effectively being on a traffic-free island to which access is granted over heavily guarded bridges. And still an atrocity occurred.

Krakow’s market is far more open and entirely unsecured – but then Poland is one of the safest places in Europe mainly because its complex geopolitical web does not have the same tick-boxes as those of France and the UK. White carriages and horses take visitors around the narrow cobbled streets under the gaze of the castle, much festive lard is purchased, along with pig knuckles and massive sausages. Not a place for vegetarians.

The trip was timed perfectly for the first snow of the season. Krakow is one of the most visited cities for British Christmas breaks because of its bilingual population and unspoiled UNESCO-protected medieval walled old town. Under a cape of white it sparkled, but this is the tourist area. Head for Nowa Huta if you want to see stark old Leninist architecture, and beyond that to find parts that look like rural Romania. The current repressive regime has all but stopped Sunday trading, and I’m told attitudes are hardening among the elders.

Yet it’s a surprisingly literary and artistic town, something that will stand it in good stead as young creative startups take over the old warehouses and derelict factories. The cool cafes and bars are already in place, and young attitudes are internationally-minded. But you still don’t see people of colour or much of an ethnic range at all.

The rest of my top five Christmas Market weekends are Riga, Talinn, Salzburg and Berlin. God bless Easyjet (although I now see we are being advised not to book any flights after March 29th) but to the list I should add one more – London.

Yesterday I hung out with some friends and a small boy staring in wonderment at Regent Street and the delightful Carnaby Street lights that spell out the lyrics to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. This year, despite the lack of snow, London seemed twinkliest of all. A Polish friend was amazed; ‘How can so many people in one narrow space all be so polite?’ she wanted to know.

I could only answer, ‘It’s Christmas.’

12 comments on “Season’s Greetings From Krakow”

  1. Stephen says:

    Hi Chris,merry Christmas.

  2. Peter Tromans says:

    Merry Christmas everybody!

    Regent Street is best for years.

  3. Rachel Green says:

    Is it okay to visit Krakow if you’re gay? Any negatives?

  4. admin says:

    My husband tends to take my arm but he looks like a linebacker so there’s never a problem.

  5. SteveB says:

    A linebacker what’s that???? OK I’ll have to google now!

  6. SimonB says:

    I agree the Carnaby Street lights are great, but I didn’t spot any difference on Regent Street from the last couple of years.

    What disappointed me last Thursday when we popped down were the Christmas Markets. The one we previously visited by Tate Modern wasn’t there. South Bank by the National etc. was 75%+ food and drink stalls – nice if you want lunch, but you can’t really wrap a Bratwurst and Beer up and stick them under the tree. Then despite being billed as a new and exciting one, the new Coal Drops yard up your way only had about 6 stalls in the main area (of which 4 were food) and the Canopy Market section wasn’t especially Christmassy either. I quite liked the light installation, but even they weren’t all that festive – could have been more so if there had been colour variations.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    I looked at photos of Regent St lights and was unable to tell the difference between this year and the last two, although you aren’t always able to tell which year you’re looking at even when you’ve specified in your search. They’re all quite spectacular anyway. All we get are repeated lamp post designs.
    More than one Christmas market? Mercy. We’ve had one for a couple of years now and it’s fun but the admission fee is a bit off putting. (Why can’t you put a bratwurst and beer under the tree – or at least the promise of one and the beer certainly.)

  8. admin says:

    SimonB – there are several gigantic Christmas markets; try Hyde Park and Clapham Common, and Christmas By The River at London Bridge.
    Helen – no Christmas market should charge admission!
    My favourite Christmas market is in Estonia.

  9. Jo W says:

    Chris, thanks for the info on the Krakow diet. !!! I think I might strike that from my ‘to visit’ list.

  10. Denise says:

    Thank you for this. The denial of the death camps by people is amazingly odd!

  11. Denise says:

    Oh no, wrong again, forgive an old lady drinking too much sherry.

  12. Vivienne says:

    I think the Regent Street angels started out as
    Olympian athletes for 2012 and just had wings added.

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