It was 4:15 am when I stepped off the elevator at Hotel Wentzl and found a totally dark lobby. I had told the desk clerk the night before that I had an early flight out the next morning and needed to leave at this time. As I dragged my roller bag toward the spot where my mind knew the desk was (but my eyes could not see), a shadow stirred on a couch near the hotel's entrance. It stood up, pulled back a curtain over the entrance, unlocked the door, and waived me through. I followed its directions and met rain as I exited the hotel onto the expansive Rynek Glowny. I heard the door close and the lock turn behind me. There was no sign of the driver who was to pick me up, but I had come to the lobby a few minutes early. I found a nearby stoop that provided some cover from the rain.
A man who had obviously been drinking walked up to me and began speaking in Polish. I couldn't find any Polish words in my head at that early hour, so I said "English?" The man cursed in a friendly manner and said he would like for me to drive him in my taxi to some location. I responded, nervously, that I was waiting for a ride myself. The man picked up on my anxiety, cursed again, smiled widely and then… hugged and kissed me on the cheek while cheerily saying, "Don't worry! Be happy!" He walked away. I thought, "Great. My phone or my wallet is gone."
I stood checking my pockets at 4:15 that early September morning because I had decided a few months earlier to take my first solo trip to Europe. A friend and I had planned to spend 3 weeks in Poland in May, but we scratched that trip for 3 weeks in Germany. I was dying to see Krakow, so I decided to do it on my own, burning the last few vacation days I had remaining. I found a good air fare and began planning, wanting to maximize my 3.5 days in Krakow.
My hotel was Hotel Wentzl, a classy Old-World hotel right on Rynek Glowny, Krakow's main square. I LOVED IT! The front desk personnel were awesome (and stood every time I entered the building, which was cool). I had a gorgeous room that was updated magnificently while preserving the character of the space, including its lovely hardwood floors and woodwork. I had windows that opened to the square. Breakfast was a little pricey but astonishingly good and served in a dining room that made me feel like I was eating in 1905 Krakow.
The drive from the airport to the hotel passed some ugly Soviet-era buildings, but once we got to the Old Town, the charm of Krakow was fully felt. I went straight to the hotel and spent some time drinking in the color, the architecture, and the life of Rynek Glowny from my hotel window before joining the fun and wandering the square. I will never forget the joy that a lap around the square brought me. Then a thought crossed my mind. "There are people who go to the beach every year or go to Disney every year and never see this? What a shame." The square became even more enchanting as darkness fell.
How did I spend the rest of my 3 days in Krakow? A full-day tour of northern Slovakia and Zakopane (including Orava Castle) with an excellent guide found on Tours by Locals, a visit to Auschwitz, and a full-day tour of Krakow's Old Town and Jewish District with another guide found on Tours by Locals.
A final highlight of the trip was the Deluxe Communist tour with Crazy Guides. I rode through Krakow in an old East German Trabant with another solo traveler from the UK and a college-age guide who was home for the summer from China, where she studies. We visited Nowa Huta, a community planned by the Soviets as a shining example of Communist life. We drank coffee at a former Communist café, watched a propaganda film in the front room of an apartment decorated in 1970's Communist glory, and ate an amazing lunch in a milk cafeteria. It was awesome! Highly, highly recommended. And it was 4 hours of fun for 42 euro.
(Continued in 1st Comment)