Sometimes I visit cities that are super livable. They are kind of low key with lots of trees, clean air, an arts community, public transportation, and people who seem to like each other. Bonus points for being situated on a body of water and having a university. Places that come to mind are Vancouver BC, Rotterdam, San Miguel de Allende, Stockholm and Hiroshima.
Krakow is like that. It is cool. Young people have opened bars, cafes and boutiques in the central part of the city. They are playing music and creating public art. The city has beautiful historic architecture and a central square that is surrounded by a park. For visitors, it is friendly and easy to navigate. When I ask “English?” the response I almost always get is “Of course.” With a smile. It has an intellectual feel — Krakow was named UNESCO City of Literature in 2013 (although I assume you have to speak Polish to really appreciate this feature). It is the only place I have ever stayed where I was treated to an hour of Chopin piano sonatas, courtesy of my talented downstairs neighbor.
One thing I love about Krakow is the wall art. It is playful, understated and kind of intellectual. It is all over the Jewish Quarter.
Of course, Krakow is also near one of history’s most notorious sites, the Nazi concentration camp called Auschwitz. I visited the camp this week where more than a million people were murdered, mostly Jews from Hungary and Poland. It is a grim reminder of the uniquely human impulse to kill members of our own species. And the message from Auschwitz is tragically relevant today all over the world. I will leave it at that.
And here is another important universal message on a Jewish Quarter wall — this one from the Rolling Stones.