by Olga Hakalova
Krakow, the capital of the Malopolska region and the third biggest city of Poland, is definitely the right place to consider for study exchange. Usually students choose their Erasmus destination city in a country that culturally differs from their own in order to experience something new. However, Krakow will surely surprise students from Slavic nations with its diversity. I can say with 100 % certainty the latter because it applies to my personal experience.
Studying and accommodation in Krakow
Several universities are situated in Krakow. A world famous university is the Jagiellonian University. As it was founded in 1364 it is the oldest university of Poland and also belongs to one of the oldest universities in Europe. Universities in Krakow offer a rich range of courses and the list is continuously expanding to suit the market demand. If you’re lucky you might end up having classes directly on the Main Square (Rynek Glówny), or enjoy the view from the window at colossal Wawel Castle while listening to your Polish history teacher.
As a student, you may apply for accommodation in one of the campuses belonging to a particular university. If you don’t mind sharing a room with another person and sometimes bathroom with at least two others, you may end up enjoying rent of only 60 EUR per month. In case you are a person who enjoys privacy, there is still possibility of renting a room/flat which compared to Western European prices are still in a reasonable range. However, dormitory gives you possibility to interact with other international and local students much more easily and you never know where all the spontaneity will lead you.
Renting a basement of a dormitory building for only 10 zloty (approximately 2,50 EUR) for whatever purpose you want, with allowance of guests, gives you endless possibilities in enjoying your student life. Well known is “Miasteczko Studenckie” of AGH (Campus of University of Science and Technology) where you can enjoy grilling on the lawn in front of your dorm without worrying about being fined by police for having a beer can in your hand (note: drinking in public is strictly prohibited, note2: police are forbidden to enter university property unless really needed). Some of the dorms are in walking distance to Blonia Park, a nice recreation area with great sidewalks for jogging, cycling or roller skating. You would be surprised how many people doing various sports you can meet there even at 10pm. This area is also used for hosting large events like concerts (which are sometimes organized for students and thus for those with a student card are free). There is also a nice path around banks of Wisla river which can also be used for various sports.
Language in Krakow
Polish language belongs to the family of Slavic languages. It might seems difficult to learn and all inflections might rather discourage students to learn it, however, those students who decide to attend Polish classes (usually offered by universities) will soon realize that it is not too hard to be able to hold a basic communication in a store, a restaurant or in a bar. Also speaking Polish to taxi driver can save you some extra money.
Traditional Polish cuisine consists mainly of meat, potatoes and cabbage, but in the city you can also find places with delicious Italian or Mexican dishes. I would recommend trying Polish traditional soup “zurek”. There are also kebab stands on every other corner, some opened until early morning hours. If you ever get feeling like having “pierogi” in the middle of the night, be sure to visit a 24 hour pierogi restaurant situated just a few meters from the Main Square. When you are hurrying to school try to get on your way “obwarzanki” (it is something between pretzel and bagel in Polish unique way). For the price of about 2 zloty (0.50 EUR) you get perfect snack. If you have more time during lunch time and you want to get proper food for student price, definitely go to “Bar mleczny” - a cheap canteen, but with rather good food. And of course you cannot leave Krakow before eating “zapiekanka” - baked baguette with mushrooms, cheese and toping of your choice! Everyone will agree that the one sold in Kaziemierz, on Placz Nowy, is the best in town.
Transportation in Krakow
Krakow is a very accessible city – either by car, bus, train or plane. The airport is only 30minute bus drive from the city centre. Forget about expensive shuttle buses or taxi, public transportation will take you to the city centre in approximately 30 minutes for only 2,50 zloty (approximately 0.70 EUR), or a train in 15 minutes for 4 zloty (1 EUR).
As a student you have a discount for public transportation within the city and also for transportation within the country. The city centre itself is walkable and it is easier to go by foot from one place to another rather than trying to catch a tram or a bus. There are no stops directly on the Main Square and therefore you have to walk anyway. However, distances are not long and beautiful historical buildings of old town make each walk very enjoyable.
Krakow as historical and cultural centre
The enormous diversity of amber jewellery and souvenirs in stores is a sign that once Krakow lied on an important trading route- the Amber road. The symbolic entrance to the city centre is Florianska gate (“Brama Florianska”) and it is also beginning of the so called King’s route that leads to the Wawel Castle through the Main Square (Rynek Glówny). Every one of you will find something to enjoy either you are a history lover or a party animal. The old town together with Jewish quarter offer enormous possibility of museums, galleries and church visits, while at the same time Krakow is probably the city with the highest density of bars, pubs and clubs per square meter.
Polish people are very religious and they are proud of it. On a day off from school when you wouldn’t normally expect it, you should visit church or stop by the Main Square. Usually there is some program or at least street market because of the occasion. In some cases you might see people or at least kids dressed in traditional Polish folk costumes to mark the significance of the event. The former pope, John Paul II., who started his studies at Jagiellonski University before the World War II, can be seen on numerous pictures and paintings across the city. In most cases, the candle cannot miss under his picture.
The Main Square is believed to be the third biggest city square in Europe and by most people opinion it is also the nicest one. On the Main Square there is always some cultural program going on every weekend. It might be a concert, feast celebrating some of the religious/historical events or events designated for students. Out of many that are worth to mention are annual pillow fight and “Juwenalia”. It is a week of celebration before spring’s semester exam period starts. There are concerts at Blonia and at campuses – of course free of charge for students. During the week long feast there is also a carnival parade. Starting at Miasteczko Studenskie and passing several dormitories students of all universities dressed in various costumes walk down to the city centre where directly on the Main Square the Mayor of Krakow gives each year a symbolic key from a city to students. This act is usually followed by a concert of some well-known Polish band. Anyway, don’t be surprised to see pirates, Shreks or princesses still walking around the city even few days after this event.
Once you are in Krakow and needs some help or just want to meet new people, I would recommend definitely visit local ESN office where local students will be more than happy helping you to integrate into your new student life.