Awaiting my dinner at one of the city's only seafood restaurants, Farina, after just 4 hours wandering--largely aimlessly--around Krakow's old town (Stare Miestro), I am compelled to say, "Wow."
As most reading this likely know, I am not a European travel neophyte. I've been to the continent's great big cities--London, Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Madrid, Prague, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Dublin, Barcelona, Brussels--as well as some quainter ones (Venice, Florence, Toledo, Bilbao, Liverpool).
All have dazzled me in one way or another, but it's hard to recall one in which just being there was such a delight.
I don't expect to see much great art here (though supposedly there is a DaVinci at the castle), and I have no theater tickets--although I am hoping to stay awake to hit the Harris Piano Jazz Bar.
The only truly singular sight I've yet seen is St. Mary's church, one of the grandest and most beautiful I've ever been in.
But strolling around Stare Miestro, particularly Rynek Glowny--the main square--has been absolutely delightful. The buildings here are astonishingly beautiful, in a charming old European sort of way, and the vibe is quite comfortable.
The only places I know to compare it to are Prague, for its distinctively colored buildings, and Brussels for its impressive central square.
Maybe I'm too caught up in the moment to fairly rank Krakow ahead of places I visited years ago, but as a somewhat out-of-the-way city that Rick Steves has touted but no one I known has ever been to, it's even cooler than I could have hoped.
I'm now done with my dinner, which is my first proper meal of my trip, as I was always eating on the run. I had Trout--which the waitress described as a Polish fish--Spinach with Raisins, Potatoes with Dill and White Chocolate Mousse with raspberry sauce.
And tomorrow I go to Auschwitz.