December 18, 2018

Where I Stay in Krakow

I’ve just been to Krakow for the last few days of the annual Jewish Culture Festival – the best party around. This year I did a couple of lectures to groups who were attending (and observing) the festival. It led to some reminiscing with friends who—like me—have been going to the Festival since the early 1990s.

One of the things we talked about what where we had stayed in Krakow in those early years—because, until the late 1990s, there were very few if any places to stay in Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter where the Festival now takes place. Nowadays, there is a wide variety of choices all over the city—from top flight hotels to inexpensive hostels and rental rooms and apartments.

In the early years, the artists at the Festival used to be put up at the Forum Hotel—I should say, the late Forum Hotel, because the Forum as it was then does not exist anymore. It is a hulking empty relic on the Vistula that serves as a prop for huge advertising posters….

I used to stay at the Hotel Pollera, an old-fashioned place in the Old Town near the main market square, or Rynek, about a 20-minute walk (or more) from Kazimierz.

For the past dozen years, though, I’ve stayed in Kazimierz itself whenever I’ve been in Krakow—usually at one of two hotels that, I have to say (full disclosure), are run by friends.

One is the ” title=”Wojtek and Malgosia Ornat” target=”_blank”>Wojtek and Malgosia Ornat, the couple who founded the first Jewish-style cafe in Krakow. I still remember vividly sitting with Wojtek in 1992 or so, at an umbrella-shaded wicker table, eating strawberries and looking out at the devastation of Szeroka street, the main square of Jewish Kazimierz, which then was a ring of dilapidated buildings.

The Ornats opened Klezmer Hois—their third locale—in the mid-1990s, in a building that once housed a mikvah. It evolved into a hangout for Krakow Jews and visiting Jewish artists and others—and it still fulfills that purpose, at least for us older crowd. Sitting in the garden during Festival time, is a delight, a constant round of people dropping by, conversing, eating, drinking. Klezmer Hois is, actually, the one “Jewish style” cafe in Krakow that I go to. The Ornats also run the Austeria Jewish publishing house (which has published my book “Letters from Europe (and Elsewhere)”) and the associated Austeria bookstore.

The hotel rooms are old-fashioned and up creaking flights of stairs—and the breakfast is spectacular, a delicious combination of table service and partial buffet.

The other hotel in Kazimierz that I stay in is the ” title=”” target=”_blank”>—with more pictures.