I have to admit that it was a hard slog up five floors of stairs to our apartment in Kraków. Perhaps it was the 6am wake-up after just a few hours sleep, combined with the 10.5-hour train ride from Vienna, but I was exhausted, I was battling a cold, and because of the stairs, I was in a rare bad mood.
But once Maria opened the door to our apartment, it all magically disappeared. Well, almost. We’ve been calling the holiday rentals we’ve been staying in for the last 11 months our ‘home(s) away from home’ but this time it really did feel like we were coming home.
The apartment is warm and cosy, despite its spacious rooms and high ceilings; Maria, the manager and housekeeper, was warm and welcoming, despite not speaking English and us not speaking Polish; and not only was there a Christmas tree with fairy lights in the living room, there were presents for us too. Yes, presents!
There were two pretty hand-painted baubles with our names on them on each of our bedside tables that we can hang up on our own future Christmas trees and be reminded of our Christmas in Krakow. There were also baskets (again, one each) filled with little local treats: small bottles of vodka and spirits, smoked cheeses from Zakopane, a jar of rollmops (my favourite!), local honeys, and chocolate-coated liqueur cherries, and caramels. These were duly consumed.
But the Christmas tree, oh, the Christmas tree! It was a natural pine tree that was traditionally decorated, but not only that, it held court in the big living room, in between two huge windows with views of our snow-covered street. Beside it was a piano, out of tune, but a piano nonetheless, and you know how much Terence loves a piano.
The living room is super comfortable with lovely parquet floors, soft sofas, Oriental carpets, antique furniture, charming prints on the walls, and chandeliers. There is also a flat screen TV, DVD player, and an iPod docking station.
The main bedroom (there is another smaller bedroom with a single bed that folds into a double) and the kitchen are similarly welcoming, both oozing plenty of old-fashioned charm. The bedroom is enormous with a huge double bed, chest of drawers, and a wardrobe, with an antique suitcase on top plastered with stickers from ‘Cairo’ and ‘Aden’! The stories that suitcase could tell.
The big kitchen-dining room that connects the living area and our bedroom is as old-fashioned as it is modern, with a rustic wooden dining table and café chairs, and a worn wooden butcher’s table used as a kitchen bench, alongside plenty of mod-cons, from the big fridge and terrific stove, to a washing-drying machine, and a life-saving (for a writer) espresso maker.
The kitchen is well equipped for cooking with plenty of pots and pans, glasses, and dinnerware, including decent wine glasses, small espresso cups, and big beer glasses (because you will want to try all the local beers). Like the best apartments we’ve stayed in this year, this one comes with some basics to get you started too, like tea, coffee, sugar, salt, and pepper, etc.
The apartment also has a few thoughtful extras that we know families will appreciate, including a high chair, a few family DVDs, and a fluffy toy in the cupboard. (We were so touched by our Christmas gifts that we contributed another, a sheep from Zakopane.)
The bathroom is beautiful with a big old-fashioned bath that I wished I’d had time to use, heating (which you will value when you stay in winter – and you must come here in winter), and a good hair-dryer (not all holiday rentals have hair dryers). One of our only complaints about the bathroom, and indeed the apartment, is that despite the shower curtains water still flooded the room, a problem I also have with most hotel bathrooms.
There is a balcony that we didn’t use – it was too cold and piled high with snow most of the time during our stay – with a table and chairs, overlooking the building’s central courtyard and the surrounding equally grand buildings, which would be a lovely spot for breakfast in summer.
If the apartment wasn’t wonderful enough, the location, just a few minutes walk to the walls of Krakow’s Old Town (Stare Miasto), a five-minute hike up the hill to Wawel Castle, and less than a ten-minute stroll to the main square is superb.
While there is a 24-hour liquor store around the corner, and a supermarket a five-minute walk around the next corner, an extra ten-minutes up the road beside the main train station are two excellent Carrefour supermarkets in Galeria Krakowska, a gigantic modern shopping mall.
From that first night we walked into the apartment, after we dropped our bags and wiped the sweat from our brow, we knew we were going to love staying in this place. And we did! And it wasn’t just the Christmas tree… honest.