Three Krakow sightseeing guides are helping visitors explore places off the beaten path with such unusual approaches as tours in private cars and shots of vodka to brighten the mood.
Kuba and his friends Agata and Gacki started the Insiders guide service a year ago. The name came from the fact that only Krakow insiders would know the side of the city they would show.
The service grew out of their love for Krakow and its mysteries and a wish to convert standard sightseeing into an adventure for all the senses, according to their web site: www.insiders.pl. Kuba gave mainstream tours before launching the Insiders. The group’s philosophical approach appears to be trying to make you feel that a friend, not a guide, is taking you on a tour.
Offerings include walking tours such as ‘Essential Krakow’ and ‘Criminal Krakow’, which deals with notorious crimes committed in the city.
The most intriguing tour, however, is Night Taxi. Instead of a tour bus, visitors see the sights from a comfortable private van equipped with the speakers that buses have.
One stop is Kosciuszko Mound, where visitors can admire the panorama of the city at night while downing Polish vodka. (Non-drinkers get another Polish staple, black currant juice.)
The vodka sets the mood for the guide’s discussion of Polish drinking.
We wanted to show that the Polish tradition of drinking is very long and rich, and not everybody is a drunkard,’ Kuba smiled.
While guests travel from the mound to the Kazimierz and Podgorze districts, the guide tells them about Polish drinking, including how different types of vodka are used – in some cases, for example, as an aphrodisiac.
In Kazimierz and Podgorze, the Insiders spin stories about Krakow that few visitors have heard.
Each place they visit is connected with a famous person. The notables include movie director Roman Polanski, cosmetics guru Helena Rubinstein and Oskar Schindler, the hero of the book ‘Schindler’s List,’ who saved hundreds of Jews from Nazi extermination.
The Insiders use some off-beat media to illustrate their tours. For example, they project old photos of Krakow during the 20th Century onto a stone cliff rising from the bank of the Wisla River, using a portable slide projector.
The guides also play music that matches the places visitors see. For example, they play Jewish klezmer music in the former Jewish district of Kazimierz. And they hand out booklets with the biographies of the notables they talk about. In the case of Schindler, they unroll a list of 1,000 names to dramatize how many people Schindler saved.
Another innovation: The guides go ahead of time to the places they will take visitors, adding mood-enhancing touches.
For example, if we are going to discuss the childhood of Roman Polanski, we scatter toys around the playground he used to frequent, just as if little Romek had left a minute before, Kuba said. We do all this is to let the places speak for themselves.
The part of the tour that sightseers like the most is a visit to a Kazimierz bakery – a stop that the Insiders entitle ‘Bakers Never Sleep.’
Guests not only see how a bakery works, but get warm bread and buns. ‘It was our idea,’ Kuba said. ‘We asked the owner of the bakery, and he said yes,’ Agata added.
‘I think the name (Insiders) is most appropriate to what they’re doing,’ said Marta Dymek, a manager of the Marco del Pole tourist information center at 3 pl. Mariacki. ‘The Insiders show the city from an unusual, unconventional and thus very interesting side.’
Mrs. Dymek once took the Night Taxi trip, along with her colleague Gabriela Grabowska, Konrad Zwolak of the C Krakow company and Julien Hallier, the Polish-speaking French manager of the 4 Travel company.
‘I met them at the Wisla Bank at 23:30 when they were watching old pictures projected on a cloth hung on the wall,’ Zwolak said. ‘I think what’s most charming is their authenticity. They’re extremely committed in their work and show sights you’d never see in a regular guidebook.’
What did the travel-industry professionals like the most about the Insiders tour?
‘It’s so hard to say — everything was wonderful,’ Mrs. Grabowska said at first. Then she and the others agreed that the highlight was the visit to the bakery.
‘They sense what people want to see or what they would like about Krakow,’ Hallier said. Another of the Insiders’ strengths, he added, was that they make sure ‘the time is filled up. Nobody gets bored.’
For details and booking, see:
Criminal Krakow (2h) — 60zl
Essential Krakow (3h) –70zl
Night Taxi (3h) — 120zl
Reduced prices for groups of five or more.