Trams are Krakow fixtures that get thousands of people to work, school or shopping every day and that charm visitors whose cities lack them.
From one horse-drawn line in 1882, Krakow?s tram network has grown to 25 lines that reach into every part of the city.
In addition to offering regular tram service, the company that provides public transportation to Krakow ? Miejskie Przedsiebiorstwo Komunikacji, or MPK ? offers to rent trams for special events, such as parties. Some of the rentals are historic models.
To move the tram into the 21st Century, Krakow is developing a high-speed tram service to whisk residents around the city faster.
The line for the city?s first tram was only 2,800 meters long ? about half a mile. And the fact that horses were pulling the carriages meant rides were very slow
Two decades later, in 1901, the first electrified line appeared. It isn?t surprising that the first passengers on that special day were the mayor and other dignitaries.
City trams had blue exteriors until 1941, when Poland?s German occupiers brought in a number of old, used carriages from Nuremburg that were painted a creamy green.
In 1949, after Poland became Communist, the government decreed that all cities must paint their trams red.
It took until 1962 for blue to make its way back onto Polish trams ? and the first city where it happened was Krakow.
Today, most of the city?s trams are covered with advertising, reflecting the shift from communism to capitalism in Poland.
During spring and summer, MPK offers a service called ?Traveling on the Time Machine Through the History of Krakow.? It includes rides in specially prepared trams and buses, the oldest of which dates to 1912.
Tourists have three itineraries to choose from: ?Around the Heart of the City,? which focuses on old, royal Krakow; ?Kazimierz ? Jewish and Christian,? a tour of places where members of two cultures co-existed for centuries; and Nowa Huta, a glimpse at the Communist-built part of the city that features what might be called socialist/realistic architecture.
The Communists built Nowa Huta, or New Ironworks, on the eastern side of Krakow in the late 1940s to create a working-class enclave that would be a counterweight to the ultra-intellectual old city.
Young people, especially students, have discovered the fun of renting a tram for a party. A two-hour ride costs 300 to 350 zloty. That is especially cheap when you consider that a tram can hold up to 125 people.
Jagiellonian University law students have held tram parties for two years. Each event has attracted a throng of students.
The more money collected before the ride is scheduled, the better chance the partiers have of renting an older vehicle or even a historic vehicle. One thing is sure: A tram party is a much more enjoyable and much more interesting way of sightseeing than simply walking with a guide.
Although Poles are not known for their sense of humor, it is not hard for them to find themselves in a funny or even absurd situation on a tram.
One passenger got a chuckle from an unexpected outcome to his quest to buy a ticket from the tram driver inside a very crowded vehicle.
?There was a large crowd as usual, so I stood way back at the end of the tram,? he said. ?I passed 1.50 zloty forward to buy a ticket.?
The passenger waited patiently for his ticket. Instead of it, however, ?I finally got back a pack of Gummy candies.?
Because one of the drawbacks of trams ? at least in some people?s minds ? is their slow speed, MPK and the city government are developing the Krakow Fast Tram. In addition to being faster, this next-generation tram will offer a smoother ride.
Establishing Fast Tram service will take time and prove costly, with much of the expense going to purchasing new, higher-speed trams.
They will ride on a new railway from Krowodrza Górka in the north to Kurdwanów in the south, including a tunnel under the city center.
The trams currently being used, which were made in Poland, are so boxy that locals refer to them as ?aquariums.?
While sleek, the new trams will have features that make them easier for the elderly and the disabled to use.
Fast trams will also have the right of way at intersections, thanks to equipment that will control traffic lights.
A good piece of news for tram riders is that the fast trams will cost no more than the normal ones.
More information, including photos, about trams in general, tram rentals and the history of Krakow?s public transportation system is available on: www.mpk.krakow.pl, and www.komunikacja.krakow.pl