Whenever I travel I am always very interested in the everyday life of locals. I find it weirdly appealing to watch people doing normal stuff in a totally different context. All of a sudden, you see people doing regular things in totally different ways: they sell different things in shops, wear different clothes, and even have alternative ways of taking out the trash. As much as I love seeing castles and museums, I could spend hours just observing people on the streets and wondering where they go after I’ve lost sight of them. If only I could follow them and see how they live, what kind of coffee they drink, whether or not they have pets, how their homes are decorated… Of course if I did just follow people down the street and invite myself into their homes, the only place I would end up would be under police arrest. Call me a creep, but I know that most of you share my desire to peek into other people’s lives! In this spirit, I want to write a post on how to do it in Krakow, so you don’t end up on the wrong side of a jail cell.
Getting into people’s beds
This is not just about Tinder, although it’s certainly another way of getting into a local’s home. I’m not encouraging you to do it of course, but I’m not judging either ;) Going back to your Tinder date’s apartment doesn’t necessarily have to mean what you think it does either. Tinder is just another way of meeting people, and how you use this tool is really up to you. But Tinder aside, there are a few other, less controversial websites and apps that can get you into someone else’s bed.
This would probably be the most well known way of getting to see the houses and daily routines of locals. I’ve used it a few times in different countries, and have had both amazing and horrible experiences. Even the bad ones were still interesting however, because if it hadn’t been for them then I never would have met some of these unusual people. Just to be clear, I have never been attacked or anything like that. It’s more about being stuck with someone you don’t get along without a way to escape. For those who don’t want to take this risk, there is also the option of meeting couchsurfers for a coffee or a drink. In Rome I visited this cool underground office belonging to a journalist who was working on a secret documentary. This has been one of my favourite travel experiences.
Airbnb gives you more privacy than couchsurfing, because you can rent a whole apartment for yourself or spend the night in a private apartment owned by a local. I don’t live in the apartments that I rent, but I decorate them as if they were mine and there is a lot of furniture or decorations that belong to my family. Even the space itself gives you the feeling of staying in someone’s home, because you have a kitchen and living room, not just a room in a hotel. You meet the local people on the staircase, see the backstage courtyards of Krakow tenement houses, all of which gives you the feeling that you’re actually living there for a short time.
My grandmother's sewing machine at one of my apartments
I have never done it myself and have always been curious of how it works, but I’ve checked the website and there are a few options in Krakow. The idea is that you let people stay in your home while you are away. Then you can receive their hospitality in return when you go on holiday. I think this option is great, especially for those who need someone to take care of their house or animal when they were gone.
Getting into houses
You don’t have to sleep in someone’s bed to get into their private areas. There are a few other options for those who are only visiting for a short time:
This is a trick that I came up with in New York. Ewa, the girl I was staying with, was looking for a new house at that time, so she and her husband were attending these open house events. I joined them and it was super fun! I felt like a total local – just going to see apartments and houses for rent. I know a very good estate agent in Krakow, Dominika Dąbrowska, who does it quite often (she posts them on her Facebook page). And who knows? Maybe you’ll like it so much that you’ll decide to rent or buy it!
Festiwal Otwarte Mieszkania
In Krakow we have a whole festival dedicated to visiting private houses, which is called ‘festival of open houses’. This is an event that literally opens the doors to the private apartments of locals who have interesting houses. Last week I went to see Bettina Bereś place and was inspired by both her art and her house. It feels very unique when someone lets you into an intimate space of theirs. Tickets are usually gone in seconds, so if you decide to take part then follow their schedule closely so you don’t miss out. People that are picked for these events tend to have very unique apartments and stories, so to take part is to guarantee your chances of visiting someone really cool.
House and garden of artist Bettina Bereś
Eataway is a website through which you can book a meal at someone’s home, not only giving you access to their houses, but also very delicious food. In Krakow for example, you can attend a traditional Polish dinner at the home of Marta, the original Eataway founder.
Eataway picnic at Marta's house in the countryside
I also host an Eataway experience myself. It’s a vodka dinner, in which I serve traditional polish snacks that go with vodka and stories about the drinking culture in Poland (you can send me a message if you’re interested in coming).
To get a feeling
Maybe you’re in the city for just a few hours, meaning none of the options above are available to you, but you still want to have at least a peek into a local house?
The Hipolit House
There is a small museum on the main square where you can see how people in Krakow have decorated their houses over the centuries. You can see paintings, beds, and the private possessions of former Krakovians. You go through the daughter’s room, the office, grandma’s room and it really feels more like being in someone’s house than in a museum.
The tenement staircase exists somewhere between the public and private. It represents a first step into the everyday life of locals, and is somewhere tourists don’t usually go. In Krakow, most of the old buildings in the city center have a courtyard. Very often staircases are placed outside (something like a balcony staircase), turning the inside of the building into its own mini-universe.
Whenever I see an open door to a building, I just go inside and wander around a bit (not too much, to respect people’s privacy) and I am always surprised by something. My best tip for gaining easy access to these buildings? Do it in the morning when the garbage cans are being emptied, because that’s when most of the entrances are open. In the city center they do it quite often, but I’ve noticed that Monday is the most common day.
And of course, what do we have the internet for, if not for creeping on people’s private lives? You only have to follow the #cracow hashtag on Instagram to find some pictures of people’s houses, but here are some accounts that show their homes quite regularly
Morakorytowska – she is an interior designer and her house is amazing. She posts a lot of pictures of her house, but also of houses that she designs for her clients.
Panna lemoniada – she is a blogger with a passion for interior design, which is reflected in her photos on Instagram.
Szafa Sztywniary – a blogger with a great sense of style and a love for excavating treasures in the local flea market.
This is a website dedicated to portraying people’s private apartments. They also interview the owners, who give the full stories (the interviews are in polish, but if the pictures are not enough, I’m sure you can translate it online easily enough).
I hope this post was helpful, and will inspire you to try to step out from the standard tourist paths into the lives of the locals. With all these possibilities, it would be a shame not to give it a go! Let me know if you have any of your own tips and I’ll add them to my list.