All too often, repeat experiences rarely sustain the frisson of excitement that accompanies a first encounter; more frequently, they can be disappointing – the weather damper, the sky darker, and the people less genial.
My first visit to Krakow in 2006 was middling: I was terrified to venture beyond the confines of Kazimierz, avenging only in the company of fellow delegates or to hop on the conference bus that was strategically located at the back of the hotel.
I am now ashamed to admit my terror of conversing and dread of pork-laden stews; instead, I passed the days eating endless pots of yoghurt and pretzels from the local shop, which was located conveniently within five metres of my room.
It was somewhat unsurprising then, that the days leading up to the jaunt were suffused by a morbid dread: not only was my presentation in various forms of disarray, but my accommodation had been a last minute job, the winner of a coin toss between a hotel “down a long, dark lane” and one which “leaves breakfast in a brown bag”.
Coupled with my previous experience, I was a reluctant traveller and duly spent the night before pacing the airport, mulling worst possible scenarios.
It was to prove the exception however, as I experienced a wholly new and lovely Krakow.
Sure, the hotel delivered breakfast in a bag – but as it was bread rolls, yoghurt, cheese, jam and a plethora of other snacks, it was not utterly catastrophic. Plus, being located directly above a coffee shop endeared the dwelling no end.
But it was the location that proved most fortuitous as ul. Karmelicka was a mere two minute walk to the staggeringly beautiful conference venue, Jagiellonian University.
Along with the Old Town, in which the campus rests, the university was a feast for the eyes and academic heart: never have lectures rooms oozed such veneration, such antiquited scholarship – it was simply heavenly.
Almost too heavenly, as the Representative Room in Collegium Novum held such sublime portraits that I often found myself drifting into artistic reveries, imagining the tales behind the women with flowing locks and men in glittering armour.
The town itself was less daunting somehow: I scampered down every possible street only to find myself on familiar territory within an hour.
Rynek Glówny, the oldest medieval town square in Europe and drawn up in 1257, holds the stupendous Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady and the 14th Century Cloth Hall.
Having passed the morning in a café overlooking the latter, I was ambivilent about the former: from the outside it was not overly awe-inspiring, but once inside I was agape: the sheer beauty of the interior snatched my breath.
If the Nave snatched my breath, then the alter and pentaptych suspended it further: considered the eighth wonder of the world by Pablo Picasso, the two are masterpieces of Gothic Polish art.
The food, oh! The food was sublime and while the pierogi scaled new heights of culinery ecstasy, my waistband perceptible groaned in surrender. It was to be four days of carbo-decadence and worth every minute of guilt since.
I returned to Poland a sceptic, but left once more an ardent fan.
My views revolutionized, I no longer perceive the city as forboding, but rather as a staunch rival for the crown of romance so often touted by Paris.
Krakow is architecturally, historically, culturally and visually outstanding: I only wish I could have remained longer to explore not only again and again, but to venture beyond the city limits and discover what else the remarkable country holds.