Poland Part 2: Krakow (2008)

I arrived in Poland June 29 and left on July 2 (for listed shorter for website and photo sorting purposes)

Arriving in Krakow, Poland at 6am – is always an interesting start.  I had a good overnight train from Budapest and slept most of the way.  Pretty nice as they did not wake me for passport control, and I was so tired from a full few days with Samantha and Christine, that I slept through the night.  You may laugh, but this is always a nice treat.

I easily found my new hostel and was thrilled to see it was directly across the street from the hotel that Steph and Shana had booked a few months before I decided to join them for a few days.  I found the best hostel and it was so close, it could not have been better.  My first morning in Krakow was a nice, mellow one where I did laundry, updated my website, uploaded photos and had a leisurely breakfast – all before 9am.  I felt really productive for a change.  I did not know when Steph and Shana were coming in from Warsaw as they said it would be earlier than planned, so I had a great day taking care of business and waited.  I even made it to the Galleria to do a little shopping as I needed a small purse for night time, wanted a new skirt and dress and was able to find some cute and inexpensive items.  It made me feel a little more normal being at a mall for a couple hours.

I met a fun family of brother, sister and two cousins from all over a few east coast states and wandered around the old town with them in search of Polish Pierogies.  They all had Polish family, and I have Ukrainian family, so we were all pierogie masters and had a fun time trying new flavors.  I had “Ruskie” which were cottage cheese and potato that were pureed together.  One of the cousins had broccoli and corn which was surprising good.  I decided to pass on the local flavor of liver – I am getting more adventurous – but not that much.  There was really cute sign out in front that I had to take a picture of.  I posted it on facebook yesterday and Andrea and Colin both looked into the meaning of it and came up with these:

From Colin: “The sign spells out a line from a Polish nursery rhyme using words and pictures. The translation of this sign is “snail, snail, show me your horns. I`ll give you cheese for pierogis.” The next line (not included on the sign) is “If not cheese then cabbage. Off cabbage you`ll be plump.” I have no idea what that means, perhaps it is a person suggesting to a snail that it eat pierogies so as to be plump when people eat it (but I don`t know if Polish people eat snails, so my interpretation may be wrong)? Regardless the sign is probably just the store being cute by posting a nursery rhyme couplet about pierogies, since that is what they sell.”

From Andrea: “wystaw-dam-ci means “leave this and I will give you this”. Didn`t know they made them with snails. eeeek! ”

Another easy task for the afternoon was buying a train ticket to Vienna.  Normally I dread buying tickets as its so difficult to communicate and find the right window to purchase, but this time, it was quick, easy and painless so another victory.  These days, it really is the little things that get me excited.  I wanted to leave a nice welcome note for Steph and Shana so they knew I was there waiting for them when they checked in and when we finally met up – it was great.  Familiar faces and fun times ahead.  Plus it was like Christmas.  Steph brought me the new i-touch that Colin got for me and loaded with music (so excited to finally listen on my overnight trains before bedtime), plus Steph got me two new pairs of socks as two of my three pairs already have holes in them from all the walking I have been doing and white ankle socks were impossible to find (unless I wanted to pay over $20 a pair at the Russian Addias stores), plus she had my new credit card.  Again – little things to make me happy.

So off the three of us went to explore the old town and find dinner.  This was the night of the Euro finals and Spain won so it was exciting.  We decided to skip the game and enjoy the night on the square which ended up being a good idea as the game was very boring (we were told).  This first dinner was one of trying local specialties:

-Oscypek cheese with a cranberry garnish.  This is a highlander cheese in Poland (not Krakow cheese, but it was quite tasty)  It looked thin and round and soft in the middle.
-We also had some pierogies (as Steph and Shana had not had yet) and I want to try as many as possible.
-We also found out that cherry vodka is the local drink and when we asked our cute waiter, Vitale, he said its good to mix with grapefruit juice, and he was right.  We started to call it the cherry hopper and it was so good.  Something to try again.  So a wonderful night eating, drinking and enjoying the night with friends.  Could not ask for more.

The next day we decided to go to Auschwitz.  I decided to write a separate entry for that day as it was such a powerful day, so check that out for more details.

After returning from Auschwitz, Steph, Shana and I did a little bit of shopping.  We wanted to check out the amber, as the local stone, and I actually bought a pair of amber earrings.  I have not bought much for myself on the trip, so it was a treat and they were small, light and simple and something fun I could wear when I wanted to get a little dressy on the trip.  We made plans to have a nice dinner and meet Milena (who I met in St. Petersburg a month ago – and she lives 5 doors down from me in New York).  This dinner had to be one of the best we had, and we stayed way too long until they closed.  The waitress really tried to get us out, but we were happy.  But four girls, 2 bottles of wine and a fun night – why leave?  It was also a great way to celebrate the end of my 2nd month traveling.  Can not believe it has already been 2 months on the road (and 3 months since I quit my job – I do really miss pay days though)

To kick off the first day of the second half of the year, we were going to go on a communist tour, but as we waited and waited for our pick up, no one showed up.  This day ended up being quite a long one, so check out the times I included for everything.

1. Our tour pick up time was 9:30am, but when Steph called, she found out the guy that handles all the reservations had to leave for a funeral at the last minute and did not transfer all the reservations to the guy that took over for him and our reservation must have been lost, so no tour.  It actually was a blessing in disguise as it was an expensive tour and it was a sunny day and we wanted to be outside to walk.

2. So at 10:30, we all decided it was fine and we would walk over to the Jewish quarter to explore.  I have explored many Jewish quarters around the world and this one was a very simple one with a lot of Synagogues and cafes, but it was not like the area in Budapest (that I really liked). This Jewish quarter was not as impressive to me, but that is just my opinion.  Glad I saw it and walked around.  At the end of our walk, we did find the one bagel store there and had to stop at 1:30.  This is my first bagel in 2 months and I was excited.  Again – little things.

3. Our afternoon was filled with a tour to the Wielicza Salt Mines at 3:00.  This was something I was really looking forward to.  Anyone that knows me, knows I love salt so this was of special interest.  The mine has had salt exploitation for the past seven (or nine) centuries (as they aren`t fully sure) and the mine developed into an extensive underground city.  It really was awe inspiring to see what people could create so many years ago (the actual mine structure that is).  The whole tour was over 2 km long deep below the surface.

A few fun facts I asked our tour guide:
-We walked 854 stairs from top to bottom (luckily there was an elevator to take us back up)
-The elevator goes so fast – something like 12 meters a second.
-The mine was 135 meters below the earth (or 443 feet)
-The mine is about 14 C or  57 F.  Pretty cold and the deeper we went, it got colder.

Within the mine we saw:
-many statues carved out of salt
-two churches for praying, as there were many accidents back in the day and people did die
-large church that is still used for weddings and Sunday mass even today
-post office (we did not see it but were told it was there)
-Salt bar — and of course I had to have a beer at the deepest bar in the world.  When would I do that again???
-there were a couple salt lakes which glistened

All the walls and many of the floors were all made of salt, so we did a little licking as we walked to see how salty it was, and it was – but I liked it!  Since I am tall, I even stood on my tip toes to try to get the highest area of salt (assuming less people may have licked my area).  As we were leaving, I bought a piece of pink salt to take home and we all tasted it with a long lick – it was really good salt!

4. The bud dropped us back to town at 7:00pm.  For most people, this would have been a really full day.  Oh…not for us, we are die hard tourists.  So we decided to walk and try to find the factory used in the movie Schinder`s list.  It ended up being very anti-climactic, but fun adventure trying to figure out which one it was.  We are not sure, but I will add this to my list of movies to watch when I return home and I am sure we will see it then.

5. The last stop we wanted was for a traditional Jewish dinner in the Jewish quarter and Steph had the info for the best one (per Rick Steves), so off we went as the music started at 8pm.  We found the restaurant that had the dinner, live music (for a extra cover charge — for tourist of course) and enjoyed the night.  We were the youngest people in the joint by about 50 years.  Seriously, everyone was about 70 years or so, but we ordered a lot of Jewish specialties that Steph and Shana said we should try and it was all great.  Again, we were the last to leave this restaurant (past the senior citizens bedtime) and the waitress actually forgot we were still there as they were cleaning in the kitchen.

6. So we finally left around 10:30.  At this point, many people would be tired and off to bed, but not the three of us.  We decided to walk back to the old town for another drink and a stop at the famous chocolate store.  One more cherry hopper for me and a couple truffles and it was a nice night on the square.  Funny thing…at one point, a really drunk and obnoxious French man behind Steph started to talk to her (this is in between him trying to court a woman that was very angry, did not want him, but then must have made up as they were making out like kissing lizards at the table right by us and it was very entertaining).  Steph tried to ignore him, but he kept talking to her.  Then he tried to explain about a bugle music recording that is played over speakers in the main square each night after 11pm and then stops as the man that was playing it got hit in the head by an arrow so the music suddenly stops and this recording plays every night at 11:10pm.  Funny.  Anyways, at one point he turns to me and asks if I am English, and I answer, “Hablo Espanol” and start to talk in my simple Spanish.  I said enough Spanish that he believed me and finally stopped talking as he did not speak Spanish so we were saved from him.  Yea – my Spanish finally helped me in Eastern Europe!  Steph and Shana were laughing as I don`t look Spanish and don`t have an accent or anything, but it got us out of talking to him.

7. At midnight, we called it a night and went back to sleep.  Or so I thought.  When I got back to my hostel, I decided to use the phone since it was cheap and available, so 2 calls later, I had ordered a replacement paper drivers license in case I need to rent a car somewhere, called a couple friends and caught up on email.  All of a sudden, it was 2:30 in the morning.  Yikes!  So  much for an early night.  It was a long day but so much fun!

Our final day in Krakow was going to be a relaxing one.  I had sneaked into the hotel breakfast with Steph and Shana the previous morning and was able to again – love the cooked to order breakfasts (for free).  Rest of the day was a picnic in the park, storming the castle, seeing the dragon and walking through his den below the castle (pictures from the castle will be posted later as I can`t upload them here).  Our last 4 hours were a self made pub/food crawl.  We had a few more drinks/Polish treats and went from cafe to restaurants to sample them all.

A few random things that kept us laughing:
-The Polish currency is called “Polish Zlotych”  For short, people all it “Zlots” but the Z sounds close to a S.  So all of us kept calling them “Sluts”.  So we would say that beer was 8 sluts or that roll was only 2 sluts.  I can only imagine what others around us thought, but it was easier for us and kept us laughing all the time.
-I don`t know if Poland people don`t like flags, but there were NO flags anywhere in town or out of town and we were all on the hunt for my flag photo.  It was really sad.

So that`s it for Krakow.  I really enjoyed my time and now I`m off to Vienna…

Logistics:

Dinner – Aqua e Vino – Amazing Italian dinner.  I would go back for sure!

Hostel – Greg and Tom`s – one of the best I`m been out.  Close to train, old town.  Easy location and wonderful place.

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