Krakow in the Spring...can be miserable and cold.
28.05.2009 - 31.05.2009
Krakow...what a lovely city.
Very charming. Very manageable. Compact. Easy to navigate and beautiful.
Unfortunately the weather was exactly like Seattle in the early spring. Cold and wet. There were some infrequent dry sunny spells.
Okay, right off...Stairways in some of these tourist attractions boggle the mind. In the bell tower of the Castle you were climbing up steep steep stairs and crawling through gaps in the timbers to get across and go up the next flight. Someone with any girth would have had difficulty - extreme difficulty. The bell tower at the castle was interesting. The bells were enormous and you had a good vantage point from the top of parts of the old town below.
A word on churches, cathedrals and their ilk. I have now instituted a one church, cathedral etc a day. I have reached a saturation point with church interiors. They may be breathtaking, beautiful and all the usual colorful words. But I'm just weary of them. I can be interested in one a day...after that I go in look around shrug my shoulders and walk out. So to prevent that I now have my one cathedral/church a day rule. Keepin it fresh...
Krakow was overrun with tour groups of kids. they were everywhere. EVERYWHERE. Mobs of them. Touring the cathedral on the castle was my most miserable tour of a cathedral to date. Waist tall humans swirling around you like a sea foam and you being a bobber. Hearing the guide was a challenge because the place is basically an echo chamber. Great for Gregorian and monastic chanting - awful for touristing. As the castle cathedral tour wore on I became increasingly stir crazy to get the heck out of the place. The tour guide was wonderful telling us about each sarcophagus adding witty anecdotes from legend and history...but by this time I didn't care. I wanted OUT! I couldn't even take pictures to amuse and distract myself. We finally did get outside after wading hip deep in mini humans which I'm sure were covered with e-coli and snot. I think there was a chapel on the way out...I also think there was some 20th century sarcophagi but I just couldn't give a rats ass. Ooooh This church had 2 amazing windows. In the short cross part of the cathedral (is that the naive?). At each end there were stain glass windows of what I presumed to be the king and queen of the time. The colors were vibrant. The glass wasn't delicate and ornate. It was more modern looking yet made hundred of years ago. They were refreshing amidst all the other chaos of eras and styles of design and the din of the petri dishes with legs all about. We FINALLY got outside and there were streams of children everywhere. It was like being in a middle school quad. By this time the line for the cathedral (We got there VERY early) was at least a city block long. We were given a pee break (as I said the tour was long).
Food was great in Krakow. Our first night there dinner was provided at a very nice quiet restaurant - well it was quiet until 27 ultra noisy Americans and one super sweet Hungarian guide descend like locust and sat at our UN "U" shaped table in the middle of the place. Yummy white asparagus soup and a choice of Chicken or Salmon. Here you will find another of my rules. If I can help it I try not to order Salmon. We have such great salmon that ordering it away from home seems somehow like heresy So I had the chicken, with roasted apples and pan fried potatoes. The desert was strawberry tart and was delicious. The crust was thick on the bottom and there was a layer of creme as well then the strawberries.YUM! It was all very elegant. We also partook of the local drink...it's non-alcoholic and tastes a bit like Dr Pepper with Molasses in it. The other night after the Krakow Symphony I had street food since I was running solo, and all the restaurants were in "dreamy eye mode" you know, filled with candles and couples. I had what they call Kebab - what we might call a super jumbo Gyro. It is an enormous flat bread they fill with meat (origin I'm still unclear on), cabbage, cucumber slices, tomatoes, sauce and onion. It takes two hands to hold and eat and is as big as your head - $3 us. Prices are pretty good in Krakow even in the restaurants. Last night we had Eastern Polish food at a little place recommended by our guide book. Ended up being a great place and an excellent recommendation. Pickled spiced meat with Paprika sauce and hunters stew is what I had. The place was oozing charm. On the table was a gorgeous white china vase with 3 roses. Matching salt, pepper and sugar. Starched brocade floral linen. Candles on the tables with views of buildings with domes out the windows and two old guys playing music. One unsmiling piano player on an old slightly out of tune piano and one unsmiling violin player. They played a variety of ethnic music - Ukrainian and then launched into a series of patriotic American music. So we're sitting there, enjoying delicious ethnic food, delightful atmosphere, in Krakow Poland and suddenly I know this folk tune they are playing...no...it's not a folk tune it's America the Beautiful. The player piano sounding piano and loose violin improvisation was jarring. Then God bless America. I was with Betty (73) and Mary (39) from our tour group. Betty loved it and hummed and sang along and was giving them thumbs up and acted like she had been held hostage in a communist country for the past 30 years and was hearing it again for the first time. Mary and I thought it was a bit out of character and a bit weird. We suddenly felt very conspicuous. It was difficult to describe. The unsmiling guys ended up being nice. After regaling us with songs of American patriotism the piano guy came over and unsmilingly but nicely hawked some CD's he and the violin player (along with a few other performers) made. Ukrainian music. He also hawked some cd's in Yiddish that he and the violin guy (and again some other ensemble players) made with a survivor of the holocaust singing in Yiddish (is that possible?). We were planning on asking the duet if they had made any recordings anyway...but I couldn't help the 'merican music was a ploy. I wondered if he also knew patriotic Japanese and Chinese songs for when they were in the place. I had some "Zeldas" (my word for the Polish currency - in no way even close to the correct way to say it) I needed to use so I got the Ukrainian one from the unsmiling violin player...still unsmiling even as I purchased his 50 Zelda CD. They really were quite good in a folksy way and wonderfully entertaining (even if unsmiling). An excellent way to spend the last evenings dinner.
Tourism during our time in Krakow involved umbrellas and dodging tsunamis of school children fresh out of exams and on school field trips. To add interest the city was setting up for a old town run/walk. In addition Saturday was the Polish championship football (Soccer) game. So you had this strange confluence of children touring, footballers reveling, tourist and barriers all up and down many of the streets. There was also the now familiar sight of weekend English stag parties roaming in their matching tees being obnoxious. We had a free morning. I spent it walking the very easily traversed old town and picking up a few things. Later in the afternoon the tour then set out for some salt mines. Sounds boring...but it really wasn't. Bordered on slightly cheesy actually. This unused salt mine has enormous chambers in which they have created some attractions and curiosities. First you walk down this incredibly long staircase. I am guessing near 25 stories - the stairwell had a vanishing point . Then your guide walks you through various chambers. Some have sculptures. Some have demonstrations. The guide leads us to one dark chamber, played Chopin and illuminated various features, another gives a dramatic reading of how the methane gas is burned off. They had many chapels and even a "cathedral." Pretty cheesy but interesting. Of course the miner were fervently religious so there were many chapels...one of my group members took great glee in pointing out my one church/chapel/cathedral a day rule was broken. I hissed at them. Cheesy aside it was a neat thing to see. I guess they have to do something to make your trudge down the zillion stairs worth your while.
As I mentioned there was a major football (soccer in the states) game on Saturday. Unfortunately I missed the victory celebrations in the old town square. Krakow won and there was much reveling in the town square while we were having our lovely Ukrainian/Lithuanian dinner. We could watch gents stagger by as if on the deck of a badly pitching ship - chants and cheers breaking out somewhere in the distance every so often so we knew something was up. Dinner finished, our bags packed and the lack of rain drove Mary and I out into night time Krakow and the square, broken glass crunching under our feet, dozens and dozens of riot police marching in groups here and there, more police in similar garb lurking by groups of paddy wagons. Very large groups of completely inebriated men (and some women) shrieking cheers and singing spirit songs, the broken glass which totally covered the cobble in the square, twinkling and flashing like the bodice of an Olympic ice skater. The sound of glass being broken was everywhere. Beer bottles getting dropped on the cobble. Apparently a few hours before the square was packed with passionate Krakites. The winning team appearing on the cloth halls balcony to the frenzied mob. I was sorry I missed it. It was a championship game and the spirits of the locals were high indeed. The tourists were there to take it all in.
I have seen more nuns, monks, priests and whatnot in Krakow than anywhere in my life. Just thought I'd throw that in. They stick out cuz the monks are in monk clothes, the nuns are in nun clothes and the priests are in priest robes.