Go to Kraków, Poland
Mink had a week off from teaching, so I got a few days in a row off from work and we decided (rather last minute, as neither of us are much for planning and/or committing to things) to go to Poland for four days. It was such an amazing trip! All of the photo credit for these next few posts goes to Mink. If I ever get my film developed, I will post my own photos… which should happen in the next 6 months.
February 9th, 2011
We took the overnight train from Vienna to Kraków, which was an effortless 9-hour trip that had us arriving in the city at 6:56 a.m. We booked a sleeper car, which normally contains places for three people but we got lucky in that it was only the two of us in there. It would have been a bit awkward with a third person, since we passed the time by playing drinking games with Road Gin (Definition: Road Gin is a mixed drink comprised of gin and some other liquid especially concocted for the purposes of consumption whilst traveling). We actually got yelled at around 11:30 by the porter, who admonished, “This is a sleeper car – SLEEP!” Apparently the walls in sleeper cars are exceedingly thin, and our festivities had been bothering our neighbours. Suddenly the intermittent knocking sounds we’d been hearing on our walls made a lot more sense. We soundly took the porter’s advice and went to bed for a few hours of restless sleep.
Mink and I successfully exited the train with all of our stuff, with a cheerful goodbye from the porter – apparently he’d forgiven our noise transgression of the night before. Exhausted but excited, we got some money at the train station. The Polish currency is the złoty, and with the exchange rate it’s about 4 złotys per euro. I kept calling them Polanskis, as in Roman Polanski, which is clearly not accurate, and I think I only figured out the right word on our last day. But such is my scant knowledge of the Polish language.
Kraków is an incredibly walkable city, even for two people with as horrible a sense of direction as Mink and I have. We exited the train station and got to the Main Market Square by following the signs, taking photos of the streets in the early morning light. The Square itself is beautiful, and even the abundance of pigeons has its charm (although those fat jerks have alsolutely no qualms about flying up into one’s face without warning.) It contains the Town Hall Tower, which is the only surviving part of the original town hall and leans a bit because of a very strong wind storm in 1703. It also contains St. Mary’s Basilica, an incredible church, and the Sukkiennice, or “Cloth Hall,” built in the 15th century and considered the first shopping mall in Poland.
We found our way to Mama’s Hostel around 9 a.m., on a street right off of the Main Square, checked in and had a much-needed nap in our 12-bed room. Shoutout: Laur recommended Mama’s, and it really is a great place to stay: it’s cheap at 12 euros a night; it has free breakfast, internet and events like homemade cake and soup; and the staff are friendly and very helpful.
Venturing out into the cold streets once more, Mink and I had life-restoring coffee at a cute bookstore/café down the street and set out to explore more of the city. We saw the Church of St Peter and Paul, with its 12 apostles guarding the entrance:
My favourite was the guy with the saw, because he’s clearly awesome:
We walked to the Jewish Quarter, called Kazimierz, where we found the Corpus Christi Church,
the High Synagogue and bookstore, the Old Jewish Cemetery and Remuh Synagogue, the latter of which was beautiful although it remains partially destroyed from bombings during the war.
Plac Nowy is the main square in Kazimierz, and it was mostly empty at this point in the day but in the mornings it has a flea/food market. We stopped for lunch at a bagel place run by an English-speaking dude.
Next, we walked to Wawel Castle on the hill,
went into the church, and saw a statue of Pope John Paul II. He’s from Poland, and is kind of a big deal there. Apparently you can’t really say anything jokey about him, as it was a huge tragedy when he died in 2005. In no way is this photo poking fun at the pope, but I do enjoy some popin’ around:
The view from the castle wall was especially beautiful near sunset:
Unfortunately the Dragon Cave at Wawel is closed in the winter, which was disappointing, but the sweet fire-breathing statue of a dragon with seven dragon babies emerging ferociously from its stomach more than made up for this:
This sculpture was clearly the best part of Wawel Castle, and we spent a good half hour waiting for the flames to randomly shoot out of the dragon’s mouth. Note: it seems the dragon is Kraków’s official mascot, so they were everywhere and in every form – stuffed, carved, and printed on t-shirts and bags. Strangely enough, they were mostly wearing graduate caps, perhaps because Kraków is a university town? There was thus a lot of this type of thing in the souvenir shops, which is not nearly ferocious enough:
We headed back to the hostel to get ready for the evening, starting with a drink at the bar under our hostel. It looked like a random apartment, but inside it was a large bar with a dance floor that would soon be hoppin’. This seems to be the case with a lot of bars in Kraków – they are sneakily located up winding stairs or down a labyrinthine hall or in a random cave-basement, behind a plain door with only the faint sounds of bass to give you a clue that it exists.
Next, we went to The Mexican for some dinner and ordered the “big” margaritas, only figuring out after we got them that “big” meant literally bigger than our heads. For accepting such a challenge, we were given the honour of wearing cowboy hats for the entire meal and getting our photo taken for a “Wanted” poster that they then hung from the ceiling of the restaurant. So, there’s no need to worry about my posthumous legacy if I have a poster on the ceiling of some random Mexican restaurant in Kraków, amirite?
We moved on to a bar called Carpe Diem, following the whims of coupon-givers in the streets. The bar happened to be packed with Polish karaoke singers, which was amusing, but it was a bit awkward so we moved on from there pretty quickly. We ended up at a club called Coco, which had pretty good music and was on the swankier side of sleazy (or the sleazier side of swanky? It’s a fine balance for most clubs).
Thoroughly exhausted, we made our way back to the hostel to get some sleep for the next day, since we were going to Auschwitz and Birkenau…