Before my parents read the title and go into hysterics don’t panic, law enforcement are not involved and I am not going to scamper over the back fence with your new TV. Just be patient and I will explain later.
The train ride ended without incident. There was nearly an injury, not to me but to a small dog. European trains have these small steep steps and there is always a chasm between the train and the platform. It is near impossible to descend the stairs with both hands full and not end up head first out of the train. I had my large suitcase and my small carry-on but aware of the impatient mob queuing behind me I decided that rather than overbalance I did what any unreasonable person would do and loft my small bag out from the top step. Like a lot of my theories things didn’t go as planned when the bag skimmed across the platform, thankfully narrowinly missing a Scottish Terrier. At least the second bag was extracated from the train with dirty looks.
Winter’s early onset of night had robbed me of the beauty of Krakow in the light. Unlike a nightclub, I was confident the mood lighting around the city wasn’t concealing anything sinister that would make you run as soon as the dawn breaks. After navigating through the major shopping centre that has been tacked onto the train station, it was a slow saunter through the Old Town and my apartment was just off the main square.
Previously I was guilty of giving the various Old Town areas a harsh review. What struck me about Krakow’s was the size of it. By far the biggest I have seen and the buildings truly are amazing, the byproduct of making it through World War II relatively unscathed. However the whole thing is an elaborate ruse to suck money out of the tourist masses. During my thirty minute walk, if I wasn’t getting tooted by taxi drivers offering “cheap ride mister” I was being hassled by young men with bad facial hair and worse beanies asking if I wanted to see “sexy girls and your fourth beer will be free”. Sure sexy girls have an undeniable allure but maybe talk to me when I haven’t got my hands full with two bags that had minds of their own coping with Krakow’s cobblestones. Plus, it is Day 10 in the same pants (clean underwater I assure you) so I think I might pass tonight if that’s alright?
The checking-in procedure once again had the full array of login codes, keypads, lock boxes, keys, stairs, a lift (operated with key) – everything bar a check of dental records and retinal scan. Nestled against the parkland surrounding the Old Town it is in a prime location.
It is a loft and like every other Air BnB place it has been decorated by IKEA and all in white. Remember shoes off at the door. The bed seems comfortable but I am a bit worried about the light covering, the word “flammable” springs to mind.
First meal had to be perogi, the boiled dumplings that are filled with whatever was either killed, picked or fell out of the fridge today. The meat, cheese and option was a solid way to dip my toes in the water, served with sweated diced onion. Polish ravioli in a roundabout way. Traditionally they congregate on the plate in a gang of ten. These courtesy of the tourist haunt that dialled the traditional dress, pigtails and smiles up to 11 to give ostensibly an authentic Polish traditional experience.
I also got a bigos. Translated as “hunters stew” this is a blend of cabbage, cabbage, meats, spices, sauerkraut and cabbage. I assume hunters continually fart. Bigos and I will definitely cross paths again.
The Polish had a knack of upselling well – if you order food, “you need something to drink”, “dessert, you need dessert too”. I couldn’t resist. A beer and a piece of cake. Many older restaurants in Poland have the “self serve” rule. It should be renamed, “you pick your meal up, eat and then drop off your dirty dishes once you are finished” as it is a bit misleading. Understandable if it was a Ma & Pa concern but this was a tourist place gouging with tourist prices. Cheeky, lazy bastards. Scoped out more of Old Town on the stroll home, gaining valuable Intel for tomorrow’s mission.
My limited experience indicates that breakfast is more of a substantial meal than the other countries on this trip, the pastry replaced with eggs, meats and breads. Around the corner were two self proclaimed coffee enthusiasts. The result, one breakfast, two coffees. The first of the caffeine double-header was Nap Nap which I found a peculiar name. The way the coffee is liberally thrown around means a sleep is the last thing your body will do after a visit here, let alone two naps.
The crowd was a bunch of locals, all perfect hair and teeth, I’m looking a tad out of place. By now I am sporting the early stages of a mullet and with my razor going on strike one look around me and I was on the verge of developing body esteem issues. The full wall mirror was doing little to ease the situation. But one must eat so that’s what I did.
The food was a kanapka (sandwich) of ham, cheese, lettuce and mayo (sold as “The Rustic”). I tried to savour each mouthful but it disappeared all too quickly. The coffee – the standard of which had been declining slowly from Budapest, continued on this gentle slope.
Next door was an espresso bar, Big Hat Of Coffee. Given the size of my head I saw this as a welcomed challenge. Had thought that the conversation would go along the lines of, “No mug for me, use my sweaty Boston Red Sox cap, but don’t make it too hot I need to put my fingers over the eyelets.”
The small space was quirky, jazz and big band music bouncing off the walls. There was barely enough room for me and my big hat. Given I only had $100 Polish notes in my wallet it would be rude to hand this over for just a coffee so my order got bulked up to include an almond croissant. The coffee was the best since Budapest but sadly it was served in a glass and not my hat.
Whilst enjoying the coffee I consulted Google Maps to get my bearings but the names here are playing tricks with me. Names of streets are named after people in many cases and there are quite a number of famous Josef’s. The ones that are not named after people do not roll off the tounge due to a high proportion of x, y and z’s used in the Polish language.
Back in the Old Town there is a traffic jam that harks back to a simpler time. Happy to report that there was no cobblestone rage incidents.
Lunch was a short lived affair partly due to me discovering the nooks and crannies of Old Town. Gelato, souvenir, fast food and currency exchange shops were far too heavily represented. Made the decision that when I find something that doesn’t sell any of that I will put down some roots and start munching.
Nestled between the American and German Embassies was the Herring Embassy. I can’t recall a country called Herring from primary school geography but I had a thirst for knowledge and vodka so I passed through border control and took a seat. The “Herring” related to the fish, that celebrated every direction you looked. Small fish are something that I normally shy away from at the best of times due to the combination of small bones and pungent odour and the picture highlighting the rectum and intestine wasn’t doing anything to sway my prejudices. I see going to have a go at them but after seeing some get delivered to patrons I put my index finger and smile to work and ordered a soup.
Doubling as a wodka (vodka) bar I had to partake in the national drink. Sometime during the Alice Cooper mixtape that was being played, my soup arrived. A miscellany of meat, egg, sausages, bones, beans, potato and herbs.
Knowing that without the correct change finding a toilet can be difficult, I thought I would take advantage of the facilities here. Turns out to be a one cubical affair. My stool at the bar had a view of the toilet so I was confident that it was empty, the bar only had a handful of locals and I would have noticed any traffic in that direction. Being polite I knocked and nobody knocked back so I hit the button on the outside which I mistook for some kind of weird European lock (trust me, the array of locks, doorbells and doorhandles is staggering). Judging by the banging, kicking and what I assume was Polish swearing, I am confident that I accidentally turned the light off. Quickly I hit the button again, hoping to restore normality inside and hightailed it out of there before we came face to face.
Growing weary of the Old Town I headed south to Kazmierz the old Jewish area which is now undergoing a transformation as an art/bar/food epicenter. Separating the two areas is the Wawel Castle, a castle built in the thirteenth century which acts as an unofficial welcome to Kazmierz. It was in this suburb that I came to the stark realisation that in less than a thirty-six hours I had developed an addiction to perogies. A place called Perogi Mr Vincent was where I scored my next hit.
Apparently Vincent Van Gough was a regular here judging by his paintings that are scattered throughout. The menu was extensive so I tried the cheese offerings for main and then plum for dessert (served with some yoghurt). Delicious enough that if you stopped at only one plate you’d want hack off your ear.
After scoffing down my second plate I was relieved to be informed that whilst super tasty these critters are not habit forming. This came from the owner so it could be a scheme to get me back (which will probably work). But at least now I can walk home and rest easy tonight, well that’s providing the light cover in the bedroom doesn’t go up in flames.