Next up: Krakow by train. And the trains are surprisingly nice! Fast, modern, easy to navigate, etc. Somewhat pricey. Warsaw to Krakow was only a little more than 2 hours. And the train station is only a block away from old town, which is convenient. It’s always a PITA to be dumped 30 minutes outside of the city. I found my hostel two blocks away from the station, dumped my stuff, and had a look around. Almost instantly I was smitten! It’s like a fairy tale city! The sun was shining, the sky was perfectly blue with a few puffy clouds, the architecture is colorful and gorgeous, the cobblestone streets are immaculately clean, church spires rise in the distance, horse drawn carriages ply down the streets, all the while classical violin music plays off somewhere in the distance.
The main focus of the old town is the St. Mary’s Basilica, smack dab in the middle of the square. The courtyard is massive and lined with dozens of umbrella-laden outdoor cafes with looking into the square. In front of the church the buggy drivers wait with their horses to take tourists around town. I mean I haven’t been to Europe in a decade, but it’s certainly the nicest old town I’ve seen! I’m assuming there are better ones out there, but I’m a Euro-noob, so I was pretty damn impressed. I can certainly see what draws people to Central Europe! And being that it’s mid-summer, there was definitely no shortage of people.
I decided to stop in a rustic looking restaurant on a side street. Pierogie time! And unlike my usual family occasions they other options besides potato and sauerkraut! These were fancy pierogies. I ordered five different kinds, and opted for steamed instead of the fried. I had potato and cream cheese, spinach and kraut, duck confit, minced pork, something with horseradish. The potato cream cheese and the duck were both killer. And still less than 10 bucks for the meal and a large beer. Much better start to Krakow than Warsaw!
Eventually I wandered all the way through the old town and across the river to the museum of contemporary art. I’m not a huge museum guy, but given a choice between art and history I’m taking the art museum every time. Every time I’m in a history museum it’s information overload and I feel like my brain shuts off after an hour. Plus I can get all that information online, at my own pace, if I want; whereas looking at art is much more powerful in person. So needless to say I thoroughly enjoyed the museum, especially some of the photography exhibits
When I got back to my hostel I found some people getting geared up for the evening World Cup match, Colombia vs Britain, so I tagged along. It’s kind of fun traveling in Europe during the World Cup because everyone is so pumped about these games. And with Colombia tying it during penalty time and Britain winning in penalty kicks, it was a pretty great game to watch. But really, there has to be a better way to solve these huge matches than with PK’s! After the game some of the group moved to another bar to celebrate, but I really couldn’t have cared less that England won, so I called it a night.
Now, what should have been a straight to bed, pass out before hitting the pillow night, turned into something much more sinister in the hostel. Right above my bunk was the most dreaded thing that can happen in a dormitory, a snorer! AGH. I didn’t have earplugs either. Seriously there is nothing worse a snorer. It’s like you’re whole existence becomes part of the reverberations from this random guys nostrils. Seriously these people need to shamed, Cersei style, dragged naked through the streets with people cursing and throwing rotten food at them. If you snore don’t stay in a hostel dormitory, JFC! I’m getting too old for hostels. Even after I passed out I had nightmares where I was getting chased around in an old factory where there is constant off-kilter groaning sound going off and on in the background. An ominous sign for my travel plans the next day.
That morning I was off on a tour to Auschwitz, which is one of those things you really should do in Krakow, even though it does kind of kill the fun travel vibe. I won’t get into the gritty details of the camp, but what really is amazing to me was how seemingly easy it was for the systematic elimination of Jews to happen, even in Poland, where before the German occupation, the Poles and Jews lived side by side. For months and years the Germans blasted constant propaganda, meant to dehumanize the Jews, claiming the Jews were thieves, different from everyone else, dirty and disease infested, and eventually separated them from the normal population ‘for the public good.’ First it was the ghettos, then it was the death camps. And people just watched it happen, many of whom bought into the propaganda. It’s scary how well propaganda can work on the masses. And I’m not going to get into politics too much, but the similarities between ICE and the Gestapo are a bit eerie, and having an authoritarian president who constantly lies and uses choice words meant to dehumanize an entire group of people should be disconcerting to anyone who follows history. Or anyone what at all.
Anyway, so after that sobering experience it was back into Krakow, this time I wanted to check out the Kazimierz neighbourhood, just outside of the old town. The buildings are a bit older and more run down, but that gives them their own kind of appeal. It’s kind of the more hipster part of the city, I guess you’d say, with an art street, funky coffeeshops, and bars boasting of Polish craft beers. My kind of place. For lunch I had some sort of cheesy casserole with potatoes, bacon, sauerkraut, onions, and polish sausage. Fantastic! Later in the afternoon I got around to sampling the local craft brews, which is something I always miss in Asia.
Then it was back to the old town to visit the Fawel castle around sunset and some beet soup + beef ghoulash from a more local place for dinner. Mmm. Ghoulash is one of those things that tastes better than it sounds! I had one more drink on the square to admire my surroundings and listen to a guitar player. A very romantic place, it certainly would be better with a girl around. I ended getting to bed somewhat early, as I’d be taking a bus to Wroclaw the next morning. I can also appreciate having a more normal sleep schedule after having poker mess mine up for so long!
And that's all for Krakow! Next up Wroclaw. Here's a few more photos of the old town: