It all began last year when my husband and I became obsessed with trying to figure out a way to get to Prague. All year we’ve watched flight prices rise and fall; we knew that if we could get to the continent of Europe that we could train it to the golden city. Needless to say that when $355 round trip flights to Oslo, Norway hit rock bottom, we pounced on the opportunity.
Fast forward to destination Krakov: being crammed into a 90s style Ryanair connector flight, sitting next to a blonde headed Norwegian/half Polish party boy. He told us to watch out during our time in his hometown. His outlook on life didn’t seem all that serious, but I began to pay close attention when he mentioned Hooligan trouble makers cutting off peoples arms in the street. I was thankful for his advice, but I was even more scared to enter Eastern Europe than I had been before.
I had that story in the back of my mind when I climbed down the stairs off the plane into the Polish dark. The airport was basically a warehouse with a metal detector. We quickly learned that efficiency was not a strong suit in the city. The airport was 30 minutes outside of town. The train didn’t connect there and the closest bus stop was a long walk away in the dark biting cold. The smallest denomination of currency, the zloty, was 50 at the airport but upon arriving at the bus stop, we quickly learned that the ticket machines only accepted coins and tiny bills. We hadn’t been in Poland for more than 20 minutes and we were already in a tight spot. A nice young Slovakian bought our bus fare, we swapped stories as the bus galevanted through the graffiti laden low side of town. Trying to keep my balance while the bus bounced through pot holes and soaking in the never ending graffiti I silently wondered if we were in over our head– if there was a reason, when looking around, that there weren’t many tourists in this part of the world.
There’s a blanket of grey that is draped over Krakov. People walk with a sort of sadness in their eyes. Like everywhere, Poland has got her problems. The reality of the situation is that some members of the working class make 5-8 zloty an hour (that’s 2 US dollars an hour folks!!) The local diet consists of cheep vegetables like potatoes, beets, mushrooms, and cabbage simmered in large caldrons with spices. Typical folk music plays in the streets. Whispers of dragons, superstition, and powerful princes float on the air. They are proud of their heritage but there seems to be an ache for past times in the soul of the city. But even in post soviet Krakov, somehow in the midst of trying to make ends meet, people still manage to enjoy the gift of life. Children laugh as they call for their father, people gather for delectable food at Christmas markets, and Krakowiak dogs clothed in sweater vests scamper through the muddy snow. Westerners have much to learn from these eastern neighbors. If all of your possessions disappeared today, could you still be happy? If you suddenly found yourself in a 1 bedroom block aparment could you find comfort in large fluffy pillows, simple home cooking, and time spent with the ones that you love?
We walked a total of about 8 miles through the old town, the former Jewish District, The WWII Jewish Ghetto, and the historical factory of Schindler from the movie Schindler’s List. Like always, we rode public transportation, we ate street food, and we struggled through some labored conversations with locals to find out about their daily lives. The following photographs are posted to give you a vibe of this city’s past and the people of it’s present.
Church in old town square, beautiful architecture
Christmas market bakery stand
Priest walking the dreary streets to Sunday mass
Garlic Mushrooms, my favorite thing here
Wawel Castle, built on top of the slain dragon’s lair
Sausages, eaten on a crisped bun with spicy mustard
Old Jewish Quarter, these houses were taken from the Jews when they were forced to move across the river to the ghetto
Jewish Ghetto Heroes memorial. The chairs represent the people who where murdered and the emptiness that lies as a result
Schindler’s Enamelware Factory
An unexpected find, an abandoned railroad from WWII era. I’ll leave you to imagine the thoughts of some of those who have been through here in times past. This is an appropriate place to end this post because the journey takes me to Auschwitz next.