i thought it only happens in india - mysterious flight delays, silly explanations, and hours stuck in a biz lounge wondering what to do!! but here i am, still in Krakow... the lufthansa flight to frankfurt is still to arrive, and the announcements are in czech. i could be here forever and ever!!
but first the good news. i leave krakow with heavy heart. it has been a revelation. krakow came as a pleasant surprise, possibly because i came here expecting nothing. i remembered all those jokes about Poles and was sure i'd meet some exceptionally dumb locals! instead i met polite, cheerful and helpful people at every level.... and they were clever!
Our idea to take a slow train from prague was a bad one. the scenery was monotonous and journey far too long ( eight hours). but we did eat some wonderful potato soup on the train and drank Polish white wine which was so good we promptly bought 5 more bottles! now here comes a really major tip : we desis don't know the meaning of travelling light. it is time we taught ourselves to travel like the rest of the world with one smallish suitcase that can be rolled along with ease. there are no porters these days, and believe me, getting 3 jumbo suitcases on and off a train is not fun!
but our hotel made up for it, and the taxi driver was kind enough to help. i always judge a destination by its cabbies and public loos. czech cabbies were rude and unhelpful. The Poles were consistently obliging.Hotel Stary ( strange name) is new, hip, stylish and excellently located just off the main square ( the largest medieval market square in europe). this is good and bad. bad only because, krakow being a student town with over 400 pubs, rowdy, noisy kids keep you awake till dawn with their exhuberant shouting matches in the square. liquor stores never shut in krakow -Alkohole signs at every corner let you know booze is but a few short steps away 24x7. Polish vodka has its fans, and my husband is one of them. the Poles drink it neat in tiny glasses. We went to a charming 18th century restaurant called Redolfie close to the hotel and once again discovered the soft spoken, well mannered nature of the local people, who genuinely want to make you feel welcome.
I guess i must have been tired for i told my husband grumpily that after a point ALL european cities look alike, smell alike , are alike. there is a cobbled square at the centre with cafes all around, horse drawn carriages, countless churches, one castle on the hill and the smell of smoked pork in the air. I wasn't too off the mark. However, krakow's history and its terrific people made up for all the other 'me too' aspects! i am glad we took a conducted walking tour with a super chap called Thomas, who really made the city come alive. i now know more about Polish kings , Queens, bishops and of course, the world's best loved Pope, thanks to Thomas. The story i most enjoyed was about the queen ( canonised and now a saint), who donated all her wealth, jewels and precious gems to save the university which was about to shut down due to a shortage of funds!! We walked around the castle, and walked into a spectacular church ( Mary's Ascencion) right by the market square, and were drawn into another era. The altar here is so dramatic, no wonder the Nazis were after it. The nazis were after EVERYTHING , of course. As we walked through the Jewish quarter and went past Schindler's factory ( now a museum), I had tears in my eyes. i saw 36 chair sculptures in a large square and was told each chair represented a 1000 jews who were exterminated there. i remembered another poignant memorial we'd seen on the edge of the river in Buda- Pest. a local sculptor had installed countless bronze shoes by the river bank. These represented the shoes of Jews shot there and thrown into the river after being asked to step out of their shoes. i couldn't and didn't visit Auschwitz - what for?? to feel sadder still???
there were many such deeply, deeply moving moments. surprisingly enough, there are very few jewish families left in krakow, which is the second largest city in Poland after Warsaw, and if you don't count Chicago!!
aaah.... the khaana peena. If you are planning to have just one meal in a great restaurant, I strongly recommend WIERZYNEK established in 1364. Yup. You read that right!! Legend has it a wealthy merchant opened it over 600 years ago with a party to beat all parties. He invited monarchs from across europe and served them out of solid gold plates. They partied non-stop for 21 days and nights. and when the guests finally left, they were asked to take the plates with them!!
you tell me - why can't more people party like that??