Cream-crackered in Kraków

Where to start? I’m in sensory overload mode, very travel weary but hugely stimulated by it all and almost drunk on history. Kraków is a fabulous city with so much to see, taste and explore. Everywhere I look delights me: from the street lamps to church spires, cobbled streets, medieval squares, parks carpeted in golden autumn leaves, clanging blue trams, castle walls, buildings festooned with stuccoed angels or garlands of flowers, ancient towers and fortifications, cafes, bars, chiming clocks, clopping horses, mime and street artists.

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The Airbnb flat I am in staying is as groovy and spacious as the pictures promised. There’s even a leather saddle on the sofa in my room! Marcin, my host, who sits his final exams in Trad Chinese Medicine tomorrow, is easy going and welcoming. He encourages guests to write on the kitchen wall on the theme: what would you do if you had no fear? Don’t you just love that? Right up my alley.

The only problem is that it’s on the fourth floor and I have 30 kg of luggage. Standing at the bottom of the worn wooden stairs when I arrived, I wondered if I should perhaps start going to the gym, but then a guardian angel appeared in the form of fellow Airbnb guest, a strong Texan. Problem solved!

I’ve now had two days of totally ‘immersive’ tourism. Yesterday I went to Auschwitz/Birkenau. Although,like many of us, I have seen Holocaust film footage, read books and articles and met relatives of concentration camp survivors, what really brought home the horror and thoroughness (so many neatly typed lists) of the Nazi brutality were the exhibits full of human hair, shoes, suitcases and prosthetic limbs stripped from the Jews and others deemed unfit for work. Then the horrific medical experiments, forced (and extremely painful) sterilization of some of the women and the castration of some of the men. And I had no idea about the suffocation cells, basically the size of a phone booth where they crammed in four people for hours at a time with minimal ventilation.

On the plus side it’s 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and
Poland is no longer a communist country, but war and conflict from the
Ukraine to Syria serve as reminders that we haven’t learnt from the past. If only…One of the first things visitors see at Auschwitz is this quote:

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The tour returned to Kraków about 3pm and we caught the end of Independence Day celebrations – part military, part patriotic and flag-waving knees-up with a free concert in the main square.

I sampled some delicious honey vodka and then headed to Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter where I dined in a traditional Polish restaurant – beetroot soup and cabbage rolls- (absolutely delicious) and got talking to a young girl who organizes weddings. The second woman I’ve met here who loves her job (the other is a tour guide in Asia), she’s organized weddings in locations as diverse as Greece and the Wieliczka Salt Mine.

If I had more time, I would have loved to see the salt mines but you can’t do it all. Mind you, I’ve tried! No wonder a friend, in response to my last blog, wished me luck with my ‘hell bending’ (determination) to make the most of my European adventure.

Today was another huge day starting with a small food market full of sausages, hams, pickles, veggies and babushka-like old ladies doing their knitting in between selling eggs and strange-tasting smoked cheeses.

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Then in between several cups of reviving tea and a piece of the aforementioned smoked cheese with crackers sitting among the pigeons in the square, I went underground to experience medieval Kraków at the Rynek Museum, to Hippolit House, a recreation of a wealthy merchant’s house through the ages- think Baroque, Rococo and Biedermeier plus one of Poland’s largest clock collections – ending up at Schindler’s Factory Museum, which deserves a blog of its own.

Suffice it to say that at the end of my museum marathon I was more than ready for a shot of honey vodka! I went back to Kazimierz and relaxed in one of the cavernous low-lit bars.

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