On to Krakow!
Trip Start Nov 24, 2009
11Trip End Dec 09, 2009
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The three-hour train ride passed through Poland's rural plains, which eventually gave way to hill country. We pulled into Glowny station just at dusk, and with no reserved accommodations we trust Matt's guidebook and choose a few hostel options. We quickly land at our first choice, The Gardenhouse, a clean and quaint place that seemed practically empty except for James, a prim and proper Englishman from Hampton on a short holiday
As we walked towards the old town center the reputation of Krakow is slowly revealed to me. This is perhaps the most European place I can imagine. Cobblestone streets, old-style buildings lit up and a humongous town square complete with a Christmas market and giant tree! It was so surreal at first I felt like I was walking in a theme park. Krakow is the antithesis of Warsaw...clean, calm, pedestrian and timeless. It is kind of like comparing San Francisco to Detroit, but the contrast between the two is even wider.
Once settled we go on his guidebook's suggestion for traditional Polish cuisine, a rustic looking small room restaurant with dark wood walls and furnishings and dried meats hanging over the tables. We order several dishes from the service window, paying only 70PLN (about $25) for both of us including pints. It turns out we completely underestimated the portions as each of the 5 plates could have been a meal in itself. Matt ordered a Perogi dumpling sampler and meat wrapped in cabbage, and I chose fried mushrooms, Perogi in garlic sauce and potato spinach pancakes. The plates came out one by one and to my dismay were so large that they barely fit on the table! I'll never forget the look of shock on Matt's face when he forked what he thought was a topping and placed it in his mouth, only to realize that it was nearly an entire cube of butter
For a night out we first stopped at an underground pub called Carpe Diem. This place was like a smoke-filled dungeon and completely packed with locals and students. After sitting for a bit the three-hours-a-night average sleep was catching up to me, but we didn't want to cash in yet so we took to the streets to explore the scene. The nightlife scene was booming as there are lots of tourists and venues in old town Krakow, and after about an hour of checking things out we wandered into our next stop...Carpe Diem II!?! Here the theme is motorcycles as the place had them hanging from the ceilings and sitting on some tables. It was larger than Carpe Diem I and completely packed to capacity at 2am on a Monday night! Here we meet two locals, Sebastian and Surek, who upon realizing we were North American took to us like fat kids to a plate of Oreos! The next thing we know they were buying us drinks and chatting us up on universal topics like women, travel and music. Despite Surek's limited English we discover his passion for Old School Heavy Metal. I mentioned I was a huge Judas Priest fan and Surek immediately breaks into song: "This-is-the-pain-kill-er! This-is-the-pain-kill-er!" I could only join him in the homage as we went through this routine several more times singing Sabbath, Crue, Dio, Pantera and Maiden
The next day we were up by 10 and ready to explore Wawel Castle, the former royal palace on a hill overlooking the city, and the numerous old world churches and cathedrals that Krakow has to offer. We trek up the hill and explore the castle and a bit of new town, putting on some serious mileage by the time we got back to the hostel. Matt had to immediately catch the afternoon train to Warsaw, so I walked with him to the station to see him off, thus leaving me on my own until Madrid.
I head back out to the Christmas market to sample the roasted meats I was eyeing the night before only to find myself chatting up Fiona, a Kiwi who was previously working in London. We sit down over hot wine and kebabs in the square sharing travel stories and little bits of ourselves
Wednesday morning I planned to catch the 10am bus to Auschwitz with James. I didn't make it, but fortunately I was able to catch the 10:20. (For more on my tour of Auschwitz please check out the entry "Infamous History".) I did eventually catch up with James at Birkenau and after the ride back we catch dinner at another Polish restaurant he had liked a few nights before. This meal I enjoyed much more not just because I ordered appropriately, but also because the lipid intake was at normal levels! We move the conversation to a bar with 60 European bottled microbrews (None of which I have ever heard of, yet they were excellent!) where I discover James shared my passion for film and also worked in that industry. It was a nice, mellow time sharing good beer and conversation...the perfect final hour in this magical place!