In the Land of Perogies

Trip Start Apr 04, 2007
Trip End Oct 22, 2007

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Flag of Poland  ,
Saturday, August 11, 2007

We arrived in Krakow last night after reluctantly tearing ourselves away from the Czech Republic, Poet's Corner Hostel, and all the great people we had met.  We were a bit worried that Poland was going to seem expensive again after the Czech Republic, but so far have been pleasantly suprised.  Our hostel, after a ridiculous amount of looking, turned out to be very close to the train station, and a huge and very modern three story mall.  It's quite noisy (the endless trade-off between being close enough to the train station that you're not walking for miles, and so close you can hear every train departure being announced!)  but is very friendly and has breakfast included, which is  a nice change.

We spent the day today doing all the good, touristy things in Krakow.  We started off at Wawel Castle, the centuries-old seat of the Polish monarchy.  It turned out, after queuing for a good 45 minutes, that the number of tickets sold in a day is restricted to control the flow of people through the rooms of the castle, and when we finally got to the front of the line, only mid-afternoon tickets were left.  Somewhat frustrated, but still keen to see the castle, we got the tickets anyway then headed to the Old Town centre to fill in the several hours until we could actually get into the castle.

The medieval era Main Market Square at the heart of the Old Town is surrounded by several huge old cathedrals, notably St Mary's, from the steeple of which a trumpeter plays every hour on the hour, then cuts off abruptly.  Apparently, the tradition dates back to a trumpeter who was watching the city boundaries from the tower in the early 13th Century, and sounded the alarm on his trumpet to warn the citizens that the Tartars were about to attack the city.  They shot him partway through the trumpet call, and for centuries since, a trumpeter has played on the hour to commemorate his valiant efforts.  It turns out, the Polish people have VERY long memories for this sort of thing.....

We also wandered through the busy central market, formerly the Cloth Markets from the 1400s, and now mostly filled with tourist souvenier shops.  The square itself was also busy with tour groups, kids feeding flocks of pigeons, and what we assumed was a local theatre group filming men in armour competing in hand to hand combat.  It all made for entertaining people watching, anyway!

Hungry by this point, we wandered around the side streets and stumbled across a rustic looking little cafe with a menu in English in the window that served traditional Polish food.  The menu helped, because no one else in the place spoke any English, so we were at least able to point to what we wanted and be fairly sure that it wouldn't contain any goat or other questionable materials.  We ended up with a fabulous meal of zureck, a thick soup made with fermented rye, a big plate of steaming, handmade perogies filled with onion, potato, cheese and herbs. and for dessert a plate of piping hot perogies filled with tart fresh cherries and drizzled with a yoghurt cream sauce and powdered sugar.  The whole meal cost us about three New Zealand dollars each, it was fantastic!

Holding our pleasantly bulging bellies, we walked back up to the castle and spent an hour or so wandering through the impressive armoury collection, complete with gem-encrusted swords, several suits of horse armour, and a room full of medieval suits of armour, as well as the treasury (Dan's favourite was the jewel-encrusted silver chicken) and the state rooms draped in luxurious tapestries and filled with antique furniture and art.  Our favourite area of the castle architecturally had to be the cathedral, though, which was built over several centuries by several different architects who obviously had very different visions for it, and just kind of kept adding on random spires and domes in whatever style was popular at the time.  It was a bit of a hodgepodge, but very pretty.

We headed back to the hostel in time to meet Susan and Garren, our friends from Canada who we had arranged to meet up with several months ago, and had a fantastic evening swapping travel stories and photos, and generally catching up over two of the biggest ice cream sundaes I have ever seen.  (As an aside, pleae forgive all of the food photos in this entry - it's not that we're food obsessed, exactly, just that we have been enjoying the break from sandwiches three meals a day!).

Tomorrow, we are planning to head to Auschwitz, the most infamous of the Nazi extermination camps, so it should be an interesting day.

All our best from Poland,
Dan and Gabrielle
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Where I stayed
Poet's Corner Hostel
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