October 5, 2008

Krakow, Poland

I let Joseph’s comment casually pass between my ears as I bought my ticket for Krakow at the Brno train station, “I think this train might split, “ he said. Always taking the it-will-workout-somehow approach, I awoke from a disconnected sleep sitting upright in the only free seat other than the toilet to realize that yes, the train does split, and the way that worked out for me was, well…..welcome to Warsaw Andriana! (Lost in Poland #1)
After backtracking for a total of six hours on the train, I arrived in charming Krakow mid-warm-sunny-afternoon and proceeded to spend the next two hours trying to figure out how to get myself, basically, down the street on the tram. After being pointed in a few different directions, I decided to just choose one, which also happened to be the wrong one, and I took a nice scenic tour of suburban Krakow in the complete opposite direction of where my hostel was located (Lost in Poland #2). By the time I settled in and heard the call of hunger it was evening and, undeterred from mounting hours spent in total geographical confusion, I set out on the unfamiliar streets with a map I couldn’t read and an appetite for some pierogi’s, which led me to a plate of pasta, which led me to a jazz bar, which led me to a local Polish pub, which led me to meeting a great crew of Polish-American Med students, which led me to staying out late, which led me to trying to find my way home, again, without a clue. “Do you know where you are going?,” my new friends asked as we were parting ways. “Sure, sure, sure I do, no problem, I am right down the street.” Well, I was partly correct, I was right down
a street, just not that street, but, at 4:00 a.m and a few beers down, all the streets looked the same and when I realized I had given my email to someone on the precise piece of paper with the hostel address and phone number on it, my mind started to register panic (Lost in Poland #3). Channeling my inner compass (only, and I mean ONLY, at moments of distress), I somehow found my way after a frantic this-park-bench-will-do hour and a half chicken walk around town, where upon finally reaching my bed and thanking God, I could almost hear my sister-in-law, Jessica, poking fun that I wouldn’t be able to “find my way out of a paper bag with an arrow pointed up.” To which I would completely agree and how I have made it from New York to Krakow, via Cairo, Amman, Damascus, Beirut, Tel Aviv, Istanbul, Sofia, Athens, Tirana, Budva, Dubrovnik, Sarajevo, Budapest, and Brno without a map or the ability to read one baffles me still.
Recovering from my directional deficiencies of the previous day, I ventured out into the city determined to conquer it’s layout while letting the sights, sounds and the much welcomed sun start to synthesize within me; walking the cobbled streets toward the main square, castle and church hopping along the way, I could smell the roasting meat from some of the many Kebab stands mixed with the scent of horses that ride tourists in their carriages. The main square, which beats like a heart for Krakow, is like others in Europe with beautiful and historic buildings with large windows, ornate surfaces and hidden courtyards housing living quarters and shops arranged around a pedestrian square brimming with outdoor cafes, perhaps a church and a few statues, and has small alley-like side streets with restaurants, antique shops, galleries and pubs branching of it’s center like arteries. At certain times, such as sunrise or late night, when the square and side streets are quiet and void of people it’s easy to imagine yourself romantically roaming the streets of Old Europe in a long embroidered silk dress as hooves clank against the cobblestones, but in the height of the day, when the Benetton, Armani and H&M stores are in full swing it is more difficult to access this sentiment; even history preservation is vulnerable to the attacks of mass consumerism.
Along with visiting the Czartoyski Museum, which houses works by Da Vinci and Rembrandt, and being invited to join my new friend for what I labeled a “Kuba Saturday Special”, which starts at the symphony, makes it’s way to an authentic Polish restaurant to dine on some pierogi’s and pork, heads to a local brewery to meet friends and sample some very good beer, and continues on to a dance club, I also had the opportunity to explore, learn more about and contemplate an extraordinarily bleak time in the world’s history with a trip to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
I think this experience deserves it’s own post and so, I will try my best to navigate there without getting lost…..

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