Sunday, 6 April 2008

Czy mówisz po angielsku? (Do you speak English?)

Fortunately for us, most of the people we ran into in Krakow did – thank goodness, because for foreigners, Polish looks a lot like someone hiffed the Scrabble letters around and decided on the most confusing combinations!

Our first impression of the city was that it looked much like a former communist Eastern European place might look – quite boxy and functional, and a bit brusque. From the air, there are lots (and I mean streets upon streets upon streets) of unloved looking apartment blocks, but the train, which was square and aged, but toasty warm and comfy, into town also went through quite a bit of rural land, with some houses that wouldn’t have been out of place in NZ.
Once we arrived at the train station, the underground concourse was a fast and furious introduction to Poland – there is very little in the way of English signage, lots of busy locals in a hurry and wizened old people selling delicious bread rings or folk cheeses every few metres – they’re on virtually every corner, and cheap as…mmmmmm.
Our first stop was Rynek Glowny, the biggest market square in Europe, at 40,000m2. There quite a few rather cool buildings there – the gothic Kościół Mariacki (St Mary’s Basilica) which was just stunning, with a very ornate gilt altarpiece, which we took lots of photos of. It also has two huge brick towers, the taller of which has a bugle playing a trumpet signal every hour on the hour, which stops in mid-stream to commemorate a 13thC player who was shot whilst sounding the trumpet alarm when the Mongols invaded the city – now that’s history.
The photos are at the bottom, so if you want to skip our rambling/lecture, scroll down...
The square also has the Sukiennice (Cloth Hall) market, which was packed to the rafters with all sorts, although some of the stall holders were, ahh, abrupt… although we supposed that was just the manner of people in this part of the world.
We spent quite a bit of time eating – Polish food is awesome, and pretty cheap… my highlight would have to be the sundae from a ‘cocktail bar’, which is actually an icecream shop – how’s that for confusing?!
We saw a LOT of churches, there seems to be one in virtually place you look, and we visited most of them – methinks Kent has had about all the religious experiences he really wants now! Poland is largely Catholic, and the home of John Paul II, there are photos, posters, bunches of flowers dedicated to him and monuments celebrating him all over Krakow, it was lovely to see that the city’s Catholics are still so devoted to him.
We managed a whopping 13 hours sleep on our first night – so, not surprisingly, we were full of beans for Saturday, where we visited Kazimierz (the Jewish Quarter). Alas, I hadn’t really thought it through… as the synagogues were closed to visitors for the Shabbat – bad luck, for us, especially as the only way into the Old Jewish cemetery was through one of them… but we did climb up high to see over the walls into the New Jewish Cemetary – which was a bit of a reality check – the Nazis destroyed it during their occupation in WWII, but it was rebuilt in 1957, with a monument and some walls made of smashed bits of the headstones from the original site, I found it quite moving as most war-type things don’t feel especially real when you’re from the other side of the world, but this did.
We wandered into a market in a random square in Kazimierz, featuring china bearing the swastika, and some of the registration cards carried by the Jews during the war – nothing like seeing history to make it even more real.
We were hoping to take a bit of a cruise on the River Wisla, but for reasons unknown to us, the boats were moored and not running – grrr.
Next stop was Wawel Hill, home of a Royal Castle and Cathedral, - wikipedia tells me it has been inhabited since about 100 000BC – although the buildings there now only(!) date back to the 11th or 12th C – and featured Kent and Eryn being kicked out of the Palace courtyard by a very angry Secret Service guy – there was some kind of diplomat who turned up unannounced while we were looking at the Royal Armoury and Treasury, this was somehow our fault and we had to make a speedy exit out a side door, being berated in Polish – great international relations!
It was then on to more churches – although I relented and suggested photos of the outside would be okay.
Click on the photo below for the whole album:

We also managed, after a few misfired conversations, to find a Polish copy of Asterix - at this rate he may need his own seat on the plane home at the end of our OE!
The final chapter involved a bit of a delay at the airport – thanks to snow closing the runway at Gatwick…Luckily the airline waited to tell us about it until we were on the plane, so we got to sit in the stifling heat with no air conditioning… coincidentally, we bought a chess set at the market, so we had a game (which Kent won, I was graceful in defeat, naturally) to kill some time. For future reference, it’s quite hard to keep the pieces upright during takeoff… although it was only my King, and Kent’s King and Queen, so it was pretty much over! The landing made the flight though, with breathtaking views of Kent (the county, not the boyfriend) covered in snow – I should be used to it by now, but you have to admit, there’s just something quite magical about snow, and I don’t think it matters how old you are, it’s just pretty!
Ooops – that was rather longer than I meant… hope you’re still awake!
Kent & Eryn x

No comments: