Published: June 27th 2009June 22nd 2009
It seems like every time I wake up, I have to write a blog. But the reality of the situation is that the days are flying by so fast I keep forgetting where we’re up to in the week. I promised I wouldn’t wait this long to write again, but circumstance would have it otherwise, and this time it wasn’t just me being a lazy bum. So without further ado, I bring to you…
Krakow To Zakap… Zacko… The Pretty Mountain Town
Leaping out of bed, fresh faced and full of life, we bounded into the spreading daylight with train tickets in hand bound for Krakow and another chapter in our World Tour of Poland.
Well… that’s what happened in my dreams just before the alarm went off, shattering the wonderful early morning silence. The morning of the 11th of June 2009 was always going to be an early start, and for those of you who know us, you know we’re not a huge fan of early starts. We dragged our sorry carcasses out of bed, hastily threw everything together and fell into our clothes, and were bundled out the door by an unusually-energetic Uncle Jacek. The train
was leaving the station at half past six, and we made it there with ten minutes to spare to my complete and utter disbelief. I thought my watch was broken.
After waving goodbye to Wujek , who wouldn’t chase the train Hollywood-style for us, we settled in to our train carriage, which was luckily unoccupied for the first leg of the trip. This was rather exciting for me - all the male morning noises could be made with gusto and we could keep the temperature at our personal setting. We read and talked, listened to iPods, all the usual things you do on a train. The countryside was blanketed in a nice layer of mist/fog, and belied the fact that the sun had been up for nearly three hours already.
We accrued a few passengers during the journey, one particular couple who waltzed in and immediately began to dictate the window-adjusting irrespective of the other 3 travelers in the compartment. If little lady covered herself up and looked mournful, the too-short-with-big-muscles boyfriend moved the window up an inch while we sweated. If it got too hot and princess started fanning herself, the window would be pulled back open
with a great show of upper arm muscles and challenging stares to the rest of the room. Spectacular action. As usual Aleks told me to behave, so I wasn’t allowed to overtly make fun of Stumpy and Wifey.
The rest of the journey went without a hitch, other passengers came and went, there was more reading and make-up application done, and five and three-quarter hours went rather quickly. I would like to point out that time really flies on trains - the country side is generally interesting enough and there’s far more room to stretch out than a plane or a car. So overall we were rather happy when we hit Krakow Central Station to Kasia and Kazik (Aleks’ cousin and her boyfriend) finding us on the platform. What a couple - their English is dynamite so it was a nice reprieve for both of us from getting Lost in Translation, and they were really happy to have both of us stay.
After we dumped our stuff at their place by way of a tram, we went back to the Stare Miasto (Old Town) area of Krakow, near the Florian Gate. We found a restaurant downstairs in one
of the main plaza buildings that looked like it was straight out of the 18th century. Huge velvet drapes, alabaster busts and gilded EVERYTHING… old wallpaper, ancient looking furniture, you name it. The funny thing was that it was built only a year and a half ago… They sure had me fooled. The place was called Babcia Malina, and it was here that I annihilated my first plate of Pierogi z Miesem i Kapusta for 11 złoty, matched with a nice half-litre of Zywiec beer. Um num num. Just can’t get enough of those Polish dumplings, even if they do have the taint of the mad Russians. Down the cobblestoned walkway we sauntered, past Tutti Frutti Hostel where Kasia recently worked, and into the main square of Krakow. It was there that I spied Kosciul Mariacki and nearly unhinged my jaw.
Here was my first taste of fully legitimate, non-bombed-and-rebuilt old school 14-15th Century architecture. By gee, by jingo, by crikey... to see that for the first time was just amazing… so tall and perfect in its structure. And so OLD! My bloody country’s society is half the age of a church. I was truly stumped. And that was
just the outside. It was a religious holiday in Poland on the 11th and obviously every Church from Krakow to the Baltic was stuffed to bursting with pious worshippers. But an important religious holiday wasn’t going to stop Nemo, no Sir! I barged my way in the front door like a typical filthy tourista and made a beeline for the “non-worship” section. You can see from the photos, avid readers, that place is out of this world. I took photos and a video, trying (in vain) to capture the scope of the interior.
The other three finally dragged me out of the Worship World Championships and off towards Wawel Castle, which was rumoured to be of the same calibre. Of course being Poland it was about this time that it started to rain, but we toughed it out under a giant umbrella next to a café. It didn’t stop for 25 minutes; nothing serious of course, but just enough to be a pain in the ass. As it subsided we made the walk up Wawel Hill and through the front gate that had a portcullis. A PORTCULLIS. And ivy growing all over the walls. The top of the hill
gives a beautiful view out over a river called the Wisła?! What the bloody hell was Poland thinking naming two Rivers (300km apart) the same name? (I was just told that this is in fact the same river - D’oh!).
We got into the castle grounds and decided that we would go have a look inside Katedral Wawela, leaving the inside of Wawel Castle itself for another day as it was a fair trek. I’m going to spare you the waxing lyrical about the inside of the Cathedral. I’m sure that you can see from the photos that I was told in no uncertain terms NOT to take inside the place. Just amazing. Catacombs and the actual sarcophagii of the Kings and Queens of Poland. There was so much marble in the place of so many different colours, so much bloody gold, so many amazing carvings of angels and the Madonna and Jesus… I reckon if there was any place for a teary-eyed epiphany this was it. To think that this was where the Kings and Queens of 13th Century Poland walked before I did was rather humbling for a Gunnie lad.
Then we went for the Bell
Tour. We got to see three of the biggest bells I have ever seen. We climbed the Tower of Wawel (HA!) by means of the very small and super ancient oak staircase, and were astounded by the first two bells we came across, 3000 and 5200kg respectively. That’s like five Dive Instructors’ egos worth of massive. The last bell at the top of the tower is known as Zygmunt’s Bell, and this big daddy with all its bits included weighed in at a grand total of… I’ll write it in words… Twelve Thousand Six Hundred Kilograms. Gawsh. I could stand inside it! At 2.4 metres in diameter, the thing is so loud it can be heard 30km away. I was terrified it was going to ring right next to me and kill me instantly, but I was then informed that it only rings on special occasions. Phew. See photos.
We also visited the infamous fire-breathing statue of Smok of Wawel - a gaudy statue of the dragon that, legend has it, ate a sheep full of sulphur and drank half the Wisla River to put out the fire.
The statue itself will breathe fire for you… IF you send
the statue an SMS. Naturally.
Once we were all Churched out for the day, we relegated ourselves to Kasia’s apartment and I had a bit of a nana nap. We then decided we were going to go out for the evening to the hostel and a few nightclubs, so we rugged up and bailed out, first going to the hostel and meeting Kasia’s mate, Dave. It just goes to show that even in Poland you can find someone who has an Aussie mate called Dave. Dave is one of those people that doesn’t look at all like he could be a party starter or a Don Juan, but in country away from home he has established himself as both. Dave is from Perth, is 22, has a bad moustache, and his girlfriend Ania (a little Polish stunner, studying Law at University) was having her birthday party at the hostel where Dave also works as “Party Manager”.
Interesting affair, that Tutti Frutti; there was all sorts of characters there as you usually find at the #1 Party Hostel in Krakow. Plenty of visa-ignoring Aussies, Poms, Kiwis, some Polish girls wearing bugger all clothes for the temperature outside. They all
sang “Sto Lat” (like Polish Happy Birthday) to Ania. My God, the sound of backpackers singing that song will haunt me forever. After the Party Manager FINALLY got his shit together, we went to Ministry Nightclub, complete with furry walls and Communist paint scheme. We met an interesting lad called Clint, from Flaw-Rida, who told us about the interesting points of capsizing a vessel while solo in bad weather, and teaching Steve Vai’s kid to play guitar. It was quite nice to meet an American that was almost as cool as Sean. After that conversation, we were also going to go onto Frantic (an all-white nightclub), but it was decided that it was crash time at 1am. Piffle.
Next day it was go-time again after an 11am start, and we rolled back into town to make a fleeting visit of Sukiennice (Cloth Hall) in Krakow’s Main Square, which was closed the day before. Here was a slew of little stalls where the locals flogged their wares, from carved chess sets and hand-made medieval weapons to furs and cheeses. It was just amazing what was there, I really enjoyed the look through. But no time was to be wasted, because
we had to get to Zakopane. So off to the bus station we bolted, and that was the end of Krakow, for the moment anyway.
In the next installment, I’ll cover the happenings of Zako, the encounters with the Gorale (the Mountain Folk of the ranges), and dirty, dirty smoked string-cheese.
There are more photos below