Beautiful Old Town
in Krakow, Poland on 29th August, 2013


We woke up early to catch a train from Warsaw down to Krakow. At the train station we bought some breakfast. The coffee machine was self-serving but there was an error message in Polish coming up on the screen. The clerk behind the counter was barking instructions to me in Polish as I looked at her with a blank look in my eyes. She eventually came over, emptied out all the old coffee grinds and I was the owner of a hot cup of coffee.

People in Poland did a lot of questioning on the streets and in trains. In Estonia and a lot of other countries I've been too, no one talks to strangers on the street. Here everyone seem to have some questions on their mind. Every time someone would ask 'Is this the platform to Krakow?' or 'Where is the restaurant car?' they'd do so in Polish. I'd reply in English explaining I don't know what they just asked and 50% of the time they'd say it didn't matter.

The train ride down wasn't as pleasant as it could be. We had two German women in the carriage. One was giving a big speech to other other one for 80% of the trip; she must really like the sound of her own voice. Next to them were two Spaniards who spoke about everything as if they'd been deeply betrayed. The Spanish woman kept walking over my legs in and out of the carriage every ten minutes. The forest surrounding the track outside made it hard to see anything other than blurry trees. I put my headphones on and read a book off my iPad for most of the journey.

When we arrived in Krakow I was expecting another rundown Eastern European train station but the station lead us into a Western-looking, sizeable shopping mall. I felt like I was back in Canada for a moment. We exited the mall and into the path of a homeless man lying on the ground surrounded by the Police and a fellow homeless friends.

Walking around them we dropped our bags at the hotel. We expected to check in when we arrived but girl behind the counter said it was 11:29am and the room wasn't ready till 12:00pm. We took the 31-minute window of opportunity to eat lunch at a cafe two blocks down.

After lunch, we moved our bags into our room and set off walking around Krakow's Old Town. It was really pretty. The buildings didn't look as they do in Stockholm or Tallinn but they still had colourful and flat facades. There were a lot of grey-haired Tourists from Western Europe walking around. Most of the restaurants looked to sell spaghetti and used outdoor seating as their main attraction. I hate those sorts of places so we had to do a lot of hunting for anywhere more interesting.

We spent the latter half of the afternoon walking in parks which surround the Old Town. Along the way Triin was hugged by a man in a huge smurf costume. We found a Starbucks in the mall next to the train station in the afternoon and spent an hour reading on our iPad and iPhone and watching the other customers come and go. It was a pretty good place for people watching. There weren't a lot of people in the mall that didn't look like they were Polish.

The next morning I got up at 6:45am to take some photos. Every afternoon we were in Poland the sky would turn overcast and during the day and evenings the Old Towns has loads of pensioners walking around and blocking good shots. I made my way quickly from the top of the Old Town to the square in the middle. It was perfect. I only saw other photographers and a few workers here and there. The rising sun added a lot of saturation to the colourful buildings.

Afterword I went back to the hotel and took Triin for breakfast before heading to Wawel Castle. At the entrance to the castle there was a huge queue of people waiting for expensive-looking tickets. Triin waited in line while I went inside the castle walls to see how much we could see. I saw you could walk around outside all of the buildings for free and some of the buildings had dedicated ticket booths if you wanted to go inside. I went back and got Triin and we walked around the interior yards snapping photos and looking around without spending a cent.

Afterword we headed to a Gestapo museum which sits in a basement flat filled with cells. In each cell prisoners would be tortured and interrogated. When I was inside there I remembered the secret prisons that were uncovered a couple years back and are still in use today in Poland. In Estonia, memories of Soviet repression are recalled a lot and it shows with the human rights record and respect to rule of law and privacy. It's a shame that whoever signed off the modern-day secret prisons doesn't have such a strong long-term memory.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the Jewish part of the city and eating some alcoholic chocolates.

For dinner I found a Polish restaurant in a backyard in the Old Town. The waitress was nervous and laughed a lot. She didn't understand a lot of English and served me the wrong meal. I didn't raise it with her as she seemed nice and I wasn't sure I'd be able to communicate the error to anyone working there. In most places we visited people spoke pretty good English. This restaurant just happen to be the odd one out.

After dinner we walked around the Old Town Square a few times, watched some street performances and ate some ice cream.

The last day in Krakow we took a local bus out to the Salt mines. At the mines we walked down 50+ flights of stairs and then through 2.5KM of tunnels. They said there was over 200KM of tunnels which had been dug out over the past 6,000 years. It was like walking through an underground city. There were cathedrals, restaurants, restrooms, everything down there. The elevator back up was really cramped but only lasted about 60 seconds.

We headed back to the mall in the afternoon. Poland had pretty cheap prices on clothing so I bought Triin a couple things.

The train ride back to Warsaw was going pretty well to start. We had a quiet carriage full of young Poles working away on their laptops and hardly making a sound. One guy switched off the lights so it was easier to watch the sunset outside.

About 30 minutes into the ride I walked to the restaurant car and bought a beer which was served in a plastic cup. I went back to our carriage, sat it on a drink stand and it slipped and splashed all over the carriage. I apologised to everyone for the 'Zywiec Surprise' and quickly found some toilet paper in the bathroom next door to dry off everyone and the floor with. They were all pretty relaxed about it.

When we arrived in Warsaw I was still wet from being covered in beer. I'm not sure if anyone noticed through.

At Warsaw airport the next day I saw what must be the most depressing view ever, a couple hundred people queuing for Ryanair flights. I'm so glad I wasn't among them.


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