Friday, January 26, 2018

Krakow- our foray into the East

The idea of a last-minute trip to Poland was born when we realized that Nice-Warsaw flights were more than affordable. 

When the next day David texted me and confirmed he was able to take off from work, I had the whole trip planned in an hour. Flights, hotels, tours and a concert all researched and booked. I think I'm getting good at this whole Europe trip-planning thing.

Although we felt like we were savvy travelers, we weren't feeling so confident after landing in Poland. After only a few minutes on Polish soil, we were majorly cheated by the taxi driver on the way to our hotel. Since it was already past midnight (thanks to a delayed flight), we were mostly just relieved to be in our bed and able to rest up for the sightseeing to come. 

More mishaps occurred the next day trying to take the bus to the train station and a train to Krakow. We were eventually successful but accidentally ended up on the slow train. It was cheaper, but took twice as long as we were planning on.

It ended up being kind of fun to be on an old-timey train and watch the snow fall outside the big window for a few hours. We had our own compartment (think Hogwarts Express style). The bummer was that we had less time to explore Krakow before it got dark. 

Our first stop was Rynek Glowny, the main square. There were beautiful and interesting buildings on all sides! It reminded me a lot of Prague.

We also walked around the Wawel Castle grounds and caught a glimpse of the Vistula River.

On the way over to our Airbnb we stopped inside St. Mary's church on the main square. There were no pictures allowed inside, so I found this one online. We loved the colorful interior.

Speaking of our Airbnb, for only $20/night we got an apartment twice as big as our own in Cannes. It was right across the street from the train station and a huge mall. We're big fans of Eastern Europe prices.

Our second full day in Poland was mostly spent visiting Auschwitz. That will be a post all on its own. At night we went to a Chopin piano concert and healed a little bit from all we'd seen during the day.

I wanted to see Krakow's Jewish Quarter before leaving, so on our last day we headed over to the Kazimierz neighborhood. In the Middle Ages, Kazimierz was the only area where Jews were allowed to live. It remained the center of Jewish life in Krakow until WWII. 65,000 of Krakow's 70,000 Jews died in the Holocaust.

This neighborhood was neglected during the Communist era. It was revitalized in the 90s, in part thanks to the movie Schindler's List. Many scenes in the movie were filmed here. Some Jews have since come back and there are several Jewish restaurants, bookstores, businesses, etc. We visited the Remuh Synagogue and cemetery, first built in the 1500s.

Our last tourist stop was St. Francis church. Once again, we loved the fact that Polish churches are colorful. 

The crèche/nativity was still up and we liked that too. The French like to pretend Jesus was born in a Provençal village (French nativities usually consist of entire Provence peasant village) and the Poles like to pretend Jesus was born in a shiny rainbow castle. It's definitely not a stable but I like their style.

We enjoyed the snow and sites on our last walk through Krakow. I was in heaven seeing the snow.

After that last bit of sightseeing we headed back to Warsaw to catch our flight. We had an extra hour to kill and tried to go see a bit of downtown Warsaw. We were unsuccessful in figuring out how to get there (the old town isn't close to the train station).

It turns out that Polish is an incredibly complicated language. I normally hate traveling somewhere without at least knowing the bare minimum basics in the local language. I have an ear for languages and can normally pick up on a few words by studying beforehand and listening once I'm there.

NOT in Polish hahahaha. I tried to do some Duolingo the week prior. We tried to ask some Polish people to teach us how to say hello/goodbye/thank-you/etc. Nothing worked. 

Every time someone said a Polish word, it just sounded like mush. I could not repeat the sounds they made for the life of me. Including Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish, and more... Polish is the most confusing language I've come across.

To make things harder, most Poles did not have a high level of English. Older people spoke as much English as I speak Polish. I'm guessing this is due to the whole Eastern Bloc thing. Young people mostly spoke English like French people speak English. That is to say... not well. 

It's not an issue for me in France because I speak French, but it did make things complicated for us in Poland. We had to do our best to figure things out on our own!

Instead of getting to sightsee, we had extra time to eat at the airport. I was extremely entertained to find "real Wisconsin cheddar cheese" in Warsaw of all places. Wisconsin cheese=world renowned. So proud.

P.S. I would like to pay tribute to the "Pony Incident" episode of Seinfeld because that was on my mind the whole time I was there. Why would anyone move to a non-pony country when you could live in Poland?

Watch this to understand.


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