Thursday, December 4, 2008


Following the joy of apartment living in St Petersburg, we organised a 2 bedroom apartment in Krakow just five minutes walk north of the Old Town area. We had news in English for the first time in weeks, and were able to watch the painfully uninformative coverage of the Mumbai siege as it unfolded. And an indescribably awful Learn English channel with Todd from Neighbours: "Is there floppy disc with the computer? Yes, there is a floppy disc with the computer." 'Floppy disc' ... an essential word for aspiring English speakers in 2008.
The Christmas markets opened in the main square (Rynek Glowny) while we were there, and the cheap but very drinkable mulled wine -- served by people sitting inside over-sized barrels -- was an instant hit. That stuff really sneaks up on you, but it's the quickest way to get your toes warm from the inside I've found. I ate pierogi six nights running. Too many dumplings are never enough. I loved Krakow. Having 7 nights in one place was bliss and what a beautiful place to spend them. The castle and old town square are overwhelmingly charming, but the 'dragon' of Wawel was more hilarious than intimidating, intermittently burping blasts of flame into the sky.
Aside from drinking mulled wine, feasting on dumplings and chuckling at the dragon, Krakow was the base for a few day trips.
My Grandma, who passed away about this time last year, came from a town called Kielce, 3 hours north of Krakow, before she was taken to Germany to work for a family during the war (she was 16). A few years ago, I lived in the Sydney suburb of Erskineville. G-ma worked in a factory in Erskinville when she was not much older than me at the time. While I lived there, I briefly worked at the local pub and the old punters propping up the bar remembered the immigrant women from the factory well. It amused me, in an uncomfortable way, that these same men who leered at me after a few too many schooners of Toohey's had possibly cast their eyes over my Grandma, two generations ago. We walked the same streets in Sydney without ever having lived there at the same time, and now also Kielce. There was a museum and cathedral to explore, and not a great deal else, but in the main park there was a 'mini zoo' with a dozen bizarre types of peafowl, unlike any I'd ever seen (except the peacock, of which I've been a fan for some time).

It was a harrowing day trudging through icy mud puddles and a constant, cold drizzle at Auschwitz and Birkenau (below). In one hall way, rows and rows of photographs with arrival and death dates under them were, en mass, a sickening thing to behold. Two months was average. And all those shoes. Piles and piles of shoes. As we left, a devastating sunset finished the day.
Salt Mines
Down as far as 134 meters below ground level, the salt mines are amazing. Our guide was a quirky old bird with a string of pre-rehearsed gags ... one of the (salt) sculptures shows the Seven Dwarfs working away, but Snow White was absent because women didn't work in the mines. The cathedral was the most spectacular part, with everything, we were told, made entirely of salt. Even the chandeliers! (Well, if you don't count the light bulbs, wooden frame, string and presumably electrical wiring). The wall relief carvings were incredible. There was, of course, a large statue of John Paul II (who appears where ever possible in Poland), which I tried to get Kat to lick for a photo, but she wouldn't play.

I spent a long afternoon drawing teapots and lovely objects in the Decorative Arts rooms at the fantastic art gallery.

Flea markets, Krakow
See the angry man staring at me, in the middle? Zoom in, look at the hate in his eyes. A nano-second after this shot, he stared screaming at me, and I mean really raging, in Polish. I don't know what he said but the woman in front of me actually clutched her hands to her heart and gasped, and everyone backed away around me. A curse, perhaps? No more photographs from the flea markets.


An said...

If hungry in Budapest, get your fill of Fank [pronounced: Faahnk] and/or Langos [pron. Laahngosh]- traditional Hungarian deep-fried batter eaten with cream as a "snack".
(nb. must drink red wine or coffee with it.)
Possibly a much pleasant experience than some of the other morsels that i see you've been sampling.

Zoe said...

I got right into some Langos at the Christmas markets, and yes, it was accompanied by some mulled wine. I'm also a big fan of goose and deer, which are on the menu everywhere. Sorry, bambi.