Our study abroad program, AIFS, offered us a trip to Krakow, Poland. I was the only one of my group of friends to sign up, so I had to board a plane alone, and hope to make new friends on my journey (or else just tour by myself).
I spent most of that first day getting to Krakow, by myself. AIFS picked us up in a coach to take us to the airport, but once there, I was on my own. Thankfully the plane ride is only about two hours, and when we got on the coach in Krakow to take us to our hotel, my roomie (for this trip only) Devon, chose to sit with me on the bus.
It was literally the beginning of a beautiful friendship, some of which you will see in these next few blog entries.
One of the first things I learned about Krakow is that it is pronounced “Krakov”, not “Kra-cow”.
We got to our hotel in the evening, around 8:30 pm. We checked in, shared excitement on how big our room was (for a European hotel) and then headed out to find food.
We walked around the Market Square, which is a famous Krakow site, and is essentially the center of the city.
Our AIFS leader, Sian, chose to eat with us, and we found this whole-in-the-wall Polish place called Perogies. I found some tasty cheese and potato dumplings. After we stuffed our faces with as many dumplings as we could, we realized how utterly exhausted we were, so back to the hotel it was.
Of course Devon and I ended up staying up late chatting, and watching super weird Polish tv. Almost every channel had an American show or movie on, but rather than use subtitles, or dub it with Polish actors, one man read for each character in a completely monotone voice. So weird and I was sad for the TV watching Polish people.
The next morning we embarked on a walking tour of the city, with a Polish guide. We started by walking 20 minutes to the famous Jewish quarter, Kazimierz.
When Spielberg came to Krakow to film Schindler’s List (Oskar Schindler lived and worked in Krakow, I even visited his famous factory later) he used the Jewish Quarter for many scenes in the movie. We learned a lot about the Nazi occupation of Krakow during World War II, and how the Jewish people were constantly being uprooted and moved around, until they finally were sent to a ghetto away from town (the unluckiest, of course, ending up in Auschwitz).
It is important to note how cold it was in Poland. It was in the high 30s (Fahrenheit). Every day I wore thermals under my jeans, two pairs of socks (one super thick pair and one regular pair), a long sleeve thermal shirt, a regular long sleeve shirt, a t shirt, a sweatshirt, and my thick zip up hoodie, a scarf, and gloves, and I was still freezing. There was no being warm, or even all that comfortable, while outside in Poland. Whenever our guide would stop for too long at one spot, we would all be hopping around whining about wanting to keep moving.
It was in the Jewish Quarter that I remembered it was my birthday. I heard some girls talking about how it was 11-11-11 and it clicked in my brain. Happy birthday me.
After the Jewish Quarter, our guide took us the famous castle in Krakow, Wawel.
Krakow has many legends about its history, and one of the most famous is that of the Wawel dragon. Basically, hundreds of years ago a dragon was terrifying the population of Krakow. He was fond of eating young women (virgins), but when he couldn’t find any, he would eat the livestock of the farmers. The King offered the Princess’s hand to whoever could slay the dragon. Naturally many men tried and failed. Finally a cobbler decided to try. He stitched up a bunch of fake sheep, filled with sulfur. The dragon swooped down, ate the sheep, and then became increasingly uncomfortable with the burning in his belly. He went down to their local river and drank and drank and drank, trying to stop the burning, until he finally drank so much he burst. The cobbler was too humble to marry a princess, so instead asked the King for the dragon hide so that he could make shoes. Our guide says its still possible to find shoes made from dragon hide. The cathedral next to the castle also has bones hanging outside of it that are supposed to be the bones of the dragon.
There are a lot of dragons all over Krakow as a result of this legend, they are in the shops, on the signs, displayed as statues.
Our guide took us into the cathedral.
We eventually got to climb up the steep and numerous stairs until we reached the bell tower. In addition to the giant bell, it offered some great views.
She told us that the bell is so large that it requires at least ten men to ring it.
She also said that people like to touch the bell for good luck. Before she let us touch it though, she let us know that if we touch it with our right hand (which is the hand the Polish wear their wedding rings on) then we were destined to get married soon. If we touch the bell with our left, then we are simply asking for good luck. Immediately everyone rushed at the bell with their left hands. It was pretty funny.
After the castle, we went back to the Market Square, and our guide told us of another legend involving Saint Mary’s.
Apparently Krakow was being invaded by the Tartars, and a guard high up in the tower saw the approaching army. He grabbed his trumpet and started playing a warning call, which enabled the town to defend itself. Unfortunately for the trumpeter, he was found dead with an arrow through his throat. Today a sentry plays a song, every hour on the hour, in the square. He abruptly stops in the middle of the song to represent when that trumpeter was shot so long ago. It is really cool to hear, and everyone in the square stops what they are doing while the trumpeter plays. (See the guy in the window? So cool).
Our guide left us after that. Devon and I were starving, so we opted for a warm restaurant. We both got hot chocolate (it would be the first of many) and I was intriqued by the straw, as I have never drank hot chocolate out of one before.
It was independence day so that night they had a big sing along in the square. Devon and I joined in for a while, and tried our best to sing along in Polish (the words were projected on the screen). We got pretty cold though and decided to head back. At the end of this entry is a video I took of it. It is pretty cool.
We were a bit hungry again, so we ended up going to the hotel restaurant. I got more hot cocoa, and some fried mushrooms.
We then went back to our room to sample the various kinds of Polish candy (mostly chocolate) we bought. We learned they are pretty fond of putting wafers in their chocolate, as every chocolate bar we got had this.
We also decided to make art out of the gummies we bought.
The next day would be our trip to Auschwitz.