Followers, I’m so sorry I’ve been slacking in the blog posting. I know people wrote and wonder where the commentary was to the pictures, so here is my attempt to explain about the last 3 weeks of my time in Krakow. I have been busy, I’ll say that much.
The first pictures are of the huge park right in front of our hotel. I usually try to run everyday and sometimes I decide just to run around the park because I know two times is 5 miles….but let’s be honest, more often than not I skip out on the second loop and just go for the 2.5. However, that is all backed up with a lot of walking. Which is needed because we eat all the time and are drinking full flavored beer. Randomly one day I was running and all the sudden a helicopter landed right in the park. Just another random thing to happen in Poland.
Each year Krakow hosts a band for a HUGE free concert right on the river next to the Wawel Castle. This year happened to be Wyclef, who was awesome. The stage is set up across the river and there is actually not spectators on that side of the river. Everyone is one the other side, covering the banks of the river, the front of the Wawel and all along a nearby bridge. It was amazing. After the concert they have a huge fireworks show. These blow ours out of the water. It was like watching the grand finale for 20 minutes straight. The summer in Poland is known for music festivals and they are a good time.
The pictures of me in medieval get up is from the National Museum of Krakow. We actually live two feet away from this building. It was actually a very bizarre museum, but Poland does have a lot of interactive exhibits. They are very into special effects and participatory tours and exhibits. I am sure my Mom is dying thinking about the amount of germs on those things. The rest of the museum was not very exciting. Maybe if I had someone there with more knowledge of what exactly I was looking at it would be more exciting.
The communist tour was by far my favorite thing I’ve done in Krakow so far. In Krakow, there is an area known as Nowa Huta. This was a city planned by Stalin to be the perfect worker’s paradise. The city is now one of the most dangerous areas in Krakow. To start the tour we were picked up by Peter. He’s about 25 and a student. Giving the communist tours is his summer job. We did the deluxe package which meant that we were picked up in an original Trabant. These cars are made of plastic and as Peter said, would crush like a box if we were hit. This apparently didn’t concern him however, because his driving was quite freaky. Worst than driving with me on a bad day. But thankfully he reassured us by saying he got in a car accident last week. Not sure he should be mentioning that to his passengers/customers, but Peter was what we referred to as an oversharer. By the time we arrived in Nowa Huta we knew that his father had left his mother a year ago for a Thai masseuse that had worked for his brother. That didn’t stop him from recommending his Dad and new Thai mistress’s new Thai restaurant.
We first stopped at the only restaurant back during communist times and the oldest in Nowa Huta. The Communist couldn’t afford to eat out, so this restaurant was for the “more equal” officers who could afford to eat here. We spent awhile here learning about the history of the planned city. We learned that the steel plant was were all the workers worked and that they all lived in apartments of the exact same size. It didn’t matter the size of the family. The steel factory buildings were built to look like buildings that would be in Italy because this was paradise after all. We went to an apartment set up as it would be during the Communist times. Many families had a machine in the bathroom where they would make their own vodka. That would be why there is a picture of us taking a vodka shot in the apartment…with no chaser because of course they had no juice. After about 20 minutes I finally recovered from that. Later we were supposed to go to the Milky Bar, which are restaurants that are subsidized by the government. In the past they used to be subsidized so “less equal” citizens could afford to go out to dinner and now they still are for the poor and students. However, Peter was very flustered and talked too long, so we actually got to the Milky Bar and it was closed for the day. Instead we had to go back to the restaurant and eat dinner. To end the tour, Peter took us to a parking lot to practice our driving skills on the Trabant. The stick shift is next to the steering wheel which made it interesting to drive.
Later that night we went to the Jewish District were the Jewish Festival was taking place. There was an awesome band from Israel on stage and tons of traditional Jewish food cooking. We ate a second dinner (common here while traveling), which was amazing. Couldn’t tell you anything about what it was though. The Jewish District is a new up and coming area. My favorite place to go out.
The next day we toured the Wawel Castle. It literally had been raining for the last couple days and this would last all the next week when Kelli Briggs was visiting. The Castle was interesting. We went to the Royal Apartments, one of the Towers, and the Dungeon. Later that day, Kelli arrived.
Kelli fit right into the program because she came at the same time as other students who were only doing the last three weeks. Everyone thought she was just another person in our program. I had gotten a new roommate (thank the lord) and also had another person I knew from my law school class arrived. I took Kelli out to a traditional polish meal the first night. This entails a basement restaurant with Zurek soup and perigoes. I then took her out to the Jewish District.
Kelli and I decide it would be a great idea to go on the Zyweic’s brewery tour. I used the same company and low and behold we had another personal tour guide by the name of Peter. Starting to feel like they just use that name to avoid our confusion at their Polish names. The Zyweic’s brewery was about 2 hours outside of Krakow. Peter was already 15 minutes late when he arrived. He immediately insisted he had to smoke a cigarette because he was really stressed. The first our of driving was terrifying, but standard for Poland. Then we come to a closed road and Peter starts freaking out. This is the only way he knows how to get to Zyweic and the road is closed. Peter jumps out of the car, sprints to a construction crew member and gets different directions. We are then reversing on a two lane highway and turn onto a road that barely even fit our van. Peter is now putting the pedal to the medal because we are about to miss the last scheduled appointment of the day. I have my head between my legs, freaking out, and Peter assures me he is a race car driver so it’s fine. Meanwhile we are climbing up the steepest mountain I have ever driven on, just to go FLYING down the other side. Kelli and I finally asked if he’d done this tour before. No he says, this is the first time in tour years anyone has requested this tour. Of course, Kelli and I just look at each other and say oh boy. So we get to the tour and I don’t even know if I can explain this experience. We never actually saw the brewery. The brewery tour here consisted of a very nice museum. However, this is not your average museum. Here you go into a dark room, which is supposed to be a time machine, the floor beings to shake and there is literally a woman counting down to the year the brewery was formed. You walk out into this place that is decorated like the 1800’s. There is shops and over speakers there is the noise of how the city would said. The whole tour is this weird. At one point we were bowling and at another Kelli and I were in a room where there was a tv on the ceiling with a video trying to simulate being in a World War II bombing. It was such an experience though. We loved Peter. He was our age and it was fun that he had never been on the tour either. The whole tour was in Polish, so thank god we had him to translate some things into English. Peter loved us too. On the way home we even stopped at a miniature monuments park. The tour was 8 hours long! Crazy. Such a fun experience though.
The next day Kelli and I left for Zakopane. It is there resort town in Poland that has a ski area in the winter. The Tetra Mountain range is there. Kelli and I found the bus to get there ourselves and rode the two hours there. I had the grand idea of following the map and walking to our hotel. About an hour and a half later and a broke piece of luggage we made it there. The next day we decided to go check out the main mountain that is 2,000 meters, 6,500 feet tall. There is a cable car that Polish people take up and walk down the mountain. Both Kelli and me are a tad exhausted and we see that the line for this cable car is about 300 people deep. That’s just not going to work for Kelli and I. So we were like, why don’t we just hike around a little. We at this point have no idea how tall this mountain is or where the trail we just start walking on leads to. The first hour was great, we feel great for hiking and being productive, but all the sudden it starts to get steep. We come to about the half way point and I am determined now to get to where the cable car ends. After an hour and a half and literally walking straight uphill we arrive at the very peak of the mountain. Just stunning views. It was so worth it, but Kelli and I had not prepared for a 3 hours hike like this. Neither of us had eaten, we had no water the whole way, and were not prepared at all for rain. Thank goodness it literally started raining the second we got to the top. It was another experience where Kelli and me just look at each other and laugh. Only in Poland. And yes, we did take that cable car down and I was totally freaked the entire way.
That night we had an amazing dinner with the rest of the program. We got a platter for eight full of every kind of meat imaginable. In addition we got mass amounts of the best cheese around. It’s called mountain cheese and it comes from the Zakopane area. I would recommend it, but you’d have to come to Poland for it because they don’t sell it in American. Zakopane was a great place. I will always remember that hike and the meat factory meal. Delicious.
This weekend is Warsaw, the capital. That’s all for now….one week and one final left. And sorry for the typos and grammar errors. I don’t feel like editing this:)