To Krakow - Krakow to Salzburg 1999 - CycleBlaze

August 21, 1999 to August 22, 1999

To Krakow

 Jon and Ellen Clay arrived shortly after 7 too shuttle us to the airport for our 10:40 flight to Keakow.  We’d spent dinner with them the night before at the Oyster Bar and transferred out bike rack to their car, so John could Mount it on their Outback to save some time.  This is the first year since our tour to New Zealand that we’ve been helped to the airport by someone other than Lynn Rankin or the Hersheys.  When we return at the end of the tour, a young programmer on my team,  Tom Hamlin, will pick us up when we arrive at 10:30 Sunday night.

The flight went smoothly without notable incidents.  Departures have become fairly routine for us now - over the years we’ve ironed out the wrinkles in our system for bike disassembly, packaging, and check-in.  With plenty of time to spare, we breakfasted on pastries and coffee before boarding.

As Rachael finished off her mystery, I began on the first of the set of novels we’ve carefully hoarded for months for this trip.  We have a great set this year: The Magician’s Wife, by Brian Moore; Jack Maggs, by Peter Carey; memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden; and several others.

After an uneventful first leg and brief stopover in Cincinnati we departed on the overseas flight to Zurich.  Arriving there in mid morning, we were pleased to find that our baggage was checked through and we did not need to clear customs until Krakow.  Intermediate customs checks have always been at least an annoyance in the past, and we felt grateful to have been spared it this time.

The Zurich airport was packed, teeming with people of all races and nationalities.  It is badly under supplied with rest areas however, and people were draped out everywhere as they awaited their flights.

After a three hour layover we boarded a small prop engine plane for our final destination, arriving on schedule at about 3 PM.  Fortunately, this year the weather conditions are fine; and after resssembling our bikes, changing clothes, and converting a few travelers checks to zlotys (4 zt = 1 USD), we set off on the nine mile ride to our hotel.  As we prepared to leave, I was charmed to observe an older man, thrilled to be returning home, kiss the palm of his hand, press it to the ground, and proclaim ‘Poland’.

We were both surprised at how well we felt upon arrival this year, less fatigued and disoriented by the flight than usual.  And, we had little difficulty with the ride into the city.  Following the city map of Krakow I’d brought from home, we had no difficulty with navigation.  By 4:30, we were cycling along the boulevard on the bank of the Vistula, delighted by riverside tables crowded with old men playing chess, with the Wavel Castle ahead of us downriver in the background.  All signs were favorable for a wonderful stay in this famous city before departing southward for Budapest.

Leaving the Krakow airport. This was typical of our early overseas tours, when we would arrive with our bicycles in just a cardboard box, assemble them there, and start biking.
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Chess players along the Vistula.
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Our hotel, the Pollera, is a majestic old structure at the north end of the old city, near the Florian Gate.  It’s well located on a fairly quiet cobblestone street about three blocks from Rynek Główny, Krakow’s huge central square.  In the evening feom our room we listened to the clopping of a horse-drawn shay passing below our window.  Our room was spacious, clean, and marred only by the fact that it has two single beds - nearly standard fare in much of Central Europe, it seems.

After checking into our room we embarked on our first exploration of the city.  We were both surprised to have the energy and enthusiasm for this - it’s highly unusual for the first day of our tours.  We walked to the Rynek, an immense eight block square at the heart of the old city.  It has several major and beautiful monuments, including the famous Saint Mary’s Cathedral (unfortunately shrouded in scaffolding (and the tower from the former city hall.  The rest of the square is lines with fine old buildings and newer commercial construction.  The square itself is blanketed with throngs of vendors, tourists, and booths for a variety of wares and fares - food and crafts of course predominated.  One area was dense with pigeons, giving it a mildly Venetian atmosphere.  

In the Rynek Główny, the huge public square at the heart of old Krakow.
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In the Rynek Główny. The square has been honored by the Project for Public Places as the best public space in Europe. I have no doubt that Krakow is vastly changed over the last 20 years, when Poland had emerged from the iron curtain only eight years earlier; but I’d love to see it again, and in better health this time.
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On the whole, Krakow has a feeling quite similar to Prague, except at a lower economic scale.  The architectural feel is similar, but less well maintained; and the crowds are are less well dressed, and fairly frequently one is entreated by the unfortunate.  Even here in the forefront of Poland’s recovery from the communist era it is readily apparent that this society is far behind its neighbors in Hungary and the Czech Republic.

For dinner we selected an assortment of items from various stalls: roasted ears of corn, polish sausages and hazelnuts.  Rachael also had a shashlek (?) a steamed meat and vegetable roast with rice.  It was tasty, even after watching the cook flatten it against the skillet with the palm of her hand.

By the time we finished, we were ready to return to our room and collapse; and I had about concluded that I was ill.  I had begun experiencing a very mild sore throat over the ocean, but had attributed it to the stress of the flight.  Now though, I felt mildly feverish and nauseated.

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