The Trumpeter: Krakow: like, Hotel California: I could check in; but can never leave. - Lookin For John Fairweather - CycleBlaze

October 13, 2013

The Trumpeter: Krakow: like, Hotel California: I could check in; but can never leave.

Here I am on Sunday afternoon hanging out, people watching in Kazimier, Krakow's Jewish quarter, while scribbling away. Problem is when I'm reading it again, there's little that could be used for this journal.

Yesterday evening for example: the memory is blurred as to what happened later. You see a big group of us travellers went on an organized pub-crawl which involved a lot of vodka-shots. I wouldn't normally drink vodka but its the drink in Poland and all points further east and when in Roman; though, I promise I won't be doing it again. I remember being approached by a woman called Magdalene in a arcove on the way to the toilets. I had made eyecontact with this girl across the crowed bar earlier because she looked nice.

"Oh you're so skinny!" she said, tickling me through my tee-shirt as we embraced. "Come and talk to me and my friends" she led me by the hand....

... I'm not saying anything more than she's nice and is a mature student studying hotel management and cycles to class: the cycling came up when I told her what Is doing: her bike is a sit-up one-speed dutchbike.

The hostel I'm staying at has been a meeting place with other travellers. There's a cool Swede called Jonas. A bit of an IT-entrepreneur, he worked in New York for a year and now co-owns an online company in which he can travel and operate wherever in the world he is. Only twenty-three years old, he created his first website when he was eight. He has a funny Youtube video of himself being interviewed about himself in which he says "......mainly I like to be kind to everybody. But sometimes I think I would like to be mean just to see what that would feel like....."

Cystal left a card with her address in California and a call in if you're in my part of the world. She was stuck in Krakow because her credit card was stolen and was waiting for a new one to be sent.

"Its all my fault" she admitted "I am the dumb American girl that left it in the bag in the locker in the railway station."

We had an interesting talk one day about distance and travel. It began when she said "Poland is so far east, so far from my mom in America" I added "Your mother isn't just in America, but on the far side; in California. Nowadays we have no concept of distance when we can fly there in a short time. But think of the nineteenth century California-bound immigrant arriving in New York. They then had to either board another ship for an even longer sea-voyage around Cape Horn, or face the long train journey west to be followed by the risky wagon-train across wilderness....." "Yeah. And a lot didn't make it.." She then talked at length about the history of the great western migration...

Time for a break from writing and some photos. This is Krakow's impressive main square and the building used to be the cloth market. It is now the world's biggest souvenir shop.
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The church tower from where once the hour has chimed, a trumpeter plays a mellowing melody.
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The man with the sword.
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Another look at the man with the sword.
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In the hostel hungover, I took out the Netbook and the cable and was looking for a socket to charge up with. I think I'm going mad; seeing things, as I saw a power-point by the table leg; then, in the next instant when I reached down to plug the cable in, the power-point wasn't there. I mentioned this to Crystal who was behind me at that moment. "There it's there!" she pointed to the power-point by the shelve with the cups, a metre to the left of the table leg where I'd seen it first.

Later I glance out the window; a little grey today, but Carolina the receptionist assures me only today: the golden Summer will continue tomorrow and for the following week...

...So, I get out on the free walking tour of the city. Maciek is the guide and explains to a group of about twenty of us from many nations that have assembled outside the church in the main square, that in Poland to work as a city-guild, he must have a license, the training and exam to obtain which is difficult and of course is in Polish, baring foreigners from the job. He then went on to ask humourously, "hands up those that have been in Amsterdam." Hands go up. "The Spanish language guide there is a Colombian. What a coinstance, a Colombian in Amsterdam. In Berlin the guide tends to be English. Ironic, Englishmen in Berlin, again! But in Poland your guide will be a local. Hands up any lawyers in this group." A petit woman grins. "Then you know what I mean when I say everything you'll hear on today's tour is true."

Today's guide and his tee-shirt, a play on the slogan of a certain TV beer add of many years ago.
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Maciek's elegante hair.
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Walking along, bumping into bollards on the narrow crowded sidewalk on the way to the jewish quarter, I think I hear an Australian accent behind me. "I'm not Australian! I'm from Manchester!" exclaims the boy behind when I turn and we begin chatting. I don't know why I made this mistake; then, I hear the Mancunian accent. "Ma parents think I should stay in Manchester. They cannot understand why I'm off travelling. It's hard explaining the time I've had when I return to Manchester. They just don't understand"

This is the Polish Broadway, not quite as big as the one in New York; it just means a broad street.
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Before the Second World War, Krakow had a sixty-thousand Jewish community, a quarter of the city's inhabitants. Today there are less than a hundred, but there are many more secular Jews and people, the descendants of children saved by being given to Christian families during Nazi occupation that don't know about their Jewish roots.

Krakow in southern Poland is a cultural jewel and when Poland lost its independents in the late eighteenth century, was a Vienna of the north of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which ceased to exist after World War One, as the map of Central Europe was redrawn and territory previously occupied by aforementioned empire, became countries again, including Poland. Fast forward to September 1939, Germany invaded Poland and considered Krakow a German city, a city that should be free of Jews and immediately "invited" (the Nazis' euphemism for force) the Jewish inhabitants into a ghetto across the river in the city's industrial district where they lived on a diet of overcrowded housing, slave labour and malnutrition. To become sick was a certain death sentence, to work was to prolong life and the possibility of survival. Then came what the Nazis called relocation to work on farms in the east of Poland, but in reality the trains went to Auschwitz concentration camp and Birkenau extermination camp. The final clearing out of the ghetto was brutal. Doctors in the hospital administrated poison to the patients to save them from gunfire. The soldiers saved bullet by clubbing to death women over sixty, and in the street in front of the orphanage they saved amunision too by lining the children up six deep before shooting.

Mural depicting the Nazi liquidation of the ghetto.
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The square in the former industrial quarter of the city where Krakow's Jewish population were ghettoised after the German invasion of Poland in 1939: the empty chairs are a fitting memorial to the victims that are gone never to return.
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The old Synagogue which now serves as a museum on Jewish culture.
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In the centre of the main square in Kazimeir (the Jewish quarter), there's the rotunda building with windows where can be bought the Zapiekanki open sandwich.
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After the war the map of Central Europe was redrawn once more, in which Poland was pushed east and Stalin didn't leave. He introduced a wonderful "Democratic People's Republic". The people were the Communist Party, the only people that could elect a president.

Then came the strikes at the Gdansk Shipyard in 1980; which, led to the rise of Solidarity and the Stalinists going home by the end of the decade, after out staying their welcome by over forty years. This is regarded as the end of the war in Poland. The last twenty years has seen Poland on the rise as an important nation with her people and language found widely in many places across Western Europe.

The Wavel palace: the castle on a hilltop to the west of the old town.
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The Italian Renaissance style interior.
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A miss-mash of different styles as the church was added to during different eras.
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Model of the castle.
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Maciek warned us about the police; apparently you can get a ticket for crossing the street when the pedestrian lights are on red. He then dashed off across the street in front of a car, leaving the timid ones of us standing at the curb. "Com on! Com on! Polish drivers are like animals-you show fear and they attach." he shouted back.

The tour drew to a close at the Wavel Palace on the hilltop: a lot of history from back in the days before Poland first lost her independents. And the day ended at dusk down the hill by the dragon that breathes fire every three minutes. Not a real dragon of course, it's based on a legend in medieval times about a dangerous dragon that lived in a cave in the side of the hill which hunted and ate people. The king offered his daughter's hand in marriage to any man that could slay the dragon. Many men perished trying, until one came along with a solution. He slayed a lamb and when he'd gutted it out, he stuffed the lamb with sulphur and then left it as bait outside the cave. The dragon came out and gobble up the lamb, but the sulphur and fire in the dragon's mouth didn't mix. The dragon rushed into the river to extinguish the fire (like he'd eaten a Mexican that was too hot and spicy and needed water fast), then returned into the cave and was never ever seen again.

The Florentine gate in the city's old defence walls.
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Florentine street is one of the main drags running off the square.
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There's no kitchen in the hostel, but that doesn't matter too much as eating out is relatively cheap. I am getting fond of the Zapiekanki open sandwich; the Polish pizza, it is a baguette sliced in half down the middle, then spread with cheese and mushrooms and then toasted, after which, garlic sauce is sprinkled on and then I choose a garnish of spring onions.

That will do. I have written enough notes for today. It is now five o'clock on Sunday afternoon and the waitress has just put my second beer on the table. We make eye contact and she smiles. There's a young guy coming along the pavement drinking mate would you believe it. He has the thermos under his arm. He draws level and I ask "Urugrayo?" "No. Polish, but I've been in Argentina" he replies.

It's been another golden Autumn day as I look across the square in Kazimeir and there's a crescent moon beyond the rooftops. I've been told the countryside south of here towards the Tatra mountains looks wonderful in Autumn colour, but soon there'll be snow, meaning I'll have to get moving in order to get through the mountains before that happens. It's hard to leave, but leave I must.

I have a small phrasebook in front of me with useful things for the traveller to learn, such as: Prosze daj mi PIN kod do tvo.......Please give me the PIN code to your heart.

The Bonerowski palace: one of the main buildings around the square.
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The railway station.
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Ice-cream van.
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Autumn colour.
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Sharing a secret.
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Retro cameras in the market.
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A bookstall.
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Hey Joe.
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The new synagogue.
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Ghetto wall.
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