Saturday, April 17, 2010

Poland—Getting to Know Kraków

April 16, 2010
By Claire
Sometimes things work out in ways you don’t expect. Of course we wish we didn’t have to spend another day in a camper repair garage but we were lucky to meet Michał with ABM Campers. He is charming and speaks perfect English. He drove out to our campground to look at the damage and then met us again the next morning to lead us to his shop.

We spent most of the day having Homer worked on and they were able to finish it while we lounged inside reading our Kindles. We took a badly needed break from our whirlwind travel schedule since leaving Greece. Meeting Michał was really a nice experience. We talked about the recent death of Poland’s president, Lech Kaczynski, as well as many other topics about Poland and Europe. Our only regret is that we didn’t know about him and his company before we began this adventure. He rents and leases newer campers at a very reasonable rate. If we ever do this kind of trip again, we will start in Krakow. We are finding this a friendly, easy country. If anyone is interested in this kind of thing, contact him by email, His site is only in Polish at the moment but they have plans to include English and other languages soon.


Mike was good enough to let us spend the night at his shop, hooking us up to electricity. We left early to catch the 8:27 am bus and went into town to tour the Old Town of Kraków. Using Rick Steves’ self-guided tour, we made our way through the town taking in the sights.

Gate into Old Town—you can just make out the black flag on the left side of the building.

Planty Park

Old Town

Walking down Floriańska St., we came to a McDonalds where renovations uncovered a Gothic cellar. You can now have your burger in medieval ambience.

There were lines of people, stretching for blocks, some carrying a flag, waiting, we think, for tickets to see the funeral procession tomorrow. There were large groups of police setting up security gates and we were told that things will start closing down after noon, our main reason for getting in early so we could leave early. Traffic will be a mess later today and tomorrow. At various points around the town, we saw simple memorials set up with candles and photos.

Next we came to Jazz Club u Muniaka. In the 1950’s, Janusz Muniak was one of the first Polish jazzmen. He owns this place and jams here regularly.

Soon we reached the Market Square but they were busily setting up seating for the funeral tomorrow. We did find a gigantic head at the base of the Town Hall Tower.

It is a sculpture by a contemporary artist who studied in Kraków. According to Rick Steves, some locals enjoy having a work done by a fellow Krakovian in such a prominent place while others disapprove of its sharp contrast with the square’s genteel Old World ambience.

This is the oldest church in Kraków—10th century. There are 142 churches and monasteries within the city limits (32 in Old Town alone)—more per square mile than anywhere outside Rome.

We came upon more memorials for the Polish president and one honoring Katyn. He, his wife, and many of his top officials were on their way to a meeting with Russians to attempt a reconciliation over the 1940 massacre at Katyn Woods. We can highly recommend the Polish movie Katyn. Chuck and I watched it about a year ago. It was a terrible tragedy that is finally being acknowledged.

Katyn Memorial

We made our way to Wawel Hill with its castle and cathedral. While we were there, a woman with a large microphone asked if we spoke English and if we would be willing to be interviewed. We agreed and she asked questions about what we thought of the events that have played out over the past several days in Poland. We realize that we are here during an historic event. If you hear a woman from California being interviewed on NPR, you might recognize my voice.

Water spout

Sigismund’s Chapel—made with 80 pounds of gold

We have really enjoyed Poland. If Mike is any example, the people are wonderful. He really made a bad situation more bearable for us and had the work done far more quickly than we expected, shortening our delay.

We have a good feeling about this country. They are very modern and the homes out in the countryside are beautiful and quite large. I was surprised. It appears that people are doing well. I haven’t noticed as many smokers as there were in Budapest and the people we talked to just seemed friendlier.

Under capitalism man exploits man; under socialism the reverse is true. ~ Polish Proverb


Karin said...

I have known 2 different people who have visited Poland. One has family in Warsaw and he doesn't like it, finding it grey and grim. The other has visited Krakow and says it is so lovely she can't wait to return! Your blog just confirmed Krakow! I definitely will go see it!!!

Such sad days for the Polish....we have a young man here in our local supermarket in Aliki, who hails from Poland. We offered our condolences and while he does not speak a word of English, he understood.

I loved your photos, especially the water spout and the sculpture of the head! Your pictures are impressive....I felt really happy when looking at them. And Michael does have a very nice smile! I think Poland has done you well! :)

Karin on Paros

Diane said...

After reading your post about Poland, I am intrigued. Perhaps a travel destination for us in the future . . .

You truly are in this country at a historic and sad time. What a tragic course of events. The people sound wonderful and glad you have Mike to help you get Homer fixed. Onward and upward!

Chuck and Claire said...

It has been a surreal experience being here during this time. The funeral is literally playing on the TV in the lobby of the hotel where we are camped right now (on their beautiful grounds, 5 min. walk to Auschwitz). There is a quiet mood throughout the area here as there was in Krakow. I am so glad we came to Poland. It will stay with me forever.