04.10.2012 - 05.10.2012
We took the all night bus from Vilnius to Warsaw. We left in the pouring rain at 1030 pm. Anna, our couch surfing hostess, had emailed that she would meet us at the bus, she would have to get up before five am to accomplish this!!
Believe it or not the bus just lets you off on the street at Centalnya which we assume means Central Station. Anna was a bit late and we were unsure if we should walk over to the building or stay outside hanging around this side street. We did go in briefly but no sign of a stranger looking for us so after a little argument we went back out to the deserted side street and there was one person walking in our direction so we eyed each other in the dim light and she said "Are you Cheryl?". And I just hugged her I was so relieved.
It was 540 am. She lives in her own two and a half storey townhouse near a forest in the city of Warsaw. Pronounced vawrsavah. Chin-quee is how you say thank you. Not as easy as Lithuanian which is achoo.
Anna works part time so as soon as we got to her house she gives us coffee, buns, two kinds of cheese, cold cuts and then tells us to rest, she has to go to work but will be back at 10 and take us on a tour.
Our beds are all made up in the living room, we lay down for awhile and then Anna comes home with muffins. 'Energy' she says. Now she takes us on the subway, we will have a tour. These people are great walkers. We must have walked ten miles. We stopped at a pretty patio and Anna ordered a selection of perogies. Potato and cheese (Russian), meat filling, and cabbage and mushroom as well as dessert perogies filled with cottage cheese, served with whipped cream and a raspberry garnish, a perogie sampler.
Besides taking in the views from the thirtieth floor of the Palace of Culture and Science we walked through the old town and a really large city park that used to be the king's garden. Lazienki Park is located in central Warsaw. The Royal Park was built in the 17 Century and covers more than 100 acres.
Along the way we came upon the end of a free walking tour. We tagged along with them, into a bar where everyone was served a free shotglass of vodka and the local bar snack of bread and fat. I liked it and had two snacks, one ice cold vodka. In Poland they drink their vodka neat, and say that they invented it.
We got back to Anna's place around 5, she prepared a gourmet cheese soup with herb garnish from her garden. We ate sweet grapes that grow in her yard.
Then we all went to a jazz concert, Anna had noted an interest in music in our couch surfing profile and made sure we would see a show. We were all exhausted by the time we got back at 11 pm. Anna put out bread, cheese, cold cuts and served tea from a pretty pot with cups and saucers. We chatted like old friends. After our refreshments we fell into bed.
Warsaw is an interesting city. 85 percent has been built since 1945 as it was reduced to rubble by the Germans in the second world war.
In 1939 it had a population of 1.3 million people. By the end of the war in 1945 it had 1000 inhabitants. The old town was destroyed but you would never know that today.
They rebuilt it. They used old bricks and put it back together. Today over 2 million people call Warsaw home. 100 percent of the infrastructure was pretty much blown up (like street lights and bridges) but they were determined people.
I cried so much at the statue of the boy soldier and thought about how terrible it was, the Germans were burning everything, Poland expected the Russians to come, they were just across the river, but no help came. Then. after the war Poland became a part of the USSR.
Lots of people say, don't bother to go to Warsaw, all the buildings are new. This is precisely why you should go to Warsaw. I was so impressed with how they rebuilt it, their old town may be only sixty odd years old, but it looks authentic.
Warsaw is the birthplace of Chopin and his heart is here. I am not that interested in body parts so we didn't bother visiting Chopin's heart.
Madam Currie was also born in Warsaw, her maiden name was Sklodowska. She married a man from France and did her research on radium in Paris. Poland, polonium, who knew. She actually died as a result of radiation exposure and none of her body parts are in Warsaw as far as I know. She won two nobel prizes. Between her and other members of her family there are five Nobel prizes.
On October 5 at 230 pm we took the train to Krakow. We had spent the morning with our wonderful hostess, walking around Warsaw, we took the entire free walking tour, and had a free drink of vodka at the end. These free walking tours are excellent and give a real overview of the inner city.
Before we left Anna gave Jeff a book about Warsaw - Destroyed and Rebuilt. It will be a treasured reminder of this city which is now a favourite in our memory.
If a traveller just dropped into Warsaw and had no knowledge of history, lived in a bubble, did not read guidebooks or google, whatever, took a quck turn around the charming streets, tick, saw the capital city of Poland, and left, they might not realize that nothing much is older than sixty odd years. Really this amazes me.
One Polish Zloty is about thirty two cents, so divide by three and get the rough conversion. If the meal is fifteen zlots then you have paid about five dollars.
We took the train from Warsaw to Krakow, ended up standing for three hours as we had not reserved seats. Advice - reserve a seat.
Krakow October 6,7,8,9 Hejnal Meriaki, St Mary's Dawn
Historically Poland has been an agriculture based economy. Translated, Polish means country people.
Krakow is pronounced krack-awv.
The main market square, Rynek Glowny is the largest square in Europe. It is surrounded by medieval buildings like the Cloth Hall, the town hall and Saint Mary's Basillica with the two towers. We saw the barbican and the main gate where all the kings of Poland entered the square and proceeded to the church to be crowned.
Since medieval times someone has played the trumpet from an open north facing window in St Mary's tower to announce the top of the hour. There is a famous urban legend about why the trumpet plays - an American wrote a book about it in the 1920s, but it is not true.
Eric Kelly wrote the children's book "The Trumpeter of Krakow" in 1928. It is still cited as an important historical book. The trumpeter plays the Hejnal Meriaki - St Mary's Dawn. In medieval times it was played at dawn and at dusk when Krakow's gates were opened and closed. It is a traditional five note Polish tune. Very haunting I might add. Every day at noon Polish national radio broadcasts the Hejnal live from the tower of St Mary's Basilica.
They have been broadcasting this bugle call daily since 1927 - well it did stop for a few years during the Nazi occupation. During WW2 a Polish bugler played this tune from the battlefield to announce the Polish victory at Monte Cassino in May 1944.
For lunch we went for perogies and sausage to a milk bar, a holdout from the Soviet era, state subsidized no frill eats.
Sort of like a cafeteria and no English subtitles we got 12 russkie perogies, potato and cheese, the other customers and the lady behind the counter were helpful, one old lady was getting perogie take-out and she told me "yum, yum" and I hugged her for her effort as not everyone has been so friendly and helpful. So they gave us two plates and we split the perogies and then we each got a plate with a large sausage on it, so we ate that with mustard and I super enjoyed the tomato wedge garnish as I am not eating enough fruit.
We had Italian for supper. Mainly because it was the only nicer restaurant we found when we ventured out again in the pouring rain. A bit fancy for us, kind of a formal place, but they served us, bedraggled as we were. Still, for two people, the bill was 60 zlots or 20 dollars. My pasta had a white wine truffle sauce and Jeff's seafood pasta had octupus and entire shell fish. We got a small plate of crudites and I again enjoyed the tomato wedges, very flavourful, there was carrot, zucchinni, red pepper and a chive dressing as well. I am explaining this to give an example of what ten dollars gets you in Poland. The waiter pours your tonic water as though he is pouring wine. Real flowers on the table and a nice lamp.
I enjoy the atmosphere and looking at the other guests sipping wine. We had the cheapest meal on the menu and the cheapest beverage and it was all very relaxing and nice, even though my hair was a fright, even my socks were wet as it is pouring rain. I haven't seen makeup now since 19 Sept, I do think a little foundation and mascara would improve my look but what the hell, I am 63 and it is what it is.
Beer is cheaper than pop here. At the store a big bottle of beer is about one $ C or 3 zlots.
We have a twin room with private bath - total per night is 144 zlots or about 45 dollars Canadian. These rooms are pretty plain and the mattresses leave something to be desired, the sheets are thin but we are comfie, snug as a bug in a rug. No I don 't even look anymore. They do have a nice breakfast room and although breakfast is not included you can purchase it or make your own.
So my budget is fifty dollars per day. Twenty three for the room leaves me twenty seven to spend on food, and a bit leftover. We had a late lunch yesterday afternoon of perogies and cabbage rolls and that cost about four dollars each. We spend a fare amount on coffee and I pay for ambience, usually have cappucinno for a treat.
We have whiled away time in a lot of atmospheric konditoris and chocolate shop cafes.
Oct 9 - When the Sun is Shining in Stare Miasto
Our last day in Krakow is sunny. Thank God or I would have missed the true charm of the Old Town.
We managed to hook up with the free walking tour at noon and took in the castle and touched the wall in the Wawel Castle courtyard which is a chakra site, one of seven in the world apparently, for those who are into that type of thing. I really need to recharge my batteries but did not feel anything, maybe it is subliminal.
The Tale of the Krakow Dragon
Long ago a king built a castle on a beautiful hill. It happened that a dragon lived in a cave near by. The dragon ate sheep and goats but if there was not a sheep or goat to be had the dragon had to dine on virgins.
The king had a young daughter and he did not want the dragon to eat her so he called upon the noble warriors and offered the reward of his daughter's hand in marriage to whoever slayed the dragon. Many tried but none were successful. A tailor approached the king and asked if he would qualify for the reward if he slayed the dragon. The king thought the proposal absurd but agreed. The taylor killed a goat and then stuffed its stomach with sulpher and sodium, sewed the goat up and laid it at the mouth of the dragon's cave. Sure enough, the dragon woke up hungry and gobbled up the goat. The dragon felt its throat was on fire so ran to the river where it drank so much water it exploded.
This is why Krakow has a statue of a flame-breathing dragon near Wawel Castle.
Poland is a Roman Catholic country. Germany was predominantly Protestant. Russia was Orthodox.
Being Catholic in Poland is a statement, but it is rude and too personal to inquire about religion.
Their native son, Pope John Paul II, was allowed to visit Krakow during communist times.
On June 10, 1979 Pope John Paul, held an unpublicized mass in Blonie Field on the outskirts of Krakow, advertised only by word of mouth. Two million people gathered to hear him even though, our guide told us, public transportation was shut down that day in honour of his visit and working hours were extended. It was the largest crowd in Polish history.
Did you know that Krakow is the new Prague? That's what they say!! We are not going to Prague this trip so we are glad we came to Krakow. It has the best preserved medieval old town in Poland, in stark contrast to the rebuilt old town in Warsaw. Each has its beauty and appeal for entirely different reasons. One is preserved, the other was decimated and rebuilt. I have a bias to the one in Warsaw as it was so feisty of them to put it back together, but of course, it is not "authentic." Visit both.
Besides having excellent beer and very reasonable prices, Poland has a lot of charm. It wasn't on my bucket list but should have been.
Shopping - Amber is very big in the Baltics. In Poland they have green amber as well. Typically amber is set in silver. Amber is said to bring good luck and protection, and to be really active should be charged by the sun. It is not a crystal it is fossilized tree sap from ancient pine trees. So there you go, wear amber for luck and love and rejuvination if you are into metaphysical, which really, I am not but I love amber.
Krakow has a population of about 800,000.
We fly tonight with Ryanair to Budapest - nineteen dollars Canadian each for the flight.