|Krakow churches, palaces, and gratuitous white men on a horse
|The very lovely and colorful Church of St Mary in Krakow
Krakow! A beautiful Eastern European city, complete with a lovely river and greenbelt, gothy churches, palaces, and ...
Ah. Who am I kidding. Let's get real here. Krakow (pronounced "cra-kov" if you want sound local), is very sunny and nice. It's pleasant. I really wouldn't mind spending a few days sitting on the green grass banks of its main river, and roosting up at the local cafes to people watch. It has great nightlife. People are friendly. But, to be perfectly honest, when you’ve seen a bunch of pretty European cities, they do tend to blend into one another.
Wait .... Oh my god. Had I become that asshole jaded traveler? Where nothing was good enough or weird enough, unless I was drinking blood from a live wriggling snake or fending off attacks from lady boys?
No, that wasn't it. The truth was this ... once again I decided to stay in a popular hostel aptly called the "Bubble." And once again I found myself swept up in a tornado of Aussies on a stag party. I wasn't meeting local people, practicing the language, learning about the culture. Instead it was just a bunch of "Oi! You gonna drink that or not you Yankee wanker!" I was getting burned out, too much partying, like a long lonely Vegas weekend. I didn't feel like I was traveling anymore.
|Dinner served daily at the Bubble Hostel in Krakow
|Not scared of the beard
|That's about right
|Classic Eastern Europe feels
I won't lie.Eastern Europe was a pleasant respite from roughing it through Nepal, Tibet, China, Mongolia, and Siberia. But after just a few weeks, I was already tired of it. I was tired of 'civilization.' After all, what's the point in being halfway across the globe if all you are going to do is speak English and hang out with other English-speaking travelers?
So, still nursing a hangover on day 3, I left the Bubble Hostel and the merry lads from Melbourne, and struck out on my own for a bit of culture. For some real Polish experiences.
|I won't lie, being in civilization and getting espresso again was quite spiritual
As I wandered the town, the first thing that strikes a traveler is the Pope John Paul II billboards, signs, and merchandise everywhere. Wow. This was one popular Pope in Krakow. It is worth noting that JPII is regarded by many younger Catholics and everyday observers like myself as the best thing that has happened to the Catholic Church in our lifetimes. For most people living today, he was THE pope (1978-2005). He was a relentless world traveler (128 countries), and a reformer (ordaining women). He was fit and active, unlike most of his predecessors. But perhaps most important, he was relatable and likable. I liked JPII. And I think most people, religious or not, liked him too. So it was nice to stroll through his hometown and see how much he was loved.
|JPII merch, get it hot and buttered!
|JPII, looking fit and trim, ready to bless the crap out of this town
Night fell and I was hungry. Hungry for sausage of course! This was Poland! I had heard about this old communist-era blue van that sold the best sausage in the city. So I wandered over to Hala Targowa, off the main square, and yes, there it was. An old beat up blue van, and next to it a waft of smoke rising up from a grill. Piled in heaps upon this grill were sausages of all kinds. Red sausages, white sausages, thin sausages, thick sausages. Wurst, kielbasa, and only God knows what else. It smelled like heaven's own juices. One could just imagine during the Soviet era sneaking out here after a few beers to this blue van to get illicit tasty meats.
And so, on the 14th day of the 8th month of the year abroad, I communed with the holy Polish sausages.
And, oh my god, it was good. Juicy. Flavorful. Sausages.
|You complete me, beautiful sausage
|You can't have a lustous travel beard without good juicy meats
Nearby right in the old square was a wonderful little restaurant called Pod Sloncem. When you walk inside, the stone walls, arches, and carvings give you that classic Eastern Europe cave vibe. Of course, after my sausages I had to come here and order some Polish goulash to make my life complete.
Now, when you order goulash in Poland, you better be hungry. It doesn't come on a plate, or in a bowl. It comes in a massive pot made from bread, steam still pouring out from the top. Polish goulash is different than its Russian cousin. In Poland it is less soup and more beef stew. Thick, meaty, brothy, and very very filling. It was true I was still nursing a hangover from the Melbourne crew, but between the sausages and the goulash bread kettle, I found myself not only completely cured, but in need of a wheelchair. My vision nearly turned red from the meat levels rising well past recommended safe levels.
|Proper Polish cave dining
|The proper way to serve thick meaty belly-filling goulash
To prevent instant cardiac arrest, I waddled off down the street for some exercise and to experience the local bars by myself. In my back pocket was my trusty Polish-English dictionary, and I was fired up to get cultured as hell. I ordered a Perla, surveyed the scene, and spotted some cute local girls chatting away. They were straight out of a Bond novel with their black dresses, heels, and classic straight bangs. I readied some pick-up lines in Polish.
This was it. I was going to meet local people finally, and practice the local language. I would become a real traveler again. And just at the very moment I started to take the first step, I heard, "Hey Nemo, ya wanker! Why'd ya go wandering off alone for, ya little bum-snatcher?" I turned around, and there they were. A literal tornado of Aussies, in full smash and party mode. I exhaled slowly, looked wistfully at the cute Polish girls I would never meet, and steadied myself. And then the tornado came, and I was swept away in the storm.