Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Smoking Krakow



After the panic stricken but flawlessly orchestrated, exodus from Berlin we relaxed into our seats on our Air Berlin flight from Berlin enroute to Krakow. The short hop took only an hour and we were met at Krakow airport by a driver ready to take us to The Eden Hotel, sounds lovely.We immediately headed out to find a quick bite, not expecting to find too much as it was approaching midnight. Our hotel was well situated in the Kazimierz section of Krakow, which is the culturally rich Jewish area. A short walk from the hotel was Plac Nowy, a small square with a handful of quaint restaurants and pubs which were in full swing when we arrived. In the center of the square was a circle of food stands selling sandwiches, kebabs, and other food perfect for the starving drunk. It was here that we had our first taste of Polish cuisine which I'm sure any Pole would deny constituted their traditional fare. Our sandwiches were a half baguette loaded high with some forms of meat, cheese, mushrooms, and more and topped with a smothering of some mayonnaise-like sauce and toasted until melted. Hannah made it 3 bites before tossing hers in a trash can....I was more adventurous and made it halfway through before tossing mine.

We finished off our first night in Krakow with a Zwiec beer, the local Polish favorite at a pub in the square.

Our hotel, the Eden Hotel, was perfect. Situated directly in the center of Kazimierz, it had Jewish charm you'd never see in any other hotel, complete with Mezuzahs on the doors of all rooms, a clock that read from right to left, and pictures on the walls from Jewish festivals throughout the years.
Our room was apparently initially not ours, but the 3 Little Bears were late, so we got it instead.

So far, my two favorite items that we brought on the trip were my GPS watch, which we are using on every walk we take, hoping to download the routes so we can see where we explored....and the Sleep Sack. The sleep sack, for those of you who aren't hard core travelers is like a lightweight snuggie that can be used to protect from mosquitos or dirty bed linens. We used ours, even though there was absolutely no reason to.

Hannah had done an amazing job at planning our Krakow visit. She was like a kid in a candy shop with all the books, guides, and information that she could get her hands on. We spent the day at several of the synagogues and museums in the Jewish quarter. Our favorite museum of the day was a photographic exhibit of Jewish Poland, called Galicia Jewish Museum. This museum had beautiful contemporary photos of new and old Poland, all shot within the last 20 years or so

We wandered through the Krakow center square and went looking for a place for lunch. We ended up at a local spot called Smak and had a great lunch of Poland's traditional foods. Hannah had done her homework and knew exactly what to order, she even knew what the Polish items on the menu were! We had some Polish soup and perogi's, all excellent local fare. We were delighted when lunch was a reasonable 28 zloty ($8). The borsch was my first ever....and we're lucky neither of us ended up wearing it.

It was pouring rain all day so we took refuge in a coffee shop and caught up on email and planned a few of our upcoming trip legs. We then took a final spin through the Jewish quarter and spent a few minutes in the "New Synagogue" which actually turned out to be quite old. We put stones on a headstone to pay our respects. The old Jewish cemeteries are fascinating in that they have been through years of war and disrepair which adds to their nostalgia.

The afternoon's weather made touristy activity hard so we spent a few hours in a bar in the Kazimierz square to do some blogging and trip planning. For dinner Hannah researched a fantastic local spot near Kazimierz. We had the best Greek salad in memory and a great pizza...not necessarily Polish food, but they did it very well.

We had a nice relaxing dinner and retired to the Eden. We got back to the room and facebooked and skyped way too long, then climbed into our sleep sacks.Wednesday we took a day trip to Auschwitz. I had been to Auschwitz-Birkenau a few years earlier and was incredibly moved by the experience. This trip was no different and I was happy to share it with Hannah. The incredible size and and stories of the deception and efficiciency that went into bringing prisoners to the camp defined the era with which it was indicative of. We had a wonderful guide who surely didn't gloss over any of the atrocities committed.


That evening we met up with a fellow traveler who Hannah had been put in contact with by her friend Robyn from LinkedIn. Amy was working her way through an impressive 18 month traveling experience. It was very interesting and informative to get her perspective on long term travel and how to manage the various easy and difficult aspects. She was also happy to share her tips and itineraries for places that she had been and we are planning to go. The conversations with Amy really helped us and we will probably owe a good deal of our trip's success to her. In speaking to her we really were able to put things in perspective and re-think some of our upcoming stops, making sure that stops we made were because we really wanted to spend time and enjoy our experience and not "check things off a list". We'll see how things pan out, but we may end up skipping a few stops, specifically Argentina, China, and Hong Kong, to take more time to explore and really enjoy other places. Its interesting how 5 months sounds so long but becomes a short amount of time when you want to see and do everything on your list.

The next morning we met Amy again. This was our last day in Krakow before hopping the train to Warsaw and we had a few more things to explore. Amy was a great travel companion as she had all the time in the world and had no problem puttering around with Hannah and I all day.

We started the day by walking to the beautiful hilltop Krakow castle. We opted to not do a tour of the inside of the castle but we did spend a bit of time walking around the grounds and snapping a few pictures.


When we were done castling, I led Hannah and Amy on a wild goose chase which has become synonymous with my "travel style". Hannah refers to them as "field trips". I disagree as we were barely in any fields. We wandered through the city of Krakow, city parks, cemetaries, and even up to the top of the hill holding the Television Krakow radio tower looking for something called the Liban Quarry. I have no idea why the quarry was such an obsession of mine but I was on a mission to get us there. According to GPS we had walked 6 miles when I relented and decided we should turn back. I'm confident that the quarry was at 6.1 miles but I was also confident that neither Hannah nor Amy wanted to hear anything more about it. We settled for another delicious, cost effective, polish meal for lunch. We have learned that the best, least expensive, polish food in Krakow is in the self service restaurants where you order from the counter and they bring it to your table. We haven't had a single meal in Krakow that we were "served" and we haven't spent more than 10 zl ($3) per person.

The trip to the quarry that never was did have its high points though. We found a few elephants in the park and Hannah loves elephants...so she took one for a ride.




After lunch we went to the Oskar Schindler factory museum which turned out to be one of the best museums we had seen yet on our trip. It was a very well laid out museum outlining the German occupation of Poland during WWII.

Amy escorted us to the train station where we boarded our train to Warsaw.


We stocked up on beer, kielbasa, and cheese for the journey and enjoyed a relaxing 3 hour ride to Warsaw.




As far as larger Eastern European cities Warsaw is one of my favorites. I spent some time here while working for Bytemobile and was able to get a great feel for the city. I really wanted Hannah to see some of the things that I loved about this place. We attempted to go to the Jewish cemetary which is an amazing site, but being the good jews that we are we arrived during sabbath and were denied access and we decided to skip the museums but we did explore the old town. It was here that we figured out that the way to avoid having to ask people to take our picture was to experiment with the iphone panoramics...its a work in progress





After the old town we visited the most exciting area of Warsaw called Praga. Praga is the less developed, but very hip area of Warsaw. There are some great small boutique pubs, great cheap eats, and a very cool vibe. We spent a few hours hanging out in a small, very eccentric pub. They had an amazing selection of craft beers. I had no idea what any of the labels said so we took our chances and were pleasantly surprised with our choices. We also were able to practice one our new favorite hobbies which was taking panoramic iphone photos.




We quickly lost a few at the hotel casino and decided it was best to cut our losses and get ready for our next adventure....Turkey here we come!

Here are some outtake photos and videos:


Kebabs are amazing in Warsaw
Nonoma, party of 2?



No idea.

Aren't you the one from synagogue?

Didn't I see you at church yesterday?

who? me? Who is that backpack?

Ice cream is ice cream in any language, but in Polish its harder to pronounce

Warsaw old town


Mrs. Polish taking the Polish streetcar and pontificating.

My new Soviet Army binoculars!



I used to be able to slide right into these things.


Now you go up

Polish Bruce




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