Impressions from Krakow
Saturday March 12th 2005 I leave for Krakow from Aalborg via Billund and Munich. The plane takes off twenty minutes late at 6.50, because it needs a morning shower in de-izing liquid.
I am going to attend a conference and past noon the suitcase and I arrive to Krakow airport. Krakow is in southern Poland close to the Czech border. The conference begins Monday, but it is much cheaper to fly Saturday and the added benefit is a bit of time on my own.
In arrivals I find an ATM that communicates with plastic, and 3.25 zloty equals 1 euro. I am spotted by a small unshaved man who asks: "Taxi?" I look at him suspiciously - is he "official"? - but then I nod and follow.
The car looks battered like its owner, but there's a sign on the roof and a meter, so there's no need for concern. The driver asks: "Krakow - bizniz?" I nod and confirm: "Yes - business". He speaks nothing but Polska, so it is a short conversation.
The road into town is a minefield of holes filled with water. We drive slalom, but from time to time we hit a hole and send a wave onto the pavement. Pedestrians beware! Krakow's perimeter is dreadful concrete buildings.
When we arrive at Sheraton, where the conference will take place, the meter says 66 zlote - not expensive.
The hotel staff is eager to assist, but I am perfectly capable of handling a suitcase on wheels. My smoker's room is a double on the fifth floor with a nice view of the old castle, Wavel.
The old town
With a city map from the reception I easily find the old town. Where the city wall and the mote used to be is a narrow park all way round.
Krakow has miraculously escaped devastation and the old houses are intact and beautiful; if you removed the cars it is almost medieval.
In the centre of the old town is a huge square with a big market hall. Of the old City Hall the tower still stands. Even though it is cold and windy the city is lively, and one can easily imagine how busy it must be in the summer time.
In the market hall are many stalls with souvenirs and tourist junk. Most sell amber jewellery that are either big and lumpy or set in silver grandmama fashion. Prices seem fair, but I find nothing to my liking. On the square outside are thousands of pigeons.
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I stroll the streets and get a feeling of the place. Krakow has an old university and there are many students and cultural events like theatres, museums, exhibitions, music, restaurants, street musicians.
Polish signs and posters have a wealth of z's and c's and cz's, but never the less you recognize many words, when you read them. There are houses with deep gateways and courtyards with shops, bars closed for the winter or just courtyards. There are many churches, and they are used.
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I find a bar. It is dimly lit and the decorated wooden ceiling is high above. The walls are covered with large paintings and red tapestry with proud eagles. My beer is local and good with lots of fruit. It is called Zywiec.
It is a bit to the sweet side but much better than Carlsberg, Heiniken and the other international brands. At the bar it costs you a zloty to use the toilet, but then there's a woman who speaks to you in Polish and runs the tap for your hands.
Too much red wine
I am tired after the trip and return to the hotel to relax with a book. One ought to try the Polish cuisine, but I am simply too tired to go back to the city centre, and instead I enter the hotel's fancy mediterranean restaurant as the first guest this evening.
The meals aren't priced unreasonably - in Poland most things are cheap compared to western Europe - but the wine at this restaurant is very expensive: 50 zlote for a carafe with no more than 250 ml or 150 for a bottle of plain red.
I order slices of smoked duck for starters and medallions of beef with ratatouille for main course, some sparkling water and a mini carafe of red wine from Chile.
When the young and very polite waiter pours wine from the carafe, the bottle under his arm tilts and pours wine over the table and me! I am not soaked - just stained - and try to minimize the damage with a napkin.
The waiter's dam of politeness bursts with a torrent of excuses - there's absolutely no composure left. I must do something before he inflicts pain on himself with a fork or something equally unexpected, so I utter silly soothing words like: "accidents do happen" and the like.
The head waiter arrives with cool efficiency, I am gently transferred to a dry table and we agree that 10 minutes after I leave the restaurant the culprit will personally come to my room and collect the stained clothes (grey trousers and white pullover) for dry cleaning.
The smoked duck is delicious although the waiter's continuous flow of apologies is tiresome. The medallions are on the dry side, but the ratatouille is nice and the wine that reached its proper destination is ok. Considering how generously the wine was poured, one could expect that it was on the house and not on the bill, but alas ...
Back in my room I change and as agreed the stained clothes are collected and more apologies delivered.