"Poland is not a very large country, but it's not a very small country."
- Donald Trusk, Prime Minister of Poland
My fingers shiver a little, as I munch on a chocolate chip energy bar, and my boots squish just a bit. It's early in the morning in Krakow, Poland.
I stumbled out of the train, still half-asleep, and walked through the station. Not yet 8 in the morning, but I've already made a silly mistake: I stood in front of the "Transportation" window for fifteen minutes, hoping that they can explain to me how to buy a transport ticket in the city, only to be told by a kindly old man that the window is meant for people with issues buying a train ticket LEAVING Poland. As if that wasn't enough, the visitor's office that he sends me to is closed, until 9 AM.
There is little else to do, but walk around the old town.
It's silent. Not entirely silent, but just enough that the sound of my camera shutter CLICK-ing travels through alleyways, that I hear a car drive over cobblestones two streets away, that the sound of a metal tent being set up in the square rings clear through. As if my sleep deprivation wasn't enough, there's a thick oppressive layer of fog and the sky, despite being grey, is still bright.
|The square in the middle of Old Town Krakow is nearly deserted...|
|...except for flower vendors...|
|...old women selling baked goods for 1 zloty, 1 zloty 50...|
|...and vendors setting up a toy stand.|
I wander around, my backpack heavy, my stomach rumbling, and an insistent need for coffee. I somehow find my way into the Wawel Royal Castle. I pay a ridiculously cheap entrance fee to look at Leonardo da Vinci's painting titled Lady with an Ermine.
|The castle's green dome and red brick stand out against a grey sky and lonely trees.|
|Along the back of the castle, the river runs, almost silently.|
Afterwards, I continue to walk. I go to Oskar Schindler's ceramics factory (the same Schindler from the movie Schindler's List, directed by Steven Speilberg). Next door is a modern art museum which I happily visit. I walk into a showing of the Bodies exhibition. There's an outdoor market with fourteen different tents, selling everything from cuckoo clocks to secondhand cookbooks.
|I even walk across a bridge covered in padlocks and undying declarations of love.|
I almost cry, since I have no map (I didn't think to pick one up from the tourist office), and my cell phone has run out of credits.
Then, a knight in shining armor arrives. Well, more like a businessman in a BMW. His name is Stefan, he is born and raised Cracovian, and he asks if I need help. Once I explain the situation, he calls his office and asks one of the ladies working to give him a list of hostels.
He then proceeds to drive me to one of the hostels and pay for my first night, simply because he feels very bad for me. That was my first experience with Polish generosity, but by no means my last.
After that experience, I am exhausted. However, I hear two magical words "PUB CRAWL" and, after taking a shower, am suddenly rejuvenated.
The rest of the night is a blur of silliness and laughter:
I meet a group of guys from the UK, a street magician amazes and dazes me with several tricks, there's dancing on top of a bar, several people get lost, I am introduced to a shot affectionately called "Mad Dog" (vodka, fruit syrup and Tabasco sauce).
|I am even introduced to the game of "flip cup" and my team wins!|