Monday, July 14, 2014

If we had blogs in 1999: Kraked out on Poland

I continue the journal of my 1999 Transatlantic Seminar on the European Union. Our time in Prague was short, so we had an extended weekend to travel on our own. Some of us went to Krakow and Auschwitz in Poland before heading to Berlin, where our seminar continued on Monday.

As always, spelling, grammatical, and factual errors have been preserved. Today's comments in red italics.

Days of the same speech passed, and we were to quit Prague for Krakow. Meaning all of the seminars in Prague seemed to be the same speech on the idea that joining the European Union would solve all of the country's problems. Bill, Abby, and John came along for the ride but really were noisome tag-alongs, sucking all of the adventure from Brad's and my weekend. Brad's and my. Really? At first it was ok; I was glad to have people come along. They just ended up being the wrong people. The train ride from Krakow that's supposed to say "to Krakow" was spent in couchettes. All five of us were in one cabin. Once again, at first, I thought it'd be cool. I'd never been in a couchette before. Brad & I were going to get them from Paris-Prague, but we waited too long to make reservations. All worked out, as we got a cabin to ourselves to catch a couple hours of sleep. The couchette was different. You could only lay down - there were no options. We couldn't play cards, have wine, or even talk. It was very uncomfortable, but Brad's vanity would except oops nothing less. It was about this time that I noticed the vanity; however, at this point it had not yet become a problem. Brad acted differently than he had been at MUDEC. At this point, I can't say what it was that was different, but I remember he didn't have as much patience for the budget travel we had enjoyed before. Maybe it was because the program booked us in four star hotels, and spending the weekends in hostels was just not as appealing. To be honest, though, any tension between Brad and I was simply the result of being together 24/7 over eight weeks of a very exhausting trip across Europe.

We arrived in Krakow and immediately began searching for a hotel. John, Abby, and Bill, henceforth known as JAB collectively, didn't mind paying for a hotel with four shimmering stars giving their light from within. Brad & I would have settled for a hostel. We settled for an overpriced two star for $30/night, breakfast not included, no bathrooms in the rooms. It was across from the train station. I hadn't slept on the train. We all wanted to shower & crash, but it was 7am - our rooms wouldn't be ready until after 2pm. Set out to explore Krakow is what we did - JAB convinced that nobody could be apart. I was cranky already, bad news for the other weary explorers. We searched for a place to eat breakfast. They wanted McDonalds. I think I threw a fit. I had vowed to abstain from fast food for the duration of the trip. See my If we had blogs in 1997 and 1998 series on eating American fast food in Europe. I don't remember where we ate. I just wanted to get away from Bill's obnoxious American behavior. He was so loud, so loud, SO loud and already I was tired of him. I remember now. We ate breafast in the hotel. It was a European buffet. We had a little trouble with the guy with the tickets, since we had none, but the breakfast was good. I ate fifty rolls. We sat at a table that was reserved for someone else. Oh well.

I so wished we could go up and nap. This huge group of Asian males, I think they were Japanese, had been drunk in the cabin next to ours and stayed up all night. That was a reason, one of several, for the lack of sleep that we all shared. My main reason was that transportation and sleep do not mix. I can't sleep on trains. That's why we crashed in the park after we went to Wawel. That's the castle in Krakow. We all went. Every child in Poland was there on the field trip. We took pictures with them, though they didn't know it. It was great fun. The actual exploration of the fortress was not as interesting. The climb up the bell tower was quite frightening, as I tripped up the worn, narrow, old, old passage way. The view was quite breath taking, as all views are forced to be upon ascent of a dangerous trip to the top. Ugh. That sentence. Or perhaps it was that exact climb that took my breath rather than the rooftops of an old Polish city. At any rate, the climb was worth it. The bell was cool, too. I only had a moment to enjoy my solitude at the top before a group of school children crowded the room.

The other big adventure in Krakow came after a brief nap in a park. The park was packed with sunbathers by the river. I couldn't sleep long; there was much to explore. I walked the river's edge as the sun scintillated across the calm of the water's flow. Scintillated. I had taken the GRE in April. My vocab had greatly expanded, but I was still struggling to use it without sounding awkward. And I thought it was pronounced "skintillated." I just wanted to see what was around the bend. The bend kept bending and I kept walking. I walked for 20 minutes and decided to turn back, but wait - what's this? I had to explore a picture of serenity that passed before my eyes. As I was looking through a large yard of grass to a church across the way, I noticed a bunch of men in white robes who were running and came to the conclusion that I was standing at a seminary and these guys were late to class. Further down the way I saw the corpse of an old church, no doubt the victim of a murderous Soviet regime. What I meant by this is the communist rulers of Poland who had taken their orders from Soviet Moscow. Even now I'm still fascinated by the effects the Soviet Union has had on the satellite countries, especially in the post-World War II rebuilding phase. We were a mere decade removed from Solidarity and the collapse of the Iron Curtain; the Communists had neglected so much. Buildings that had been damaged in World War II often went unrepaired or were patched up with cheap concrete. Although the new communist government gave the Catholic Church more room to operate than you saw in other countries, rebuilding churches and repossessing church properties that had been confiscated by the Nazis was costly. Many were never rebuilt. Post-war Poland was a drastically different country than it had been before the war, and communism ensured it would never resemble what it had been.  I tried to go up to the church, but large fences kept me out. I walked through a residential area and was saddened by the obvious economic problems of a crumpled nation. I felt at the time as if something had called me to this area for a reason, though I never found what reason that was. I was halted in my quest to find an answer by my urgent need to find a restroom. Always the same ending. I headed back to try to find the others. Even Bill, who had skipped Wawel to sleep in some grass by a road, was gone. I wondered if he had been arrested. I walked up and down the street for some time, finally deciding to go to the hotel. It was 2pm. It was time for a nap. The others were there when I returned. I fell asleep. I was awakened for dinner. I was grouchy. We, or should I say JAB, were discussing plans for the rest of the weekend. I wanted to stay, but I thought Brad wanted to go, so I didn't say anything. I later found out that he did want to stay. At any rate, we were going to Auschwitz the next day, even if it was to be our last in Poland. Bill had found a place to eat lunch and brought us back there for dinner. It was good. I had some soup with horseradish and quali eggs, which were wierd, a good entree, and some great beer. John had a whole trout - pretty disgusting. I have since learned to deal with being served a whole fish on a plate. It was good atmosphere and inexpensive. We had thought about going out after dinner, but only Bill ended up doing that - the rest of us were still exhausted.

End of journal entry 

That's Brad posing with Polish kids, middle top left, Wawel Castel in middle left, and John staring at his whole fish, bottom left. Auschwitz is on right, will post that entry in next post.

With that, my description of our time in Krakow ended. The purpose of our trip to Krakow was to visit Auschwitz, anyway, but I was surprised at how much I liked the city. It has been to this date my only venture into Poland, a neglect that must be rectified some day. The sooner, the better.

A guy I know on Twitter visited Krakow and Auschwitz last week and has been blogging about it. I encourage a visit to his blog. Here's his post on Krakow. Read that, then read the rest.

Next up, Auschwitz...

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