Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Put the Zlotskies in the Slotskies... Or, a "divine" culinary tour of Krakow

I know - I'm terrible and slow and severely behind and blah blah blah.

Nikki Jatskovski & Kristen MitzKanif (as they shall henceforth be known) came to visit [errrr... last month. Jeez, really am behind!] our fair city and drink in the beer sights of Prague. Luckily, they also brought some lovely weather with them, which stayed with us as we cruised the highways of the Czech Republic and dodged the potholes of Poland on the best minibreak ever.

Here we go!

After an evening with too many Jamesons (Happy St. Patrick's Day, y'all!), four of us dragged ourselves up to the airport, picked up our rental car, and headed out for a weekend full of history and pierogies. Mostly pierogies. And also, vodka. With Peej as our fearless driver and I as the dutiful songstress providing the soundtrack to this adventure, we hit the road. In search of a lekarna somewhere in Moravia, we checked out the charming little village (or hamlet, which I infinitely prefer to refer to it as) of Vranovice-Kelčice, where we encountered some locals who were no doubt wondering what a car full of Americans blasting Carly Rae Jepson's hit "Call Me Maybe" were doing on the sleepy little streets. Alas, no lekarna, so onward bound. Next stop - Prostějov. Still no lekarna, and was not thoroughly impressed, though according to Wikipedia it hosts a disco tournament in May of each year, so I may need to take a trip back & show off my boogie-oogie skills. Finally, a lekarna could be found in Olomouc, which is absolutely charming and definitely will be visited again. 

Allergies in czech (hehe), we crossed the border into Poland & it immediately became clear why so many students had warned me about the terror that is both the Polish roads, and the Polish people who drive on them. The use of turn signals was clearly not covered in driving school, and as we whipped through Pope John Paul's hometown, we nearly joined him several times. But finally, we made it to the beautiful city of Krakow... only to realize that I had not bothered to get directions to our hotel. Undeterred, we set out to find it by luck, and managed to do so in an incredibly short time. 

Our aparthotel was right next to the Old Town and we immediately headed out in search of food. Krakow is stunning. The Old Town Square is so grand, and the entire city made all of use these types of ridiculous adjectives - everything is stunning and grand and lovely and charming and absolutely divine. But seriously - cannot put into words how gorgeous it was, so here - see for yourself:

There is a huge market building in the center and restaurants and churches surrounding it and these beautiful medieval streets radiating out in all directions and just WoW. 

Once we feasted our eyes, it was time to fill our stomachs - pierogies, kielbasa, Okocim beer, honey vodka, mead, the rest of the right side of the menu - you name it, we gorged on it. And we could afford to do this because Poland is fabulously, wonderfully dirt cheap. A meal out for four of us with appetizers and giant entrees and desserts and alcohol came to the equivalent of $50 - TOTAL. Shocking.

On our second day in Poland, we went to Auschwitz-Birkenau. I'm not sure I can put into words what the experience was like. The Auschwitz camp is full of exhibits in each building that describe the rise of the Nazis, the total destruction of Poland, the historical events that led to such a horrific period in time, and the cost of human life. There is one building full of artifacts taken from the prisoners - eye glasses, luggage, clothes, and human hair, but the worst bit is definitely the shoes. Thousands upon thousands of shoes, with baby and children's shoes lined up in front. Awful.

From Auschwitz, we drove over to the Birkenau camp, and nothing quite prepared us for that. Birkenau stretches on in all directions as far as you can see & is the most desolate and depressing place imaginable (for information regarding just how big it is, please ask Nikki Jatskovski). With most of the barracks burned to the ground in the days before liberation, most of what's left are chimneys and the tracks that brought the trains full of prisoners in and on to the gas chambers. It's just totally overwhelming and left us mostly speechless, other than to ask each other a couple important questions, namely...

  • How does one explain to a small child what the crematorium at Auschwitz was used for? There were a surprising number of kids there.
  • Why are there so many groups of tourists taking pictures in front of the death wall and smiling?
  • Who are the people that own the giant houses that back up onto the gas chambers ruins? And how does an estate agent ever manage to sell a property that is Birkenau-adjacent? 
After that, we all needed to veg out so we got back to Krakow and took a little electric car tour of the city. We had an awesome guide named Anna who has lived in Krakow her entire life and was just so freakin' cute. We took the full tour which consisted of Old Town, the Jewish Quarter, the Ghetto and Schindler's Krakow, and she was full of excellent information and managed to give us all types of awesome trivia while simultaneously getting hit on by every man we drove past. 

En route home, we stopped at the Wieliczka Salt Mines for what was to become a three hour tour (cue song) and I thought it was totally fascinating, though maybe a bit too much for MitzKanif & Peej at the end. The cathedral is crrrrrrazy!

All salt! 

Drove home at night and have never seen so many stars in my life as on the backroads of Poland - such an amazing thing to see. Annnnnd then we got to Ostrava, where the pollution obstructed any views we had left. Glad I live in Prague, where our pollution is only mildly vision clogging! :) 

Had a fabulous time with the girls here and their trip was far, far too short. Luckily I'll get to see everyone soon!

I'm in the process of creating an online album for all Euro pix so as soon as that is done I will post up a link!

Next post - Budapest!

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