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September 4th, 2010 | Europe

Krakow by Night…

Riding on your own for months on end can be a lonely experience, often only made bearable by the amazing people you briefly meet along the way… Sometimes a simple request for directions from a complete stranger, can lead to a two day stay with a family who become an integral part of your life for the time you spend with them…

I have mentioned before that I have on many occasions been approached by people wanting to know where I have been and where I am going, and have struck up conversations in the strangest of places and unusual situations…

The central square in Kazimierz, the old Jewish Quarter of Krakow... Not the best weather to be out in, but we braved it anyway...!!

The most recent being that with Wojciech Gapinski, who I met in the middle of a traffic- jam in Krakow the other night… This chance meeting, and the few hurried words we shared between traffic lights, led to an evening out on the wet streets of Krakow, which will remain etched into my memory…

And not for reasons that some of you might think…!! Yes, there was a reasonable volume of liquid refreshment involved, and yes, finding our respective ways home was not without a few minor complications, but the hours we spent together would have had most thinking we had known each other for years…

Wojciech collected me from my hotel after my visit to the Salt Mine, and then parked the car in an underground parking area, where his wife would later collect it… Clearly he had planned ahead, for he probably had an inkling that he might not be in a fit state to drive later that evening…!! A resourceful chap is our Wojciech…!!

The rain that fell constantly throughout the evening had little or no effect on enjoyment of the evening, even though we spent a great deal of the time walking through the streets of the city, where my new-found friend proved to be a more than capable guide…

Our first of many stops...!! Endzior's Bar on the Market Square of Kazimierz...

Our walk began in the old Jewish Quarter of Kazimierz, where Polish Jews have lived and worked for centuries… The community here dates back to circa 1350…!! Kazimierz lies cradled in a loop made by the Wisla River which cuts through the city, much as this same river does in the capital Warsaw, hundreds of kilometres to the north…

The cobblestoned streets are narrow, some of them not very well lit, but the rich history of the area could be seen and felt as we strolled about, side-stepping puddles and dodging cars that edged through the rain, trying not to scrap their side mirrors on those already parked on the sides of the streets…

Jews were traditionally involved in commerce and as in many other parts of the world, this led to tensions between themselves and the Christian communities that surrounded them… They were persecuted by a succession of countries that at one time or another controlled Poland, such as the Russians and the Austrians, and later the Germans…

...where this little number, consisting of cheese and spinach, melted on a huge slice of bread, was ordered for me...!!

Shortly before the Second World War, the Jewish community here numbered almost 60 000 and Krakow became the centre of Jewish political and social life in Poland… Today, their community numbers barely a 1000, after they were forced to flee when Krakow became the capital of Nazi-occupied Poland…

Wojciech insisted I try a take-away meal from a little “hole-in-the-wall” kind of fast-food joint, renowned for its “Zapiekanka”… Endzior’s Bar is located in the old Jewish Marketplace, where traders sell fruit and vegetables during the day…

From Kazimierz, we headed north, into the Old Town of Krakow, passing the massive Wawel Castle, home of the traditional Polish Kings, and once also the home of the Wawel Dragon, who legend has it, had his lair in a cave on the hill… The rain continued to fall as we walked along the Planty, a green strip of parkland that runs around the entire length of the Old Town…

Scandal was brewing upstairs at the Bachelorette party...

Szczepanski Square at night, with its colourful fountain...

All this walking can make a man thirsty, and my guide seemed well aware of this fact… We stopped off at the Scandale Royal, a restaurant located on the edge of Szczepanski Square, where we enjoyed a Polish Zywiec Beer to restore our flagging spirits, brought on by the long walk and chilly weather…

A Bachelorette Party was in full swing upstairs, all the girls wearing the shortest possible skirts, and sporting wedding veils and high heels… Judging by the squeals of laughter, they were having a very good time of it…!!

The original trading post stood here in the largest medieval square in Europe...

Then it was on to the main square, the largest Medieval Town Square in Europe… A very long line of local residents stood huddled under their umbrellas, waiting for entry into a museum that had just re-opened after renovations, as well as a political rally that was about to kick off…

A rock band was setting up and as we were leaving, they began belting out some traditional Polish music…

This massive square houses the old trading building dating back centuries, and formed an important stop-over for travelers and traders taking their goods from the Baltic Sea down to the Mediterranean…

Residents of Krakow brave the wet weather for the re-opening of the museum on the town Square...

St. Mary’s Basilica stands on eastern side of the Square, and getting a decent photo of this beautiful church proved difficult… While Wojciech held the umbrella over me, I snapped away, taking photos which I had little hope of being able to use, but still surprised at the images I was able to capture…

St. Mary's Basilica on the massive central square...

The Basilica has evolved over the years, from its consecration in 1222 to its final form on the left, in 1478...

While I enjoyed a plateful of Pierogi....

Wojciech poted for Polish sausage and onions...

At a large restaurant, the Kompania Kuflowa, which held seating for hundreds of people, we enjoyed traditional Polish cuisine; Pierogi, with cabbage and mushrooms was ordered for me, while Wojciech went with the Polish sausage with onions…

This washed down with one and a half litres of beer, had our stomachs satisfied and our legs ready for another few blocks of the wet Krakow streets… At the table next to us, two girls were getting suitably sozzled, both wearing veils decorated with condoms and plastic penises… Go figure…!!

One of them was about to pass out, and her friend escorted here to the washroom to “freshen up”… She returned minutes later, bright-eyed and bushytailed, ready to party on…!! She had either “offloaded” was had been bothering her, or had partaken of some substance guaranteed to nullify the effects of heavy drinking…!!

Tired of unblocking drains, management finally installed this piece of equipment...!! Great idea, don't you think...

No..., this is not the public toilets...!!

Message from the wife... You "Poezja" too much, I "Smaku" hard...!!

The direction Wojciech and I took from the restaurant seemed a bit vague…

I no longer knew exactly where we were, but continued to listen as he chatted about the history of the area and life in Poland in general…

He was not a native of Krakow, and had lived most of his life in the north western area of the country, before moving here where he works in the IT industry, writing and maintaining programs for financial institutions…

We spoke about his own plans to buy a bigger bike one day and ride down to Jordan and Syria, exploring the region which he had heard was rich in culture and history… His wife Kasia was in the process of getting her own drivers license for a bike and would more than likely accompany Wojciech riding her own bike… A perfect plan to my way of thinking…!!

But this walking and talking was making us thirsty again, and before long, we were forced to stop at the Omerta Pub, decorated with photos and quotes from the Godfather movies…

“Luca Barzi sleeps with the fishes…” and “Leave the gun, take the Canolli…” were ones that adorned the wall closest to where we found a seat… We enjoyed a Ciechan honey-flavoured beer, which was just the elixir we needed to perk us up and assist us in making plans for transport…

Light from outdoor restaurants reflect off the slick surface of this square...

Beautiful architecture such as this can be seen on almost every street in old town Krakow...

It was nearing midnight when we realized that the trams running in the direction that I needed to go, had packed it in for the night… We stood on an island in the middle of a busy intersection, trying to figure out what to do next… Just then an empty taxi pulled up at the traffic lights, and seconds later I was seated next to the driver, having bid Wojciech a hasty goodbye, with promises to stay in touch…

Little did I know that less than 24 hours later, we would be cruising the dark streets of Krakow on our bikes, visiting various family members, enjoying coffees and a home-cooked meal, and cementing a friendship that had begun in the unlikeliest place of a Krakow traffic jam…

But that is what has been one of the highlights of my journey so far… Meeting people from different walks of life and cultures, and getting the maximum amount of enjoyment out of the short time we spend together…

Chairs on the Square... These metal chairs are bolted in place on this wide square, to commemorate the time when local residents brought chairs for the Jews to sit on, while they waited to be transported to the death camps of Auschwitz...

My Krakow evening walk through the cold and the rain with Wojciech will be part of the treasured memories I will carry with me through the coming years on the road…

Thank you Wojciech…!!

Keep your dreams alive my friend…!!

GBWT 2010

3 comments to Krakow by Night…

  • Mark Behr

    Great post – nice to see you enjoying the people you meet along the way. These friendships endure and will take off where they left off, in the future. Continue to enjoy and stay safe.

  • Charmz

    You have been very lucky to have met these friendly, kind hearted people along your travels, who have gone out of their way to make your journey that more interesting and memorable. Take care of your liver……Proheps!!!

  • Kim

    I would need a couple of bevvies to actually say the names of the people you have met – I’m sure by 11 o’clock at night I would be able to pronounce “Wojciech”….
    Great people, great food and not so great weather, but looks like you having fun, fun, fun!!!!!!
    BIG kisses
    K

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