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OTR

01.03.18

Lviv- train we didn’t take, Budapest- traffic we were mildly delayed by, Krakow- bus station, Slovakia- castle that we passed, Slovakia- bus station.

These are not in chronological order.

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The first photo is our street in Krakow. The following three shots are of an area just across the tracks, literally, about 4 minutes on foot. That area is in aggressive transition and simultaneously houses a bunch of industry, perhaps mostly shipping and logistical, The Oskar Schindler Museum (highly recommended, BTW), some kind of tech hub and these rather upscale mid-rises; oh, and this seemingly abandoned industrial building overlooking this upscale restaurant.

Open Spaces

11.22.17

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Wawel Castle, a green area along the river walk and a very tall church near our neighborhood that we used as a landmark all around town to find our way home. I know this architectural style was intended to be grandiose, but that bottleneck toward the top of the highest steeple (right?) is just rubbing it in.

I’ve struggled with how I can best summarize our months on this trip. These Cities are large; Krakow is about 6.5 Granadas, pretty close to 1 Panama City. I never felt like I did PC justice in my Summary, not in the way I was able to capture the sum of our experiences in other towns like Esteli. The European portion of this trip could easily be a series of 8 (or something) Summaries about how I failed to fully grasp what was going on, but instead I’m going to rejigger the format a bit and provide a less authoritative recap of my impression. Here we go.

The short of it: Krakow is a historic city even by European standards and we found it affordable, charming, and incredibly easy to navigate, both geographically and culturally.

Pros: EU member allowing for visa-free travel within The Schengen Area, high availability of goods and standard of living, seemingly dependable infrastructure, very affordable, Poland is generally is considered one of the safest countries in Europe with regard to violent crime.

Cons: Tourist dollars set the agenda for much of the downtown, giving much of the entertainment on offer a disconnected, mediated feel.

Distortions: Renting via Airbnb saved us from having to arrange for utilities and complete other potentially bureaucracy heavy tasks. We visited in September of 2017 and stayed near the city center, 10 minutes on foot south of the trendy Kazimierz neighborhood, just over the river.

Overall: The Girlfriend and I agree that Krakow would be very easy to live in, if only for the 6 months out of the year that our tourist stamps would allow. The average monthly high temperatures range from 32 F in January to 77 F in July, making it similar to Chicago with a milder summer. Our credit card was accepted nearly everywhere with no minimums or service fees and ATM cash was easy to come by as well. Small grocery stores and cheap restaurants were ubiquitous.

Food and entertainment: One of the first things we evaluate when we arrive somewhere is whether or not there is cheap, filling food available nearby. If so, great, we can be a little more leisurely with getting our bearings and figuring out groceries since we won’t risk undermining our budget or going hungry. Krakow’s Milk Bars fit the bill perfectly. They’re a holdover from the communist era and provide authentic Polish food at minimal cost, usually around US$3.30/meal for me without be too selective about it. The prices really encourage you to experiment, since if you don’t like the result you probably haven’t blown your budget for the day. The experience from bar to bar will differ, but we always left feeling like we’d gotten value for our money. Our closest option was also one of the best reviewed, Krakus. I don’t know how I managed to post photos from 4 different Milk Bar meals without any perogies (dumplings), since they were probably our most common order, but it looks like it happened. Had we not had this option, we’d still have been fine. Corner grocery stores abound and the pricing fit easily in our budget.

Beyond the low cost standby, Krakow has a large and crowded nightlife district in Kazimierz, an old Jewish neighborhood before the local Jewish population was forcibly relocated by The Nazis. Jewish culture has experienced a renaissance in Poland generally and Krakow especially over the last couple of decades and its in full evidence in Kazimierz. You’ll also find picturesque cafes and bars (often at the same place in the typical European style), nightclubs, street food and all of the typical diversions you’d expect in a tourist heavy nightlife destination.

A slightly more upscale grouping of cafes, bars and restaurants can be found at the foot of the pedestrian bridge that crosses the river past the Southern edge of Kazimierz, amid what appears to be a gentrified/gentrifying neighborhood of newly restored and/or built mid rises.

Most of the local museums, of which their are many, offer a weekly free day. The Oskar Schindler Factory Museum is particularly good, covering far more Polish and Krakovian history than Schindler’s famed Nazi subversion.

We toured a few local gyms when we first arrived in The City, but decided to spend the month canvasing the city on foot as much as possible rather than pursuing our normal fitness routines. We liked Power2Fit, which would have run us about US$25-30/pp/month. Saturn Fitness was amazing, if small, but came in at about twice the price.

Our place: Our Airbnb rental had a combined living/sleeping room, a separate kitchen and bath. It worked great for the two of us for one month, though we’d probably want either a separate bedroom or at least a little more space to accommodate a bed and couch or set of comfortable chairs for longer stays. But overall we were very happy with both the rental and its location.

Infrastructure: We experienced no utility outages during our 30 days. Internet speed was about 20 Mbps down / 2 Mbps up at our rental.

Numbers: Our 30 days came in at US$1,512.62 covering two people all in, occasionally including simple healthcare but not accounting for insurance or major medical costs. Our Airbnb rental ran us US$665 of that. You can see a detailed enumeration and broad summary of our spending here. Be sure to look at both tabs.

 

Polish Erata 5

11.17.17

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Around town out of doors

Polish Erata 4

11.15.17

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A blue sky outside on our street (somewhat rare this time of year), the courtyard at a local pub and some vegetable juice that claims to have 4 servings of vegetables per small carton (500ml), at least as far as I can understand.

Price of beer in a bar: US$1.30 for 500ml of local draft

Song currently stuck in my head: Troglodyte (Jimmy Castor)

Though I’m hunkering down in a Ukrainian Tourist Bar, I want to use this post to give shape to some of my lingering thoughts from Krakow. It feels like I’ve barely mentioned it, and that’s partially because of how incredibly easy it was. Everyone accepts my credit card without additional fee, people are tolerant of the pointing and shrugging that I use as a substitution for knowledge of the local tongue, it’s eminently walkable and the trams are easily wielded when it’s not… it’s adversity and revelry that make for good travel writing,  I assume, but I experienced little of either. I experienced a town filled with wonderful rooms that made great backdrops to great coffee, great beers and good meals, and I paid surprisingly little for so much. Speaking of the coffee, I’m not generally a fan of European coffee culture. While I love their cafes, their children’s menu of tiny sips of a brew strong in flavor and weak on impact are better served to the plush toys attending little girls’ tea parties than they are for sparking life along my neural pathways.

I still consider an ‘Americano’ an insult; a manifestation of the demeaning opinion that American style filtered drip is just watered down espresso. This mistake can only by made by those unfamiliar with the feeling of purposiveness that 16+ ounces of dark roast imbues, with the relationship you form with the paper cylinder in your fist over the better part of an hour; the interior sunrise of good ‘ol American over stimulation.

Sorry, what I’m trying to say is Krakow’s espressos were the first that didn’t disappoint; the first I found respectable and enjoyable in their own right rather than a poor substitution for what I’m looking for.

I really started to worry that this was going to be, more or less, a year without vegetables. I tasked The Girlfriend with trying to figure out how we might get 4 or 5 recommended servings daily without breaking that bank while adrift in a culture of delicious meats and starches. We found juice. Of course! How has this eluded me this long? It’s an embarrassment and I feel embarrassed about it. My father used to drink V8, so I can’t claim ignorance. In The States I’d just buy a bag of frozen vegetables, usually something cruciferous, and call it a day, but I still spent a lot of days missing the nutrients that I hope will one day hold the alcohol/tobacco/hot beverage/HPV induced cancers at some kind of stalemate, if only temporarily. I’m tempted to say I was overwhelmed by choice. There’s far less selection here, far less paralysis through analysis. Europe generally has that reputation and The US has one as well; small shops and daily shopping vs monolith big box stores with 150 different styles of corn to pour into a bowl and cover in milk.

While in Krakow, we visited the Oskar Schindler Museum, which was fantastic and covered far more than Schindler. We also visited the MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art, Under The Eagle, both Underground Museums and Wawel Castle, all on free days. If you poke around, you’ll know which ones you want to see and which ones you don’t, but you can’t beat the price.