Saturday, August 18, 2012

Timeout! Krakow

We rolled into Krakow tired, worn out, and wanting nothing more than to watch TV for a week straight. We checked into a private room on the outskirts of town in a well rated hostel called 4 Friends and immediately took up residence in front of the Olympics. (Women’s race walking was surprisingly entertaining!)

Our goal was simple. We wanted to sit on the couch for a week. We told the front desk that we’d like to switch our reservation from 3 days to 6 and were told no problem, but we might have to move rooms.
Day 4 comes around, and we learn that “moving rooms” means that nobody wrote down our request to extend and we needed to move on.
It felt like bad luck returning, but instead, it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to us.
We ended up renting a fifth floor apartment right outside of Old Town. When I say apartment, I mean a full unit in a “Angel City Apartments”, a building built for young professionals. It was walking distance to Old Town, had a private fridge, electronic locks on the outside door, kitchen, jacuzzi tub, balcony and satellite television. Most of the channels were in Polish, but we still had the news and the fashion channel. Minor drawbacks aside, we had our private room to bunker down in for the remainder of the week, so bunker we did.
I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow of our week of lazing around Krakow, but here’s a fun story.
A fifty year old man named Milon and his fourteen-year-old son Adam were also staying at 4 Friends hostel. They came into the common room while we were watching Olympic handball and eating a smattering of food from the grocery store, including pickles. We tried saying hi, but soon realized that the Milon spoke no English. After about a minute, we got names exchanged. A few minutes later I learned they were from northern Poland and I offered them a pickle.
Adam said no, in the geeky, nervous way that 14 year olds can have. I think he was too nervous to take a pickle. Milon accepted the pickle. I held out the jar for him, at which point he pulled a six inch buck knife out of his pocket. I guess that’s what you’re supposed to carry. He took the jar, and in a well practiced motion he stabbed and removed a pickle. Later, the woman at the hostel informed me we had purchased something “very Polish” and that pickles are “good for the digestion.”
Milon put away his buck knife and happily ate his pickle, standing a bit awkwardly over his newfound American friends as we ate our lunch. He and Adam then spoke to each other in Polish, Milon trying to talk Adam into something. He looked at us and waved his hands a couple times.
Adam stepped forward and licked his lips. He then started, very hesitantly, to speak in English.
“Do…” he started, surprising me a little.
“Yes?” I asked, trying to encourage him.
“Do you…”
“Uh huh,” I said, trying to let him know I understood.
“Do you… like you…” he said, completing half of a poorly formed sentence.
“Do you… like you… computer games?” he said. A huge smile came over his face and he backed up a few feet, proud of himself for getting his question out.
“Yes!” I said. He smiled and his dad looked very proud. Milon had no idea what was said, but his boy had said something in English. “I like computer games!” I said very slowly.
Adam looked like I just gave him $100.
“I like computer games, too!” he said, gaining confidence.
“I like…” he tried.
“I like…” he tried again.
“I like…” he tried a third time. Now, I try not to judge people by appearances, but Adam didn’t look like he was the most popular kid in school. He looked like a geek, and like other geeks, I can recognize my own kind, so I helped him out. “Warcraft?” I asked.
“I like Warcraft!” he said, jovial in our bit of communication.
“I like Warcraft 3! and I like rap! Do you like rap?”
“Yes, I like rap!” I said. Maybe I’m not a huge rap fan, but I wanted to encourage the kid. He stuck out his lower lip, frowned in the tough guy face that’s so common on MTV and nodded. Adam is thug life Poland.
Like so many teenagers, he then disappeared into his mobile phone, but his dad was smiling. Adam had made his father proud, and somewhere in northern Poland, Milon is telling this story to his family.
Milon stood awkwardly for a bit longer. We would have loved to chit-chat, but we had gotten about as far as charades would take us. He eventually left, but we kept running into them in the hostel and smiling.
At one point, Adam started playing some rap on his phone as loud as he could, looked at me and nodded. I smiled back.
Another highlight of Krakow was our last day, which was our third wedding anniversary (thanks to everyone who commented on the last blog!) It was our second, back-to-full-exploring day after our recouping. We visited Wawel Castle, the Old Jewish Kasimierz district and went to a wonderful Italian place called Il Calzone that we found in the Lonely Planet.
Our first full traveling day was the day before, where we went to a small and tragic town called Oswiecim, which is better known by the name the Nazis gave it… Auschwitz. We didn’t really want it to be our first day, “back in the saddle,” but didn’t want to go to Auschwitz on our anniversary either. We’re not big fans of touring all the sites of tragic events around the globe, but there is no way to learn about the history of Europe without touching on the holocaust. We skipped Dachau and the plethora of smaller camps, but felt we should go to at least one. This was it. I’d like to write more about it, but I think it needs its own blog to do it justice.
Anyway, we had gotten close to coming home, but relaxing in the apartment was a bit rejuvenating. Once again, we packed up our gear, swung the packs onto our back, and took off to the next place. We’re not quite ready to go back to the full budget backpacker mode, so we booked a private room in a hotel in the city of Wroclaw, Poland.

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