KRAKOW — (I like the “krakov” pronunciation better.) So — zum Krakov wir gehen,
aus Prag. Day-long ride for about 60 bucks .. about 2,000 zlotys. Funny word,
“zloty,” and funny money: It’s worth about $.03 US.
The towns looked a little boring and battered through E. Czech that a.m.
Nice looking farms though. Turned down an English-teaching job here one time.
Killer smog in the “eastern Bohemia brown coal basin.” In some towns they needed
car lights on all day.
A definite chill overcame us when we realized we were passing the Auschwitz
area. For how many thousands was this train ride their last? We’d seen several
concentration camps on an earlier trip and had no desire to find this one.
You know you’re in Poland when:
– The signs say so and when things get really battered and it reminds you more
and more of Russia. Po’folks, poor-looking housing. . .
– Two huge women shove their kids through the train car door and yell at
you in rapid fire staccato sounds.
– You give a WC woman at a rural train station some copper Czech coins
(korunas) and she practically throws them back at you, with more staccato
sounds. This is the land of zlotyz. The poor woman didn’t know a deal when she was offered one.
– The girls have suddenly gotten  bigger, but not more stylish. Just
long-legged and . . . well . . . Polish.
– A tall handsome black youth swaggers into the train car with his
dressed-up blonde and, like a cowboy entering a hostile barroom and drawing his
six-shooter, pulls his cellphone from his pocket and is ready for a showdown.
Hey, the train is ONE MINUTE LATE; let’s get the show on the road! On to Krakow!
– Your first-class train seats are 2nd class at best, a bit tattered and
stained, and not as soft as I’d like.
But at mid-afternoon, we arrived. Krakov is fine! Some luvly old buildings, and
it’s much cleaner than what we saw of Poland on the way in. Not even much
graffiti. (Have I mentioned that Euro cities are as bad as L.A. in that regard?
Maybe worse. BIG colorful stuff, like cartoons, less like the gangbanger
printing in Santa Barbara. It’s hopeless. The dummies win.)
The following day, we worked hard to find the Jewish quarter and finally did,
with the magic appearance of a Jewish woman from New Mexico looking for her
roots. She found us lost at a bus stop on the wrong side of the city and got us to Szeroka Street,
which features restaurants with klezmer music (very old Jewish folk music), so
there was the evening’s entertainment — excellent music and fine dining.
Complete with a taxi ride, since gramps was too beat up to walk much more that day.
In the HUGE new three-story shopping mall (prosperity coming to Krakov?) next to the train station, we were
having  coffee in  McDonald’s after SD changed some money. We were approached
by an elderly, poor-looking woman muttering in German. She reached for my coffee
and I withdrew, then, since most of it was gone, offered it to her.
“Nein, nein,” she said, and pointed at the side of the cup. Thereupon was a
little sticker which, she explained, showing me a card she carried with a couple
of rows of the same sticker pasted on, would entitle her to a free cup if she
had one more — MY sticker.
Her fingernails were dirty and she was a bit tattered, but I liked her attitude
and handed her the cup. She scraped off my sticker and pasted it to her card.
Everybody was happy.
As we were getting ready to leave, she came back and handed us a small
bouquet of lilies-of-the-valley, a May Day tradition in Europe. They were, like
her, kind of tattered; she’d probably found them in the trash, but . . . it’s
the thought that counts,
isn’t it.
Yeah, Krakov was a good stop.
I got an excellent haircut for 5 bucks from an old gal at the train station who
could speak a little Russian and really knew how to cut men’s hair the
old-fashioned way, with a razor around the edges. We saw some outstanding art at
major museum, got our laundry done, and topped off our stay in Krakow with a
Chopin concert!         Our favorite composer was a Pole. It was a treat to hear
Chopin in his native land. I mean, of course, a local pianist playing Chopin’s etudes and preludes; Chopin himself hasn’t played anything since 1849.
Krakow was a good stop. Very good stop.