Old world charm
Trip Start Jan 07, 2004
11Trip End Jan 27, 2004
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Old world charm! It's the best way to describe Eastern Europe. One reason why Poland's my favorite stop on this trip.
My train to Krakow went through the countryside. Endless snow-covered fields outside my window. Quiet, dark and remote. Every so often the train would stop at a small lean-to in the middle of no-where. The clackety-clack of the old cars rattling easily put me to sleep. I woke once to the Czech police wanting to check my passport. After crossing the border, I woke again to some stern Polish police. That was followed by lots of boots stomping by outside my cabin. I could see them going back and forth through the vent. Then the conductor came by searching for a stowaway. Even as a tourist, I could feel remnants of life in a communist state
In Krakow, I took the reverse route through the city. I started in the old city and made my way up the hill to Wawel Castle. For me, it's fascinating walking through city gates that have survived for centuries. What's Polish life like? A young man on a roof shoveling snow off. A decorative pot of steaming coffee outside a café. Older women along the sidewalks selling pastries for less than the smallest coin in my pocket. Two locals walking up to me to talk...in their tongue! I love it.
On every block is a church. Religion is huge here! No matter what church or what time of day there's always a crowd worshiping inside. My favorite - the oldest of all. Romanesque St Andrew's Church dates back before 1241. It's the only building to survive the attack of the Tatars. I can practically envision history occurring right in front of me.
What else about Krakow? It's the hometown of Pope John Paul II. He is commemorated by a plaque on the front of Gothic St. Mary's Church. Its medieval old town square is the largest in Europe. My hotel's dining room, lined with bricks and located in the cellar, was formerly used to store coal. You can still see the loading chute in the upper corner. Very cool to sleep in a historic building dating back to the 16th century. The older generations definitely show heavy wear from the past. It's reflected in art everywhere. But the youngest generation has a bright spirit that's eager to move on.