Saturday, August 6, 2011

Krakow: Put Your Hand to the Up

When we last left you we were just beginning our "homeless day" in L'viv. We planned to head out of L'viv for Krakow on Wednesday morning but after a very dramatic train/bus ticket buying experience where the lady who finally sold us our tickets told us with a roll of her eyes, "I don't know why on Earth you boys are trying to go to Krakow. It's the exact same thing as L'viv." But we were skeptical so we bought bus tickets anyway, the earliest ones available, which were for 10:00 PM. So off we wandered into L'viv for the day to lounge on benches in the city to read books and eat ridiculous amounts of juice (we've each had at least on liter per day since arriving in Europe), vafly and borsch. And surprisingly, this may go down as the best day of our lives.

For those who are wondering about Serhey since you heard from me last, you might be interested to hear his side of the story, which I have for you as he left a comment about me on couchsurfers that we have been laughing about nonstop for three days: "Eli is man of a nice surprise) One won't regret to meet him: positive, open minded, democratic and with good sence of humor =)." We haven't quite pinned down what my "nice surprise" was but I'm ecstatic that he thinks of me as democratic. Gosh I miss Serhey.

We boarded the Krakow-bound bus that evening after being told that we would arrive in Krakow the following morning around 6:00AM. Why on Earth does it take eight hours to drive from L'viv to Krakow when it looks only this big (holding fingers close together) on the map, you ask? I'll tell you. Because after 1 hour of driving to the border, the bus stopped and we engaged in what I'm finding to be a pretty typical land-border crossing experience throughout the world. For the next 3 or 4 hours, we were moved in and out of the bus (which would pull forward about 35 feet every time we got back into it, only to be ushered back out again) while various armed guards took and gave back our passports repeatedly in a near never ending cycle of unproductive nonsense. Fortunately during all of this we were able to meet multiple entertaining people including one Russian kid who was willing to tell us how to buy cocaine in about 15 different countries if we were interested. While I wasn't quite to that point, this was probably about the closest he was ever going to come to finding me willing. There was also a group of Spaniards aboard the bus who were trekking back home after completing some pilgrimage. Matt was fortunately listening and able to translate their conversation when they first boarded the bus only to find that they couldn't sit together, to which an older woman announced to the group with a big smile, "we are separate, but we are happy." And then immediately holding up a sack of something unidentified, she enthusiastically continued, "I have onions! Who wants an onion?!" We later saw some of this group eating these onions like apples. Fortunately for the border crossing people the onion mastication occurred after this group was specifically sequestered for what we found out was apparently a very intrusive frisking, as was evident in the wide eyes, odd walking, and panicked hand gestures meant to demonstrate to each of us that they had been given some special treatment in the back room at about 3:00AM when they were returned to the group.

But we finally made it into Krakow without eating any onions or buying any cocaine. We then met our new couch surfing hosts, Marta and Tomasz. I will never be able to adequately describe Marta and Tomasz. All I can do is later send you pictures we took of their wedding photo album. Marta and Tomasz didn't really speak much English and they wouldn't ever really look us straight in the eye. But they love climbing and followed us around the apartment here and there insisting on talking about it as much as possible, saying over and over again things like, "you haven't pictures climbing?", "you climb?", "we climb, zis is good", and occasionally "have you see cat?" The cat comments came up particularly frequently whenever we attempted to ask a question about how to get out of their gate, which apparently sounds an awful lot like "cat" to them. But Marta and Tomasz were incredibly nice and great hosts. They let us wander around and do what we needed to while they carried on with their lives (which included a lot of what we think was intense argument in Polish about the weather. But we can't be sure).

Krakow was incredible. As the bus lady in L'viv told us, it did look quite a bit like L'viv, which was fine with us. The city was gorgeous and the people were very friendly. Just after we got into the city I started talking to a girl named Eliza on the tram who looked like she knew her way around only to find out that she was from Poland and currently living in London and that she had brought over a group of friends to show them around Krakow. She helped us buy some train tickets and gave us some great advice. We ended up meeting up with their group later to take a tour of the salt mines just outside of the city, which were incredibly interesting. Unfortunately the tour of the mines was about 13 days too long and by the end I felt like the whole thing was going to turn out like The Dissent. But we survived. Our favorite thing that happened here was when Matt and I split from the group and asked a girl on the way out how to get back to Krakow, to which she responded (and this quote is exact): "Zis is best idea. You must take bus. First you must be looking good. Zen you must put your hand to the up." (Translation: Take the bus. Look carefully to find the right one and then raise your hand to get it to stop). For two days now we have been inserting her directions into every song and rap we can think of. We're adding "hand to the up girl" to our long list of people we want to take home with us.

Yesterday we headed out to Auschwitz, which is about an hour away from Krakow. As you can imagine, it was incredibly depressing and horrific. We wandered the camp for several hours, which has been left pretty untouched since the end of WWII. Even some of the buildings (gas chamber buildings), which were blown up, still lay untouched since the 40s. It was incredibly bizarre to be there and a really good experience, although uncomfortable and sad (uncomfortable both because the history is so tragic and because it's just a miserably hot un-shaded place in the summer, much like I think it probably was when it was actually in use).
We hopped a train last night in Prague. This was a sleeper train and each small compartment had SIX people in it, with three beds going up each side. It felt like I was living in the dorms again with about 500 rowdy 20-something year old travelers from all over the world.
There is about a 65% chance we both contracted bacterial meningitis. But we made it to Prague this morning. Fortunately we had a last minute couch surfer contact us last night, offering her place. Her name is Ivana and she met us this morning and took us to her apartment and then went with us into the city for a 3 hour walking tour. The city is gorgeous but unfortunately overrun with tourists. In any event, it's fun to walk the winding streets and see so much incredible architecture. The city looks a lot like L'viv and Krakow, but bigger and taller. We'll stay here until Monday afternoon when we'll hop a train to Vienna.

Having an incredibly great time and laughing constantly (except for at Auschwitz, of course). Thanks for all the messages.


~It Just Gets Stranger

1 comment:

  1. "[Krakow] it's the exact same thing as L'viv"? visited both, dont think so. lviv to cracow-like comparing krakow to paris...

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