Friday, September 14, 2012

Food Massacre in Krakow

Dear Strangers,

There's a pigeon feather on my foot right now. I just noticed it. It's from the squawking pigeon we just saw get squashed by a car driving past us. That squashed pigeon is sort of like a metaphor for our experience in Bulgaria so far.

But first, since I last left you, we finished out our time in L'viv. After another great day there, we gathered our excessive amount of travel belongings and hiked the entire length of the now dark and probably exceedingly dangerous midieval town. Nothing too terrifying happened along the way but during the expedition down the non-lit streets, the warnings of Bob and Cathie screamed inside my head. Bob and Cathie are non-to-keen about any of their children traveling anywhere more dangerous than Jackson Hole Wyoming (unless there's a bear problem there--then pick some other safe place and replace it for purposes of this example). And in fact, Bob sent me an email this morning, mostly in all caps, warning us about the terrorists that I would have thought were probably in my hotel room after reading the message if I didn't know any better.

But seriously B and C, thank you for worrying about me. I feel totally safe over here and we are all keeping our eyes open. Love you.

Anyway, we hopped a midnight train to Krakow, sharing a cabin with a Ukrainian guy named Oleg who sat up half the night watching obnoxiously loud Russian stand-up comedy on his gigantic laptop. He left the room for a moment, probably to go get covered with poop in the bathroom down the hall. During his time away Daniel figured out we could hang upside-down from the very top bunk in the cabin by putting our legs through the bars that were meant to keep a person from falling off the bed. We contemplated doing so, with the lights off, and waiting for Oleg to come back in so we could hiss at him like bats.

But fatigue got the best of us and instead we tried to lay down to get some shut eye.

Shut eye wasn't meant to be.

For the remainder of our 8 hour journey, we gave and received our passports to and from various border patrol agents somewhere around 6,000 times. Give or take. Each time an agent came back into our cabin, I was shaken awake and told "NO SLEEP!!!" I started to wonder if sleeping is now against the law in Ukraine. If it is, I didn't break the law once during my stay there.

But, alas, we arrived in Krakow. And we had had it. Normally it takes some time on a backpacking adventure before I've generally just "had it" but it had now been about 72 hours since I last slept for more than about 20 minutes at a time. Add to that that Daniel and I were both now feverish, shivering, coughing, and had walked around 5 to 10 miles a day, AND had just spent the night in crazy town at Max's house. So we cancelled our couchsurfing host in Krakow, marched to the nearest hotel, and demanded the largest room they had.

So worth it.

Krakow was a time of recovery. The city is absolutely incredible. Probably the most enchanting town I've ever seen. Tourists are starting to overrun the place a bit, which is unfortunate, but it was wonderful nonetheless.

Other than seeing the city, we spent most of our time there eating absolutely everything in sight. Which led us to the Krakow Food Massacre of 2012.

In our defense, we didn't really realize how much food we were ordering at the time. It was all very confusing. We walked into a great little Polish cafe and were told to order at the front counter. Most restaurants in this part of the world are structured in such a way that you are expected to order multiple items, which altogether make up one normal sized meal. So that's what we did. And we were hungry. So we ordered many items.

It wasn't until the plates came to us that we realized that we had ordered enough FULL meals for about 9 people. Like, really really really really full plates of heaping food with multiple sides. Add to that a number of appetizers. We sat on a long cafeteria-like table and covered the entire thing with the plates like it was Thanksgiving at some big family's house.

But the amount of food we ordered is not the embarrassing part.

The amount of food we ate was.

We ate all of it.

ALL of it.

And guys, people in other parts of the restaurant were pretending to have to throw stuff away in the trash can next to our table just so they come come take a peek at how much we were eating. Then they would go back to their friends and whisper to each other in shock while pointing at our table.

We walked out of there, ashamed, and both vowed to never ever eat again as long as we lived. Well, starting after the gelato we got just following dinner. But after that, we were never going to eat again.

Well, until later that night. There was a cafe that had great pies and it's not like we could just pass that up.

But for the next two hours after the gelato and until the pie, we were never ever going to eat again.

We wandered out to Auschwitz one of the days we were in Krakow. Nothing funny to say about the camp, of course. It was a great and sobering experience to walk the grounds. Also, incredibly horrifically depressing. But a good experience nonetheless. I'll share some pictures later.

Yesterday we hopped a plane to Sofia Bulgaria to meet up with Krishelle. The plane stopped in Warsaw on the way for a 4 hour layover. We ventured into the city very briefly and saw the almost-completely-rebuilt-from-scratch-since-being-demolished-in-WWII city.

We found Krishelle in Sofia and all of us were on the brink of starvation (I know this seems impossible after Krakow, but it's really true) so we wandered off to find some food.

Guys, Sofia is seriously THE WORST. Oh, but if you're from here, then Sofia is like such a cute wonderful city . . .thank you so much for letting me come visit . . . it's the best ever, etc.!!! (Wink wink, to everyone else. I just said that to make the people who are reading this and are from Sofia feel good. It's seriously the worst place ever).

My "guide" book about Bulgaria makes this place sound like a town that has been converted into the guest house for heaven. The only possible explanations I can think of for the content of this book are: 1) the man who wrote it was currently being threatened with his life by the Bulgarian government, 2) the only other place he's ever been in his entire life is downtown Tijuana or inside a Walmart on the day after Thanksgiving, or 3) he was born without any of his five senses. If it's the third thing, I'm actually really impressed that he was able to write a book and I think he should be recognized for such an outstanding achievement.

But in any event, this book is just like a politician: it makes everything sound nice, but it's full of lies.

The city is very run-down, dirty, and infiltrated by trashy American businesses. Every part of town we can find looks like the bad part of town. And we're running out of places to find. We already badly miss the gorgeous cities of Poland and Ukraine.

We wandered the entire city last night looking for a place to eat. This should not have been a difficult thing. Oh but it was. Our standards were high at first. We were looking for a good restaurant with traditional Bulgarian cuisine. After a while of aimless wandering, we asked someone where we could find such a place:

"Over zer you may find McDonald's."

"Hmm. What about a place with Bulgarian food?"

"Well ALL the food in every restaurant here is prepared in a Bulgarian kitchen, obviously."

We asked about a dozen people where we could find Bulgarian food. All dozen looked bewildered and told us they didn't know where on Earth we would find such a thing, as though we asked them where we could find the Holy Grail.

Then we just started looking for any kind of restaurant because Daniel was starting to chew on his shirt, like he does, and we didn't want him to turn into mr. cranky-pants, like he does.

Eventually we rolled into a place that looked like Denny's and we haven't felt the same since.

Immediately after dinner, we went straight to the train station. Not even the guide book put a rose color tint on what the train station would be like. We walked down a pitch-dark underground alley to get to it. It was one of those places that make you suddenly start to think about all of the ways you are going to change your life if you happen to get out it (I'll start treating Paul Cyclemon better). Inside the train station, the half-missing wall-tile, dim lighting, and old people crying in corners made us lose the will to live.

In my Bulgarian-Russian-Ukrainian-Spanish-Pig-Latin, I asked train station woman a number of questions that, if translated into English, I hoped would sound something like a very exasperated, "We need to get the hell out of here stat! Help us! We'll do anything! Anything!"

After looking at some of our train options, we decided to give Sofia one more day. It's been a bit better today and we've been able to see some great art and churches. But we're still not about to buy real-estate here. We'll head out first thing in the morning to a town called Plovdiv, which we have been told is a much less depressing part of the country. Fingers crossed.

Love you all,


~It Just Gets Stranger


  1. Come back so I can say goodbye for realzz!

  2. B&C's advice is NOT an overreaction. Love, The Mominator.

  3. I was tempted to be jealous that you were in Europe and I was stuck in school, but then I realized at least I have clean bathrooms here. Maybe going to school and having clean bathrooms is better than touring Europe with gross bathrooms .... or maybe I'm just trying to make myself feel better.

    1. I will sometimes agree with you depending on how much i need a bathroom.

  4. Bulgaria truly is the worst. One of the companies I work for has had multiple run-ins with Bulgarian hackers who stole, of all things, toll-free conference call numbers. This lead to some research on my part and I have discover more information about Bulgaria that I will never be able to un-know. A dreadful place, you should remove yourself from there ASAP.

  5. Holy cow! We hope you have "removed" yourself from there-STAT! Write more -we. LOVED This! When you return you can make some T-shirts that say, " I survived The Bulgaria -Summer of 2012 Tour". Love, B&C

  6. I think I'll skip your post of pictures of Auschwitz. Seeing Sachsenhausen firsthand was enough for one lifetime. :/

  7. I think I'll skip your post of pictures of Auschwitz. Seeing Sachsenhausen firsthand was enough for one lifetime. :/

  8. I'm glad you went to Krakow. It really is one of the most beautiful cities ever.

  9. What ziggy piggies!

    Krakow sounds marvelous. I shall put it on my list. Best part of this post? Imagining you both swinging by your knees on a dark train, hissing like bats.

  10. I'm completely terrified of Bulgaria now, which started with the travel advice given is by or adoption agency, "bring crisp, new, hundred dollar bills because the ATMs don't always work, and the locals are suspicious of money that doesn't look new" (or something). We are supposed to be traveling t Bulgaria to pick up our son sometime later this fall, and we're traveling with our 2 year daughter too.

    1. Hi Kat. Best of luck to you! Let me know if you need any help or have any questions. I have some general tips for traveling in eastern Europe (and now Bulgaria specifically) that can make going there a little less daunting. Also I know several families who have adopted from that part of the world who would be happy to talk to you about some things they learned the hard way in the process. By the way, I think that money advice is getting outdated. atms in this part of the world are plenty now and I have used many many many and have never had a single problem. But seriously, shoot me an email if i can help in any way.

  11. Ukraine has a great cuisine! Borscht, varenyky, cakes, salads, sausage… It is very cheap and so tasty! When you go to Ukraine you definitely should pay more attention to local dishes: Ukrainians also like to drink gorilka, but it can not be called traditional Ukrainian drink :)