Friday, October 20, 2006

First Post in Krakow

We arrived in Krakow on Oct. 11 after a long, but relatively easy journey. We started out from Tulsa to Chicago, after seeing the Bryant clan for a few days. We had a 5 hr layover in Chicago. Sidenote: Chicago, from what we’ve heard, has the second largest Polish population for one city outside of Warsaw (Poland’s capitol). We took Booster for a walk in the misty cold rain and hung out under the flags of the world – Not the entire world. Only the flags of countries that Chicago O’Hare connected to. At the same time, in all fairness, there is no way we would could hold the airport accountable for having all of the world’s flags, if that was their goal, because we don’t know what all the flags of the world look like ourselves. Of the flags they did have up, we identified at least half. Okay, enough on the flags.

The leg from Chicago to Krakow ended up being 9 hrs instead of the 14 that Bhadri had told everyone it would be. So that’s good news for anyone thinking of coming over. Flight recap: The veg meals were delectable, although sparse. They included free alcohol and consisted mainly of fruit and vegetable. They take the whole vegetarian thing very seriously. Couldn’t even get a bit of yogurt to go with it. Dairy! Bhadri tried to get a fruit cup, like the ones that came with the meat meals, but that was a nogo. Apparently not enough floating fruit to go around. Booster did great. He just slept in his crate beneath the seat at Bethanie’s feet, having sweet dreams of meat and his own seat. Each time we reached in to pet him, his head shot out of the top loader. So when we arrived, we expected to find our “accommodation officer” from the school standing on guard to show us to our flat. But there was no sign with our names or any that resembled ours. After 45 min. Piotr finally showed and we hit the road.

Our flat is a 2-bedroom, 1 bath with a kitchen and massive entry area on Ulica Krowoderska (pron. You-leets-a Kro-vo-dare-ska). It’s only a 10-15 min walk from the old town (Stare Miasto), the beautiful core of Krakow, surrounded by old castle walls and a green belt where the moat once was. About our place: it’s got all wood floors, except for the bathroom and kitchen; big windows facing noisy Krowoderska; a back patio that hasn’t been cleared of the pigeon shit in ages (we’re working on that. We’ve got no hose here on the 3rd floor in the middle of the city. But we’ve got a bucket, so …); a tv with 20 channels and only 12 stations (for some reason a load of the channels repeat, and even if they didn’t it wouldn’t matter because the only things playing are game shows, Polish soaps, American soaps poorly dubbed, variety shows and your occasional Name That Tune. And we don’t speak more than a little Polish any how); an 8 ft. ceramic tile heater tower in each of the bedrooms that we got turned on 3 days ago (which is nice because we woke up with frost on the ground today); a water heater with a flame that ignites each time we turn on the water (we can hear the pooooof of ignition power); oversized pillows and undersized beds; and a small sampling of meble (Polish for “furniture”) from IKEA.

Directly across the street is Lewiatan, a small super market with a lot of good food. We’ve been cooking lots of soups and have discovered Zywiec, the premier Polish pilsner. We’re trying to expand our recipe repertoire, but we still fall back on the odd grilled cheese and Bethanie makes some killer veggie burgers from scratch. We haven’t mastered any Polish recipes ourselves, and it’s been a challenge to shop because we don’t know what the labels say. But we have had some great dining experiences. Bethanie has fallen in love with Pierogi, a Polish dumpling. She prefers them without meat and with sauerkraut. Bhadri likes the Pierogi Ruskie filled with mashed potatoes and cottage cheese. Traditionally Pierogi are topped with sautéed onions, but we had them topped with some beautiful butter and herb sauces at a small (4 tables) restaurant called Vincent in the Kazimierz District.

We’ve also discovered Polish soup. Beware, this might sound disgusting, but trust us our taste buds do not lie. Bethanie tends towards Borszcz, hot beet soup. Bhadri’s found a jonesing for Zurek, a sour Polish soup with a thick broth filled with hard boiled egg, ham and sausage.

The city is beautiful. Krakow is full of energy – busy people darting everywhere. The streets are filled with them. There is great public transportation, from what we’ve seen. We actually haven’t got on board yet, because we can walk pretty much anywhere we need to be. The buildings generally are neglected but gorgeous, and generally don’t top more than 6 stories. There is lots of tagging on buildings, but we never feel unsafe anywhere we walk. The bottom floors of the buildings usually house shops: Meble (furniture), Apteka (pharmacy), Sklep (general store) and Fryzier (salon) are a few that we’ve picked up on. Often the shop won’t even have a name. The sign will just read “Antykwariat” and you know they sell antiques. There are lots of well-behaved dogs, some not even on leashes, and plenty of trees and grassy strips for the dogs to enjoy.

People on the street rarely acknowledge each other with anything more than a brief stare. We’re so used to smiling and saying hello. But that’s just been greeted with more stares and the occasional scowl. The Polish culture observes as certain respectful distance and in shops it is common to greet the sales clerk with a “good day” and leave with a “thank you” and “good bye.” We’re getting used to these formalities. Also, this may just be how life is in a city with so many people always on the street. It’s easier to tune it out.

Also, not knowing much more than a few phrases of Polish has been a challenge. We just try to keep smiling and we are learning and becoming comfortable with what we do know. It’s fun practicing knew words for phrases. The other day someone stopped by from International House to fix the heater and Bhadri offered him something to drink so he could try it out. And although this was the second time Bhadri met him, he still said “pleased to meet you” in Polish, another new phrase he just learned. The guy just went on about his business probably thinking, “Is this guy nuts?!”

We’ll be sure to let you know what we learn next …

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Bhadri,
Just a quick note to let you know I'm trying to keep up with your blogs. Thanks so much. They are beautiful and meaningful. Congratulations and best wishes on the engagement. Take lots of photos and keep sharing.
Louise (Goodwill)