Yes, I feel like that is all I did today. And my aching feet, legs, knees, and back can attest to it. I am posting a little earlier tonight because I am back at the hostel waiting for my cab (in 2.5 hours) to bring me to the train station. I am checked out of the room, but am chillin’ in the common room waiting. I am excited and a little nervous to be taking a night train (by myself… Liz and I will rock it next month!). I really hope I have the cabin to myself, but I am sure I’m not that lucky!
So I got up early again today, after a terrible night’s sleep (due, in part, to too much caffeine and lots on my mind). I was thinking this morning that I have to get up early everyday to make the most of my time. Although I’m on vacation, it’s not like I can just lounge around all that much. So I think I will spend many evenings relaxing, as I have been. This isn’t really a “go out and party” kind of trip. I would like to meet people, fellow travelers, locals, new friends… but I have my guy at home and so it’s not like I’m out in search of anything. And plus, my evenings will be the time when he and I can Skype, so I want to be in for that (on the days that it works out). I was thinking that it was lame that I was spending evenings in my room, but in addition to everything I just said, I think it would be super unreasonable to think that I can go-go-go for 90 days. Most vacations I would like to be out as much as possible, but while this is a trip, it’s also life. I am living life here and I just need down time. And that’s ok. So I’m not going to feel guilty! (Because I did. A little.)
Ok, back to today. I walked all the way down to Wawel Hill and stopped at a bakery I saw in old town the other day. I was very excited to go there and when I walked in, I realized it was a French Bakery. Wah wah. Well, ok, twist my arm, I will have a chocolate croissant. Nowhere near as good as in Paris (thank you, captain obvious). I arrived bright and early to Wawel, in the hopes of getting on the first tours. Success! Wawel Hill is comprised of the Castle (which has several parts), a Cathedral, a garden, and other things. I had planned on touring the State Rooms, the Royal Apartments, the Treasury and Armory, and the Cathedral. I wish I hadn’t toured the Treasury and Armory. Kind of boring… nowhere close to as cool as the Crown Jewels at the Tower in London!
Now, you may be asking, what is this castle? Well, Krakow was the original capital of Poland and was where the kings reigned from. It was sacked many times. The poor Poles have been ruled over by everyone. The Swedes, the Austrians, the Germans, the Russians, etc. Well, the kings reigned in Krakow until the 1700’s, when the capital moved to Warsaw. Interesting factoid: toward the end of the royal rule in Poland, they were electing kings. Weird, right? It gets weirder. They elected them from other countries! They had a French king, several Swedish kings (even had a Swedish king when the Swedes invaded… how rude), and Saxon kings. Anyway, they lost their independence around 1796-ish and did not regain it until after WWI. They began renovating Wawel at that time and getting back on their feet when Germany invaded in 1939 and they went from German occupation to Russian occupation. These guys couldn’t catch a break.
The tour was a little strange. The State Rooms and the Treasury and Armory were self-guided tours, but the Royal Apartments was a guide-led tour. And afterward, it seemed to not make any sense. It could have been all self-guided, so I think it is a way to make more money. I was so tired (sleepy) and fatigued (feet, legs), that it was all I could do to not sit in the many chairs on display and fall asleep. It was a serious struggle, the only thing keeping me upright was the fact that these chairs were hundreds of years old and not meant to be sat on. I was going to tour the Cathedral after (separate admission, again), as I was getting my second wind, but I was also starving. So I ate at a restaurant there (they had Polish Cider! Yay! I hadn’t seen any yet. And it was so good!). Then I decided I needed to save my strength for more important things: Oskar Schindler’s factory and the Eagle Pharmacy. So I left Wawel and set out for the Jewish Quarter and Podgorze.
I have to admit I was slightly disappointed with the Schindler factory. I knew there was an exhibition, but I thought that was in addition to the factory. Nope. The exhibition was almost the entire thing. While it was housed in the factory and was very interesting, it just wasn’t what I thought it would be. I am still glad I trekked out there to see it, but I just really wish it had been the factory itself. The exhibit was good and interesting, but similar to the Warsaw Rising Museum: so much reading…not enough brain space. The coolest part was that Stern and Schindler’s offices were preserved. The floorboards creaked so badly!
After that, I made my way to the Eagle Pharmacy. Otherwise known as the Cracow Ghetto Pharmacy This was a Polish (i.e. non-Jewish) pharmacy, that happened to be located in the heart of the Ghetto. The pharmacist, Tadeusz Pankiewicz, was allowed to keep it running for 2.5 years during the War. This was remarkable and he used his business to help the Jews living in the Ghetto. He got them false papers, helped the ones too sick in the hospital to escape deportations, etc. I read his memoir this winter and it was really incredible. The pharmacy is all a copy, the real one was destroyed, but I always like seeing in real life what I had pictured when reading a book.
One surprise was that right outside the pharmacy was Plac Zgody (or Plac Bohaterow Getta). This was the square where the SS made selections of people in the Ghetto to send to the camps and ultimately where the Ghetto was liquidated. I should have expected this, as the memoir refers to him being able to look out his window and watch it. (Though he often hid in the back when these occurred.). It was pretty powerful to be standing in that spot.
I always said that the first part of this trip was going to be very WWII-heavy (though I am getting a little break here before Germany and Amsterdam), and that I thought it was cool that the WWII stuff would end at Normandy. As I am experiencing all of this, I am so happy that’s the case. Even though I know we won, I think all of these experiences will make Normandy that much more powerful!
I then made my way slowly, painfully, back to Old Town. I just wanted a place to sit down and have WiFi! I knew I wanted to eat dinner at a Milk Bar, so I had to stay in Old Town. I relaxed some and then went to the Milk Bar. A Milk Bar is a holdover from Communist Poland and as far as I’m concerned, it can go. I knew what to expect. Cheap, traditional, Polish food served with absolutely no frills. And I was fine with that. They had plum dumplings, which I thought were going to be like pierogi with fruit (which exists). But these were not pierogi. They were dumplings. And I couldn’t eat them. But I tried! I wasn’t even that hungry, so I thought it was fine and I would get some food at the train station, but now I have just under 2 more hours to wait and I am HUNGRY! I think my stomach is still suffering from jetlag. I don’t eat much during the day (and I’m not hungry), but I’m starving at night!
Well, this is where I bid you adieu. I will wake up in the Czech Republic tomorrow. Really looking forward to that! Mozart concert tomorrow night at St. Nicholas Church! In the meantime, I will work on pictures and hopefully get them posted to Facebook. Once I do that, I will post some here for my non-Facebook readers!