From a cozy, Louis Armstrong-playing cafe in the Old Town on a street I can't pronounce, Cześć (Hi) from Kraków!
We are here. Poland in green.
After a sleepless, emotional, quick 12 hour (and I say that with zero sarcasm after Indonesia) journey to Krakow, I arrived to miles of verdant green surroundings and the most amazing weather of all time (and I say THAT with zero sarcasm after Indonesia). It is, what they call here, Golden Polish autumn. Chilly yet sunny sweater weather. The kind that puts just the right amount of color in your cheeks. So for me, a Fall lover through and through, all is right with the world, right? Let's harken back to my first sentence, shall we?
There are a million things right with that sentence and a million things wrong. Well, thirty-two things wrong. That's how many letters are in the Polish alphabet. I really underrated the language barrier on this trip. But frankly I'm not sure any communication pole vault would have hoisted me over it. With 8 letters that have multiple versions of themselves, words that commonly include 5 consonants in a row, and letters that sound completely different in English, anyone would wave the white flag at their first attempt at a pronunciation.
Take the word 'dziękuję' meaning 'thank you' in Polish and sounding like 'gin-koo-ya'. With 'thank you' being a staple in my limited vocabulary no matter where I travel, I knew I'd have to bust this puppy out at some point. So when an elderly man approached me in the market and asked in Polish if I needed help finding anything, I gave him a sheepishly apologetic look while saying 'I'm sorry, I don't understand' in English. Much to my relief, he immediately asked again in broken English. Although I kindly replied 'no', I knew this was my big chance. My Polish premiere! My dialect debut! With a small pause to gather my wits and prep my pronunciation, 'dziękuję' clunkily fell out of my mouth. As if I had just done him proud, the man gave me a cheerful smile and declared, "Just like a true Krakow girl." Poles may have a reputation for being a no-nonsense, hearty, sometimes gruff people, but they have so far seemed equally warm if you just make the effort.
And frankly, I feel like that's the least I can do. Poland has historically really been through the ringer. As the battle ground for centuries of war amongst its neighbors (no thanks in part to its flat topography), Poles have struggled to maintain their identity. And yet today, it is one of the most homogeneous countries in the world. Over 90% Catholic. Less than 2% of non-Polish ethnicity. Population number virtually stagnant in the last decade. Even the Hare Krishnas stroll and sing with an accordion accompaniment to fit in.
Hence, I expect this to be quite a culturally-enlightening experience. Thankfully I have an expansive, third-floor walk-up apartment in an 18th century building just two blocks from the Old Town in which to unwind each day. Pick up a pretzel from one of the corner vendors that dot the neighborhood like NYC hot dog stands and curl up to one of the 15 music video channels (yes, actual music videos) and voila! That spells home in Krakow.
Do widzenia (Goodbye) for now!
My Krakow apartment
My 10-minute walk to the train station through the Planty- the green belt that surrounds the Old Town
My hood. The Stare Miasto (Old Town) just two blocks away.
...with this awesome traditional Polish band for entertainment.
I brake for swans. A beautiful day for a bike ride around the Vistula River.