Jan. 31, 2016: Vienna to Krakow
So early this morning I’m downstairs preparing my tea and Kimberly’s upstairs in the bathroom with the squeaky hinge (the one complaint I have about this hostel) when the alarm on my Samsung pad detonates and sends her scrambling from the bathroom to shut it off before all of our roommates are awakened — and she’s a bit too late. The punchline is that the particular alarm sound is one that came pre-loaded on the pad: a song called “Good Morning”, as rendered by (wait for it) The Vienna Choir Boys. After all this time I’ve owned this device, the song finally peals out in Vienna itself, and I’m not there to hear it.
After apologizing to our hostel mates and hoping we didn’t turn them into hostile mates, we head to the Hauptbahnhof to catch a train into Poland. We once again have first class accommodations, breakfast included.
And the train is not overly loaded with passengers.
We see a great deal of open countryside.
And some houses that are so tiny they’d be easy to mistake for barns or garages or outhouses.
Initially figuring that we’re already in Poland, we later learn that these houses actually are in the Czech Republic, which we passed through briefly.
Entering Poland, we change trains in Katowice, and have a couple of hours’ layover. There happens to be a branch of Citibank, one of our banks, right here at the station. And even more amazingly, it’s open today, a Sunday.
This is quite beneficial because we need to exchange currency. Poland is the one country on our itinerary that is not on the euro — it still uses the good old-fashioned zloty instead. Uncertain how many zloty (zlotys? zloties? zlotyeauxq?) we should withdraw from the ATM, we ask the teller about the current exchange rate, and she informs us that a zloty is worth a little more than 24 cents. So we withdraw 300 of the zloty units, which translates to about 75 dollars, figuring this will get us through the first day and then we’ll take it from there.
The flip side of both bills and coins features the emblem of the firebird, which is also a national symbol of Russia.
Thus armed with a pocketful of firebirds, we take a stroll through the area around the train station.
And pass a stall selling smoked fish and beer.
The Christmas decorations are still up, with a sort of nativity scene made of something wicker-ish and combining the Santa thing with the Jesus thing.
One of the most eye-catching structures around is a huge sports complex-cum-hotel that looks like a spaceship. That isn’t just the opinion of American tourists; it was officially renamed Spodek, which means saucer, as in flying.
And while it may be coincidental, the contemporary sculpture nearby looks rather alienoid.
Other sculpture in the area is a bit more realistic.
The plaza has permanent deck chairs for sun bathing in sunnier weather.
Back at the station, we decide that we need a plastic knife to ready our lunch, and I go scouting for one. I find one on a counter in the back of a fast food eatery of some sort, so I help myself. A lady behind the order counter at the front starts scolding me (so I gather), but of course I can’t comprehend a syllable of it. I do some gesturing that I think will indicate that I don’t speak Polish, though I realize in retrospect that I pointed to my ear in a manner that suggested I might be deaf. In any case she just shakes her head and waves me away brusquely.
I also go prospecting for a bottle of hand sanitizer in a Walgreens-type shop in the station. I try to carry a small bottle of the stuff with me all the time; we each had one (airline regulation size) when we embarked on this trip, but our initial supply was depleted long ago — I went through mine and about half of Kimberly’s. (She accuses me of being a germaphobe, and I may have to plead guilty.) Then I discovered that it was not nearly as easy to find the precious commodity over here as it is back home. I did finally manage to locate another small bottle in a pharmacy in France (at a premium price), and then I exhausted that pretty quickly, too. When I tried going without it for a few days, I caught a cold. It may be just coincidence, but I’d rather not risk getting another one. Anyway, I do score some in this store at a very good price.
Then it’s back to a bench to have lunch. There are two women sitting on the bench behind ours, the backs of our benches against each other. At one point after we’ve been talking, one of the women turns and says to us, in excellent English, “it’s great to hear someone speaking English again.” We ask her if she’s American (although her accent sounds faintly British), and to our astonishment she says, “no, I’m Polish, but I’ve studied English for many years”.
She seems very friendly, and sincerely interested in hearing about our travels and our business of running a touring educational theatre company back in the states. Then she slips in the ulterior motive: she’s a Jehovah’s Witness, and would just love to tell us all about it. Seriously? You can’t even get away from this kind of crap halfway around the world? What are the odds that the one person we’ve encountered on this continent who speaks flawless English would be a person who thinks the rest of the world is entitled to her beliefs? In any case, we make it clear that we’re just fine with our current state of hopeless perdition, and she and her companion move on to seek out their next targets.
And soon, we’re on another train, bound for Krakow.
It’s just after dark when we pull in. Our lodgings for the night are about a mile from the station, and we elect to walk rather than take a bus. We’re very glad we did, because this city by night is truly enchanting.
Even though it’s Sunday night, there are plenty of people milling about, and the shops are all open, including a currency exchange store. There are a few trailers belonging to a film crew, though we don’t see that this is contributing much to the street bustle .
Passing an old fashioned violin maker’s shop, I have to peek in the window.
Liquor here, apparently, is called “alkohole”. Yeah, I’ve met a few of those.
Needing some grub for dinner, we stop in a small grocery store and purchase a couple of ready-made salads and a few other things at a very reasonable price.
Then it’s across the Vistula River (the locals pronounce it WIST-la) to our home for the next 3 nights: a boat. It happens to be another hostel, though we booked it through Airbnb. We could have stayed in someone’s home, as we have elsewhere, but how can you pass up the opportunity to stay on a frigging boat? Especially since the price was within our usual range.
Although it’s a hostel and our cabin will accommodate 4, we’re the only ones in it. In fact, we’re just about the only ones on the whole boat. Which makes us wonder why they gave us a cabin right next to the front desk, where we can hear everything that goes on through the thin walls. But around 10 o’clock, everything quiets down. And we go to sleep to the susurrations of the “Wistla”.