Central Europe 2008: From The Czech Republic to Poland to Austria to Croatia to Slovenia to Italy
Day Nine – The Incredible Shrinking Man, Fools On The Hill, My Legs Are Dragon, Got Milk, Free Art And Our Poll Of Poles
As you have noticed, the four of us (and especially me, the dessert king) had consumed a lot of calories during the past week. For many months before the trip, I had been on the Jenny Craig diet (well, the modified Jenny Craig, which includes martinis, mai tais and the occasional chocolate flourless cake that Jenny doesn’t tell anyone about in her literature). I had lost a little more than 30 pounds on the diet, so before the trip I had to get some new travel clothes because I was down two sizes from nine months before. Well, when I tried on my new “Svelte Pants” on this beautiful Kraków Sunday morning, I came to a quick realization. “I think I’m dying,” I told Tracy.
Even though I had eaten like a pig for the last week, my new pants were now almost too big. I was shrinking like that guy in the movie. By the time that we reached Croatia, I surmised, I would be small enough to be bitten to death by a Dubrovnik mosquito. I was frightened by the fact that when I returned home, I might just be devoured my own cat.
Even Tracy was amazed. When we told Kim and Mary about my pants (on the way to finding some breakfast), Mary said, “Maybe you’re losing weight because we are walking ten miles a day.” I think she was still a little miffed over the first day in Prague. To try and bulk up, we had some croissants, jelly filled pastries and some great espresso at a little place just about a block off Rynek Glówny. We were then on our way to walking up to Wawel Hill, home to more tourists than any other sight in Poland. Before we hit Wawel Hill, however, I told the gang I wanted to stop at the Bar Mleczny. Looking at her watch, Tracy asked, “Isn’t it a tad too early for a drink?”
I said, “No, but don’t worry this is a milk bar.” I just wanted to stop in to see the place where Poles and tourists alike can get a cheap meal. The milk bars are supposedly subsidized by the Polish government. It was the cheapest bottled water we bought on the entire trip.
After wandering around the grounds, we saw the entrance to Smocza Jama (The Dragon’s Den), a route that (for 3 zloty) would take us through some caverns down to the Vistula River and the monument to Smok Wawelski, whose name sounds like a jazz musician, but is really a famous dragon in Polish folk history.
Supposedly this dragon liked devouring girls and was only happy if the townspeople left a young girl in front of the cave every month. This didn’t go over too well with the townspeople, especially, I would assume, young girls. Finally, some guy stuffed a lamb with sulfur and left it outside the cave.
Not being on Jenny Craig at the time, Smok the not-so-magic Dragon ate the lamb, which, of course, made him thirsty. No matter how much water the Smokmeister drank, he could not get full, so he started to drink from the river. It wasn’t too long until Smok exploded…literally. Coincidentally, I felt the same way after my Panna Cotta from the night before. We descended into the bowels of the cave and fortunately no one became the object of a dragon brunch on the journey. It was worth the 3 zloty.
Actually, since it was a hot day and there was still an hour until the cathedral opened, the boat ride turned out to be the perfect call. The boat ride made for a nice respite from the warm weather. There were nice views of the castle complex and we shared the river with people canoeing and kayaking.
By the time the boat ride ended, and we walked up to the entrance of the cathedral, it was 12:18. Why do I know that? Because there was no one yet in line for the cathedral, which seemed odd to us, I asked the girl at the entrance if it opened to the public at 12:30, and she said, “Yes, it will open in ten minutes.” In five minutes the line that had been non-existent only minutes before had swelled to way more than 100. Once again our timing had been impeccable (and fortuitous).
We walked around for about half an hour and then headed back toward Old Town, and since Kim is a big fan of Pope John Paul II, it was time to take a little detour on our way to lunch.
The Archbishop’s Palace was Pope John Paul’s home away from home when he traveled here from the Vatican. It is said that after a long day of leading Mass for the masses he would come back her and chat with more masses of people on a range of topics from religion to sports (I assume he was a Saints or Cardinals fan).
We bought a few Pope John Paul Gold Coins and went in search of a place to whet our insatiable appetites.
Mary then happened upon a place that looked interesting and a couple of gentlemen said they had “an offer she could not refuse,” but we were concerned they might serve horse head on a platter so we continued on our way, but not before Mary posed with these gentlemen, who we now refer to as “family.”
Searching further, we found a little outdoor spot off the main square. Across the street from the German Embassy, we lunched at The Tram Grill. Although supposedly open at 1 p.m., no one was there to greet us and the area was roped off, but as soon as we arrived a head popped out, and we were shown to our table on the terrace. First we get the head of the line at the cathedral, and now the restaurant magically opens once we arrive.
After downing some goulash soup and salads, the group was back on its way to seeing more Kraków attractions like the Wyspianski Museum. We wanted to see some of the stained glass from the man who had created the stained glass in St. Francis Basilica.
Personally, I found this place to be boring. This is always the first symptom of “Museum Overload,” but that did not deter us from attempting to find the Muzeum Czartoryskich after leaving. Guidebooks showed the museum would be closed by the time we arrived, but Kim really wanted to go, so we gave it a try. We had been lucky to be first at the cathedral and the restaurant opened for us, so maybe the museum would stay open late for us since we were on a Kraków roll.
Well, not only was it open; it was free on Sunday. This museum was supposed to house a Rembrandt and a Da Vinci, but only Da Vinci’s Lady With Ermine was on display. Although not an art aficionado, I found this oil painting quite spectacular, as did the rest of our group.
By the time we left it was after 4 p.m., which means…martini time. We had walked by the Bunkier Café in the Planty with a nice outdoor patio, and it was the perfect place to plop down for a bit. Being a product of the 60s, I had to try a drink made from Vodka, Blue Curacao and limeade called The Aquarius, and it certainly put me in the Fifth Dimension. The place was packed, and outside of us, there was no English to be heard anywhere. As we downed our libations, Kim and I started commenting on the women of Kraków.
We were very effusive with our praise of the statuesque beauties of Kraków, perhaps too much, because then Mary and Tracy started waxing eloquently about the men of Kraków. In our very unofficial poll about Poles, although we are from the land of the beautiful people, Southern California; the real beautiful people were right here in Kraków. I told Kim, if I were 30 and single, this would be a nice place to live.
We needed a little nap before dinner, and then headed out to the Bodega Marqués at Slawkowska 12. Since Kim and Mary had just built a house in Bodega Bay, California (watch out for “The Birds”), we thought the kismet of the thing would work…and it did. And we were not attacked by any birds.
It was a gorgeous, warm evening, so we dined on the street patio. The waitress took me to the back cellar to pick out some vino for the evening (well, at least that’s what I told Tracy), a 2004 Sumarroca Syrlot (a Spanish Syrah/Merlot blend that was so good that we had to buy two bottles).
The wine went very well with my Spanish sirloin steak with gorgonzola and roasted potato. Mary had a spiced chicken grilled with sliced roasted potatoes while Kim (Caesar salad with chicken) and Tracy (salad with goat cheese, bacon and pine nuts) took the healthy route.
After a walk around the square and witnessing a man literally playing with fire, Kim and Mary took off for the apartment, while Tracy and I headed back to the Metropolitan for (all in unison) a nightcap. An espresso martini and a Polish cocktail of cherry vodka and grapefruit juice later, we followed them back to the apartment. Tomorrow, we would bid farewell to our friend Kim, yet Mary, Tracy and I had two full days together left in Kraków.
As I drifted off to sleep, I thought, “What could one guy do with two women?” Speaking of playing with fire!
Next: Day Ten – Park Place, Goodbye Kim, Give Me Your Dirty Laundry, Jewish Quarter, “Can’t Go Up There” And The Girl From Ipanema