Central Europe 2008: From The Czech Republic to Poland to Austria to Croatia to Slovenia to Italy
Day Eight – Cracowdays, Hip To Be (at the) Square,
A Shot Of Cough Syrup, Pork Project, Here Comes The Bride and Where Are All The Old People
We were up at seven and were greeted by a young man in the lobby of the Na Hradě, who was setting up a breakfast buffet. There was cereal, lunch meats, cheese, sausage links, delicious pastries and he made us some very good egg dishes. Yes, this was breakfast heaven.
I asked Tracy why she didn’t do this for me every day, and she replied, “Because I work harder than you do.” You can forget a lot in just one week of traveling. By 8:30 we were on the road to Kraków after filling up with Diesel (you can’t fool us every trip). It only took us a little more than three hours to drive to Kraków and our home for the next four nights (for almost all of us), the Cracowdays Apartments.
After parking on the street (and deftly avoiding every pole and Pole), we walked up to a set of big doors. There was graffiti in the area, but we had stayed in Trastevere before, so we are not quick to judge a book by its cover.
After meeting the Cracowdays’ folks at their office, they took us to our rooms, which were very nice, and there was also internet in the hallway for the guests. The rooms are very secure, the beds comfortable, the showers good, and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay here.
The Cracowdays Apartments are located only about a ten-minute walk to Rynek Glówny, the largest medieval town square in Europe. The sky was a beautiful blue (as just about all our days had been so far), and the square was bustling with people, both walking and being taken around town by horse-drawn carriages. There were also lots of booths selling wares and many food items, many involving pork.
At the time, I remember thinking how young the population looked. It would be a re-occurring theme. Another consistent theme was this group’s capacity to eat…and eat often. Kim and Mary went off to find some food (Kim was forever searching for pig on a stick, and this was certainly a place to find one).
Tracy and I plopped down at a table overlooking Rynek Glówny. I was in my “when in Rome” mode, so when the waitress asked for my beverage choice, I immediately said, “Wódka.” In fact, I ordered cherry vodka. “Yuck! It tastes like cough syrup,” Tracy said. Robitussin, straight up, baby!
The restaurant was named Grill 15/16, and when I ordered my second vodka, Tracy said, “Just because the name of the restaurant is 15/16 doesn’t mean you have to drink 15 or 16 vodkas.” Boy, what a spoilsport.
Tracy reminded me about the legend of the town watchman who sounded an alarm to warn Krakówians of an impending Tatar invasion. Unfortunately, for the town watchman, as he played the bugle a Tatar arrow zipped though his neck, thus prematurely ending his song. Today, the bugle can be heard every hour, and believe me, you hear it from just about anywhere and everywhere in Kraków. Lunch was fine, and we met back up with Kim and Mary to take a stroll though old Kraków. We knew just where to find them, too. Kim was looking longingly at some pork being roasted at a little stand.
We walked a few blocks down Ulica Florianska to the large St. Mary’s Church. Tickets to go inside are purchased across the alley. The interior of the church is very lovely, and we spent about 20 minutes or so wandering through it. Another thing we noticed during our first few hours in Kraków, besides its youthful population, was that virtually no one was speaking English (although most of the Kraków locals we met certainly could). As a matter of fact, we had run into very few Americans so far on the trip.
Today, it is a place where traveling vacationers can pick up a gift that nobody will really ever want. There were plenty of trinkets to be bought, but we summoned our collective inner willpower and got out without buying anything.
Since Kim only had one more full day here, the group pressed on. We walked down Ulica Bracka, which to me sounded like one of “The Godfather’s” hired killers. But instead, this church led us to a man of the cloth, none other than Kraków’s favorite son (or I guess that would be father), Pope John-Paul II.
We stopped into Bazylika Sw. Franciszka (St Francis Basilica), which was John-Paul’s home church when he served as archbishop of Kraków, and then headed over to Grodzka Street, or as I called it Kebab Street. It seemed like you could get a kebab in every shop, but amazingly no one was hungry.
We walked down to Mary Magdalene Square, and thought we would look inside the The Church of Saints Peter and Paul. There was lots of construction in the area, and by the time we started heading in the direction of the church, out came a beaming bride and groom (well, the groom looked a little shaken).
We waited for them to all exit and then took a quick look inside. When we got out, and after trying to get in the wedding pictures, I started to cross the street. “Where are you going?” Kim said. “St. Andrews,” I replied. Kim quickly retorted, “Well, you forgot your clubs.” I started counting the hours to his departure.
We wandered many of the arteries off the Rynek Gløwny and on one of them we spotted a little Italian restaurant, Del Papa. We made a reservation for later that evening, and went back to Cracowdays to freshen up. Back at Cracowdays, I ran into one of the managers who had helped set up the reservation with me, and she was just as nice in person as she had been in all our email correspondence. She apologized for the graffiti in the area, and since she did not look like a tagger, I told her she had no reason to apologize. The area was not sketchy at all, with plenty of restaurants and shops lining the street leading back to our street where the apartments were located. At no time did we feel unsafe, and I would highly recommend this as a place to stay. On our walk to Del Papa that evening, we all commented on the youthful locals of Krakow. “Where did they put all the old people?” Mary joked.
I replied, “Maybe that Český Krumlov tour guide turned them all into giant pods, and they came back as young people.” Kim was now counting the hours to his departure.
It was on to Del Papa (interior photo above is from a Kraków website). We had a very lovely, young, redheaded waitress, and Kim uttered his favorite line, “You know, she is felony cute.” I had to remind Kim that anything he thought about her might also be construed as a felony, and we moved on to dinner. The dishes at this restaurant were terrific as was, once again on our trip, the plating. I had tomato soup that was served in a bowl with basil lining the bottom, and the actual soup was poured from a teapot.
Tracy’s velvety, green pea soup was also poured from a teapot over a mound of pancetta and dill. Although Tracy said it looked lovely, green pea soup always reminds me of “The Exorcist.” I turned away before my head started spinning around.
All the dishes from ravioli stuffed with veal and mushroom sauce to a beef filet with balsamic reduction on a bed of arugula to gnocchi with gorgonzola cream sauce to grilled salmon with roasted shallots and balsamic reduction were delicious. I topped it off with a fantastic Panna Cotta and strawberries. Of course, it could have been a little bigger.
Outside of the four of us and a few other rumpled tourists, everyone on the square was young and good looking, with no one looking more than 35-years-old. “Maybe there’s something to your pod theory,” Tracy said. Kim and Mary walked back to the apartment, while Tracy and I made a quick stop at the Metropolitan Restauracja, where I am sure you are shocked to read we had a martini nightcap. The Metropolitan also was supposed to have a good breakfast, and we put that in our mental notes. The next day would be Kim’s final full day in Kraków, and it would also be the day we made another interesting (well, I guess you’ll be the judge of that) observation about the local residents.
Next: Day Nine – The Incredible Shrinking Man, Fools On The Hill, Me Legs Are Dragon, Got Milk, Free Art And Our Poll Of Poles