Sunday, October 14, 2012

31 Days of Places: Krakow.

The best surprise of my time in Europe was Krakow.

We were stopping in Krakow on our larger journey to Auschwitz, not too far away, and to say to my Polish heritage, "Hey, I went to Poland." In actuality I know nothing about my Polish heritage, but there's a bizarre American white person desire to pretend like you are close to whatever heritage it says on the books you are. Other than that, I don't know what expectations I had. I think I had none, which is perhaps why it ended up being so delightful. You have expectations about Paris, about Rome, about Amsterdam, about Dublin. Who has expectations about Krakow? The unknown can be a glorious thing.

There were a few things that were different about Krakow. It was far away, for one thing, farther than anywhere else we'd gone. It was the first place our Eurail pass didn't work on the train, a convenience we had gotten used to and which caused a bit of confusion once we crossed the border. It was also a place not many other people in our program went, which made it feel more personal to the four of us who made the trek (I think there were four of us?)--everyone went to Germany, to England. Not everyone went to Poland.

It rained the whole time we were there. While traveling in the rain is never much fun and I'm sure I wasn't thrilled at the time, the rain is now ingrained in my memory of it and it seems to fit right. The foggy grey shroud I now forever picture Krakow under only enhances my fondness for it.

The first thing I remember are the pierogis. We got into town kind of late, and once we figured out how to get from the train station to the main part of town in the dark and the rain, tired and flustered, we somehow ended up collapsing into a little pierogi restaurant on a side street. I remember it being small and warm, smelling of wood, and I immediately felt happy there, as we put down our bags and my feet started to dry.

Growing up, we had consumed box after box of Mrs. T's pierogis in our household, which we prepared in a way that somehow mashed up our Polish heritage with our Italian one, and in a way that's probably offensive to real Poles--boiled, and then covered in spaghetti sauce. Sometimes my brother was fancy enough to fry them in a pan with some onions, to which I believe the rest of us always looked to and said, "Well, that seems like way too much effort." The only variety of filling we ever consumed was potato and/or cheese. All the starches, please!

But in this pierogi joint--I know there's a name for this--pierogiera? That's probably just the Italian-Polish jumbling again--the pierogis were small, they were perfectly fried, and they were full of more fillings I had ever dreamed of. And covering them with spaghetti sauce really would have been atrocious, because these things were more than perfectly tasty enough on their own. They were divine. And lord, were they cheap. This was also one of the only countries we visited, along with the Czech Republic, which hadn't been taken over by the Euro at this point and the prices of these pierogis blew my mind. I paid around $20 for some mac and cheese in London; I paid $5 or less for these pierogis in Krakow. The pierogis were better.

I liked this pierogi place so much that I ached to go back to it the next day--I would have eaten there for lunch AND dinner!--but Sam insisted that, only being in each city for a day or two at most, we had to take advantage and eat at as many diverse restaurants as we could in each place. This was a logical argument, and one that she won. But if I ever find my way to Krakow again--and I'd really like to--tiny, warm, welcoming pierogi place, I will find you again.

My other favorite memory of the city were the sculptures in the main square. There were these disembodies statues that were missing limbs, or missing heads, or their whole body.

Some of them were angels; they were all completely disorienting, and disturbing, and beautiful. I sort of feel like the more Eastern you go into Europe, the less scared they are of showcasing all their weird shit when it comes to art. And bless them for it. I'm sure I saw more statues in Europe than I can remember, but without a doubt, I remember these the best.

The most famous tourist attraction in Krakow is Wawel Castle.

We went, and I'm sure it was neat. But to be honest, I had almost forgotten about it until I started looking through pictures. When I think of Krakow, after I revel in the memory of those pierogis, I think of those statues in the square, so piercing, so absolutely wonderful. It was a gorgeous, fascinating place--even in the rain.

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