Poland continues to look like Poland.
Aristotle might have said that this is because it is based on the idea Poland – but I've never really quite agreed with Aristotle on this point. I believe we form the idea Poland based on our perception of Poland itself. The same can be said for horses.
Walking out into the dreary rain, I once more feel as if the weather is working its magic to convey to me, the image I had in mind. Grey skies overhead, with water filling the cracks between the cobblestone roads, running down off buildings, getting lost in the concrete cracks, wooden slivers, and splintering walls.
It is nothing but a short walk from the doors of Hostel Zodiakus, where hot wine with cloves is freely offered – made by the staff - as a way to fight the flu, to the Jewish district. Once more, I send myself into that part of the town to explore its hidden treasures, and see what it has to offer.
My first stop is the old Jewish Cemetery.
The cemetery hosts hundreds of years of history, and has the more recent passings of being used as nothing more than a garbage dump during the Nazi occupation. Stepping into the cemetery, my first thought was of being in a place that time forgot.
Seeing aspects of the world, as they will appear hundreds of years after our passing, is one of my favourite things. This post-apocalyptic obsession was most likely started by zombie movies, the Doom video games, and the Days of Future Past storyline; it has continued to flow through my life. It is the main drive behind me desire to some day see Chernobyl.
Walking under the train tracks, and past the stone wall, you will glimpse a lot filled with crumbling stones, some completely covered with vines and leaves. The world has started to reclaim this lot, with trees pushing their way up between monuments, leaves and weeds crawling along granite, and vines completely encapsulating some stones, much like the Master Sword in the final pages of my all-time favourite comic book (which I, of course, do not own – due to the very limited print run of it. - but which I have just discovered can be purchased from used book sellers on Amazon.com. Hmm.)
The cemetery finds itself ever so perfectly mapped against the natural setting that surrounds it. Paths from one part to the next could be easily confused for those of game trails, rather than footpaths to be followed. And like everything else I've found here in Krakow, it was exactly how I had hoped it would be; living up to, and exceeding all possible expectations.
As the rain dropped down from above, I thought it best to finally make my move away from this location, to my next stop of the day. The Schindler's factory. You will recall him, of course, from his ever so famous list. Aside from the name recognition, I recommend that you skip this stop. Honestly. It's not too close to the centre of town, and it' little more than a basic building with flat walls, and a plaque. Inside is a museum – and while it costs less than three canollars – six pollars – to get in, you can see most of it through the windows outside. It's nothing more than signs on the wall, printed on glass, creating a doubling effect by the shadow cast behind, making you wonder if you really did need those glasses you were warned about. The signs explain the history of the factory. The whole history. The way Tolkien might – making you want to rip your eyes out by the time you're done reading. There is also some information on the Jewish treatment, but odds are if you're at the factory, you know all this already.
There are only two real things of note. I will tell you them: The S.S. were not as corrupt as Spielberg makes them out to be in his movie. Hmm – why would someone with a name like that want to make the S.S. seem more corrupt? But honestly – why bother. They were Nazis! you don't need to work to make the Nazi's look worse. They – were – Nazis. Quite possibly, the only thing in all of creation that we can all agree we hate, and kill in video games without remorse. The Red Army troops come close, but they're still – more or less – viewed as people. Nazis are up there with zombies for level of empathy. I hate zombies!
Also Schindler wasn't really into the whole saving the jews game, as much as he was into saving a couple bucks – because having jews as workers allowed him to lower wages quite a lot. It wasn't until after the war that he said how his thinking towards them started to change. Still – he saved a thousand lives. That's probably more than I'll ever save. Probably.
Lots of good things happen in the name of capitalism.
From there, I headed back. I had plans to go to the mall, but the temperature, and the rain sapped the strength from me once more. I did, however, stop for the most delicious bowl of soup I've ever had at a restaurant within the Jewish district, called Kuchnia U Dorthy. I imagine this to translate as Dorthy's Kitchen. And that sounds just right to me. It was a traditional home cooked meal type of place, packed with locals. Feel awkward sitting alone at a table for four? Don't worry – people will come join you on the other side ever so shortly.
I never knew until that very moment, that I loved beet soup. But I do. It's wonderful. And it cost a mere one canollar, fifty cents. I'll have to try and find more! And there was a sausage too. It was good – but not beet soup good. My god, that was delicious.
Back in the hostel I tried to make time for myself to dry off. It would be nice to have feeling once more in my fingers. As I worked on this through the practiced art of being inside and trying to move as little as possible, the two people who were sharing my dorm came back from their day adventuring.
Stories were shared, tales were told, and cards were produced. Unable to choose a game, with such a myriad of possibilities before us, I suggested a game that everyone knows, and would require no teaching to play. The game? Crazy Eights.
You've got to be kidding me! As it turns out such a game does not exist on the far side of the world, but – there is a similar game called Last Card (far more complex, but interesting that if you have to pick up cards you miss your turn, and if you play a two on a two, you don't have to pick up anything. And there are fives too.
After playing through that many times, and learning the new regional variants of King/Asshole (or president, or – well it's almost the same as Big2) and playing through that a number of times, it was off to dinner. We headed to a restaurant that was suggested as a good local diner. Wasn't I proud as punch when it turned out to be the very place I stumbled upon earlier today? So back we went.
And more beet soup was devoured! As was meat stewed in sauerkraut, and pirogies with cheese and potato. Fantastic. And how much did this variable feast cost, you may ask? About six canollars. Sigh. Poland. You're wonderful – you with your economy that works for me. This must be what British travellers feel like when they go – well, anywhere.
The rain had cleared up by this point, and it was only slightly chilly. But not for me of noble Canadian blood. No – I scoff at the supposed cold. Well, I do for now. Give me about another week, and I'll be looking for some extra thermals.
On the way home, we picked up tiny bottles of vodka. Vodka being the national drink here, you understand. Vodka, or Wodka as some of the labels call it, is proclaimed to be the best in the world, in this fair country of Poland.
The Russians staying at our hostel disagree. They claim that it's a good – drink – but vodka? No. It's something completely different from vodka. The Poland/Russian war rages on. The playing field? Vodka.
Speaking of alcohol wars – Czech and U.S.A. have one too. It's over Budweiser. Look into it. It's a dozy. Apparently not all bud is terrible, after all.
Well – with many a traditional Polish thing done today, I felt that I had succeeded in my attempt to live well, live as one with money, and get the most out of the city. At last it was time for a well deserved rest. Tomorrow, after all, would be an early day.
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