Tuesday, July 16, 2013

My Last Dinner in Krakow

I decided not to go back to Szara Kazimierz for my last dinner in Krakow; I didn't want to take away from it being my farewell dinner with the students.  I wanted to have goose one last time before I left and when I passed by Kogel i Mogel and saw that they had been awarded a prize for their goose, I thought why not try here.

The inside of the restaurant was all set up for two different large groups, so I asked if they would take a party of one, and they said sure, as long as I was willing to sit in the garden patio.  I was fine with that.

It was only about 6:15 pm, so there weren't many other diners out yet, but it did fill up.

In looking over their menu outside, I thought about getting the mushroom soup, but their seasonal menu and cream of white asparagus so I ordered that instead.

It was only OK, though.  More of a pale imitation (cough, cough) of the Spargelsuppe I had in Berlin.  Not bad, but the German versions were much better.

Thankfully the main course of goose leg confit with roasted plums and red cabbage was fantastic; the best goose I've had on this trip.  Delicious.  I ate all of it.

The waitress encouraged me to order a side, so I agreed to try the Polish noodles.  They turned out to be very much like potato gnocchi, but with a lot of fresh dill on top.  Poles really love dill as a flavoring herb. The noodles were just OK; I don't think I'd order them again.  The goose was definitely enough.

Since it was my last meal, I wasn't going to pass up dessert.  I ended up getting the hot apple tart and a hot chocolate with whipped cream.

This turned out to be quite different than I expected.  Instead of the regular Polish szarlotka, with its shortbread base and top and lots of sliced apples in between, this was much more French.  The base was a puff pastry dough with apple sections placed on top.  It was good, but I think I like the szarlotka better.  The hot chocolate was excellent.

After that I headed back to the hostel to start packing up.  After getting nearly 8 hours of sleep last night, I'm up this morning about to have breakfast.  I don't really need to leave for the airport until about 10 am, but I'll probably leave 9 or 9:30 just to be on the safe side.  I'm checking in my suitcase for the return flight.  I have an hour and a half layover in Munich followed by a direct flight to Los Angeles.  I should be home late tonight.

Last Full Day in Krakow

I'm starting to feel a little sad that this long set of trips (really three different ones) is finally coming to an end.  Today was about settling up odds and ends and getting ready to leave tomorrow.  It started at the post office where I picked up bubble wrap (almost enough to cover everything; I forgot about one small thing until it was too late).

After that I headed out to the National Museum.  This is really a collection of four distinct and different exhibitions.  I began with the temporary exhibition, a retrospective on the work of Chilean artist Roberto Matta, who trained with surrealists in Paris and came to the U.S. in 1939.  All the work on display here is post-war and they did something very odd with the displays:  some works remained in constant light, while the lights on others went on and off.

Overall, I'd describe his style as "surrealist expressionism."

After that I went to the military wing, which was kind of boring, unless you really like seeing display case after display case of premodern weaponry and uniforms.  These are the "winged horsemen" or "hussars."  The feathers would make noise when the cavalry went into combat and it would psyche out the enemy.

Next was the full floor of twentieth-century Polish art.  Lots of guards watching out for photographers, but I snapped a few quick shots of interesting pieces, like this one called "Demon."

I was also fascinated by this piece by Janasz Stern from 1971 that appears to be a Holocaust-related theme.  Called "Red Tablet," in fact, it's a tombstone with the words spelled out in bones.  At the top, in Hebrew, is the acronym for "here is buried."  The last name is written "Shtern," presumably the Yiddish pronunciation of the artist's last name.

Finally, there was a small temporary exhibition of fashion photography from Poland and around the world.

I headed back to the old city and went to Chimera for lunch.  I'd wanted to try there for a while, but the dinner prices were a little too expensive for me.  I noticed they had a lunch menu, so I gave that a try.    First off was a delicious vegetable soup with rice and dill.

This was followed by a nice plate of pierogi

And finally, I finished with a fruit salad and cafe latte (that milk foam on top of the coffee, not whipped cream).

My next destination was the Museum of Pharmacy, part of the Jagellonian University.  Part of what makes this such a nice exhibit is that it includes not only lots of apothecary type displays

but also 18th and 19th century period furnishings.  Like this display of the study of Ignacy Lukasiewicz, the Polish pharmacist who invented the kerosene lamp

Or this beautiful 18th century ceiling

Of course there are lots of bottles and containers on display

But also rooms of drying herbs

Not all of which are legal in the U.S.

My final stop on my tour of local museums was the Museum of 19th Century art on the upper floor of the Sukiennice, the cloth hall that sits in the center of the Rynek.  The art on display includes examples of Polish romanticism

realism (this is Maurycy Gottlieb's "Ahasverus"):

And this rather dramatic piece that runs nearly from one wall to the other.

Afterwards, I went out to the cafe on the patio overlooking the Rynek, the largest public square in Europe.  On the hour, the local fire brigade blows a bugle from the tower of St. Mary's Basilica.  The legend is that a watchman, noticing a sneak attack by Tatars, blew this warning call.  One of the Tatars shot him in the throat with an arrow, which is why the song ends abruptly mid-note.  Here's a panorama of the square (though remember, you're only seeing half of it).  You'll have to listen carefully to hear the bugle playing in the background.

After enjoying my coffee and the view, I returned to the hostel to wrap up all my glass items to pack them away.  Now, I'm going to head back to the Rynek for a final dinner and then home to bed.  Luckily, my flight doesn't leave Krakow until 1pm tomorrow, so I'll be able to sleep in. I don't need to leave for the airport until 10 am.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Back on the Path of Happiness

So my short personal nightmare ended yesterday when I moved out of Satan's pied-à-terre in Krakow

to Nathan's Villa Hostel across town.  Here's what my new room looks like (though, technically, it's not exactly new to me, since I stayed in this very room two years ago on my first Holocaust Study Tour).

You will note, among other things, the presence of drapes, curtains, and a small chest of drawers.  Also present, but not in the photo:  a small nightstand and hooks on the outside (and inside) of the bathroom door.

Since I couldn't check into Nathan's Villa until the afternoon, I had booked a morning tour of the Wieliczka Salt Mines.  I picked a good day for it as it was raining again (5th day in a row).

The first step in visiting the mines is to descend some 64 meters by wooden stairs into the mine.

We then gathered to enter the mine proper

Despite the brick work visible at the opening, in fact, the overwhelming bulk of the mine is secured by wooden beams, some hundreds of years old.

Over time, "salt secretions" (as our guide called them), form on the walls and beams.

One of the many long corridors we walked down.

Surprisingly, I never felt claustrophobic in the mine.  Being so far underground surrounded by rock salt that could (theoretically) cave in on us at any time didn't bother me at all.  It's lack of physical mobility that's my trigger.

Perhaps the most famous room in the mine is the chapel to St. Kinga, carved out by three brothers by hand over many decades.

The chandeliers are decorated with polished rock salt crystals.

As one would expect in a church, the wall decorations and statues all reflected Catholic religious sensibilities.  There were all sorts of 3-D depictions from the life of Jesus, etc.  But one statue off to the side caught my attention.

At first I wondered if it was meant to be Diogenes with his lamp, so I asked our guide and she said it was a self-portrait of the first brother who began to carve the chapel.  It became my favorite art piece of the tour.

After a break for coffee, bathrooms, and, of course, souvenirs, we continued on to the brackish salt lagoon.

And then to one of the tallest chambers in the mine, which took nearly a 100 years to mine out the rock salt deposit.

That chandelier is 3 meters across and 6 meters tall, just to give you a sense of depth. The wood beams were painted white to reflect more light in the mine.

The tour ends, where else, in the gift shop.  Another very tall room; apparently someone once bungee jumped off the upper balcony.

To exit the mine, we didn't have to climb up all those stairs; they have a lift.  It's an old miners' lift, so it's multiple level, with nine people crammed in at one time.

It's the only time I felt even mildly claustrophobic on the tour.  This is the symbol, by the way of the salt miners; you see it everywhere:

It was still raining when we got back to Krakow, so I went to the creperie near by the bad hostel to have a light lunch:  mozzarella, tomato, and arugula (or as the British call it "rocket"), with garlic sauce.

After checking in to my room at Nathan's Villa, I began to search for presents for my nephews, who had surprisingly specific (though not Poland specific) requests.   Before hand, though, I celebrated my new, happier lodgings with an eclair at the bakery around the corner that my students had loved (I'm staying next door to the hotel we used a week ago):

The students absolutely loved the eclairs here.

In looking for gifts, I had struck out entirely on finding "self-tying bow ties," which are not only not made in Poland, they aren't sold here either.  The first musical instrument store I went to didn't carry the trumpet mouthpiece model I was asked to find either.  I made my way across the river to the Podgórze neighborhood (the same one the Germans used for the ghetto in Krakow) and finally found a shop that carried the requested model.

I emailed my nephew and told him that if he doesn't like it or if it doesn't fit, he'll have to come back here himself to return or exchange it.

That still left one nephew to shop for, so I went back to the Rynek and tried to find items that wouldn't embarrass too much a 17-year old boy.  So no nesting Russian matrushka dolls, or colorful Polish dresses, or vaguely anti-Semitic figurines of Orthodox Jews holding or counting coins.

After shopping, I went back to the hostel, where they provided a free barbeque on the patio for guests in the evening.  I chatted with several people, one of whom decided to quit his job and travel the world for 2 years after his girlfriend broke his heart.  He's trying to make his way from France to Japan, only traveling by land (presumably he'll sail that last leg).

On my way to the hostel's bar to pick up a beer, I paced their toilets.  Here's how they mark the women's room (the men's room is similarly signed):

I wanted a dessert, so I headed to Kazimierz and ended up in a rather atmospheric cafe called Alchemia, where I heard more English in an hour than I had in over a week since my students left.

They only had one dessert on display.  I thought it might be tiramisu, but no, I was told, it's made with plums soaked in krupnik (a honey vodka).

The bottom layer is chocolate cake with the vodka-soaked plums on top.  Then there is a thin layer of what appears to be mascarpone, but is probably a Polish equivalent.  Finally, the top is dusted with cocoa powder.  It was very good.

The hostel was having problems with the internet last night, so I went to bed around 10:15 pm.  It's working fine this morning (hence this post).  After breakfast

I'm heading to the Central Post Office to buy bubble wrap to keep some of the liquids I bought, like the Miodula (honey vodka) and Krem (real egg cream) from breaking in my luggage.  I asked the staff at the hostel yesterday what bubble wrap is called in Polish (I was unsuccessful in pantomiming it in two shops), so now I know to ask for "folia bąbelkowa."

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Prison Decorated by Ikea (updated with photos)

So first the good news:  I did sleep about 7 hours last night, only waking up twice.   I also recovered my camera.

Now the bad news:  the crappy internet will not allow me to post photos to blogger.  I'm going to have to update this post and yesterday's when I move into Nathan's Villa Hostel tomorrow afternoon.  The other bad news is that I have to spend another night in this place that basically resembles a prison decorated (cheaply) by Ikea.

What's missing from my room?  Where to begin?  1) curtains; 2) a closet or armoire; 3) a dresser; and 4) a towel (they did give me one when I complained).  Apparently, people staying in this hostel never unpack, or if they do, they just spread it out over the floor.

By the way, I'm not the only one having trouble with the internet; when I came back this afternoon, the receptionist complained about it being out and I helped her reboot it (by holding the ladder as she climbed up to flip the switch).

Breakfast is basically what you expect in a Polish hostel:  some bread, margarine, nutella, cereal.  That being said, the one in Zakopane was much nicer.

I've stayed in a lot of hostels in the last few years, in Poland, Germany, Austria, and Poland.  This is the first one I've ever been in that's only been twenty somethings. Basically, they're looking for a cheap place to crash after getting smashed.  Needless to say, I won't be staying here again.

I left early for the bus station, figuring it would be a more comfortable place to wait.  I planned on taking the 8:35 bus, but I heard them say "Krynica" over the loud speaker and noticed an unscheduled bus leaving at 8:15.  Figuring it would get there 20 minutes earlier I took it (after confirming with the driver it would go to Krynica.   This turned out to be a mistake, though not a serious one.

While it left 20 minutes earlier and did travel there directly, the bus driver stopped twice for 20 minute rest breaks, with the result that my bus arrive 15 minutes later than the later bus would have.  I hustled to my hotel and they had the camera waiting when I arrived.  I stopped off at the supermarket for some rolls for lunch and then caught the 12:40 bus back to Krakow.

[Testing to make sure the camera works on the drive back to Krakow]

One of the strange things about the (few) freeways in Poland is that as soon as they add a second lane to the road, the wall it off from the surrounding countryside.  The walls make it impossible to see the countryside, which I find quite annoying, but I'm at a loss to explain why they've built them.  Among the possibilities:  1)  they're to protect pedestrians from trying to run across the freeway; 2) they are to prevent cars from crashing into fields; 3) they are to shield farmers from having to see trucks; 4) keep the noise and smog from the traffic from annoying farmers as they work in the field; or 5) to keep drivers from getting distracted by anything other than repetitive patterns on the walls.

Back in Krakow, I walked to the nearby Home Army Museum.  I had first visited this place in 2007 and ended up writing an article, in part, on it.  At that point, the museum still reflected its original creation in 1989; the only mention of Jews in Poland during the WWII consisted of an erasure on a map showing Warsaw during the 'Rising that said "site of former ghetto."  The current museum has been significantly changed.

In some ways, it resembles the Museum of the Warsaw 'Rising, with lots of environmental staging of displays.

They've updated the text so that it now refers repeatedly to Jews, though the first mention is of how Soviet propaganda encouraged Ukrainians, Belorussians, and Jews to attack Poles in September 1939.  I'm not familiar with any Jews taking up arms against Poles.

The other exhibits do mention the Holocaust and German aims to rid the territory of Poland of its Jews.

Unlike the Museum of the Warsaw 'Rising, however, there's no nuance to the coverage of Jews and the Home Army:  no discussion of anti-Semitism in Poland or the Home Army; no discussion of Jewish resistance to the Nazis as part of the wider Polish resistance to Hitler. Their main focus is the Żegota organization.

 In other words, the museum still maintains a dichotomy between Poles and Jews in Poland, with the Jewish story being one apart from the Polish one.

That being said, the museum does have a good discussion of the fight over history in post-war Poland.

Afterwards, I walked back to the hostel, but stopped for some crepes where I knew they had wifi and I could check my email quickly.  I had the apple and cinnamon, but it would have benefited from some Schlag.

For dinner, I went back to the Old City to a cafe, passing a performance art installation along the way.  From what I can gather, it's called "Zarathustra," and they cite Martin Heidigger as its inspiration.

The guidebook praised Cafe Camelot, and since the weather had improved, I sat outdoors in the patio.

I decided to eat healthier, so I got the cream of leek soup, along with parmesan toast points and some bottled water.

For the main course, I had originally ordered the pasta with spinach, but they were out of spinach, so I got the pierogi with meat and cranberries.  It was excellent.

The sun was just beginning to set, so I took a walk to give my stomach some time to digest.

After a post-prandial stroll around the rynek, I headed over to the Dym Pub next to where I had dinner.  Described in my guidebook as an "alternative" pub, where most of the clientele are trying to work on their unfinished novels,

I ordered a lemon-walnut torte and a large krupnik.

The torte was excellent, with the cake layers being crispy meringue japonais.  I was less thrilled with the krupnik.  I had tried some Miodula, a fancy form of krupnik and liked it so much that I bought a bottle to take home (I'm going to check my suitcase).  Krupnik is honey vodka and is rather sweet, but this tasted more like sweet whiskey.

Tomorrow morning, I'm signed up to take the 4-5 hour tour of the Wieliczka Salt Mines (all museums are closed on Mondays). When I come back, I'm going to do some shopping and then check into my last lodgings for Poland for this trip:  Nathan's Villa Hostel next to the hotel I stayed it with my students.  I'd hoped to spend these first two nights there, but they didn't have any single rooms left.

After I check in tomorrow night, I'll try to post the photos that the current crappy internet service keeps blocking.