July 22, 2008

A Week in Kraków
Kraków, Poland

I really didn't know how Aidric was going to react to having so much of his known life stripped from him—comforts like familiar surroundings, toys, crib, mobile, bathtub, stroller, and foods, to name just a few—but he's done remarkably well adapting to his new environment. There were a few initial days of concern there where he wasn't eating much, but he soon let go of his stresses and found his apatite again.

Odd car wash

It's rather strange for me to travel abroad and not be deafened by the sound of muffler-less vehicles, covered in exhaust fumes, or dodge them excessively. But the cars here are quiet, clean, and actually stop for pedestrians. Autos will drive like mad when given the opportunity, but will always seem to decelerate (regardless the speed) and stop for a pedestrian waiting to cross an unmanaged crosswalk. This is very strange behavior for me to experience.

As usual, Tatiana and find ourselves debating with each other if this is cultural curiosity because of upbringing or because of fear (reprisals). I find it hard to believe that the majority would ever act selflessly (while driving) if it weren't for penalties to ensure otherwise.

But here in Kraków, you really don't notice the vehicle traffic because there seems to be very little of it outside of the main circular thoroughfares. (The town looks a lot like those road maps of Moscow, with a spider web of rings circling the center and connecting lines jutting out of the middle to connect the loops) Instead, what we're often finding are clean, empty, quiet streets, filled with peaceful moments of clam and stillness.

A coat of paint will do wonders

Much of the city's structures seem to be suffering from disrepair, but those buildings that have been fortunate enough to have a good coat of paint or a power washing really appear lovely—especially when contrasted against the buildings that have been neglected. I found it constantly entertaining to look at the gradient coloring of some concrete buildings, where the base level has been blackened from decades of vehicle exhaust and dirt buildup, and to watch it slowly blend into a light gray, six or seven stories up.

I love that for the first time in recent years of travel I generally blend in with the local population. I'm sure people really don't know what to make of us when we three are seen together on the streets. For sure they're thinking that Tatiana looks Indian or Middle Eastern, and that the harness she's carrying Aidric around in is rather unusual (as most, but not all, locals and tourists are using strollers). And besides, who on Earth would be traveling with a child so young, anyways? I must be Polish, or at least living in town.

We've only seen a single black person here (a woman), and I get the impression that at least 60+% of the men appear skinny, and rather wimpy. The clothing people wear is as diverse and eclectic as the shapes and sizes of the inhabitants of the city, but generally comes off looking like they were picked out of a Salvation Army store—with the exception of their shoes, which are always looking fashionable.

Tatiana noted the women, and their excellent use of makeup (those wearing it, that is). Nothing over the top, soft enough to bring out their features, such as the eyes, which we both really find intriguing and attractive on the majority of the female population. No overabundance of attractive women here though—same percentage breakdowns as any other midsized city (though those at the upper tier are quite a sight).

The weather has been very unpredictable over the past week—excetuated only by Weather.com's complete inability to forecast even 12 hours in advance. It's unseasonably cold for July, and we've been in a sweater, pants, and shoes every day. Wind and rain often comes out of nowhere, chilling us as we retreat back to the apartment.

I can't help but remark to Tatiana how much the weather and smells of trees and rain bring back the sensation of being back in Oregon in the spring and autumn. Our son has never seen green as he has here before—nor trees or forest. Tatiana can only remember seeing surroundings like these when she visited the Netherlands earlier in the decade.

Our apartment has been an absolute joy, and the staffers friendly and helpful (when occasionally called upon). With the available kitchen, Tatiana has started making Aidric his baby food from the fruit and veggies picked up from the corner markets. It's a laborious process to boil and strain the foods to the consistency that he'll eat, but with baby food running about $2.5 for a little glass jar it saves significant amounts of money. (A write-up on this in the works, as we figure out the best way to travel and feed an infant on a budget)

Things are very expensive for us here (save for the sausage, and deli-sliced meats and cheeses), and neither of us are eating all that much. I've gone cold turkey on soda, and as expected, haven't even had a drop of alcohol since we got here (why buy a beer when it's as much as a stack of sandwich meat?). Just like Miami, all of us, including the baby, are drinking the tap water.

We paid for our room today, which makes my pocket 245 zloty lighter (490 PLN for seven nights). The dollar is continuing to lose strength at an alarming rate, and the room that was going to cost us a total of $233 is now $251 a month later. Jeez…

That's still half the price of anything else I could find in the city, though.

Aside from the rent, I've spent 71.50 zloty ($35) over the course of the week, 49 zloty ($24) of that on food (only eating at a milk bar that one time, and then stopping by again just for another round of potato pancakes). I honestly that's about as shoestring as it's going to get in this city (without free accommodations), which is more than a bit scary.

Although we're not really cold weather people, the change from Miami's repressive summer heat and humidity has certainly made the feel of springtime in Oregon a delight. And I can't pass up the opportunity for us to head two or three hours south and get a glimpse of Tatra Mountains at Poland's most popular mountain town.

Not knowing the weather or finding any decent accommodation leads online for us in advance is a bit of a crapshoot, but this might be the only gamble we take on heading to the mountains before winter advances on the region in a few weeks time.

We're off to Zakopane.

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