Cracow’s old town did not disappoint. I loved the medieval atmosphere of bricked old walls and wooden posts as if it was still being used as a fortress.
It was still bright after the day trip to Auschwitz and I did not want to spend the rest of the day in the hostel. The old town was just 10 minutes walk from the hostel and took me a good three hours to walk around every corner of it. That included the time I spent in a grill bar that sells £13 of 530g steak. I have to mention that the food in Poland was so cheap and delicious. At every corner, restaurants serve food that seems worth trying because of their affordability and appeals. I mean, I was pretty much hungry all the time because the hours of walking. I stopped for a hot dog, traditional dumpling and traditional desserts like a delicious whipped cream filled crepes. And with the view of the gorgeous old town of the window, or was it just a random narrow alley, I took my time devouring every food I bought.
One problem I had was that I did not have any local friends to show me around. I did not have any prior knowledge about the town and literally, every site that looked interesting had no story whatsoever. It was the night I took so many pictures without knowing the stories behind them.
One of the parks by the walls of the old town attracted my attention on the way back to my hostel. There was a map at the entrance that showed different colour-coded routes to get around. There were Royal, University (where my Eduroam wifi worked), Saints, Jewish routes and the footsteps of John Paul II. It was rather a random choice to make and I chose the yellow coloured route of the Footsteps of John Paul II. It led me to a building with the pope’s face portrait hung at the front door. I still did not what building it was at that point. Disappointed by the lack of information I get from walking around without any guide book or person, I decided to call it a day and went back to my hostel.
On the way back to my hostel, there was an interesting incident that never happened to me before. A lady came up to me and offered me a free non-peak hour entrance to a strip club. She said that if I entered now I could come back at night for free. So many thoughts rushed through my mind. What an experience it could be for me. My first strip club. But I proudly defend my crazy-for-new-adventure urges and declined her offer. It was probably hard to refuse if my legs were not tired of walking the entire day. I continue heading back to my hostel with satisfaction on my face. I was the most civilised man on earth.
I had a good night sleep that night and I just thought it would be a great day tomorrow.
The next day I started my day with a £3 breakfast that from the look of it should have cost me more than £10. But this was Poland; cheap and generous food portion. My day could not have gotten any better.
I went for the long-awaited free tour to know more about Cracow old town. Just to be clear, free tours do not mean free. You rate how much the tour is worth at the end of it. And as an easily impressed person, I tip quite generously.
Anyway, Cracow had surprisingly so much history. Not just events, but also iconic people in history. One of the sites that we visited was Collegium Maius, which was at the university area – also one of the sites along the University route on the map I saw yesterday. It was the building where Copernicus studied. Personally, I have heard of the astronomer countless of times as he proposed the (still – trust me) controversial claim that the Earth is the one orbiting the Sun and not the other way around, crushing what is widely accepted idea as written in holy scripture that the Earth is the centre of the universe. So I was pretty much a fanboy there as our guide described to us that the tiles that we were walking on were still the exact same tiles that Copernicus walked on.
Our guide, he was such a story teller, gave us snippet stories about a little boy as he was giving the tour.
- This boy was a polish boy who went through hardship as he lost his mother and brother at such a young age.
- He loved theatre and poetry.
- He showed interest in philosophy and theology, but universities were forced to closed by the Nazi during the war.
- His eagerness to learn, lead him to continue learning in the underground lectures in those hard times.
There were other details which I did not pay attention to because I thought it was weird for him to tell us those random facts about this boy. But while walking towards Wawel Cathedral, he revealed to us that the boy was John Paul II. I also found out from him that the building that I saw with the pope’s portrait was called The Papal’s Window, where he used to sit and talk to the locals as archbishop and later, the Pope. Mindblown.
I made a few friends over the free tour session. Usually, it is easier to make a conversation with the solo travellers as they do not have anyone with them, and frankly speaking easier for me to approach because then I would not feel excluded or feel like I am intruding.
What I would do after such tour was to visit some of the places that were introduced during the tour but not explored fully. The tour guide also told us some restaurants that were worth trying. Personally, my goal was to look for a high point in the city to take a panoramic picture for my portfolio. So I asked the guide where I could take have such view. He had told me to get to the Church of Virgin Mary back at the Main Square. I thought of the delicious local cuisine I could try on the way there.
But something happened that afternoon.What I am going to share next is some bad experience that I do not feel comfortable sharing in detail.
What I am going to share next is a bad experience that I do not feel comfortable sharing in detail. But be it a note to self or lesson that people should be aware of, I think it is worth sharing.
A was invited by an acquaintance to a club after the tour. I was shocked by the suggestion because it was still in the afternoon. But heck, I thought, the day was still early. I had bought a sleeper train ticket to Budapest for the night. I could have this as a unique experience.
I had a good bottle of Heineken at the bar and really had a good chat with my companion. But somehow it was really easy to talk to other people too. Without realising, we were one of the loudest group in the club. Suddenly, some shot glasses were given for free and I was one of the ‘lucky’ ones who got offered. Twice.
I do drink and usually, I could handle quite a number of shots down my system. But after that second shot, I went blank. I think had more shots afterwards. And long story short, at one point I felt like I was in there for way too long and that it was not OK. I decided to leave and got angry because people told me to stay. I came to my senses that I needed to go before it got any worse.
I came to my senses that I needed to go before it got any worse.
I did not remember walking past a long corridor in the building, but when I had to walk through the corridor to get out, I succeeded by continuously hitting both sides of the walls. What is happening to me?
I locked myself in the toilet for half an hour and reached down my throat to get everything out of my stomach. I was trying to rescue myself. Thoughts of me being alone in a foreign country and everything bad that could have happened flooded my mind.
After I thought that I had all the liquid out of my stomach, I grabbed my stuff and walked out of the building. It was still blinding outside at 5 pm. I tried to walk fast and straight. I needed to get back to my hostel to get my bag. I remembered walking passed the Mcdonald’s that I had eaten at on the first day and decided to buy it, thinking it would help me feel better. But I did not remember buying it at the counter and how I ended up in the McDonald’s toilet to puke again.
When I finally reached my hostel and got my bag, I told them that I did something wrong and I needed sleep before catching the train at night. They kindly allowed me to sleep for a good two hours at the common area.
When I woke up, I felt slightly normal and was able to walk to the train station. I could easily locate my cabin and bed. I met a friendly Brit who talked to me in the cabin, whom when I told him I had a rough day gave me a bottle of water and told me to rest.
I remember feeling so disappointed at myself, thinking how stupid I was. Only the third day and you let this happen.
What ever happened then, I still have questions I need answers too. Who was the acquaintance who was so friendly? Was he working with the people in the club? What was in that drink? Was it all my fault?
All I know, I had to be careful. It’s the word that I had been told so much, it almost did not mean anything until today.
20 April 2017