Where there’s demand there’ll be supply, not quite sure if its Keynesian economics or not, but the reality is, many Poles bailed their motherland seeking jobs in the UK and so along came Ryanair more than willing to take them home.
Within no time at all Irish planes were headed toward the fringes of Eastern Europe and ditching folk around Poland, once the monopoly of LOT.
On this occasion Jack and I were headed toward Krakow, Poland’s second city and medieval centre. Not out of place in some gothic horror movie Krakow is a simple city. At its heart is the originally named ‘Old City’ which finds its name due to the fact it is old. But it is beautiful, during the day it is just a huge church in a square, but at night it’s a mystical, beautiful cathedral set in a daunting square with horses and carriages dotted about. The reality is its almost completely surrounded by boutique restaurants.
A city of trams it is near impossible to fathom since absolutely nothing is written in English. But the basics is that at its centre and about 500m from the old city is the central railway station ‘Krakow Główny’ and attached to that is a hefty shopping mall. Since our last visit it has been completely fitted out Ikea style and so gone are the first ticket machines ever built, and 150 year old ticket sellers and in is new tech, new build and a new style.
The trams in the city are still rickety, rackety fare dodging gifts but are absolutely impossible to navigate. And this is not a joke, the track may look like it is straight, but you just watch it make a right turn and have you somewhere you don’t actually need to be. Fact is they are efficient for stop hopping, but unless you have the arsed-ness to be arsed to suss them out, which we didn’t then just walk.
Krakow itself is hefty, I saw it from the air. But Krakow proper is walkable, and easily navigated due to the fact the old city is surrounded by a slim greenway. Which is actually a rare thing in Krakow central.
There are many things to do in the city itself such as fascinating churches and some amazing architecture. But whilst I could spend the day staring at pulpits Jack probably couldn’t and so gearing time in Krakow for him was a bit awkward. Yes he loves to run, yes he loves to see things, but as a 5 year old – yes he has the attention of a, well, 5 year old.
Now, the skill in keeping 5 year olds interested is to incorporate somewhat boring things into a story. And so Wawal castle, where royalty used to chill out is not just some huge boring castle overlooking the city (which is free all November) it is of course home to a dragon (which it supposedly was) and the stately rooms we explored weren’t just tapestry filled rooms of grandeur, we were looking for where the king used to sit. And when Jack commented “I bet he was well bored without a TV” rather than comment the room we were in was actually filled with 600 year old artefacts, I simply agreed and discussed other things that could have taken up the kings time, like being a king. Jacks imagination ran wild and so what might be a snooze-fest suddenly became a wow-fest. In all seriousness though, entrance is usually about 50 Zloty for everything with kids Jacks age being free.
There is actually a cave where the dragon lives/lived, but on our visit (and quite obviously) it was closed.
Pretty much wherever you walk within the old city will ensure you end up somewhere worth a look. Supposedly there are many scams going on in the city, but as yet we have yet to come across any. That said and as usual we don’t take tours but go completely independent. An example is the ‘world famous Salt Mine’….(I’d never heard of it either) As we all know Krakow is famous for salt….(apparently) and so years ago a mine was built where salt could be extracted. The workers decided either that mining salt was boring or they couldn’t be arsed going home to their wife and so carved amazing things into the salt walls of the mine, including a spectacular underground church, the deepest in the world.
In the town of Wieliczka, about half hour on the bus South of Krakow its well connected via public transport. Actually, on the bus I saw a few guys not bother getting a ticket and get busted, which for the sake of 3.45 Zloty was really not worth it. The mine is via tour only and so when you turn up feeling like you’ve been there done that at the mining museum in Wakefield you need to stop. This bad boy of a tour lasts over three hours and to be honest is about four hours longer than it needs to be. That said, it kept Jack interested and despite the fact he felt the need to lick a wall to prove to himself it was actually salt (and betting everything in his money jar in the process) he genuinely enjoyed it.
There is also a zoo just outside the city (bus 134) which I am assured shows animals out of their natural habitat and in cages far too small for them. It was of course not a priority for us, and in any case it was sleeting and so I doubted there’d be any animals out anyway. When the skies finally cleared at around 2pm a quick google showed the zoo shuts at 3pm during winter.
One place I really wanted to visit was ‘Schindler’s factory’ on the outskirts of the city. And believe me it was a mission getting there, the walk took around half hour from the city and in the freezing cold tested our will. That said we walked across a massive footbridge across the Vistula river and attached to the fence across the bridge was hundreds of padlocks, probably thousands actually. And on each padlock was two names, quite obviously newly weds had sealed their commitment with a lock. There was, as you’d imagine a few notches of the fence that had clearly been attacked with the wire cutters by the hand of some bitter divorcee.
Prior to the the movie Schindler’s List, most people had probably not heard of Oskar Schindler. One of the best movies ever made it portrayed the life of a German industrialist who saved over a thousand Jews by entering them into his work program. The factory is near the Jewish area, and Schindler tipped up in Poland in order to make the most of the German occupation. He was a very persuasive individual and so employed Jewish people to help in his factory. Being German he was expected to be a bastard to those he employed, but in spite of the pressures of the Gestapo and what was expected from him, he risked everything to protect those who worked for him. It was stated that by the end of the war he had spent every penny he had in order to look after his Jewish worker. A real crusader, were he alive today he’d be given a banquet at any Jewish home, and for the rest of us, a show of a genuine, respectable and compassionate human being.
The museum itself was fantastic, probably the best kept, most informative museum I personally have ever been to. Jack enjoyed it and though he didn’t understand it properly I had explained to him that it was the workplace of a man who saved a thousand people who would otherwise have been killed. He understood that much. And after a couple of hours we left with him still interested.
The first time we hit up Krakow we found a tiny Italian place just south of the old city, down a back street it was a place of only 4 tables and the food was lovely.
Jack is a complex little boy and I knew we needed to talk, I needed him to open up to me and so we headed to that same Italian. School had previously told me he gets has few friends and can be quite difficult. His mum and I both spoke with Jack and couldn’t get any thing from him. One of the reasons for heading to Poland was for some time away in the hope he would open up to me, so that his mother and I could get to the bottom of why he was behaving like he was, and if he really had no friends.
The difficult thing for me is that Jack is probably the most optimistic, joyful, energetic slice of happiness I have ever known.
“When I ask people to play with me they say go away” – “so what do you do” I asked, “I just go away” he answered.
Coming to Krakow this time had a purpose, and that purpose was to talk to Jack. The reality is I sat and had my five year old talk to me in a way where he had simply accepted life as it was. And as he spoke I held back tears whilst his every word cut me like a knife. And when he smiled because I’d got him ice cream, I knew it masked a loneliness and fear and there was very little I could do about it.