So my first proper Polish night out (and I think I'm lucky it was only one big night out as well), consisted of Andy and his fiancé Karolina, their friend Agata, and the couple from Basia's place Matthew and Jihye… the 6 of us hit the €1 vodka bar… HARD! Though we did accompany the amazing alcohol with good Polish food - the dish of the evening though was Tatar - yes, the raw meat dish that we've heard about for years and couldn't stand the thought of… and it wasn't just the alcohol that made it taste good! When eaten the proper way, by mixing everything together - the raw mince, raw egg, onions, pickles and parsley, together with salt, pepper, and oil and eaten with a bread roll, turned a dish that looks rather unappetising, (and if eaten like most tourists do - as it comes on the plate - definitely would be quite repulsive), into something incredibly tasty! Someone had the great idea that we needed to go dancing after all of our quince, cherry, lemon and of course straight vodka drinking and raw meat eating. So off we headed to one of the underground clubs and danced out feet off until the wee hours of the morning. The next day was mostly a write off, for all of us - and amazingly so for our Polish friends most of all! Though I was at least stable enough of feet and mind to go out with Voy's cousin Natalia for a wander around the city and down along the river… followed by one hell of a soup called Żurek. A sour rye soup with herbs, sausages, and mushrooms. All in a bread bowl! Mmmmm! And this is considered good hangover food for the Polish.
The last 5 days I spent in Kraków really had no set plans, which I was really glad for. As I have said, I like visiting a city sometimes and not having a plan or researching about everything to do. I was able to just relax that way; just sit in the square having a beer, wander around the outdoor markets (a few purchases were made, including a beautiful carved wooden chess set - for a ridiculous €16), walk down the narrow cobblestone streets and visit the ornate and incredible churches that seem to be everywhere, sit on a park bench in the Planty and just read my book for a few hours - these are the things that were really special and made me enjoy my time in Kraków that much more. I was even able to meet another of Voy's friends, Mike, who knew his history of the city extremely well, and took me to every corner of the city in search of interesting things to tell me about - from war to refurbishment, from culture to work, from religion to food… I was even able to have my first real salad in Kraków… I must say I had missed a good salad, despite the fact the food there is super tasty - something green was what I craved! I also got to see Andy and Karolina again - who were completely lovely and invited me to their wedding (back I go in October!!!! J)
Of course the things that I did specifically do, ie bought tickets for were just as good as the unplanned wanderings of this perpetual traveller! These were the highlights for me and rounded off my trip to near perfection:
· Classical concert in St Peter and Paul's church - a string ensemble playing all of the beautiful music that I grew up listening to and some I even learnt on the piano. An emotional and happy night of listening to some of the great songs - including Vivaldi's Four Seasons, The Nutcracker Suite and Moonlight Sonata - in the includible setting of a large church, where the acoustics were brilliant. Check out the video tab for a quick view.
· Human Body Exhibition - something that I had wanted to see for years and was finally in the right city at the right time. An exhibition, for those who haven't heard of it, of real human bodies that have been positioned, plasticised (yes, have basically been turned into plastic/rubber models), and displayed in poses that showed every item of the body - one showed muscles, another organs, another with only veins and arteries, and even one that was divided into centimetre thick slices to show the body from head to toe. An absolutely fascinating exhibition, though not one for the squeamish. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to take photos… though this is completely understandable - you have to be respectful to the dead. But if you have the chance to go, definitely do it!
· Balloon Ride - A tethered balloon that rises up to 200m into the air for a beautiful panoramic view of Kraków. Due to the weather we didn't rise nearly that high, and while the balloon can take up 15 or more people at once, we went in groups of 6… so it was a slow wait. But worth it. Just as the sun was setting, I got to see the beautiful Kraków from above, all of the church towers, the housing blocks with their inner courtyards, the green Planty surrounding the old city and just below the balloon the blue twisting Wisla River, with its boats moving along casting ripples in the still afternoon water.
· Rynek Underground Museum: Tunnels - While I didn't have too long here, it was a fascinating look at what made Kraków the city it is today. Located under the beautiful Sukiennice, the tunnels show the evolution of the city from its earliest settlements in 2000BCE to the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005. While not all accessible to the public, the 40,000 square metres of tunnels, are amazing! And you can even see an ancient horse´s skull and an 11th Century cemetery.
While I'm sad I wasn't able to see Zakopane and the Tetra Mountains - a day trip from Kraków - I know I'll be back and will be able to do it properly, and hopefully stay over night. My trip to Kraków was incredible, relaxing and exactly what I want when I travel. For all those who haven't been… GO! Of all the cities I've ever visited, it's easily in my 'Top 5'!