I don’t think I have ever been more in love with a city before my trip to Krakow…except maybe New York but Krakow is on a whole different level of love. I learned so much about Poland as a whole, somethings I was never aware of, and I found it very puzzling that I’m so interested in cultures around the world but I never realized that culture of a place could be so dictated by politics until this visit. Four miraculous days full of fun, laughter, learning, and amazing people:
Krakow is the most visited city in Poland, even more so than Warsaw. We arrived at our hostel only to find that we were just a few feet away from the main square in Krakow which is also the largest square in all of Europe. We were amazed. The square was full of street musicians, people painted as sculptures and even an entire building (that was once used to sell fabrics) full of small souvenir booths. We found authentic hand made chess sets and amber jewelry among other things.
During our visit with Eva, a representative for a Krakow NGO, she told us more about the country’s politics than we ever knew. We were interested to find that the Catholic church holds a large amount of power in Poland–financially, politically, religiously and more. In fact, the country tries to convince citizens through media that 95% of the population is Catholic. In today’s period of time there is even an application process and waiting period to remove yourself from the Catholic church and community. The process is so long that it is quite similar to the process of gaining American citizenship, and for everyone who tries to remove themselves from the system there must be two willing Catholic Church participants to vouch for their removal. This ensures that even if everyone removes themselves from the church, then there will still be 2 people left to reproduce more Catholic Poles. Because of the Catholic control in Poland, things like contraceptives, abortion, women’s rights and much more are extremely controversial issues.
Still, beyond the Catholic Church corruption issues, there is much more to the city. Roughly 25% of the population are college students from all over the world. They leave in the summer and return in the fall (right in time for our visit). We met countless people, all of which were friendly and excited to get to know you. This went beyond students and the night life atmosphere, people in the streets smiled, waved, willingly started conversations, and enjoyed the challenge of having that conversation in English.
The night life in Krakow is amazing, very laid back but still very fun. Polish specialty drink is sour cherry vodka (vishnovka), I was a big fan of this dark red colored drink. After a few drinks and good company we started our journey home. On our 20 minute walk back we ran into more people. There is nothing more wonderful to hear after a few drinks than a gorgeous Italian young man call you “Amore Mio.” Our twenty minute walk turned into a roughly 2 hour walk because of how often we stopped to talk to new people, the city is full of life and friendly people who are genuinely interested in meeting others from new places.
Another extraordinary part of our trip was a 5 hour bike tour around Krakow. We biked through the city and our American tour guide from Florida was incredibly interesting. He was knowledgeable, a storyteller, and personable. He told us about the competitiveness and brutal rivalry in Krakow between two local soccer teams. In fact, normal citizens don’t attend these soccer matches. People have been caught in gang fights, there have been murders, harsh graffiti, all because the opposing fans can’t stand each other. So many people have been jailed for soccer related crimes, that very often fans in the stands hold signs that say things like “Hello to our friends in prison!”
Our tour that day ended with a visit to the Oskar Schindler Factory in Poland. This museum was amazing, it documented the lives of the Jews saved by work in Schindler’s Factory. For the full album of the Museum of Oskar Schindler and his workers click this link: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151042558686511.414251.727761510&type=1&l=bba3737ac0.
This trip showed me more about Europe than I ever imagined, I found what I had been looking for this entire month abroad: friendly people and warm personalities. These were things I had given up hope on in Prague, but Krakow reminded me that first impressions are not always what they seem and that generalizations are often wrong.
That’s it for now!