Tonight I want to share some new pictures of Krakow and just some reflections about this wonderful city. There is something about Poland that makes me feel at home. I think it's because, in many ways, it's a lot like my home in the American south: the people are courteous and friendly, the food is hearty, and there is a church on every corner. :-)
I absolutely love the people here. They are so kind. They are also the most law-abiding, patient group of people I have run across so far. The public transportation in both Prague and Krakow work on the honor system. There's no guard or inspector making sure you have a ticket. You don't have to scan anything to get through a turnstile or to make the doors open. You just hop on the tram and then scan your ticket at a little machine in the middle or end of the car. Other than myself, I only saw a couple of people ever scan anything in Prague. In Krakow, I've only seen a couple of people ride without scanning. In fact, they have little machines inside the trams where you can buy a ticket, and I see people use them almost every time I ride. They're already on the tram and it's moving, there will be no foul consequences for riding free, yet they buy their ticket as required and then take it over and scan it.
For the most part, people here also don't move at crosswalks until the little pedestrian sign turns green. Even if there is not a car in sight, they wait patiently in little groups until it's their turn to go. They don't cross anywhere but the crosswalks. I saw a guy running to catch a tram at a stop today, and even though he could have easily cut diagonally across the small, empty intersection, he ran across one street and then turned and ran across the other...looking up to make sure his pedestrian light was green, of course. And the tram driver waited for him, which is something I've also only seen here. I had one wait on me yesterday when I was running across an intersection trying to get to the stop before he pulled away. He saw me and smiled, gesturing for me to come on as he opened the doors back up. In most places, they pull away once the doors are closed...even sometimes with people banging on them to get inside.
There is no pushing or shoving here. I haven't heard anyone yell. I haven't heard a single car horn or music blaring from a vehicle...or from anywhere for that matter. I did hear some people singing evening prayers in Hebrew tonight as I walked past a synagogue, but that's it. Younger people offer their seats to older people as trams get full, and I have regularly seen strangers helping those with canes or mothers with strollers up and down steps. Today it snowed heavily all morning, and despite seeing about 3 dozen city maintenance workers out shoveling sidewalks and creating paths through parks and squares, in some places there were strips of ice on the sidewalks leaving only one pedestrian lane easily passable. In areas where people needed to pass, there was an unspoken courtesy about taking turns.
It's so refreshing to be in such a place. A place where people are considerate of those around them. A place where decency and courtesy are values to live by. For as long as I live, I will always hold a special fondness for the people of Poland in my heart.
And now some pictures...
I awoke this morning to lots and lots of snow. This pic was taken from the balcony of my apartment.
This is the barbican, left over from the days when Krakow was surrounded by a fortified wall and mote for protection. There are only 3 barbicans left in Europe, and this one is the best preserved. It sits in front of the gate leading into Stare Miasto, or the old town.
The heavy snow makes this statue look like it's wearing a white cloak.
St. Florian's Gate. This was the main gate into the town of Krakow and was, at one time, attached to the barbican. Most of the old city walls are gone, but this section with the main gate has been well preserved.
The flower vendors were out, despite the weather.
This is the clock tower in the Old Town square.
This is smoked, grilled cheese with cranberry sauce from a street vendor.
I've lamented about my confusion with money, so I made this pic today when I was pulling cash out of my pocket. In Poland the currency is the zloty, abbreviated as both zl and PLN (although they mean exactly the same thing). The "cents" equivalent is the groszy (abbreviate gr). The bills are easy enough, but that's 9 different denominations of coins. From left to right the coins go like this: 5zl, 2zl, 1zl, 50gr, 20gr, 10gr, 5gr, 2gr, 1gr. Confused? Welcome to my world. All of this, bills included, is less than 31 US dollars.
This made me laugh!
Aren't these lovely and delicious looking? See next pic for the name of the bakery...
That's right...the Pukiernia! Actually, it's cukiernia, meaning confectionary...but it sure made me chuckle!
These buildings are historic sites in Kazimierz, the Old Jewish Quarter. They were once part of the Krakow Ghetto, an area where Jews were forced to move and stay during the Nazi occupation of Poland. The ghetto was eventually emptied, its residents sent to Birkenau for extermination.
Just so you don't think Kazimierz is all gloom and doom, I included this photo of vibrant Jewish restaurants on a beautiful square. Most of the area is lovely, and all of it is interesting.
Franka Sinatry? Really?
This is zapiekanska...one of the most popular street foods in Krakow. It's sort of like a French bread pizza...but huge...and better!