Krakow is wonderful. The drive to it from Budapest was interesting…mainly 2 lane mountain roads until we got close to Krakow…But I drove like a native and passed every truck in my way! (: Slovakia seems to have more remnants of the Soviet Union than Hungary or Poland along the countryside…and we saw many more “Saints in a Box” . In Hungary and Slovakia, there are also huge Crucifixes along the road as well. These farmers are not leaving anything to chance! Actually what has amazed us is how many churches survived communism…in Hungary the communists turned them into so called community centers…but at least they kept many of them. We arrived in Krakow toward rush hour and once again it was a quick learning curve on the rules of driving…Tucker and I are a good driving team, mainly because he is such a good navigator in these cities that believe signage is sacrilegious!

But both in Budapest and Krakow(we had no directions to either hotel), Tucker found our path…and I negotiated the narrow, crowed, one ways..oh and the cable cars which come out of nowhere without any warning…

Our hotel or Pension in Krakow is the best.The Globetroter…Jack and his wife run it and he is the consummate host…He is full of useful info on how to see the city in a short period of time…he arranged for us to go to the Salt mines which are incredible 700 year old mines. We had a great time there. We went 400′ down…There are 9 levels…We only we down to the 3rd level. The Salt Mine is a not miss kind of place. On our 2nd day, Jack hooked us up with 4 Brits to save some $… the $ goes far here…but any savings is a good thing…and these guys were a riot…we really enjoyed it…Our first night we wandered around and the weather was sooo beautiful (something I’ve grown to appreciate since a good day is a rarity this year in Europe)…The feeling here is energetic…youthful …with hope…lots of energy…This city is magical. For those of you with a New Age bent, you will surprised to find out that the 7th Chakra is nestled in the Wawel Castle Wall(one of the oldest Castles in Europe)…people come from all over the world and claim amazing healing and energy emanates from the wall and across the city…Jack is an unbeliever, he says, BUT, he said, he has seen a lot of things regarding the energy stone that he cannot explain!…the Market square is the center of the old town. It has been the center of trading goods for centuries. It reminds me a lot of Venice’s main square. It differs quite a bit from the other city squares we’ve seen on this trip(most were more intimate and rectangular)…down the middle is a large medieval building where vendors sell their wares…doing it since the 1300’s…except under communism, this square was empty of all stores and vendors except in that building…the communists believed if a worker had time off they should rest because “a rested worker is a good worker!”…But today the square is bustling..as a matter of fact today, in particular it’s really hopping…I was having a nice tea on the square when all of the sudden a parade started up and music blared out and college students from everywhere filled the square…Today marks day 1 of an annual event where the Mayor hands over the city to the students for 3 days…they are in charge of security…and by the looks of the drinking, I would say that our security is going to be in serious question tomorrow! It was great fun to watch…a little like a cross between Mardi Gras and Fraternity week…One thing that permeates this city is the energy of the young people…this is a University town, with the 2nd oldest university (behind only Prague) in Europe…As I was sitting watching the festivities, I noticed 2 older gentlemen watching…each had a different expression on his face…One man was laughing and really enjoying watching the younger generation revel in their youthful organized chaos…something I’m sure he did not get to experience under the Soviets…the other man had a look of trepidation in his eyes…as if he was waiting for someone to swoop in and round all these kids up for having fun…but then, as if he finally realized that wasn’t going to happen, he began a faint smile and then he, too, was laughing and singing…Jack, our host, talked to us about how life was here and explained that as wonderful as freedom is, it has meant no financial security, especially for the older generation…under communism, they were given a pension(small but it covered their very basics, housing, food)…this pension is now only for 1 year…He was quick to point out that Poland has a way to go before they can really appreciate what Democracy and Capitalism has to offer…he said under communism it was 10% rich, 80% middle class and 10% poor…now it’s 10% rich, 20% middle class and 70% poor…the transition is hard for them….here, as well as Slovenia and Hungary, there is trepidation about the EU…they see the good it will bring in the long run…but All seem to worry about the rising costs of goods and services while salaries stay the same… This is also a city that seems to be more multicultural than the rest we’ve visited…a university helps…another interesting observation is that every country we have traveled to has been largely Catholic…but we have yet to see 1 clergy person…Here, it’s like Vatican City…Priests and Nuns all over…of many different orders…

The people are beyond friendly…they are very kind and love to talk and have a good time…I mentioned to Jack my impression of Budapest’s people and he says he goes there often and gets the same reception.

A little(very little)recent history…before WWII there were 68,000 Jews in Krakow/Kaismeirz…The Nazis killed all but 6000(Shindler saved those that survived, the story goes)…today there are only 100 Jews left in Krakow! Staggering! The Jewish quarter still exists with several of the Synagogues…and a cemetery(yes I went to it!)…but for the most part the Jewish Population was wiped out here as a community…The movie Shindler’s List(Shindler was here in Krakow…although he ended up in Budapest where he was arrested by the Soviets and was sent to the Soviet Union) has actually started a resurgence in the area. Today this is a predominantly Catholic community…

Another piece of local history is about a trumpeter who used to trumpet a song from the steeple of St Mary’s Church to warn of impending invasions…on one attack he was struck down in the middle of his song…so now every hour a trumpeter plays the same song from the left side of St. Mary’s Church(circa 1340)and it abruptly ends at the same point the original man was killed…I learned this after hearing his horn stop mid note on several occasions and finally asked!!

Tucker and I met a couple of women each traveling alone…one works for the Red Cross in Fiji (but is from New Zealand) and the other is finishing med school and lives in NY(although I later learned that she emigrated in 89 from Russia at the age of 12). Tucker was not feeling well last night so I ended up having dinner and a bottle of some very nice wine(3.00/but it truly was good!)with them…Travelers all tend to be of the same mindset…curious about other people and places…you meet people for a flash in time but for that time there is no small talk. It’s as if you’ve been old friends for years…you share about life in your own country…traveling experiences…what to see and do…and of course politics. It’s always a good lesson to hear also about other people’s countries and their political complaints…

Tucker spent today at Wawel Castle and exploring…I decided to enjoy some museums…They have some wonderful Art museums here…

In the Old Town area there are 320 restaurants and 120 churches…the food is very good…but heavy…and every country has place huge portions in front of us…today, while I was eating lunch a young Aussie struck up a conversation with me and I mentioned the size of the portions and she immediately reminded me of the portion sizes in the USL.Shopping is fabulous here. It’s amazing how far the dollar will go…so, once again, for those with birthday’s coming up, expect gifts from Krakow. You may even be bestowed one in the distant future!

This is a city I would highly recommend to all. Although I would advise you to come soon before the Euro takes over and then the dollar won’t fare as well. But, as with Budapest…this city deserves more time…a minimum of a week…there is a man from North Carolina at the Pension who came for 5 days and he has been here almost 4 months! Jack rented him an apartment…People seem to extend their stay…we considered it as well. This is one I will return to…I definitely need to win the Lotto…because I’ve got all these places to come back to as well as many more that have newly been recommended to me…

We are going to Auschwitz tomorrow and to say that I am dreading it is an understatement…but it is a must see and I have been seeing a lot of disturbing signs of renewed antisemitism since I’ve been traveling so I think it’s a good thing to be reminded what prejudice and ignorance brings…As they say, that kind of evil lurks in all of us, so we have to be diligent about never allowing it to overtake the good that is within us as well…. after Auschwitz, we are going to spend a couple of days in the mountains of Slovakia before tackling our last and final city, Vienna…

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