Follow the Traveler

Ladies, eat your hearts out. For most of the day Monday in Krakow, I had these two all to myself.

There’s just something about touring a European city with a proper Englishman on one side of you and a charming Frenchman on the other. Both of these guys would probably complain about my descriptions of them–I know @GMuxx protests at the idea of being considered “proper”–but it sounds good, so I’m going with it.

This whole “follow the traveler” thing wasn’t how the day began. It actually started with a headache. Remember my last post? The one about the alkohole? Yeah. This was the morning-after.

I might have still been a wee bit tipsy when Muxxy and I wobbled out onto the street, blinking in the sunlight like a couple of regular vampires. Did I mention that his glasses darken in the light? Well, mine don’t. I squinted my way through the crosswalk to a tiny little delicatessen or whatever it was and managed to take a photo of the hotel from there. Accomplishment number one of the day.

The INX is pretty unremarkable from the outside, especially in the daylight. Those big, colorful planters on the sidewalk and the old car under the portico were a really good idea for brightening up the place.At night, strategic lighting makes a more impressive spectacle. And the interior, of course, is quite posh.

At the tiny deli, we ordered brunch, as it was getting on toward noon. I wish someone would have warned me that the coffee that shop serves has hair and that when you stir it and let go of the spoon, the thing stands upright like you stuck it in a block of canned ham. I have never tasted coffee that strong. That appealing cup of java you see in the photo below? The only sip I managed to take of it got spit into my napkin. Holy bells of St. Mary, that was a strong brew.

The sandwich was good, though, and so was the parfait. I watched as Muxxy savored his cup of jet fuel and barely stopped myself from gagging right there in public. My granddaddy always said strong coffee would put hair on your chest. Well, poor Muxxy must have gone home looking like a gorilla. I hope Kim had her hot wax kit all warmed up for him.

We left the deli and followed Muxxy’s GPS toward Wawel Castle. He’d been there the previous afternoon for the Independence Day celebration, and we debated whether or not the place would even be open since it was a holiday in Poland. What the heck, we decided. At least we can see it from the outside.

Along the way we found a few really neat things to see. Painted walls, cobbled streets, a stylish bar nestled behind a structure that looked like it was built in the fifteenth century–we stopped to take pictures of them all.

Presently we came upon the castle, perched high on a knoll overlooking the city. I spotted a flock of pigeons dining like royalty in front of it and promptly forgot everything else I was there to see. I was quite impressed by the fact that locals seem to have established a tradition of tossing out bread for the pigeons, since these birds are considered a nuisance in so many metropolitan areas..

I also liked the tree in front of the castle really well. Too bad the dang castle blocked the entire backdrop. I think that tree would look best in contrast against a solid sky. But some genius decided to build a castle behind it instead. People. I guess I’ll just never figure them out.

After that, we joined a throng of people climbing the Hill of Death to the castle. (No, that isn’t what it’s called. I call every hill bigger than a speed bump something similar.) Near the top, we passed underneath a large iron gate that looked a little dangerous. I, of course, was awed by the magnificent statue of a horse that graced the entranceway, while Muxxy set about taking photos of every iron and concrete dragon he could find.

Our fears about the castle being closed were for naught. There were scads of people visiting that day. Hundreds. Muxxy and I quickly became lost in a sea of tourists milling about in the courtyard. I found more pigeons. In fact, I found a pigeon I particularly liked. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one with feathers marbled quite as gloriously as this one. I wanted to take him home with me, but I figured the airline might have a bit of an issue with that.

There were other pigeons, too. My cell phone screen will forever bear the imprint of the castle courtyard floor after I dropped it trying to take pictures of them. You can imagine my surprise when I saw a table full of pigeons under the canopy where people were eating lunch. Nobody shooed them away! Why, heck–here at home, some good ole boy with a .22 woulda dun been out there pickin’ ’em off one by one. There in Krakow, the pigeons dined side by side with the people, and I loved it.

But my surprise at the pigeons helping themselves to leftovers was nothing compared to the surprise I got when I turned around. Guess who was standing right behind me? Not just another Steemian, but one of the three Steemians I mentioned in an earlier post who I said I wished I’d had more time to get to know. Yep, there stood @michelios, no doubt having quite the laugh at me out there in the castle courtyard chasing pigeons.

GMuxx came rushing over when he saw Michel and the three of us took a bit of a rest under the canopy while trying to decide what was see-able in Krakow on a day like that day. I wanted to tour Schindler’s Factory, but it closed early because of the holiday. Okay, no problem. We’d just walk and find whatever wanted to be found. We’d start there at the castle. I confess I was feeling disappointed that so much of the castle complex looked new, when I had been expecting to see Medieval architecture and very, very old stuff. The garden looked old, so I got a photo of it. The wall looked old, so I took some pics of it, too.

There were cool things to see at the castle, despite the fact that I was initially a bit underwhelmed. One of the things that caught my attention was the bronze replica of the castle that included the dragon’s den below us, which made me really curious to see it.

 

So we headed down the walkway toward the river, not saying much, just walking as a loose group of three with no real idea where we should go. Then something caught my attention.

At first I thought she was having a seizure. No, really–I did think that. Then I heard the music. Listen closely, and you will hear it, too.

I’m still not quite sure what she was doing, other than dancing to “Sail” by AwolNation. Her friend was videoing her, so it could have been just a fun thing to do, or she could have been getting that footage for a professional reason. Who knows. But it sure stopped me in my tracks for a minute or two.

In all honesty, I can no longer recall exactly which route we took to get where, or in what order. At one point we ended up traversing a patch of ground covered with pavers that had sunk and twisted at odd angles over the centuries. There I was hopping along with a cane, trying to preserve my dignity without face-planting in front of hundreds of people–all I can remember is keeping my eyes glued to the ground in front of me and an overwhelming need to get away from some obnoxious American dude who was yelling insults at an old man. Yes. Really yelling at him. Not joking around. Serious. And mean. Those dang Americans! You can’t take them anywhere. So I hobbled as fast as I could, with Muxxy and Michel picking out the smoothest path for me to follow along behind them, hoping to get away from that awful scene as quickly as possible.

At some point, somewhere, I snapped two really good shots of the Vistula River.

Muxxy and I compared phones to see which one captured a better picture of the sky. His did, of course. But I like my picture, too.

Apparently Josh Hartnett visited Krakow at some point in the past. But the hand prints seemed kind of small to me. Hartnett was all grown up by 2013, wasn’t he? Hmmm. . .

Finally we made it down to river and found the dragon’s lair. It was closed. No tours for me. But seeing it did stoke the imagination, especially when Muxxy told us about the dinosaur bones found in the cave centuries ago that were mistaken for dragon bones. Apparently they still hang in the cathedral today.

At the statue of the Wawel Dragon, all three of us hung around with our phone cameras aimed and waiting for it to breathe fire. It did, and we have matching videos on our phones of the grand event. LOL Here’s my version:

Further down the river stands a statue of “Pies Dzok,” a dog who, like Hachiko, waited in vain at the exact spot where his owner died. We visited that monument just long enough to get me good and teary-eyed. I wrote more about Dzok’s story in this post from the @tarc account.

Shortly after that, Michel spoke up about being hungry. He’s not exactly a chatterbox, so whenever he said something, Muxxy and I tended to listen. And oh boy am I glad we did. Because it was then that we turned the day over to Michel and let him take us through the city. As long as I live, I’ll never forget that experience.

From what I could gather, Michel has been backpacking around Europe for a bit. He’s well-traveled. He knows how to find what he’s looking for in an unfamiliar city, and he takes the side roads where life happens at street level. Muxxy and I were bouncing from eatery to eatery, trying to find something that suited, and with one word, Michel pointed us in a different direction. “Polish,” he said as Muxxy and I stared at a pizza menu. I had to admit, authentic Polish food did sound good.

“So what restaurant are we looking for?” I asked, convinced Michel had some particular establishment in mind.

He just shrugged, and with a rueful little grin, said, “I don’t know. I just think one will be down this way.” And he pointed to a street I would never have taken in a million years.

The following video is a result of that conversation. If you don’t watch another video I post, watch this one. The moment I heard music, I knew something special was happening. We would not have chanced upon this gifted street performer had we not listened to Michel–had we not followed the traveler instead of following the tourists. The final production is a combination of footage from my own camera as well as Muxxy’s. Thank you, Muxxy, for letting me use it.

Once the performance ended, we hadn’t made it far when a man with a thick Polish accent shoved something in front of me. “Real Polish food!” he promised. “Pierogies. Pork neck stew. Duck with red cabbage.” The thing he stood waving in front of me was a menu.

Straight to the Polish food Michel had led us. Morela was across the street, and we hustled over there without wasting any time.

I ordered pierogies because I’d been hearing about them since arriving in Poland. Yum! One bite and I understood why people talk about them so much. And, though you can barely see the bottom of the glass in this photograph, I enjoyed the best lemonade I’ve ever had in my life. It reminded me a bit of the lemon sours I used to order from the Hillside drugstore in the town where I grew up,. I drank two.

Then came the coffee, although after the morning’s experience I opted for cappuccino instead. It came complete with a little heart doodled in the froth. I’m happy to report that, unlike the deli coffee, my cappuccino did not have hair, nor did flatware stand upright in the mug after stirring.

For Muxxy and me, and probably for Michel too, a sense of nostalgia was setting in. Steemfest was over, and tomorrow we’d all be in different countries thousands of miles away from so many of the people we’d gotten to know over the previous few days. So we dragged the evening out as long as we could, returning to the INX for drinks in the hotel lounge. Then came the hard part–saying goodbye to a person GMuxx and I both had come to regard as a new friend. We all vowed to stay in touch, and there may be some tentative plans to reconnect in the spring of next year. I certainly hope that happens.

It’s hard for me still, thinking about the day that came after. Muxxy and I shared an Uber to the airport, and I hid in the back seat and wept quietly as we left the city for the last time. There’s just something about being around the kind of energy that Steemfest generates…when you leave it, you feel the loss. Yes, there will be next year. And hopefully some meetups between. But I’ll never forget Poland, or the beauty and strength of its people. Maybe some day I can go back. Until then, I’ll dream of horses and carriages and castles and pigeons, and I’ll never be able to listen to Lindsey Stirling and “Crystallize” again without thinking of that street performer and the day I spent following a traveler on the streets of Krakow.

 


>