Krakow was the capitol of Poland from 1038 to 1596. The first written record of the city dates to 966 AD, when it was already a notable commercial centre. But legend has it that the city was founded by Krakus, a mythical ruler, who built Krakow above a cave that was occupied by a dragon, called Smok Wawelski. People have been settled there since, and as such, Krakow is an old, OLD place, where myth is intertwined with history, religion is handfast with strong cultural ties, and the deeply engrained traditions of Poland-both on a regional and national level, are blatantly recreated, showcased, and immortalised for the tourists, and (I hope) for the younger generations as well.
There has been a trend in the past 50 years of migration from Poland to the UK. There are strong Polish communities throughout Britain, as many Poles come to the UK riding on the European Union's wave of open workforce opportunities. It was this Diaspora, and their migratory habits, that took my dear friend Siobhan to Krakow for her PhD fieldwork, and which led to me visiting said friend for a long weekend in June 2010!
One of my favourite thinga about Europe is that there is so much HISTORY! Everything has a story, or a slew of stories, and in small towns that are over a thousand years old, these stories are are mish-mashed up against together, one leads into another in Krakow as you slowly walk around the main square...the strictly Catholic St. Mary's Basilica is linked to the medieval market filled with flower stalls and "pretzel" sellers, which is linked to the side streets full of Polish and Italian restaurants, and numerous cafés branching off of the main Market square, which can bring you around in a circle until you finally find yourelf bumping up against Wawel Castle where the Pope is buried, and then you're back around to the dragon, who's cave can be seen from the castle.
One of the best things about Krakow is that everything is very inexpensive-not cheap, because the things you buy are amazing quality, but what you get for your zloty is AMAZING! This comes in handy when you're a foodie who half-chooses vacation areas based on cuisine. The pierogis! Steamed, fried, served with bread (or ON bread) and grilled onions! The pretzel bread (which is quintessentially Krakow) that you buy for like 30 cents on the street! The cheese! The ice cream and waffles (and waffle sundaes)! and the vodka!
Even though I only spent three days in Krakow, it definitely gave me a feeling for Eastern Europe, and the unique cultures and sentiments that exist in this part of the world. Communist Socialism has left a hefty mark on Poland, and Catholicism continues to be a dominating influence. With Poland's semi-integration into the EU (they are part of the European Union, but not on the Euro) And the opening of the borders, the influences of Eastern Europe and the West sometimes clash. Religion, sexuality, education, old traditions and responsibilities with new opportunities...It's very similar to what the US went through in the early 20th century...minus the Communist bit, of course. And it's quite exciting to see how the Polish people have adapted to the huge changes of the past 20 years both within their country and outside their borders.
Poland was such a great experience, and I would really love to see more of Eastern Europe, Perhaps road trip from Poland down into the Czech Republic, then into Slovenia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and end up in Turkey? Hmmm...Sounds like a plan to me! ;-)
Until next time,