“Damn. Krakow really is pretty,” I gasp, watching the pale pink and butter coloured homes roll past, my breath clouding the window of the bus as my eyes take in long balconies, wide, iron gates and frosted grass. “It’s stunning. I had no idea. Beautiful! Why don’t I remember Warsaw being this pretty? Has Warsaw ever been considered pretty? I thought Warsaw was pretty, but this is prettier! I think Poles agree. Do they agree? That Krakow is prettier? These gorgeous, striking homes, they-”
“Why do you think he hasn’t asked us for our money?”
I turn to face my Mum, who’s nervously eyeing the conductor as he laughs and jokes with the driver and a few other passengers.
“Huh?” I sit up and slightly frown before relaxing my face and gazing back outside of the window. “Oh, I don’t know, he’ll probably come get it soon. Don’t worry about it. Hey look, these houses-”
“But why hasn’t he asked us for the money? He should be asking us for the money!”
She sounds stressed. It’s only been 30 minutes and she’s already stressed by my laissez-faire attitude to travel and paying for buses.
“Mum, it’s fine, he’ll-”
“Go and pay him.”
I sigh.“Mum, I’m not going to pay him when no-one else has. Look, those English people over there haven’t paid and they don’t look concerned about it at all. I mean, it’s not like we’re evading payment, like we’ve just sneaked onto this bus and have actively tried to avoid paying in the hope of becoming the shittest form of criminal,” I pause to wonder when I started swearing around my Mum. “Nope. We have our money. It’s not your fault or my fault if they decide they don’t want to collect. We’re hardly going to be handed over to the Polish police because they can’t be bothered to get 20 zloty, so stop worrying and look at these gorgeous houses.”
She exhales heavily; she’s not convinced but she lets it go and her shoulders relax. I feel her turn towards the window.
“Paul was right, Krakow is beautiful.”
I nod happily.
“…But I’m an honest person, and I still think we should pay.” 30 minutes later, suitcase rolling and a obwarzanek krakowski (bagel-type bread native to Krakow, delicious, apparently vegan – I didn’t speak Polish, and the stallholder didn’t speak English, so we had a very broken conversation in which I searched up the Polish for ‘butter’ and ‘egg’ on Google translate and hoped that it was correct) in my hand, my Mum and I walked towards the hotel we would stay in for the next three nights.
“We should have just paid,” she huffed. I roll my eyes before she slaps my arm.
“That hurt,” I pout.
“Good. It was supposed to.” She stops suddenly and looks up, pushing her beanie hat back and gazing up at a beautifully decorated building as the crisp, chill air causes our breaths to create fog. Although there’s numerous milk bars that surround us and heavy footfall in the streets, the church is peaceful against the backdrop of bright blue sky and twittering birds. “Come on, we’re going in. We can even ask for forgiveness about the bus and the fact that you did not pay.”
And so I groan as our four days in Krakow, Poland, truly begin.
Like the temple tours I did in Thailand, we did church circuits of Krakow, popping in and out of buildings showcasing gorgeous stained-glass windows and marble statues of Christ and his disciples. We explored the cobbled streets of Krakow’s Old Town and its Jewish quarter of Kazimierz, dined at hip vegan (thanks Mum!) cafés and restaurants, drank delicious hot chocolate to battle against the cold, and explored history as we visited Schindler’s museum and Auschwitz (although more on this in another post). I appreciate Poland for many reasons, but one of which is because the museums and food are so cheap in comparison to the rest of Europe: think of delicious lentil pierogis at Glonojad for £2, wonderful cakes (and service) at Cupcake Corner, awesome, filling £4 vegan KEBABS from Vegab (yes reader, you better bet that I ate there twice, and would personally recommend the kebab slathered with peanut butter), and visited highly interactive, well-designed museums for only £5 each, because my goodness, do Poles know how to do a fantastic war museum.
Transport around Poland is generally frequent and cheap, but because of how tiny Krakow itself is, we were able to walk around the city and its most popular sites within a day despite Mum having a weak ankle, and whilst she enjoyed the grand churches more and I enjoyed Wawel Castle and the story of its sulphur eating dragon more, we both adored walking into the cute independent shops and various market stalls we saw dotted about, tempted to buy pretty chessboards and baby dresses under soft, glittering lights despite neither of us having an aptitude for the game or a young child.
However, although when in Poland you should do as the Poles do, my iron commitment to dry January (and proving a bloody point to someone) meant that unfortunately, on this occasion I didn’t drink. But, that didn’t exactly stop my Mum, a woman dedicated to cocktails on holidays and birthdays, and so she certainly enjoyed the tipples of hazelnut and quince flavoured vodka on my behalf, and was rather merry as we ambled lazily back to our hotel each night.On the final night, as we sat dining on the very traditional Polish fare of Chinese food (the restaurant was absolutely stuffed with locals, and for some good reason too!), stomach filled with fried noodles and tofu soup, cups filled with Lipton tea and a slice of lemon, we spoke about our short time in this elegant city and its outskirts.
“I didn’t think Poland was like this,” my Mum breathed, taking a bite of her sweet and sour chicken with rice.
“Yes,” I agreed, poking around in my soup, convinced that the jelly like substance at the bottom of my near empty bowl was gelatine, yet denying it because my vegan self couldn’t accept I had eaten it. “It’s a shame that not many people realise how decent it actually is.” And I believe it to be true, because with the exception of Krakow (and only because Auschwitz is nearby), many UK tourists don’t consider Poland as a destination because of ambivalent, generally negative press reports.
“I had assumed it would be… more grey, than what it actually is,” she mused, looking outside. “But it’s not. Krakow is just subtle. Modest and beautifully subtle.”