This post is pretty picture heavy, which is kind of a surprise because, in reality, it seemed to me that there was really very little to see or do in poor old Katowice. The city is pretty shabby and is all over the place, something which is not helped by the rebuilding of the railway station and some of the tram lines in the ‘city centre’ (in inverted commas because it is actually quite hard to tell exactly where the city centre is…)
We stayed at a friend of Marta’s. An old flat that she had inherited and has sat mostly empty for the past six years, meaning it is full of dust and causing some major allergic nasal floods the whole time we were there. I spent most of Saturday and Sunday wandering around the city in the sweltering heat, it was a rather exotic 34’C! Thank goodness for Biedronka and giant cartons of Ice Tea, and their delightful portions of chocolate halva (extremely dangerous)!!
The city isn’t a complete bore though, there are some interesting buildings, from every era, starting with the old German-Bavarian mansions, to the huge UFO of a concert hall from the 1970’s right up to the library building, which seems to be carrying on the tradition of being plonked right in the middle of where you would least expect it to be.
The city is, on the whole a rather poor place, and there are plenty of rather dodgy looking characters unafraid to eye-up your camera and back pockets, but it does definitely have it’s interesting bits that are worth visiting, though try and avoid the hottest days of the year!
Oh, and the trams are a bit like being on a scary rollercoaster (scary because you could fall off the tracks at any point…)
Hot-Dog? Bon Appetit!
The library building
Beware of fire-tailed Goats?
A beautifully sunny day with really hot hot heat! Went to Profesorska Street to look for the old buildings and bullet holes that were meant to be evident there, but alas this little street has become a victim of time, but in a different sense to the usual. The old buildings are now fixed up and shiny again, no signs of stray bullets anywhere here anymore. Then headed to Lazienki, the big royal park where we were treated to a strutting bunch of peacocks all showing off their glorious feathers.
Tea 58: Lemo Mate, the Apartment, Krakow.
The sun and it’s warmth came back today, gladly (though I hear it’s not to last, again). I left the apartment and walked in the sunshine to the river, the Wisla. I walked past the big helium balloon and crossed the bridge. I then turned south, towards the sun and following the rivers edge. As i walked the bells of three churches all began to ring for 12 o’clock. Though it would seem they are all have about 20 – 30 seconds of difference between them. Maybe this is on purpose so that they can all get a fair share of the attention. The big white church next to me was the last to chime, it’s big bells clanging about with great passion.
I continued along the river, then crossed the blue arched bridge to a part of town that could still be part of Kazimierz district, or it could be part of Podgorze district… There I wandered up a staircase to a small park dedicated to Wojciech Bednarski, a polish educator, councillor and activist from the 19th – 20th Century. The park is small but has a nice feel, with lots of trees and a large cliff at the far side, which has a wall built on the top of it that looks to be a fort of some kind. I sat there in the sunshine for a while, then left out of another entrance / exit. There was this huge old house at opposite the entrance which looked like something out of a fairytale, with a great roof and cornicing and a turret. I then walked back down the hill and onto a town square which has a large intricately decorated church at one end, that basically backs onto the little park I was in. I wandered down the main street, with its old buildings and their great old signs and facias.
After a while of weaving in and out of the streets, trying to keep in the warm sunshine, I made it back across the water and into Kazimierz proper. I wandered around a little more, walked up Mostowa Street and onto another little square, then along Jozefa street, where there is a tea house I have read about, I didn’t visit it today, but have found it so I know where it is when I am ready (probably tomorrow)! I then continued east, went under a tiny little bridge with the railway going over the top and found myself outside the large Jewish cemetery called Nowy Cmentarz Zydowski. I went in, began to walk amongst the hundreds and thousands of gravestones that fill this place. There is such a concentration of graves in this place, like I have never seen before. There are even tombs lining the pathways and they are so tightly packed that you can see where paths used to be, but which are now totally taken over by graves. The place is in quite bad disrepair, which is a shame, some of the stones were once very beautiful but have suffered terribly, probably largely due to the various wars. After a while amongst the stones I left, walked north and found myself in another food market, with people milling about getting their fruit and veg. Walking out of the market I found myself at a large old bridge, built in the middle of the 19th Century, which marks the start of Dietla street. Walking down, still in the beautifully warm sunshine (though I still needed a hat and gloves) I then went back into Kazimierz, and found this little cafe I had walked past a little while earlier, called Mostowa artcafe, named after the street it is on and the art on the walls. I ordered a coffee (I needed the caffeine, the cold is still keeping me under it’s influence), and some olives and sat for a good hour or so writing and just staring out of the window onto the street outside.
After that I left, and walked back to the little square called Plac Wolnica, with the Krakow Ethnography Museum on one side. I decided I hadn’t been in a museum for a while now and that I would visit this one. It’s fairly simple, with examples of old tools, traditional costume and reconstructions of houses and rooms. The usual stuff you find in such a museum. The best thing about this place was the photographs. There are loads and loads of old photographs (all reproductions) that are really great, so many faces and characters that say so much more than an outfit or old hammer in a glass case.
A while was spent in there, keeping warm, the temperature had begun to drop when I left the cafe. Then back out, the sun had begun to set and I wandered back to the river, via a supermarket, and this time instead of crossing straight over I decided to walk north, towards the Jubilat shopping centre, with it’s red neon sign reflecting in the water. The sky was turning a wonderful orange colour as the sun got lower and fuller. People were milling about on the rivers edge, rollerblading, cycling, taking photographs and being romantic, even a man walking his horse! I made it around to the next bridge and walked over it and then weaved through the streets of Debniki district until I found myself home again. Attempting to get into the building by asking the concierge to let me through the door descended into humorous chaos as I attempted a tiny bit of Polish and then got my tongue all twisted, but eventually we managed to communicate and I got back into the building.
So, today was my first day in Krakow. The cold has returned a bit today, which is a shame as I had begun to get used to the warmth again! Hopefully this little cold snap won’t last too long, though looking at the weather that is happening in what will hopefully be my next stop (the Ukraine), maybe it should stay so I can get used to being cold again.
I woke up, first time, at around 8 today. The sun was pouring in through the window, the bright blue sky up above giving more illusion of a warm summers day. One of the people I am staying with (another Marta, not to be confused with Marta from Warsaw) made me a cup of tea, a dose of Chocolate Cake Pu Erh tea. She then left for university, which resulted in me promptly falling back to sleep and not waking up for another two hours! So, second attempt at being awake, and this was much more successful. I topped my tea up with some hot water, luckily I had removed the tea-ball before I had fallen back to sleep so it wasn’t too well steeped. Then me and my host Malgorzata sat at the table with some breakfast and some more tea, this time a cup of power tea (the one I bought all that time ago in Copenhagen), we sat and chatted about art, art schools (she is studying at the Krakow Academy of Art), art students, painting, Marina Abramovic, Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag, Guy Debord. Loads of stuff. It was nice to have a good long conversation about these artists and philosophers that I’ve not had much chance to talk about for quite a while. She seems to be going through a similar time at art school as I did, especially in my third year, the year she is currently in.
A couple of hours later we decided we should probably head out into the town. Marta had called and asked if we wanted to meet her in a cafeteria that is part of the Music school, so we jumped on the tram and took it to the old town. We wandered around a little, trying to find the place. Old Town is one of those ones that is pretty easy to get turned around in and we had gone slightly the wrong way, but a quick phone call later and we were back on track. We went into the Music school building and took the lift up to the top floor, where the canteen / restaurant is. This little place has got an amazing view! Both side of this floor are glass and offer a wonderful panoramic view of the entire city, one downside is that if, like me, you are a non-smoker, then one side is for smokers and the other not, so you only get one choice of city view. But it is great! The food is good quality too, like most student places it’s good value and good portion sizes. I ate Zapiekanka ziemniaczana, a kind of potato based lasagne-style thing. It was pretty tasty, cheese, potato, some sort of sauce, beetroot, salad.
After that, and by this time it was after 3pm, Malgorzata and I left Marta, who was preparing for a presentation she had to give in English later that day. On the way out I went to the loo. This was in the basement of the building, and there were loads of people practicing every kind of orchestral instrument imaginable. A trombone, tuba, violins. Then, walking into the actual toilet I was greeted by a lad practicing his clarinet, he was all set up with stool and music stand and everything and seemed very content there! Rather surreal if you ask me!
We left the building then went separate ways, I was on the hunt for the tourist information, to raid their free maps and info. Walking in the sunshine was lovely, the rays soaking into my skin making me feel nicely content.
Map found and I went for a little aimless wander around the city, a little while spent in the old town. The obstacle-course of tourists leading me to the decision to head outside of the city walls (!) and explore the less touristy bits of the city. My first impressions of Krakow are that it is a very different place to Warsaw. I think this may be due to the huge focus on the old town that there is in Krakow, it is the heart of the city. In Warsaw it is more of a part of the city than THE city.
I left the old town out of the western side and walked down a little street that could have been Karmelicka street. A mixture of buildings, old and older, all with various bits of facia and / or concrete falling or chipped off of them. I kept on walking around, heading north and then east. I ended up in a little market area, fruit, cakes, bread spread across tables, people with brilliant faces and great characters. They were beginning to shut down their stalls, and pack up there things, so this was only a short visit, I will try to have another look around on another day.
I then made it onto Plac Matejki, a large monument to Grunwaldi dominates the street. I turned right back towards the old town. I wandered through the park area that surrounds the town wall, soaking up the last few rays of sunshine as the sun began to fall below the level of the buildings. Then I followed the wall east, popped into the Galeria Krakowska to go to the supermarket, came out and did another little loop around a few of the narrow streets. Then back to the town wall and I followed this around and then began to follow the tram lines until I made it to the river, the sun was totally down now and it was getting dark and cold, but I stayed for a while a took some photos of the river and the helium balloon that goes up and down all day long, giving views of the city. Then I got the tram for about 3 stops and came back to the flat.
I sat for a while, catching up with all the belated postings I owe you all, then Malgorzata and Marta came home. Malgorzata made me a lovely cup of Green Tea with cherry (my bag from Warsaw) with added lemon and honey to try to fight off my cold and slightly sore throat. Then Marta made a great hot chocolate for herself and Malgorzata, and which I tried a very small cup of, despite the risk of congestion I couldn’t really resist!
Tea 44: Dark Hot Chocolate, Wedel Cafe, Warsaw.
Today was a huge day of walking, I’ve no idea of how far I walked, but it was FAR! I left the flat, which is in the south of the city and wanted to head to this graveyard I had read about, and Evangelical place, in the North West of the city. This walk took me about an hour or so I think. Walking along the wide Woloska Street. Glass fronted buildings mixed in with unfinished constructions, mechanics, petrol stations. Trams buzzing up and down and cars hurtling past, the gentle rain fall melting the piles of snow into huge puddles, forcing you to walk in a zigzag up the street. I eventually reached a little park ‘Pole Mokotowskie‘, wandered around the icy patches and the puddles, a few people were walking their dogs, some taking their lives in their hands cycling over the ice. I walked through and found myself by a huge main road. Cars rushing past and the spray from the rain and melting snow going everywhere. I crossed the road and went through a little area of houses and woodland, a bit like some bits of Brighton in some way. The area is called Filtry and seems quite pretty and a bit artsy in places. finding my way through the small streets I got back onto another main road, Towarowa, this was a long long road, with loads of traffic and more mixed up buildings of various ages and uses. The low clouds obscuring the tops of various sky scrapers that dominate the sky line, the hazy rain fall softening the traffic noise and making everything seem grey and dark.
Eventually I made it to the graveyard. Although the first few gates I tried were locked, I almost gave up, thinking I had wasted my time walking all that way, but then I found the proper main entrance. The graves and tombs in this place are really crazy, so many of them squeezed into such a small place, but so many of them being huge structures. The amount of money and design that must have been poured into these things is totally unimaginable, it made me think that maybe whoever got buried there must of just left their fortune to their own grave! One tomb, which was just for one person, not even a family tomb like many, could have easily house a family of four! There is a great mixture though, some being very dour and sad with skulls and crossbones or weeping angels, others more unique and celebratory, a stone carved loosely into the image of a man and woman kissing, a great blue wave and a simple dry stone cave. I wandered for another 45 minutes or so; weaving in and out of the graves, gawking at the sheer expenditure in the place, something I find pretty incomprehensible: except the case for the potential of it all being the dead party’s last laugh.
Walking back East towards the town centre, along Zyntia and Nowolipie, then South onto Al. Jana Pawła II, I found a largish food market called Hala Mirowska. Fruit, veg, chicken, sausage, cake, all you could ever really want I suppose, if you looked hard enough. There were some great characters in there, dour faced women hunched over cauliflowers, merry butchers whistling and having a little dance whilst wielding their hatchet over chunks of meat.
Back onto Al. Jana Pawła II and I came across a small gallery called Galleria XX1. It was nice to be a little independent art space again, it feels like a while since I have seen something fresh and new. The show has various red and black constructions floating about in the space, one wall is covered by a huge black and white print of an old fighter plane wing, with more of the strange objects superimposed onto the image. There is another small space in the back of the gallery, which had an object installation, tall, human-scale grey structures. Looking something like a small, metallic henge. I couldn’t really figure out what they were made of, but metal and construction foam seemed to be involved. Back out onto the street again I decided I wanted to warm up a bit with a drink. So I headed to the Wedel cafe in the dreaded shopping centre. One more thing to add to the good reasons for their existence, the other being free use of the toilets…
I ordered the dark hot chocolate, Gorzka (meaning exactly that). The chocolate was rich and bitter, really great. You have to drink it using the little spoon provided unless you want to get you face covered in rapidly solidifying chocolate… It was pretty good, not too cheap, but worth it! Warmed up and a small chocolate high beginning in my cheeks I wandered around a little more. Then I walked back to Mokotowska, the area Marta works and met her after she had finished work.
We went for some food in a ‘Milk bar’, the place most Polish will go to eat, traditionally frequented by the poor or homeless these places are dotted throughout the city and are going through something of a renaissance. Called Bambino Bar, on Krucza Street, the food is good value, satisfying and traditional. We ordered from a little man behind a screen who handed us our receipt which we then handed to a woman through a kitchen hatch, who takes it and a little while later passes our food to us through the same hatch. We sat with our food and ate it up. I had barley ‘grits’, what the British would call ‘Pearls’ (to make it sound more appetizing and to charge more for it probably), a piece of broccoli (basically half of one ‘bulb[?]’), and some Pierogi Ruski (the Russian variety stuffed with cottage cheese and potato). These pierogi were MUCH better than the ones we had from the little touristy place in the old town. I would recommend going to a Milk Bar over that place any day.
We left the bar and then got on a old tram from the 60’s back home. But first via the post office, Marta had finally tracked down her parcel, which turns out to be a Holga Camera, she is very excited about getting it up and running, but first she needs to get batteries for the flash to work! We were going to go back into town to see the city in the darkness, but I’ve totally tired myself out!
Tea 6: Chai Tea, Props cafe, Blågårds Plads.
Sorry for the terrible photograph of the tea, it looked much better on the camera screen for some reason. Anyway, I guess a wee bit of last night before we go into today’s activities…
The Cuckoo’s Nest Cabaret at Byens Lys, Christiania. What an amazing night! We arrived a little late and missed a couple of acts, and just about managed to get in as the venue had been closed because it was so full, but gladly Inga’s skills got us in the door. The pictures are from my phone so aren’t great but the first shows the MC at work, like a russian burlesque circus master she was brilliantly funny and an excellent performer, introducing all the acts perfectly. There was everything from a fantastic brother and sister couple doing impossible things 15ft above the ground with only a pole for support to a fantastically risqué burlesque striptease and the amazing fire hooping tricks (second picture). It was a brilliant night and really felt like I had seen something and been in something properly ‘Christianian’ and it was great to meet some of Inga’s friends who were all warm and friendly and seemed like great people. As well as that I managed to meet ‘The Creature’, a performing arts piece that Inga has had past involvement in, its writhing and pulsing, screeching and moaning was mesmerizing and the experience was something I didn’t expect but very much enjoyed. The event was held in Christiania’s Byens Lys, an old cinema venue with sand all over the floor and smoke in the air. A brilliant space with a great atmosphere, after a short dance we headed home at around 2a.m. in the cold night air.
Today I headed to the Carlsberg Elephant Gate (Elefantporten), the main gate that sort of leads to the factory, though it seems to just split it in two really. The Elephants stand as supports for an old building overpass. They are basically life size and very impressive. After managing to find my way there, almost got lost once but figured it out in the end, I headed into Søndermarken, a park with lots of trees and an art gallery, the gallery is closed in January, but it was nice to have a wander through the park. I then desperately needed some food and to empty my bladder so I headed back into the city centre and grabbed a bite to eat, and after spending some time chilling out and warming myself back up I met up with an old friend from Glasgow, Ane, who took me for a short walk then for tea in a little cafe called Props, in the Nørrebro district of the city. I had a chai tea and she had a coffee, after a little bit of surprising misunderstanding when two Danes attempted to speak Danish to one another, then resorted back to English!!! The tea was warm and spicy, served in a glass and perfect for thawing my frozen fingers.
On the way home I stopped off for some Falafel in a pitta bread from Beyti, a good quality Kebab house just on Nørrebrogade.
Tomorrow I head for Stockholm!