We had an extra three days in Krakow, Poland due to Nadia suffering from back spasms. More on that later.
I can see why the city is a UNESCO World Heritage site with so many buildings dating back to 1000 years. It has a very medieval feel with fortresses, churches, and cobblestone streets. The kids are pictured in front of St. Mary’s Basilica in the massive main square (Rynek Glowny) of Krakow. The Krakow Marathon was being run on our first day in the city and it added to the tourist throngs. Close to nine million tourists visit the city yearly. Amazing to think of all that has passed in and around the square throughout the last 1000 years!
My wife Nadia loves Polish pottery and so we searched for a store selling it. We found the main vendor of the famous Boleslawcu factory. Polish pottery is based on the “eye” of peacock feather, a sign of prosperity and is heavy on blues and greens. There are many traditional designs and every year, some contemporary designs are released. Nadia bought several serving bowls, trays, and cooking dishes.
We were staying in an apartment across the river from the Wawel Castle, another stunning piece of history. City officials really did a nice job of keeping the river green with a bike and jogging path on both sides. It made for our family “night walks” very scenic and in the refreshing Polish winter air. The Vistula River banks were hours of entertainment for the kids, with them chasing pigeons, playing tag, feeding the swans, etc.
Poland is the most Catholic place I have visited with many churches all around the city. Our apartment in the Debnicki section of the city, was next to Pope John Paul II, home parish. He was Karol Wojtyla before coming Pope in his hometown of Krakow. One could spend a year studying all of the history in the city and in the churches. We walked through the cathedral in the castle. Lots of time and care went into the details of the facades, altars, floors, arches, etc. People are not as fanatical about the church as they were then to produce such magnificent architecture.
I also got to sample several different types of Pierogis, a western Slavic delicacy. My favorite was this Slovakian variety below, boiled dough filled with plum jam and topped with a poppy seed sauce. None however, compare to Cathy’s!
We also introduced our children to World War II and the Holocaust. During the long car ride, I told the story of World War II and its aftermath. We watched Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List. We then visited the remains of the Jewish Ghetto and Schindler’s Factory, refurbished thanks to Steven Spielberg and it is now a museum. That is a nice thing about long car rides is that it puts the family together and the kids get so bored, they want to hear stories. I think I explained every world religion in addition to World War II.
Our trip was going fine until the night of January 1. We just returned from a “Kralovec Family Night Walk” (we do these often before putting the kids to bed) and were getting ready to pack because the next day were going to visit the famous salt mine and drive by Auschwitz. Nadia was stretching and all of a sudden she collapsed on the floor in pain. Her back, as we found out later, was going through spasms and she could not move. It was quite traumatic and eventually we called 999 (the 911 of Poland) and paramedics came and injected her with pain killers and took her on a stretcher to the University Hospital. This is a new public hospital and we were pleased with the diagnosis and treatment. However, the Poles are quite dour and cold, which is in stark contrast to the warm and exuberant Serbs, and their customer service had much to be desired. Nadia was discharged late the next day and the next night we confirmed the diagnosis of the public hospital with an English-speaking, back specialist. We are used to private clinics being able to give patients exactly what they want. We wanted stronger pain killers and a room to spend the night, but they didn’t do that. They also didn’t make house calls, which we also wanted the next day. Perhaps Krakow being the second city of Poland does not have many expatriates. The language barrier was also difficult for us in dealing with hospital personnel. They were very “socialist” in their mindset, but this just might be the university hospital and this particular clinic.
Several of the neighbors helped the ambulance find the apartment, and throughout our time, we did get help from many Poles, including one gentleman who paid for our parking because we didn’t have any coins. But we did notice that they were in general, quieter and less happy in appearance than people in the Balkans.
After several days of nursing Nadia back to health, we were able to drive back Belgrade. We bought the inflatable bed from the apartment owner, Agnieszka, and put it in “Jacko” our reliable and huge 2005 Chrysler Town & Country to get Nadia back home. Agnieszka was very nice and a big thanks to her for her help! It was a trip we will never forget and a crazy way to begin 2014! Happy New Year to my readers!