I admit that a story about the very unrelated cities of Krakow and Corfu is a little strange. I did not have much time to visit Krakow to begin with, so deciding to spend half a day visiting the Wieliczka Salt Mine, combined with some logistical things to take care of (like a haircut), left me with only a few hours to tour around. Since Corfu was only a quick transit, I also have little to say about it, so I will combine the two.
I first arrived in Poland by flying from Kiev to Katowice, in order to visit Auschwitz. Taking the train from Katowice to Warsaw highlighted something I saw in many former communist countries; the huge development difference between big cities and more rural areas, including small towns. Despite a general population decline from low birth rate and emigration, many big cities are rapidly growing, thanks to wave after wave of rural migration. I think perhaps this phenomenon was limited by Communist regimes when they were in power, so what started in the 60’s and 70’s in the West (and is still ongoing), started in the 90’s here and is still going very strong.
Even in Katowice, next to the train station, you see this old abandoned hotel.
But in Krakow it is the massive train station itself that is closed, a brand new super-modern one having replaced it!
And you can’t even see the new one from here, because it is hidden by this enormous glass and steel shopping centre connected to it.
Unlike in other European walled cities, the walls here were demolished in the early part of the 19th century, probably when it was deemed artillery had made them obsolete. Only this gate and a small section was kept. According to legend, it was to protect the dignity of women church goers, who otherwise might have been exposed to strong winds which could cause, hum… wardrobe malfunctions.
The moats were filled in, but nothing was built on the land, leaving the old town with this impressive belt of parks.
Walking under this kind of human bridge is a local tradition during weddings. I went on a little walking tour of the city and our guide, upon seeing the newlyweds, organized this line of tourists! Usually this is followed by vodka in some way, but the newlyweds were not prepared for that and the activity remained sadly dry.
The central market building is where traders of the past would sell their most precious wares. Today it is where you go if you want to pay the maximum possible price for your souvenirs.
At the entrance, this knife reminds would be thieves of what will happen to them should they get caught stealing. In the old days, the culprit would loose his nose, the idea being that it is impossible to hide, and thus all will forever know he is a thief as soon as he shows up somewhere.
St-Mary’s Basilica, on the Main Market Square. The tour guide made sure we were there on the hour, when a short anthem called Hejnał Mariacki is played four times (in all directions), from the top of the tallest tower. The anthem is stopped abruptly in the middle, to commemorate a 13th century bugler who was apparently shot in the neck while blowing his horn to warn of a Mongol invasion. Today it is played by a firefighter, and being selected to play it is apparently quite an honour. The noon anthem is always broadcasted live on Polish public radio.
In case you didn’t notice, there are a zillion people on the square. I honestly didn’t know Krakow was such a huge touristic destination. I left with a dozen things I would have liked to see. Krakow is now very high on my “return to” list.
I had no particular intention of going to Greece, but Corfu is only a short ferry ride from Albania, and is well served by low-cost carriers. Myself and two friends planned to meet there, and we all flew in on the same day on very cheap flights from 3 different countries. I have very little to say about the place, but I had to mention it just for the cafe where we went upon landing. Since we were waiting for the bus into town, we decided to grab a bite to eat.
At this cafe (the only one), my friend Marion asked for a piece of apple pie (#1) by pointing at it. The answer was at first “Don’t touch the glass!”, followed by “No, it is still frozen”. So she then opted for some orange juice and the lady reached in the fridge for some Fanta. “No, orange juice, from the juice machine” (#2). “No, it doesn’t work”, came the answer. This was going from bad to ridiculous fast. Third attempt: “OK, I’ll just have an apple please” (#3). “No, not real, plastic”. We just burst out laughing and while the lady didn’t understand French, she probably realized quite easily that we were making fun of her ridiculously pathetic business and basically told us off.
I assumed hyper touristy Corfu would get us this kind of service everywhere, but in fact this lame wannabe cafe was the sole exception and the few restaurant, store and hotel employees we dealt with were all very nice and helpful (if not very good in English).
While we had nothing planned for Corfu, we did have time to hike up a fortress the next morning before the ferry. Without a guide or prior research, we basically looked at old rocks, but the view of the bay was nice.
So was the view from the hotel, overlooking one of the two fortresses.
And the ocean. Next, Albania!