The Old Man and the Stag

Krakow Travel Blog

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There has been an element of luck and chance involved in the meeting of all my new friends on this trip. But I think Poland takes the cake on randomness. This is the story of how it came to be that, in my first 24 hours in Krakow, I hung out with a 70-year-old Polish man and an English bachelor party.

Meet Jozef: my new new Polish hero. Jozef sat a row behind me on our train ride from Berlin to Krakow, Poland. He was so kind as to wake me when we got to our stop. (Bonus point #1) I went to the front of the train to grab my bag. He followed with the sunglasses I forgot in my seat. (#2) After helping me lift my bag and letting me off the train first, Jozef stood waiting patiently by the stairs, watching me stare blankly at the Polish signs with no idea of where to go, and then waved me over.
Market Square, Krakow Poland
I showed him my map and pointed to the location of my hostel and he, again, motioned for me to follow. (That's at least #3 now.) Just outside the train station, there was a pretzel stand. And wouldn't you know, Jozef bought me one! This was especially a godsend considering I had spent the last 3 hours of the train ride waiting for the food-cart guy to come by again. He, of course, came every 10 minutes when I wasn't hungry, but the moment I made up my mind to buy something, he was nowhere to be found for the rest of the trip. So this brought me to the current state of scarfing down the pretzel like I was a starving orphan he just found in the alley. (Big bonus #4. Maybe even #5, considering my hunger.) As we walked, in what I hoped and believed was the direction of my hostel, we did our best to communicate.
how i spent my first day in Poland
Keep in mind Jozef spoke no English and I didn't know a lick of Polish. We found common ground in German. At least the few phrases he remembered from his semester of Deutsch, 40 or 50 years ago. It was at least something and kind of did the trick. Mostly we just walked in silence. I stared in awe at the new city (which I loved immediately) and he pointed out street names and held out a protective hand every time we crossed the road. Jozef proceeded to walk with me the entire distance to my hostel - which happened to be on the opposite side of Old Town. (Bonus points #6-97) The girl at the hostel reception desk served as a translator, once we arrived, and filled in some of the blanks. Jozef gave me his phone number and told me to call, but in the end we both knew that a phone call would be pointless if you can't actually talk to each other, so this is where my new friend and hero left me.
the stag, marcus, and the ladies
Thank you Jozef.

For the first time, there were no immediate friends to be found in the hostel. In fact, it was very quiet and I'm not sure that I ever found anyone to chat with. But it was Friday night in a new town, so I thought it appropriate to go out for a little while. I'm staying in Kazimierz, the Jewish district. I'm not sure if the population is still primarily Jewish, but at one point, it served as the Jewish Ghetto. Now it's a hotspot for hip bars and locals. My first discovery was a square in the middle of the district with a round building that housed multiple food stands. Everyone seemed to be selling the same thing: Zapikanki. Aka, polish drunk food. It's a cross between a sandwich and pizza. Looks a lot like garlic bread, I guess, and is topped with basically whatever your heart desires.
the stag by night. hawaiian style
Considering I couldn't read the sign, I went with the only recognizable word: salami. So I ate my zapikanka as I sat in the square, watching all the young, hip polish folks and then hit up one of the chill bars and ordered a beer. By myself. This is probably the quietest I've been the whole trip. It's a little lonely, but it was Friday night and I was in Poland, so there really was no other choice.

The next day, I set out to see the town. I walked through the old castle that sits in the middle of the city and roamed the streets around the old market square. I finally stopped for a bit on a bench to read and enjoy people-watching. This is how and where the English stag party came to find me. As I read, a group of guys walked by. One guy (who the others affectionately called "ewok") came to sit beside me and asked what I was reading. He was quite surprised when he saw it was in english and asked why? I think my answer that I was american and it's what I read best disappointed him a little. (Much like the disappointment of the American guys in Berlin that thought they found the world's only Swedish brunette.) I think he hoped he had stumbled upon a friendly, available local, but an american would do, so he asked me to join their group for a drink. At this point I was a little deprived of human interaction and communication, so I said yes. What the hell. It's not everyday you get invited to be the only female at a bachelor party and are allowed to leave all of your clothes on.

We sat outside at the pub, drinking for a few hours. They taught me english drinking rules (like hands-on-heads and no acceptance) and I proved to be a quick learner. I like hanging out with Brits because they say things like "fancy" "rubbish" and "chucked." I also learned they call anybody by whatever random guy's name comes to mind. Phil, Joe, Dave. Anyone from home can imagine my surprise when they started calling me Steve. And after they learned it was once an actual nickname of mine, it stuck for the rest of the night. After drinks, we switched locales to get some food. We then parted ways, only to meet up again at their hotel for a night on the town. Blanca, their polish bar tourguide, joined us and brought a little extra (and much needed) estrogen to the group. We hung out in the hotel bar for awhile (where the female bartender treated Blanca and I to free shots, probably just for putting up with these guys) and then moved on to a nearby club. Dancing got the better of us all and before we knew it, it was the wee hours of the morning. I think I can safely claim that this night was just a little more exciting than the last. Thank you England.

blurbmoi says:
Hahaha, yep, I agree, great blog Steve. Cheers to godsend Jozef
Posted on: Jul 08, 2008
oldschoolbill says:
Great Blog STEVE!!
Posted on: Jul 02, 2008
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Market Square, Krakow Poland
Market Square, Krakow Poland
how i spent my first day in Poland
how i spent my first day in Poland
the stag, marcus, and the ladies
the stag, marcus, and the ladies
the stag by night. hawaiian style
the stag by night. hawaiian style
Krakow
photo by: EmyG