KRAKOW, Poland 

  Debra's Diary ~ Date:    September 2007.         Krakow old town is much smaller than either Prague or Budapest, so it is easy to cover everything you want to see.  The railway station is a bit of a trek trailing cases to hotels within walking distance, and in the pouring rain, trying to find a taxi to take you to your hotel that is not close is a nightmare.  There does not appear to be a taxi rank near to the railway station which seems to go against usual trend.  I liked Krakow very much, there is a lot to see in a relatively small area, which makes filming a much easier prospect.  The weather was patchy, which is hard for continuity but with viewing the footage we've shot in the evening, it gives us an opportunity to re-take shots if they are a bit gloomy or don't match.  But that in turn means doubling back on yourself, which extends the filming day no end.  Or using up a portion of another day that was allotted to somewhere else - or whizzing around like a mad thing on the morning of the day of your flight back home.

As a general rule, we found that most people over 30 did not speak English at all or not well, and most people under 30 spoke it extremely well.  With so many students in Krakow (over 150,000), they give the city a young feel and an energy that is engaging, although I wouldn't call it a 'cheerful' city.  I don't think I've ever seen so many pubs, bars, cafes, restaurants and cellar bars in such a compact area, and the choice of cuisine is really extensive, and amazingly cheap.  I've also never seen so many young, good-looking policemen in my life either.

It is very straightforward and easy to get around in Krakow, although the swarm of little tourist golf-cart trains is annoying; the horse and carriages are much more attractive.  The Cloth Hall market stalls are a shopper's dream for amber jewellery, Tiffany lamps, wooden carvings, outer clothing and traditional crafts, and it is a very attractive building set in an attractive wide square.  The church of St. Mary has two gothic towers, one of which you can climb to the top to see the famed Trumpeter blow his trumpet through each of the four corner windows, his call to arms symbolically cut off in mid-note to commemorate the 13th century trumpeter who was shot in the throat as he warned of the Mongol invasion.  This trumpet tribute is broadcast on Krakow radio every day at noon.  But it's a lot of steps and you need a good head for heights, which is why Dave went up and I didn't.

We took an excursion to Nowa Huta with Crazy Guides in a Trabant driven by Crazy Qba - crazily.  I've never been in a Trabant before, and I can honestly say I don't wish to again.  As explained on the drive, with Qba cheerfully pointing out with both hands, (which was worrying as they didn't spend a great deal of time gripping the steering wheel), the whole thing is made of fibreglass and the bonnet is made of cardboard; it has no fuel pump, the petrol tank sits on top of the engine, and we had to have the windows open as the exhaust smoked like a mini-steelworks the entire journey.  But the Trabis are constantly maintained, and as Qba obviously not only knew how to drive one but also how to fix one, we arrived unscathed at Nowa Huta.  The tour itself was hugely entertaining, due in a large part to Crazy Qba's quirky and charming non-stop commentary and very educational - this was Communism as I had never expected to see it.  We visited a 'Communist' flat - it smelled of boiled cabbage and stale vodka - where the company had collected together items representative of the Communist years, and we took vodka shots and in Dave's case a gherkin to kill the aftertaste of the vodka.  I had a piece of spicy sausage.  Really worth doing; Crazy Qba really knew his stuff and it gives you an insight you don't expect - like food ration coupons from the 80's.

Our walk took us over the river on a nondescript bridge to find the infamous ghetto and Oskar Schindler's factory - it wasn't that obvious on foot, but the little golf-carts managed to find it and also managed to park in shot as well.  The Church of the Rock was fascinating, and when we were there, had a really excellent display on the life of St. Stanislaw, the patron saint of the city.  And of course, Krakow was home to Pope John Paul II, and there is a city trail devoted to him.  There are several themed city trails to follow, such as the Jewish one and the University trail and we tried to combine elements of all of them in our film.  The Remu'h Cemetery is moving, and we ate in the Jewish quarter more than once because the food was so good.

Wawel Castle has an interesting history incorporating the ravages of Imperialistic Austrians, but there is nowhere in Krakow that has a vantage point from which to view it, so it becomes less imposing than it could have been.  Our walk took us along the river, out of town to the Kosciuszko Mound, and you can have a nicer, broader perspective of the castle from the riverbank.    


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