Travel Stories

A travel blog for a long-term expat, backpacker, traveler, ESL teacher, and photographer. 

15 Things I learned about Krakow/Poland over three years

IMG_7472.jpg
#1). Customer Service Does Not ExistIf you go into a supermarket, a restaurant, a bar, whatever. You should not expect a smile. You should not expect a 'hello.' Definitely not a 'hello' with eye contact.  You should not bring a 100 zl bill - (equiv. of $30) anywhere, if you do, the face expression from the cashier/waiter/employee will shame you 1,000 shames.

#2). Communist type systems that don't make sense exist everywhere i). Post Office: Expect long lines. Expect a giant stamp that will thrust down with such force that the entire building will shake - all for no apparent reason. The stamp will be on a piece of paper from the first printer ever made. These printers make a shrieking noise (they are called dot-matrix printers specifically) and take double the time a normal printer takes. I bet you that only Poland or Ukraine still uses these printers just to spite people and to show off their slow and bad customer service.

ii). Dormitories: They are for the most part old, brown, and really brown. I call brown the color of communism. My communist dormitory is smothered in brown and concrete. The mattresses are brown (did you guys know they make brown mattresses?? what stains are they trying to hide??) , the walls/paneling are brown, the built-into-the-wall wardrobe is brown (and made all my clothes smell bad!), and the administration follows the same rules as the rest of the country in regards to customer service. Oh, and they also have the ancient dot matrix printers that take forever to print. However, strangely enough, they offer many amenities for the room (maybe to make up for the shittiness of the 12 meter square closest-sized-room?) such as, sheets/and communist blankets, a little desk lamp, and an Ethernet cable splitter. What is a cable splitter you ask? The internet in the dormitory is so strange that it deserves its own rant. When you move in the dorms, you must fill get a sheet of paper from reception and go into your ipconfig and find out your specific IP address. You have to write it in and then you have to drop it off and wait a couple of days to have some other numbers to type into your settings. Anyways, WHY NOT JUST GET WIFI DORMS? Put some routers on every floor and fix the problem!! Of course many of the new computers, esp. macs, do not even have Ethernet adapters built in so many people are screwed. The benefit you ask? The pros? 350 zl a month. (115$).

iii). Milk Bars: I will not complain throughout this entire blog. Milk bars are a benefit. They invented these little cafeterias during Communist times that have sub par Polish food sold for ridiculously cheap prices. If you get the basic pierogi (potatoes and cheese), it is only 4 zl (1.30$) for a whole meal. They usually serve this with compote which is a boiled fruit liquid thing, tastes like watery fruit, and has creepy water-logged floating strawberries.

iv). Trains: When you go to buy a ticket in the train station, you have the ancient printers again. The tellers make the angriest faces on Earth and spend what seems like an hour typing shit into a computer. It seems like it shouldn't take nearly as long as it does but then again, those printers probably take half the time! When you get on the train (possibly the oldest trains still running on Earth next to Russia or Central Asia) you have to literally pry open a steel door to get in it. When you get on, you pass the most disgusting Western toilets on this side of the world, and then you find out that the cars are split into compartments. Only usually one car on each train actually has an open seating area like most Western trains. These trains don't have any A/C so in the summer when it is boiling and you're in a compartment with 8 other people (which is the maximum), you feel like death. Especially if you're in the middle. When leaving the train, you have to literally turn a Titanic like knob and kick the bastard door back open. I have missed my stop before due to these stupidly designed doors. Lots of cursing was involved. However, you get what you pay for. The trains are very affordable so that is one area where I won't complain.

v). Officials/Police Officers/Tram ticket checkers: Most of them are corrupt. They'll yell at         you for jaywalking and if you're a foreigner, they'll demand money on the spot and probably             pocket it. If you're on the tram and you don't have a ticket, chances are that you will end up             bribing the ticket controller so he can pocket it. These guys make bank.

#3) Any pope after John Paull II does not exist The bet is still going with one of my friends. If you can find three pictures of Benedict or Francis, she will give you 30 dollars. But you will fail and then realize that according to Poland, the Polish pope is the only existing pope. Also, if John Paul II has stepped foot on the land where you are standing, you'll see a photo of it. Hiking three hours and so has the pope? Photo.

#4) In Polish Weddings you are supposed to eat a lot and drink a lot and it never ends. Thanks to one of my friends, I got to experience a Polish wedding two weeks ago. For about a 75 person wedding, there were 50 liters of vodka, wine, and champagne, that's a lot, no? Good vodka originates in Poland therefore it is the national drink and apparently the chosen drink for weddings. I got my first big meal around 7 PM with two turkey breasts and vegetables and I thought to myself, "this is yummy, hmm, let's eat it all!" Two hours later, my next big meal comes out. It is stuffed chicken with vegetables. I thought to myself, "hmm, well, it is rude to not eat food that is served to me.." So I ate it. After a bit of dancing, we sit back down at the table and pick at fruit and salads on the table which was a stupid mistake because the next meal comes out and my stomach is bloated beyond belief and I really don't want to eat more - perhaps never again in this life. Two hours later, another plate appears of soup and chicken. At this point I am on the verge of death by explosion. We also had wedding cake and a cream based desert in between the endless amounts of meals. In regards to the alcohol, they were so serious about drinking vodka that they stopped the music on the dance floor and played a song that told people to "stop dancing, go back to your table, and take a shot!" Shots, endless shots. But, as I am usually a prude drinker, I luckily was able to avoid the shots because I knew if I mixed the pure, unflavored vodka and the food, it would not be pretty.

#5) Vodka and Liqueurs Poland has endless flavors of vodka and liqueurs. These vodkas and liqueurs has all sort of different histories and if you ever visit Poland, you should do some alcohol tasting. I recommend cherry Nalewka which is a light 18% proof liqueur. The most famous and traditional vodka is Zubrowka. Zubrowka is a green-spiced vodka with a piece of grass in the middle. The grass comes from northern Poland from the Bison fields and supposedly gives the vodka flavor. Other flavors include apple, grapefruit, hazelnut, cherry, raspberry, black current, honey, rye, wheat, pineapple, etc. Go crazy because it is cheap! Also, we have had a university lecture where we even had vodka tasting and learned about the history of vodka in Poland. They are vodka serious!

#6) Older women have strange hair colors. It is not uncommon to see women with unnatural red hair, blue hair, or the national favorite, purple.

#7) The food makes you fat but the people are skinny sticks.  Poland prides in being one of the skinniest countries in Europe. The American medium is a large or extra-large in Poland. If you want an attractive man here, you should be a stick probably. In addition, the food is full of oil and butter. In fact, if you order a soup, there are always oil bubbles floating on top. Potatoes come with almost every meal and are dripping in butter! Poland has a common dish called smalec - which is literally lard - pork fat.

How are the women sticks you may wonder? The people usually eat between 12 and 3 and have a small sandwich for dinner. Therefore, they work off their food during the day and all heavy carbs are digested by night! The key to being skinny - little to no dinner!

#8) McDonalds is beloved here regardless of how much people make fun of it. There are always lines outside of McDonalds. I've never seen the place empty. People constantly say "McDonalds, America!" Whatever, I say, "McDonalds, Poland!"

#9) Beef means beef and pork Beef is rarely 100% and smells kind of funny. It mostly always has pork in it too.

#10) If you pay to go to the doctor, you can have whatever you want. If you pay the 100 zl (30$) to see a doctor, you can literally give a list of prescription medicines you want and it shall be delivered. Also, self-diagnosing via internet is sometimes more helpful than a doctor here. Once, I went to the doctor with the flu and she said, "hmm yes, you're sick." That was my diagnosis.

#11) The weather is full of extremities. In the summer it is scorching, in the winter it is the North Pole.

#12) Speaking a "little bit" of English. Speaking "a little bit" of English means the person speaks English but has low self confidence. It generally means they are fluent.

#13) Here, want some flyers!? Companies hire people to hold signs and pass out flyers everywhere in Krakow. They're at every corner of ever street in this city. Sometimes, depending on the path, you get swarmed by 10 people passing out limitless amounts of trash from "Police Academy" to "English courses" to "Strip Clubs." Most of the time my purse is weighed down by flyer trash! Ain't nobody wants yo' junk!

#14) Cycle paths end in random places. If you're going down the street, being a good cycler and following the cycle path, you'll probably realize that it ends mid-street and in random places. From there, you're mostly expected to get onto the uneven sidewalks and figure out where the next path is. There is even a 6 km path designed to take you up the river to a local village called Tyniec and maybe 2-3 km in, you find yourself going through a random village even though the path could be designed to go straight. You have to literally go through a village to catch up with the other side of the bike path. /sigh

#15) People are nicer in the North than in the South. If you ask for directions in Krakow from a local, especially the old, you'll find yourself looking into someones eyes who really doesn't give a shit if you find your destination or not. If you're in the north, like Gdansk, and you ask for directions, people will smile and perhaps two or three more people will magically appear trying their hardest to get you to your destination.

Note: These are my generalizations and my opinions from experiences. I'm sure there are differences in other peoples experiences.