Walden World

The wacky and wonderful tales of Beth's and Catherine's global adventures. And all things Walden too.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Krakow: Lager Louts, Bugles, Pitbull and Dragons

Krakow is a buzzing town. My father advised me that when he came here in 2000 it was completely dead in the main square. Things have clearly changed. The city has scores of townsfolk crowding the many stores, restaurants and bars. A tour guide today joked that Krakow, being the most Catholic of all cities, has 159 churches...and 870 restaurants. For a country that only 20 years ago had everything rationed, the Poles have raced to make up for the former shortages.

The city has been inundated by tourists, most notably lager louts from the UK who come here for stags or a group bender. They appear to enjoy the excitement and novelty of vomiting on a foreign street rather than their usual road right outside the local pub.

One can see such chaps mostly on the weekends but you always encounter a few when you are having breakfast in a cafe around 10 am. They are the ones drinking beer. For example a few days ago C and I were having some wine (not at breakfast) in the square after a day of sightseeing. A group of UK louts were sitting at a table nearby barely able to stand. One poor fellow was wandering around between the tables hitting on the waitresses, offering to buy them a drink and leering down their tops. Unfortunately the strength of Polish beer had led the man to believe that he had been transformed from an obese, ginger haired thirty something in too tight football clothes and sporting a terrible sunburn, into Brad Pitt. Alas any flirations with the gorgeous Polish waitresses went nowhere and our friend was told to take his drink and sit down.

Other than faux British pubs, what do the tourist come to see? Well first off there is St. Mary's church in the square which rivals San Chapel of Paris in beauty. A mainstay of the Krakow church is the trumpet/bugle call which is played to the four directions every hour. Originally the towers were the highest structure in the city and lookouts would be posted to advise of hostile forces. Once the bugler started playing that meant you were about to be attacked. Interestingly the bugle ends abruptly...sort of like the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where they find the inscription in rock: "the final resting place of Holy Grail lies in the Castle arrrrggggggghhhhh...." The knight reading it advising that the inscriber must have died while hammering out the message. Thus the bugle call just cuts off mid-note because, as the story goes, the poor lookout got pierced in the throat by a Tartar arrow while rousing the city.

Where most tourists flock is the fabulous Wawel Castle at the end of the old town. There is the usual host of imperial apartments and a lot of discussion of a strange habit Poland got into some years ago of electing their kings: they elected a Swedish King, then a French King and as for the rest, I am still muddled. The divine right to elect kings?

Underneath the Castle one can visit the fearsome Dragon's Den. When the town was set up and the Castle built it was great real estate; except for the fact that the king had built the Castle right over the lair of a fearsome Dragon: Smok Wawelsia. Smok, being a very greedy dragon, enjoyed eating the local livestock as well as maidens (although in some versions of the story he has his way with them, I wonder if he too drank the strong Polish beer?)

In any event the King, King Krak decided to fool the dragon by making a fake sheep, filling it with sulphur and throwing in the dragon's den; sort of like what Herby the Dentist Elf did in "Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer" to attract and disarm the Abominable Snowman. The dragon took the bait and thus filled with the sulphurous sheep ran to the Wistula River and drank to calm his stomach until he exploded. If the river was in anyway, as dirty as it is now, I think it more likely the dragon expired from waterborne illness rather than an explosion.

Finally another interesting note about Krakow, but more particulary the East (let's say a country called Romania) is the weird habit of all drivers: taxi, bus, private or otherwise, to blare hit radio for one's entire ride. While on the long public bus ride to Auschwitz yesterday, we must have cycled through the same Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga songs about a hundred times (although in Poland, strangely, Lady Gaga's name gets changed to "Lady Gagi" - must be the fondness for "ski" endings). Luckily in Poland this horrible custom is only reserved for transportation. In Romania it is featured as "background" music in all restaurants, played of course at ear splitting volume, particularly nice in the case of the many radio ads.

Thus by now I am heartily sick and tired of hearing Pitbull ad nauseum rapping: "Unos, dos, tres, quat...Rumba..."

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