Saturday, November 18, 2006

Krakow pt. 2

Cracowia, one local football team. In Krakow, even the football thugs say "Shalom!"

Krakow is the victim of overhyping, and the prime offenders of talking up the city are none other than the Poles themselves, who seem to think there is no other city of merit in their entire ding-dong country than Krakow. When I arrived the city, I was half expecting strangers to massage me on the streets and the wandering nuns to show me their holy breastesses. Have I written this before? I may have. Still, it stings. Also Prague is cooler.

This being said, Krakow's something, err, else. And the people who travel there are, well, kind of dumb.

Between our two hosts there, we had a one night layover in a hostel. The hostel? Nathan's Villa. They do your laundry for you, in house bar and lounge, kitchen, clean facilities, comfy beds, modern bathrooms, cleaning service. Sounds like a great place, right? Nein. Would be so, except the people who stay there must have huffed mufflers during their formative years.

Plenty of stories, few pictures, sadly. These people don't deserved to be immortalized by us. There was the 19 year old girl (American, Florida) on ecstacy who greeted us in our room, and her drunk stuck-up friend who, when he said that X-girl had passed out, firmly warned us "not to rape her." OK buddy, you know I was planning on it, but since you decided to tell me, I guess I won't. Idiot.

Then there were the Canadians, who violently insisted we would be sleeping gassed on the Krakow-Prague train and be ROBBED of EVERYTHING, like, EVEN OUR FUCKING IPODS by some Oddjob-looking conductor who was TOTALLY IN ON IT WITH THE ROBBERS (note, we weren't robbed). Remember when the Russian army sleeping-gassed the theatre the Chechnyan rebels had stormed and everyone inside died because, lo and behold, there is NO SUCH THING AS SLEEPING GAS, DUDE? Remember that? Probably, and when we asked said Canadian if he did, he responded by "I wasn't there." We saw him the next day at 5 PM - he had just woken up from getting to drunk the night before at the hostel bar, and was going back to the hostel bar for "happy hour, bro." Yes.

Here's one of the dudes, a Finn, from our room.

This one's a gem. Turns out this dude let some girls shave his hair into "a mullet" for four beers. Problem is, that ain't even a mullet. That's hare krishna hair. Yep folks that's right, Nathan's Villa Hostel: Too Dumb For Mullets.

The next day we went to Nowa Huto, advertised as the PREMIER SITE FOR COMMUNIST URBAN PLANNING in Krakow. There are tours of the steelworks, and the streets, to see what the IDEAL COMMUNIST CITY LOOKED LIKE. The whole point is that it's kind of shitty and blah blah blah all the buildings look the same. But Mike and I went anyway, because there were steelmills to break into. Stop Snitchin'

But then we pussied out - guards were at all the entrances, and we decided to hoof it around the Steelworks' perimeter.

But a few things of note about COMMUNIST PARADISE Nowa Huto - firstly, check out the name of the central square.

Secondly, Poland ain't even communist anymore, and Che Guevara is selling pizzas.

And thirdly, Nowa Huto is boring and dumb. Well, that's a bit harsh. Krakow is, for many tourists, the farthest east they will travel in Europe, so seeing a kilometer of something like this:

...may be shocking to westerner's eyes and interesting and "OMG HOW CAN U GUYSZ TELL WHERE YOUR APARTMENT ISSS?"

The thing is, we've been to, ummmm, Minsk, a city of such massive Socialist Realist scale it makes Nowa Huto look like some legos a ten month old put together and then vomited on. And that's not even counting those interminable fields of identical buildings on the outskirts of St. Petersburg and Moscow. We were unimpressed with Nowa Huto and picked our noses.

Hey look a mound of dirt! You feisty Poles are up ta somethin', eh?

Hey look a dragon!

This statue actually breathes fire because there's some legend about Krak the dragon or something, so we waited around a little bit to see if anything would happen. Then we read this plaque at the bottom of the statue.

Yep. Capitalism!


That graffiti is not excited enough. And if that's not enough of a downer, we have...

...a place where you have to watch out for, among other things, pickpockets.

I'm glad I managed to hit up Majdanek, because Auschwitz (less so Birkenau), seemed Holocaust disneyland, being most-likely the #1 tourist spot in Poland and all. It's a bit too-well preserved, to the point of reconstructed crematorium ovens, museum exhibitions with blown up photographs in the bunkers, and groups of giggling schoolchildren and chavtastic brits hanging out in the cafeteria. It's crowded, loud, and the carvings left on the bunk by prisoners before being marched the gas chambers are contrasted with the drunken-acting Irish old man in your tour group whose fly is down.

They all come marching to Auschwitz.

This is not to suggest that tourism to Auschwitz should be discouraged. By no means. However, the tour groups need to learn some fucking manners (especially the children), and it could be done differently than turning it all into a museum. Why not disallow everyone but tour guides from talking? Also the effect of being greeted with 20 tons of human hair almost makes it seem all numb, no like one really died there, because simply too many people died there, but it seems like no one did, because too many did, etc., so I guess you should bring your kid and take pictures of them standing in front of the crematorium.

Gas chamber.

A few pics without tourists.

Altered swastika graffiti.

Michael, for no other purpose but to prove we were there.

And, also, Birkenau. Most of what I said before does not apply to Birkenau. At all. It's frankly too big to be crowded. And nothing has been reconstructed, not even the the rubble of the crematoria. The gas chambers are a cordoned-off section of bricks. They have a pond of ashes, and they still haven't torn away the chimneys from the bunks.

Latrine cabin.

Park. It held 90,000 people at it's peak. It's large. A quick jaunt to the lake and back turned into a 2 mile hike, and we walked back through the camp, in the dark.

We have no pics of the lake or the gas chamber - our camera broke, but was fixed after returning home when we realized the camera doesn't take zinc oxide batteries. Safe to say: do not go to Auschwitz without going to Birkenau. It's only 3 km away, and easy to get to, and the actual site of the worst acts of the Auschwitz complex. And it's big. It's a really big, sick thing.

* * *

Our second hosts, Jeff and Aga. Jeff teaches English in Krakow, and he's a Southern gentleman from rural Arkansas who made me miss rural America an absolute whole shit ton. Aga is not from Arkansas, clearly, because there aren't too many Aga's there. They had a cute apartment in a communist megastructure and we made them, you guessed it, mac and cheese. But for once Jeff was the one who brought up the subject of that food. They were awesome hosts, helpful, and totally kick ass. Sadly, we couldn't make Jeff barbeque instead of mac and cheese, because I'm no good at grilling and...HEY, YOU KIDS STOP THAT!


We managed to get them to stop for a second from the lovey-dovey, using the best sex-drive-weakener ever know to man: a Sherman.



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