As we are getting ready to leave Poland, many miscellaneous thoughts are running through my head regarding Krakow that I would like to share. These thoughts are in no specific order and bear no relationship to one another.
The main square here in Old Town is called Rynek Glowny (pronounced nothing like it is spelled). It is the largest central square in Europe. There is a church that sits on the square, Bazylica Mariacka, that has a bell tower which rings every hour. In addition to the bells, there is a live person who plays a short refrain on a trumpet from the top of the bell tower. The trumpeter plays every hour, on the hour, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We have been assured that it is not the same person playing all the time. The square is surrounded by over 300 restaurants and cafes.
It costs money to use a restroom in Poland. It doesn't matter whether you are in a restaurant, at the bus station, on the street (i.e. public restroom) or in the shopping mall. It will typically cost between 1 to 2 Zloty which amounts to $.50-$1.00.
Drinks are fabulously expensive here. You can get a whole plate of pierogi (polish dumplings) for 8 Zloty, about the same price for a cup of coffee. We can treat ourselves to double scoops of gelato (all four of us) for the same price as a cup of hot chocolate, a 6 oz. Coca -Cola is the same price as 3 loaves of bread. You get my point. The exception is beer. Beer is pretty cheap.
They have traffic lights on some streets but not many. If you want to cross a street that doesn't have a traffic light, you go to a cross walk and just cross. If a car comes along, they are obligated to stop. As Americans your tendency is to wait until the street is "mostly" clear before starting to cross. The Poles will just step into the cross walk, regardless of how busy the street is, and expect the cars to stop. They always do, except when they don't. Pretty tricky.
Krakow is over 1,000 years old. At one time, this was a walled city. The only remnants of the wall are the Florianska Gate and the 100 meters of wall attached to it. In lieu of where the wall once stood, there is the Planty. The Planty is a greenspace that encircles the entire Old Town where you can walk or even bike. It is quite lovely. It is perpetually filled with people enjoying the outdoors.
There is really no such thing here as breakfast food. The gelato shop next to our apartment is open first thing in the morning and it is not uncommon to see people walking around eating ice cream at 8:30 AM. The same thing is true for the places that sell kebabs, hamburgers etc.
People in the city are quite fashionable. Body piercing and tatoos however, do not seem to have caught on. At least not yet.
There is at least one hair salon on each block of the city.
People here smoke much more than they do in the United States and only an occasional place is a non-smoking establishment.
There is at least one Piekarnia (bread bakery) on each block of the city.
There is at least one Cukiernia (sweets bakery) every two blocks in the city.
Riding the buses and trams in Krakow is on the honor system. You buy a ticket at a kiosk which is a general ticket good for anytime. When you get on your bus or tram, you enter a side door and then you are expected to stamp the ticket and render it invalid for future use. If you get caught without a validated ticket you can be fined. After 3 weeks in the city, we have never had anyone check. (We did however, always buy them).
There are lots of kiosks on the street that sell the most interesting collection of things. They sell cigaretts, magazines, breath mints, candy, shampoo, washing machine detergent, and small toys.
It appears that people here live off of processed meats, mostly kielbasa of some sort. It is very difficult to find fresh meat and when you do find it, no one is buying it. Instead the line is 20 deep for the processed meat counter. There must be about 15-20 types of sausage in the case (no idea what the difference is) along with another 20 types of deli meats.
If you want to get food from a restaurant as a carry out, it is called "Take Away" and you pay a premium for it in order to cover the expense of the paper products that they had to use to package them in.
Unlike most places that seem to abhor pigeons, Poland seems to love their pigeons. People are constantly feeding them, even the restauranteurs. You will see children and adults alike holding cups of food in their hands so that the pigeons perch on their arms and eat out of the cups. No one seems to be concerned about the sanitary aspects of the birds. Siena has decided to become Polish as she too is in love with the pigeons.
Obesity does not seem to be a problem here in Poland. While you will see an occasional heavy person, the majority of people are of normal weight.
The Polish language would be great for a high scoring game of Scrabble - I have never seen so many z's in my life. It is a very difficult language and nothing is pronounced as it looks. Here are a few things that we learned. If you see a "w" it is pronounced as a "v". If you see an l that has a line through it, then it is prounced as a "w". If the l doesn't have a line through it, then it is pronounced as an l. A "z" at the beginning of a word sounds like a "j" in french and if it is somewhere else in the word, I'm helpless. After three weeks we can recognize many words in Polish but still can only say please and thank you (if you only know 2 words, they're not bad ones to know).
People are always walking, walking, walking and it's not just the tourists. They are walking down by the river, on the Planty, through the streets of the city. Maybe this is why there is no weight problem (it's sure not because of the high carb food)!
Pierogis are a polish dumpling. When I grew up in a Jewish household, they were called verenichas (spelling ?) and they were filled with potatoes. You can get pierogis here filled with just about anything: potato and cheese, spinach, meat, fruit, red beans, rice and chilis... If you can think of a combination, it has been stuffed into a pierogi. Avocet has become our pierogi ruskie expert (potato and cheese). She has eaten this delicious dumpling in over 6 restaurants not to mention twice at home.
If you are planning a trip to Poland in the near future, I wouldn't use this Primer as your sole resource -- but it will be a helpful start.