BRIAN & NATASZA Part 1

San Francisco to Krakow, Poland

Ordered a Limo to the airport. Guy based in Pacific Heights. Got 5 stars on Yelp.
Made eatsforone business cards.
Put Chronicle and NY Times on vacation hold.
Cleaned my desk!
Emptied shredder, took all recycles and compost to bins.
Made Rector Football Picks for weeks 4 and 5.
Got Breathe Right.
Posted “eats goes on the road.”
Printed some Lancaster, Ohio pictures for Carol to take to Kyiv.
Oh… I learned that Kiev is Russian. Kyiv is Ukrainian. Good to know.
Got cash to pay for apartment in Kyiv.
Called AMEX and Visa to say we’d be traveling.
All progress. Brian coming this evening (Wednesday). We’ll eat an “Escape from NY” pizza tonight and fly tomorrow.

k_warsaw_to_krakowOctober 1, Frankfurt Airport
10:30am. It’s gray and overcast. Travel is exciting and educational, full of new sights and sounds and peoples. An experience we’ll talk about for years.

But we haven’t got to that part yet. We’re in gray, wet Frankfurt for 3 hours on our way to Warsaw, Poland where we’ll take a train to Krakow for sightseeing. We got here by racing from mid-afternoon (2pm) through an abbreviated night and landing at 9:30 the next morning — all in 10 measly hours. The torture part involved getting 400 people (or what ever large number a Boeing 747 holds) onto the plane and fitting them in. Long lines at security inspection, I’m pretty sure there were 5 switchbacks, and we’re wearing coats for Krakow where it’s about 50°F and carrying bags. Somewhere in the middle of the line it begins to feel a tad claustrophobic and overheated by all those people breathing dead air.

At security, there are new machines, so remove everything from every pocket plus shoes and belt and hat and coat and put them in plastic baskets, then go stand in this glass enclosure, feet apart, arms over head.

On the plane, the seats are pretty narrow, but legroom isn’t too bad. Carol and I have aisle seats, which seem less confining… Brian has a window seat two rows behind us.

OK, 10 hours in a narrow seat that’s hard to get in and out of is not your birthday wish — but maybe traveling to places you’ve never been before, is. So there’s your torture and your travel.

The United flight attendants were good, breaking the flight into segments with drinks and a meal, more drinks, chocolate, coffee, and finally, breakfast.

Meal: curried chicken with rice, romaine salad and a brownie. Pretty good.
Drinks. I have Scotch and Soda (mud in your eye). That way, I can drink the Scotch on the rocks, and have the soda to sip on for quite a while.
Chocolate, a nice dark bar, with coffee.
Breakfast: Very lame breakfast sandwich of paper thin turkey and white cheese on a roll soggy from thawing. Strawberry Yogurt.

The thing about Frankfurt airport is, it’s really really long and one is made to walk very very far. Walk down steps and across the tarmac to a bus to the terminal. Ahhh, a brief encounter with fresh air. Walk to passport control… walk to security, then through lots of duty free shops and finally to gate A28.

Brian at Gate A28

Brian at Gate A28

Whew… we sat for a minute before it was announced that our flight to Warsaw was changed to gate A42, the last gate in the terminal. How far is that? The gates are in pairs, 27-28, 29-30 and so on. It is about 100 meters between each pair of gates… 2,400 meters to gate A42… a bit over a mile. Far.

Chillin' at Gate A46 and guarding my red bag

Chillin' at Gate A42 and guarding my red bag

I needed something to drink. Oh, there’s a snack stand by Gate A34. An orange juice is 3.90 Euros (about 5 bucks). Having no Euros, I paid by credit card.

Bingo, we got the last seats in the last row on the Lufthansa flight to Warsaw, 24E and F. A little cramped, but only 90 minutes to Warsaw. I’m very tired of reading multiple issues of the New Yorker, so I switched to SI, Where are they now? Stan Musial as 94 year old all-round nice guy in St. Louis; Orel Hirsheiser as World Class Poker Player living in Henderson, NV, Jerry Tarkanian, still quite the hero to women of a certain age in Las Vegas.

There is no passport control or customs or any such thing in Warsaw. I guess we’re EU. Who can imagine the Germans and Poles getting along?

Let’s see, Airports belong out of the city, train stations in the heart of the city, so we had quite a ride over lovely parkways.

Mature trees line the parkway through Warsaw.

Mature trees line the parkway through Warsaw.

Stopped at a light beside a colorful hotel.

Stopped at a light beside a colorful hotel.

By now, it’s only 3pm and our train isn’t until 7pm. Brian will try and change it to five.

We wait and wait. There are few places to sit in the station and no bars or cafes. Outside is a huge busy street. We can see Brian through a glass sliding door, seated at a desk, talking to a guy, for a long time.

Carol guards bags in the Warsaw train station.

Carol guards bags in the Warsaw train station.

Carol and I are watch the bags, huddled huddled up in the middle of the station. It is chilly. People rush through the station in surges, bus comes – surge of people; trolley opens its doors – surge of people rushing through to trains.
Brian comes out of that office, “You wanted 5pm?” he says, “I got you a 4:30 train to Krakow.” SWEET. I went outside and took a picture.

k_warsaw_outside_train

The train has seats facing one another with a narrow table between. Two guys across from us are in their 30’s. Each has a thick paperback book on the table in front of him. Guy across from me is in full business attire, dark suit, black shoes, tie knotted at the neck, collar not loosened. Other guy is dressed in business casual with a gray, zippered sweater over a dress shirt. They generally stared into space or out the window (it was light outside until about 7) or at their books. Each dozed off from time to time. They never spoke to each other or to us. The women across from Brian — mid-30’s, nicely dressed — hardly stopped talking.

Guy came down the aisle with a cart; coffee, cookies and stuff. I had a coffee to combat the doze tendencies, and a cookie came with. I arranged them for a picture and reached into my red bag for my camera. Couldn’t find it. Felt all around. Pulled out folders and magazines. Nope. Got my coat off the overhead — not in the pockets. Well shit. Carol said, “It’ll turn up.” I accepted that thought.

At the Krakow station we made a chain to hand the bags off. Getting on and off of trains has historically been cumbersome, dicy or both. Just revisit old movies with train scenes.

So we’re standing on the platform in Krakow, Poland, it’s dark and quite cool and everybody who knows what the hell they’re doing is long gone. We see a glass elevator a few yards away… only goes down. Guidebook says taxis are up. Brian starts scrambling up the steps, there are many steps. Carol and I walk toward the far end of the platform. As we approach another glass elevator we overhear a woman saying in English, “Go around the elevator at the top, taxis will be there.” Brian was at the taxi stand.

We had booked the Sheraton in Krakow with American Express Rewards points; figured it would make for a soft landing on our first night in Eastern Europe. Now, I was very glad.

When I unpacked, I found my camera. It had slipped into my travel folder so that I couldn’t feel it or see it without removing everything from my red cloth carry-on bag. That’s nice. There weren’t any stellar photos in the camera, but there are many to come and I surely didn’t want to face buying a camera in Krakow.

All I wanted to do right now was pee, wash my face, change my shirt, have a stiff drink and get something to eat with no language hassles or misunderstandings. We chose QUBE Bar in the hotel and ordered Chopin Vodka on the rocks.

k_vodka_rocks

For food,
C – Hamburger, a big burger cooked just right on a soft, but firm roll with a barely crackley crust. C loved it.
M – Tortellini with cheese and mushroom on a bed of spinach; spinach and mushrooms were superb, tortellini dry.
The important part of this meal was not the quality, but the necessity. (I found I didn’t always remember to camera when I was really hungry.)

Brian enjoyed a slice of pizza – brought with him from traveling eve – in his room, then joined us for a shot of vodka. It was served in a severe conical shot glass perched on a cube of ice. He reminded us that in Eastern Europe, a shot is finished in one gulp. Be forewarned, Natasza’s parents don’t drink much, but when they do…

Saturday October 2 – KRAKOW

Bed is good. I wasn’t sleeping totally well, but doing a great job of keeping my eyes closed. About 4am I got up to pee… I’ll take a Tylenol — hell, make it two. With that I slept soundly until C said, “Marc, it’s a little after ten.” I got up, took a shower and went in search of 1) outside air, and 2) Tomato juice. Coffee arrangements are in the room.

Wawal River equals outside air for me

Wawal River equals outside air for me

Breakfast time is over in the hotel, but the bar is open. Rule 1) All bars have tomato juice. 10 Zloty. I have no Polish money, so I signed for it. Juice and coffee will get me by, we’ll hook up with Brian and have lunch in the city.

“Go out the door and turn right, then another right to get to the historic city.” We found ourselves on a street with shops, flats above. Guidebook says much of Polish is from Latin, French or Italian. I say, leave out the C, Z and occasional J and you too can read Polish: RESTAURCJA. Got it.

k1_krakow_street

We see tour groups of 20 or so people, best not to get swallowed up in those. We pass through a park toward the main square (RYNER GLOWNY). Out of the park, the street leading to the square has many restaurants. We look in to a number, avoiding the pizza and falafel joints, settling on GRUZINSKIE CHACZAPURI, authentic Polish food; we got the table in the front window.

k1_GRUZINSKIE...k1_our_window

Our waitress, young and cute, wearing a black scoop neck top and speaking just enough English with a lilt, took our order: Two small Polish beers and a Sprite… Zupa Charczo, Mushroom Soup, Russian Dumplings filled with cottage cheese and sauerkraut, and Pierogi with spiced meat filling (the best). Damn fine lunch in a good place to watch the world go by and all for 76 Zloty ($27).

zupa chorizo

zupa chorizo

Russian dumplings

Russian dumplings

pierogi

pierogi

We walk to the square. It’s very large, with a very long building in the center, newly restored (Cloth Hall, built 14th century, burned, rebuilt 15th century, arcades added 19th century). Tables with awnings front the restaurants and shops that form the square.

k1_plaza_edge

A big stage is set up for a rock band (NZS); the music is very loud but not unpleasant. The sky is blue and I am wearing khaki jeans, green flannel shirt and black fleece vest… perfect. The band takes a break, crowds disperse and we’re allowed to hear the real street musicians.

k1_street_musicians

We walk through flower stands and find a long line to a museum in Cloth Hall. It’s too beautiful outside to be lured inside into a museum. We pass that and notice commotion on the other side of the square… a huge circle of folks is formed around a small marching band and marching men in khaki uniforms. They march in squares and circles, then to the far corner of the square to lead a procession of blue uniformed squads of men.

circle of folks in the square

circle of folks in the square

k1_marching_bandk1_firefighters_come

WHO KNEW that we would be in the Main Square of Krakow, Poland for the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Krakow Firefighting School?!

The excitement past, we window shopped our way to that far corner of the Square to see a police van and about six police cruisers lined up, as well as a dozen or so police with dogs. Wonder what that’s all about.

k1_police_dogs

Suddenly, out of a street came a procession of young people, quasi-marching at a quick step and carrying Polish flags, Jamaican flags and large depictions of marijuana leaves. WHO KNEW we’d be in Krakow on a perfect sunny Saturday to witness a pro pot march??!!

Walking back toward the hotel, we found a restaurant that looked good for dinner and made a reservation… we passed the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, featuring statues of the 12 disciples on top of a long wall… beyond that, we see a cadre of Touring Carts waiting for passengers pouring down from Wawel Castle.

Church of Saints Peter and Paul

Church of Saints Peter and Paul

Walking up the inclined stone and cobblestone road of Wawel Castle, I’m reminded of Carcassonne — but without the tacky shops. Flashes of Mont St. Michelle crop up in my mind, as well… we’ve been to a few castles. Still, it is good. The main square at the top, with a church to one side reminded me of the main square of Toulouse, France, even though those squares are not really very similar.

road to Wawal Castle

road to Wawel Castle

Wawal Castle courtyard

Wawel Castle courtyard

bless you my children

bless you my children

We kicked back at QUBE with a vodka, repaired to our room and watched a little football on ESPN America; Miami v. Clemson, live; will be followed by Stanford v. Oregon, live at 4am.

RESTAURACJA POD ANIOTAMI
(under the angels)
Ulica Grodzka Street

k1_pod_aniotami

passage to the dining room

passage to the dining room

One enters through a glass door into a long passage made of warm marble, twisting just enough so one can’t see the end. Three steps up, is a large room with a counter across the back. Various size tables on various levels are arranged about the room. Our wooden table is up two steps above the others and furnished with stiff linen place mats, Pod Aniotami embroidered in red. We are seated on wooden benches overlooking a large glass cold case — right next to me — that holds marinating meats, skewers, salads, sauerkraut and other prepared foods and soups. The woman working at the counter behind the case is an artist in her ease of motion as she gathers garnish greens, stabs cuts of meat or spoons vegetables.

the cold case next to me

the cold case next to me

carved wood columns

carved wood columns

The ceilings are high; carved wood columns support massive wood beams. The walls are white plaster and large paintings hang about. Two birds sing periodically from a two-tiered wooden cage. A large basket over Brian’s head holds masses of flowers. Stairs lead down to other dining rooms and a kitchen on the lower floors. I imagine the other kitchen is for roasting, preparation of stocks and long cooked vegetables and dishwashing. I don’t recall any fried or sauteed items on the menu.

Which brings us to the food.

An amuse bouche of flavored lard with walnuts, served with sliced dark bread and sour white bread.
Mushroom Soup, a light, brothy soup with squares of flat pasta.
Herring, served with onion, apple and sour cream.
Bigos, the ubiquitous Polish dish of long cooked meat and vegetables “defined by the way it is prepared here…” (TOP Krakow 9.10.2010)
Grilled Pork Ribs, two large ribs served with sauerkraut (made of very finely grated cabbage) a small roasted potato, red leafy greens and white bitter greens.
Grilled Trout with parsley butter, horseradish, baked apple with cranberries and a roasted potato.
Their signature Apple Cake with ice cream, whipped cream and powdered sugar, passed under a broiler, was shared. Yum!
The meal was topped with complementary chilled Polish Creme de Mint.

Oh my.

herring

herring

Brian's Bigos

Brian's Bigos

Marc's grilled pork ribs

Marc's grilled pork ribs

Carol's grilled trout

Carol's grilled trout

a shared apple cake for dessert

a shared apple cake for dessert

a long day... good night

a long day... good night

Sunday October 3 – KRAKOW
We slept in a bit and I was writing a bit when the phone rang. Brian said, “Giants down 4-1, bottom of 9th, bases loaded, Panda at the plate, turn it on.” Click.

One of the many TV channels in the Sheraton is ESPN America. They show big games live, and some full games rerun. This was a rerun, but hell, we didn’t know what happened. Panda singled, driving in a run. Atlanta 4, Giants 2. Guillen grounded into a double play. Game over. Giants lead the series 2 games to 1, needing 3 to win.

Noonish, we walked down through the square and beyond the square to the north. Hadn’t been there… we’re looking for a place to eat lunch. A girl approached us with a flyer for Alter Ego… showed us the menu and explained in English. Free beer if you order the special. OK, we’ll have a look. We went through a passage to a courtyard to find a nice outdoor dining area.

ks_alter_ego_cafe

A little chilly for that, we went inside. The place was filling up due to the efforts of the girl-on-the-street.
ks_alter_ego_in
We ordered.
I had a Bowl of Sauerkraut soup and Bigos.

ks_m_sauerkraut_soup ks_m_bigos

Brian – Borscht bouillon, Placki (Potato pancake with mushroom sauce)

ks_b_placki

Carol – The special of the day; cabbage soup, chicken cutlet with mushroom sauce.

ks_c_special

Not all meals are special. This one was good enough.

We walked around the streets north of the Square to the last remaining preserved city gate. Along the wall to the left, we found another, less elegant, but more charming gate.

last city gate, restored

last city gate, restored

ks_city_gate_2

We walked back to the Square, passing up the host of tour carts, and sat at a cafe in the sun to have a drink, kill time, rest and people watch.

watching people in the sunny square

watching people in the sunny square

Across the sunny square, we shopped the elegant storefronts in the arcade of Cloth Hall. We soon found a passage inside to a most amazing arcade, not unlike Quincy Market, but instead of food; jewelry, crafts, crystal glassware, tchotchke and the like are displayed in ten-foot square stalls — all of the counter variety, none of the walk-in variety. At Brian’s urging, I bought a set of six crystal glasses as a usable souvenir of Krakow.

ks_my_crystal

ks_katedra_scene

Walking back to the hotel, we passed a bar claiming 40 different labels of Polish beer. Brian just had to stop, and we had the time. How could we resist that? Can you tell what the sign means? (answer below) We shared a Engel Hofweitzen – not Polish, German – and CORE – Polish. Beer is good, but I can’t drink more without eating, so we head for our ultimate goal of the day: Watch NFL Live (the Sunday 1pm game at 7pm here), Ravens v. Steelers at Someplace Else, the Sports Bar in the Sheraton. Our train to L’viv doesn’t leave until 10:30pm and we checked out of our hotel at noon, leaving our bags in storage. We’re on the second phase of killing time.

delicious American fish n chips... yum

delicious American fish n chips... yum

Enough with the Polish, already, this menu is decidedly American. We started with the Explosive Fiesta: chicken wings, chicken tenders, French fries, cottage fries, and corn triangles; all deep fried and served with hot sauce. From there, we went on to Fish n Chips; deep fried battered Cod. Good stuff all.

The football game was boring, 10-7 when we had to leave for the train station, mid-4th quarter. More interesting to me, reports of 49ers 7, Falcons 0, then 14-0, then 14-7, 14-10, 14-13 and again, we had to leave. We took the Hotel car to the station, arriving early.

desperadoes waiting for a train

desperadoes waiting for a train

The train to L’viv arrived. Our car was first behind the engine, at the far end of the station. We clambered aboard with our bags, our compartment the furthest forward in the car. Once our bags were inside, there wasn’t much room for us people, but we stacked and re-arranged and managed. Trains are a new experience for Carol and I. Oh, she took a train from Columbus to the Rose Bowl and back in 1959; same year I took a train from Corpus Christi to Columbus returning from a Navy midshipman cruise. We took our lead from Brian, a frequent train traveler in Europe.

our home for the night

our home for the night

Berths are 3 high on the right. Carol could fall into the bottom, Brian climbed to the top without a problem. The creaky old me is not as strong or flexible as the 19 year old me in the Navy, the last time I remember sleeping in a bunk. I resorted to getting the ladder, climbing and kind of rolling over the side guard into bed.

Thank you Brian, for telling me to bring train sleeping gear, my 49ers sweat shirt and Corona lounging pants. They were perfect. Not so perfect, the padded bedclothes and dinky pillow. I slept on top of the bedclothes and wadded the pillow into submission. I loved the soft rolling of the train and soft noises of the tracks, surely a lullaby. Don’t know if I reached REM, but the train berth was a restful experience.

UNTIL, there was a knock on the door. “Passport control.” Guy took our passports. Carol? Yes. John? Yes. Brian? Da… gave us back our passports and was on his way. That was the Polish guy. We would cross the border and be visited by Ukraine guys.

I have to pee (another old guy thing), but can’t bear the idea of getting out of this bunk. I can wait ‘til L’viv, I say. The Ukraine guys, with turquoise berets, come aboard and do their thing.

NOW, I have to pee no matter what. I scrunch around and get my legs around and slide down off the bunk… hurry out and down the corridor to the WC…

Fifteen minutes before L’viv, another knock to wake us. Having gotten out of the bunk once, the second time was easier… but not easy. It’s 6:15am.

ks_katedra_detail Cathedral. Cathedral of Beer, get it?
Other notes: Giants won series 3 games to one. 49ers lost to Falcons 16-14.

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2 thoughts on “BRIAN & NATASZA Part 1

  1. This is a wuuuuuuuuuunderful read Marc!!! Thank you so much for your time and efforts.

    Like

  2. Awesome post, Marco! I felt like I was with you! What an adventure…I will make sure Masha takes some time to read this. She is into all things international…

    Like

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