19th April
written by Randy

I’ve been home from Poland for about a week now, but other than my emotional story about the Polish people, I really haven’t told you about Poland.

First, I didn’t see as much of the country as I could have, or would have liked to. This is partly due to the fact that I don’t speak fluent Polish, so things didn’t move as smoothly or naturally for me as I would have like. But more importantly, it is largely due to the fact that, as I said before the trip, I couldn’t have made this trip at all without the offer of a place to stay.

I stayed in hotels in Warsaw and Krakow, but I also spent some time in a smaller city called Kielce, and here I was treated to real Polish life outside the two biggest cities. (If you’re keeping count, that’s three more cities, which puts me at 18 on my way to 20 this year.)

Kielce is a small city, directly on the route between Warsaw and Krakow. The main draw in Kielce is the college, so you might think of it as a “college town.” There is certainly no tourism draw, and with the exception of some of the students, very few people speak English, so it’s a good opportunity to pick up Polish quickly.

Food in Kielce was quite good — even at Pizza Hut where (unlike in the U.S.) everything was actually made with fresh ingredients and quite good. My favorite discovery was a little place called Pierogowa Chata, or “Pierogi Hut”, in which I ate the most delicious pierogi that I’ve ever had in my life.

Warsaw is big and beautiful, clean and efficient. It bears all the indications of an important city in old Europe, after having been blown to smithereens in World War II. It’s obvious that everything there is new: much newer, even, than most American cities. And shiny.

But unlike American cities, the European city-planning remains in tact. Warsaw has a sprawling subway system, a large network of trams, and plenty of buses. Pedestrians walk under the enormous streets, which is not only safer, but much more interesting thanks to the numerous shops in the spaces down below.

In the old part of town called Stare Miasto (literally, Old City) all the architecture has be reconstructed based on the old plans, presenting a beautiful, old European city without any of the decay, dirt, or graffiti.

Food in Warsaw was less impressive. Not only is most of the architecture big, modern, and western… they restaurants are, too. Those that I saw lacked all the charm (and flavor!) of the smaller, home-style places in a lesser-known city.

In Krakow, however, this wasn’t the case. In spite of being a big city and popular tourist destination, Krakow still retained the old charm. The architecture is more old and interesting, the streets winding, the food delicious.

Krakow has no subway, but there are buses and trams. Of course I walked everywhere with no problem, so transportation isn’t much of an issue… and in fact, I think part of the charm of a place like Krakow is the experience of walking around. (I wonder if I would still feel that way in winter.)

The main square (Rynek Głowny) in Krakow is, quite possibly, my favorite place I have ever been. It’s big, beautiful, welcoming. I could easily imagine living in Krakow and spending my evenings in the square. In fact, Krakow is the first city outside of the U.S. where I could imagine myself living one day.

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