cracked krakow (23rd-24th July)

Krakow (pronounced crack-ov) is the old capital of Poland. We arrive in the dawn of day straight from the night train and Krakow is deserted. It’s battered. Its buildings aren’t trimmed and glossy to be proper tourist attractions. No, the walls are dirty, the streets quiet. But it’s 7am. And after throwing off my overloaded backpack (I have yet to learn the art of light-packing), a shower and food, Krakow becomes something else. Its walls are dirty, but it’s the history that dirties them. There’s no covering what it has been through. Most recently; Communism, and before then; Nazi rule. They don’t want to forget.

In town there are decorated roof lines but plain building faces. Its people have seen more than I’ll ever see but they are some of the most accommodating. Along the main cobbled streets, elderly people sit behind their packed-high pretzel carts and by dusk they sit behind emptied ones. Yes, Krakow is tight with people especially when the sun is out.

We walk the Jewish town. Before the Second World War there were 200,000 Jews here. Now there is a fraction of that community; just 200. We see scenery from the film ‘Schnidler’s List’; the factory, the Jewish quarter, the ghetto that was liquidated. Inside the market square of the Jewish town there is a market on every Sunday. We walk its tables filled with Polish ex-goods of tattered clothing, chocolate in bulk, jewellery that once meant a lot, or not a lot at all. People speak to us as if we understand them and to walk on without them finishing would be rude. So we stay and nod and sigh with the little old lady on her three-legged stool until we really must go. We really must.

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