I’ve Arrived - Fat Mama’s First Impressions of Krakow
Krakow is truly a beautiful and historic city. Being here, in this city, at this time, during these events just feels right.
Touching down in Krakow, Poland, marks the start of my Humanitarian Quest, and while the plane flight was smooth flying, arrival became a little stressful. Walking off the plane it kind of hit me hard that here I was, in a foreign country, where I don’t speak the language, and I am all by myself. What have I gotten myself into?
Luckily, I have had no problems asking for and receiving any assistance that I have needed. For example, when I began pulling my bags off of the luggage carousel, a very nice young couple with a newborn noticed me and the father offered to help me load my bags onto a hand trolley.
Waiting in baggage claim after arriving in Krakow was such an interesting experience. As a solo traveler, I didn’t have anyone to talk to but, being the nosy person that I am, I had fun eavesdropping on other peoples' conversations. I was rather surprised at how many people on my flight were from the States. I would say a good half of the passengers on our little puddle-jumper plane had accents from around the US and most of them were arriving in Krakow to help with the humanitarian crisis. Of course, overhearing this, I quickly began to talk to some of them.
A few were arriving for their second aid trip to Poland. One was a Chaplain helping with psychosocial issues with displaced Ukrainians. Another was recently discharged from the military, spoke Polish, and decided to see how his background could be put to use advising and helping (on the Polish side of the boarder). Others were simply showing up hoping to help. Mark, a businessman with work to do in the city, purposefully extended his trip to see how he and his company could provide aid. Almost all of them had plans to go directly to the boarder to lend a hand any way they could.
I was really inspired by this outpouring of support, concern, and care for the Ukrainian people. It made me proud to be from the United States showing that we care. Regularly our country is thought of as the “world police,” bullying other countries, trying to impose our views and protocols on others; so it was nice to see all of this compassion from individuals, not affiliated with a specific cause or agency, trying to do good.
Perhaps if more people from the States take action either directly through aid visits or indirectly by making contributions and monetary donations to aid organizations, we as a country can start to be seen differently. Either way, it warmed my heart to know that I was not alone in my desire to help and maybe my plan to show up and get to work wasn’t so crazy after all.
After getting our bags, a couple of us headed to pick up rental cars. Here we said our goodbyes, exchanged some information, and then drove off in our separate directions. Or, at least I attempted to. Sometime between me looking up driving directions to my hotel while waiting for my bags and actually getting to the minivan I rented, something happened with my Apple Maps. As I’m sitting in the parking lot, bags loaded, waiting to go, my map stops working. I can see the map, I can see where I am, and I can see where my hotel is … but there are no directions!
Trying not to panic, I rebooted my phone thinking this will solve the problem. No. I drive out of the parking garage thinking maybe there is just too much interference from the building. No. I look up the error code I was receiving and followed the suggested troubleshooting techniques to fix the issue. No. So, I begrudgingly called Fat Papa who informed me that … drum roll please … right when I needed it most there was a global service outage for multiple Apple Apps and iOS services. Just my luck.
However, serendipity struck again. My phone might not have been helpful, but my rental car had a fantastic navigation system built in and I was able to get easy turn-by-turn directions for the 30-ish minute drive to my hotel. Phewww.
After that craziness, everything went mostly smoothly, except that the hotel didn’t have parking, even though I could have sworn their website said they did. No matter, with some help from Iza, the amazing and incredibly friendly front desk woman, we got my very heavy luggage up to my room and then I went off looking for parking. Because, of course, where I am staying is an historical district and, other than residents, public parking is restricted.
However, having to park outside the historic district was, as always, serendipitous, as it meant I had to walk through a number of quaint market squares, past countless monuments and historic buildings, and best of all it was how I found my dinner. Practically by accident, I wandered into the Maly Rynek (Little Market Square), which was full of shop stalls and food stands.
Beautifully lit up at night, it reminded me of romantic moves when the leading couple walks along European streets and just stumbles into the most beautiful roadside market. I wish Fat Papa and Itsy Bitsy could have been with me. Regardless, I was there and ready for my first meal in Poland.
Now, I am a creature of habit. I also don’t really like dining alone. So, even though I’m in a foreign country, I had already decided that my first meal was going to be something from a convenience store or American fast food. This is why I was overjoyed to see a large food stand selling traditional Polish and Eastern European food. Everything looked amazing so I did the typical me thing and over-ordered. Let me tell you, ducky friends, it did not disappoint!
I tried the kabob with kielbasa, chicken, and veggies which was perfectly seasoned , the pierogi were delicious and tender, plus the ziemniaki z boczkiem i cebula (potatoes with bacon and onion) was one of the most delicious potato dishes I’ve ever had. Can you say yuuuuuuuuuummmy? All of it was just full of flavor, well balanced, and hit the spot for good hearty street food rather than fast and fried. The food and people were so nice I just might go back a few more times.
Overall, walking through Krakow at night felt very safe. Unlike San Francisco or New York where I don’t feel safe being by myself after sunset (and sometimes don’t feel safe in broad daylight), Krakow just feels different. I don’t know if it's the clean streets, the relatively few people panhandling, or the general nonchalant attitude of people, but everything feels very safe and welcoming.
After dinner I called home and then it was off to bed. I was exhausted from my 16+ hours of travel, small exploration of Krakow, and the bit of unpacking I did in the hotel. So far, I am very happy to report that things feel good here in Krakow.
There is just a sense of hope and want to help the Ukrainian people. There isn’t a sense of fear or disgust of those who have been displaced as we have seen in the US and around the world with other waves of displaced people. People here don’t project a feeling that something needs to be done, but rather a feeling that something is being done and that they are a part of that effort. It is really inspiring being here, in this city, at this time.
I can’t wait for tomorrow and what my first full day in Krakow will bring. Keep wishing me good luck, ducky friends. Your thoughts and prayers are greatly appreciated.