The flight was smooth, unlike the one from Venice back in February, where people applauded our safe landing after a rigorous 10 minutes of turbulence.
I sat beside a middle aged English couple. They were very cordial and courteous. I shivered and turned my air vent off at one point and the man was so nice he turned his off as well. They ordered a few rounds of drinks, and they told me they were taking a holiday for five days in Kraków. The man had an intriguing set of tattoos on both arms. Though I feel like if you ask people with tats / phrase your curiosities the wrong way you may risk alienating them, I am always curious about tattoos; whether they hurt or how long ago they got them are my usual inquiries.
I took the twenty-minute train ride from the airport to the Kraków Główny station, where Mandy and Carrie met me. We walked ten minutes to our hostel, which was in one of the best locations. We were put up right across from a park that runs in a skinny line parallel to the main streets, which are etched with trams and cables. Once I unloaded my rucksack, Carrie and I went for a walk about the streets. It was dark, but I instinctively felt safe; it is hard to describe, but a feeling comes and you just know whether the place you are in is safe or not. We passed a few clothing stores, all closed. I saw a family or two out and about with young kids, chatting quietly. I talked to my dad and one of my classmates about these lovely Eastern European cities once I returned to Edinburgh, and they had similar things to say. When trying to describe Krakow to my dad, I said something like this: “It looks like a World War II movie, like The Pianist.” Here is what my dad said: “You have to realize that many of those countries were under communism until about twenty, twenty five years ago.” My classmate, who had been to Budapest a few weeks ago, said that the city seemed to be stuck in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. She also described a phenomenon I also noticed in Krakow: People are quiet and reserved in the streets. They are not rowdy or obnoxious. They are calm and serious in demeanor.
The next morning we woke a bit late and went looking for food. There was a little shop that looked like a Polish 7-11 that I wanted to get water bottles from, but it was closed. I stared at the hand-written sign for a while and made out (what I thought) was the word for “Sunday.” Quite a few places were closed up for Easter Sunday, which is totally understandable. We walked to the main town square, and stopped in the Katedra Wawelska, an old church immediately inside the gate. I read later that when the bells toll, they make lover’s wishes come true. We listened to the Easter service for a little while, all in Polish, then continued our hunt for food.
We discovered a large market, selling everything we could possibly want. Mandy and I split a giant hot dog (called a Kielbasa), and all three of us got chocolate covered waffles. It was astonishing how delightful the Polish make their food! We shopped a bunch after. I bought gifts and trinkets. Everything is so cheap in the polish currency (Zloty), so I felt okay with cutting loose a bit and buying quite a few souvenirs. I loved the intricate, fixated points of interest in the Polish culture. Like the wood. I saw wooden combs, spoons, baskets and Easter eggs.
In the park after shopping in the lovely market, we saw a man in a lobster costume walking in front of us. Carrie, being the brave one she is, goes “Hey, lobsters don’t have hands!” And he turned around and gave us a funny, squinty look. I thought he must have lost a bet.
I noticed the language was not as beautiful as Italian, but filled with fascinating twists and turns that fill the corners of the people’s mouths, spilling over their lips into the air.
Dinner was excellent – Mandy asked the girl at reception at the hostel what her favorite place was to go that had authentic Polish food. At the restaurant, there was an elderly man playing on a dusty old grand piano for the whole restaurant. I thought they only did that in black and white movies that predate the 1960s. I adore Casablanca and From Here to Eternity, and this experience reminded me of some of those iconic bar and restaurant scenes with live piano music floating in the background. I wondered what that man got paid per night for his service, or whether he just did it for its own sake. If I had any musical ability, that is what I’d be doing fifty years from now.
I had chicken, broccoli, potatoes and red wine. All came together like a quartet of instruments that fit like puzzle pieces in my mouth. The wine warmed my cheeks and soul while the food fed my body. Mandy, Carrie and I talked about life, the future, and travel. The place surrounded us, and I thoroughly enjoyed our time together. We walked home through the park; lit by pale, antique street lamps. Overall impression? Krakow is the most underrated city in Eastern Europe (that I have come across thus far, anyway).
I only slept a few hours my second night in Kraków. I woke up around 2:30 AM from a dream and couldn’t fall back asleep. In spite of that, I was very relaxed; my bed was warm and soft. I slowly began to hear morning birds outside our window that was cracked open. I heard the trams coming and going down below in the street. I felt the chilly air draft through to where I lay. In the dark I saw a slice of the white, clean moon saunter in and roll itself out on the wood floor.
A recent development in my personal life may have been effecting my sleep, and I feel a need to share it because it does have much to do with this experience: I got accepted to an internship that I applied for in October. I suppose a lesson I learned in the past few days is the realization that feelings and thoughts and situations are always changing. I underestimated how studying abroad would effect me. When I applied for the internship, I was excited for the possibility of it, thinking it would fit me perfectly and that it was an open-shut case. But then I came to Scotland, and things began to shift. I reexamined what I want to do, and still have little to no idea what I’d like to be doing five or ten years from now. I thought of this internship simply and selfishly as a resume-builder, though the major point behind it is far more profound. I knew I’d regret it if I took it on for shallow reasons, and the timing seemed off.
I think a major aspect of life that I am just now grasping is this: Nobody can make your decisions for you. While that seems overly obvious, I think it is a comfort-zone thing. It would be easy if people who I trusted and who knew me well could just decide for me, and I wouldn’t have to constantly go back to square one about who I am, what I think my purpose on this earth is, and what I want to do with my future. But that isn’t how life is. I have had to go to that unfamiliar, terrifying place in my mind where I have to make hard decisions, and soul search. It feels like I just have spent the last few months expanding my comfort zone, growing, growing, growing, and then I would have had to go back home, have two weeks to decompress five months abroad, only to then be thrown back into an unfamiliar position. It seemed excessive, and bad timing.
I joked with a few friends that I was going through an “existential crisis,” like the ones they depict in comedies where the victim stares at the wall all day and life is illustrated as a hilarious set of failures and mishaps, arriving at the conclusion of the film with a good job and comfortable, predictable future. I genuinely laughed at myself because I have been having the time of my life studying in a whole new world, and I am about to embark on a n exciting journey for spring break, and yet I am wrestling with an internal crisis that seems to get more intense as summer draws near. It seems silly that I am this anxious while living it up abroad.
All that understood, I decided to decline the internship. There were a host of reasons, and I spent a night on the phone with two vital people: My mom and dad. I heard both their opinions, and basked in their wisdom and insight. I asked questions and was given honest answers. They asked me questions, forcing me to examine the paths I have, and encouraging me to make a decision, regardless of whether it is “right” or “wrong.” Something else I came to realize during this process of decision-making: I have a support system like no other. I had my parents, but also my friends and sisters on all sides, there to offer advice, clarity and second, third, fourth or fifth opinion. I couldn’t be more grateful.
Though the future is dauntingly uncertain, I have hope and faith that it will be good, and that I’ll find my corner of the world, where I belong, someday.
I’m not sure when I’ll write next, I’ll be traveling around central Europe for about two weeks. I’ll write when I can!