Sightseeing Krakow



We were so exhausted from our previous day’s effort of getting to Krakow we slept like logs. Upon awakening Mrs. B already had breakfast ready, and boy did we enjoy our first breakfast in Poland. Ham and scrambled eggs with fresh rolls and good strong coffee.

We now spent the best part of the morning getting to know these people, who through no fault of their own had to live in such backward surroundings. It soon became apparent that even our simple breakfast that we took for granted, took a hell of a lot of wheeling, dealing and patience. For the bread rolls, Mrs. B got up at the crack of dawn, whilst we were all still snoring, and had to stand in a queue at the bakery to make sure she snaffled a few rolls before they ran out. Late comers were treated to the usual nie ma which we soon realised was the most common phrase used daily in Commo Poland. It means ‘none left’. I will make prolific use of this phrase in subsequent chapters.

Now as far as the ham is concerned, you can stand on your head and will not get any unless you know a militiaman, as they get an allocation monthly that the proletariat can only dream of. There is a well-known anecdote that says, 'Under Communism everybody is equal, and it’s just that some are more equal than others.’ Another way is through Pewex, the dollar shop, but who had dollars?

Well we did, and soon bought some Danish imported canned ham with our dollars plus salami, coffee and other seemingly exotic goods, and these items were ten times cheaper here than back home. We also noticed American and German cigarettes for sale at $5.00 a carton, but neither of us smoked. Our thoughts immediately returned to the duty free cigarettes we smuggled off the plane into London for a nice profit.

As we left the Pewex (foreign currency shop) with our groceries we were accosted by money changers offering 100 PLN or Polish Zloty (the word zloty means gold) per $1.00 US.
We changed a few bucks to have plenty of spending money for any Polish items we saw that may be worth buying, and to pay for meals.

When in West Germany on our way to Poland, I stupidly went into a bank to buy a few zlotys for our trip. I couldn’t work out why the teller had a smirk on her face and was subtly pointing me out to other staff, making comments about my stupidity in German, confident I could not understand as I spoke to her in English. Well, I received my zloty at a rate of 35-1 less commission and we were off for Poland.

At lunchtime we decided to lash out with our black market local currency and have something to eat. The restaurant we selected was rated category 1. This being the best of the local restaurants designed price wise for locals.

Tourists had a selection of luxury category restaurants generally located in the top tourist hotels rated as category Luxe for Deluxe. They served the best Polish produce available as well as meat and fish. Some even had a grey looking salmon. I immediately thought of the salmon that John West rejects, and now I knew where it went. To top class Polish restaurants, is where, and they were mighty proud of having it...well… it was salmon after all, which we took for granted back home.

Anyway, back to reality. We were in the best of the local eateries, and the place looked clean enough with plenty of waitresses but not many customers…well… actually, no customers except us. Back home this would be a bad sign generally meaning that there might be something wrong with the food, but here it probably meant that it was too expensive at a rating of 1, when locals could go to a 2 or 3 rated establishment which we did later on, with varying results.

All the waitresses in this fine eatery were in a group chatting about something important enough to not let a customer, possibly the only customer for the day, interrupt. Eventually after a few attempts to get someone’s attention we received a menu, an enormous menu in fact… very impressive I thought.

Never anywhere, in the world have I seen such an extensive menu, but it was nigh on impossible to read as it appeared to have been typed through many pages of blue carbon paper that was reused repeatedly. We spent a long time poring over this enormous illegible menu and made our selection. All we now needed was a waitress interested enough to take our order, but they were all engrossed in gossiping and ignored my raised hand, my waving and my calling out.

Finally, I got up, and walked over to interrupt them and received some dirty looks for so rudely interrupting them, but one reluctantly came over note pad and pencil in hand looking as bored as she could manage. I ordered two entrees and two main courses to which I received a sharp matter of fact ‘nie ma’ (do not have any) without the slightest hint of an apology. We then chose something else and were treated to the same response repeatedly.
The waitress now had a decidedly annoyed look about her. I asked her, 'why in heavens name did you let us waste our time pointlessly poring over this useless menu when you could have told us the obvious.’ To which she simply shrugged her shoulders.

I now reached the obvious conclusion and simply asked, 'what do you actually have?'
'Wild local mushrooms, and cucumber salad,' she replied impatiently.
'Wonderful, we will have two of those please, and would it be possible to talk to the idiot who thought up this nonsensically overambitious menu?' No answer to that one, but I managed to extract a slight smirk that broke the tension as she went off to place the order.

She went over and told all the other bludgers about my request and they laughed. One actually disappeared into a back room somewhere, possibly to tell the manager I wanted to talk to him. ‘No appearance your worship’, however.

I also now realised why no one else was here. They were probably sick of mushrooms by now. Our mushrooms eventually arrived and they were superb. Ironically, what was commonplace and probably boring for locals, was a real delicacy for us and we were to pig out on these morsels wherever and whenever we could find them.

We also ordered a couple of beers, which they actually had, surprisingly enough, but being an Aussie, (which they did not know), I asked if I could have our beers cold. ‘Of course, Sir’ she replied condescendingly, and our beers promptly arrived at room temperature. We drank those Pommie (English) beers as we called them, and ordered two more. This time I emphasised the cold part emphatically, to which she took exception and gave me the 'I’m not stupid look' storming into the kitchen and this time producing...can you believe it... two more warm beers and then storming off haughtily with her perky little nose in the air, as if in an act of defiance.

Warm beer for an Aussie is intolerable so I went over to their community table and asked, 'Which part of the word cold do you people not understand?' I then said ' I am not a local and therefore refuse to accept the swinski (piggish) treatment, I was in fact a Kangaroo and we do not drink warm siki (urine), but freezing cold beer in the summer or winter regardless.'
All jaws dropped in unison as they realised they had just done their dash as far as a big tip was concerned, by their usual slovenly attitude to service, which was actually a hallmark of the whole rotten debilitating system in this decrepit place.

With the same nose that was previously in the clouds, now hanging dejectedly down, she handed me the bill and they all knew I would not be adding a tip, and this is what I did, paying about 80 Zloty or 80cents for everything and walked out. I was not angry at all, but just put it down to expanding my knowledge of how things work here.

It was January and therefore about minus 20c and beautifully picturesque, because overnight snow covered the grime and dust that always covered the city. Next morning at about 8.00am we heard Marian, from the unit upstairs trying to start his car. He had a brand new Polish made Fiat 125 which could only be bought for dollars and was a status symbol. Anyone who owned one was obviously a smart operator and Marian was, but only on a local level. He basically bought stuff off us and others, and then resold at a profit.

This morning he was unable to start his Polish car which of course had a second rate Polish starter motor and battery. Marian in desperation was trying to recruit volunteers to help him push-start the bloody thing. He was sounding more and more desperate, so we decided to get up and help him. It must be said here that Marian was pretty realistic generally, but also a Polish patriot. Whenever we said our second hand VW was better than any local new car he strongly and defiantly disagreed.

We now helped him push start his car and as it warmed up I called him over to my car, brushing off the snow so I could open the door. Without getting in, I simply gave the accelerator a squirt and turned the key. The old engine simply fired up and ticked over idling gently. Marian was stunned and the subject of cars never came up again.

395 users have voted.