In late January of 2010, Hannah and I weren’t officially friends yet. We were acquaintences, and we both knew that we were sort of weird. We’d had Italian and English classes together, and one morning we were in the computer lab, playing Tetris and avoiding doing our homework, per usual.
We then both decided to search EasyJet just for fun. I happened upon a ticket to Krakow from Milan for a round trip total of around 50 euros.
“Hey, want to go to Poland in March?”
No longer would we ever be strangers.
The first thing you need to know about EasyJet is that it is never that easy. It’s a trick! Hannah and I had to fly out of Bergamo Airport, about an hour outside Milan.
Our flight left at 10 am on a Friday morning, I think, and so we decided to play it safe and spend the night in the Bergamo airport. I had done this to get to Madrid, and it was okay, sort of. You sleep on a cold floor with the lights on, surrounded by people who are better prepared than you.
Hannah and I showed up, with “The Brother’s Bloom” pre-loaded on her tiny Dell netbook, and realized that it was COLD. Like, hypothermia-almost cold. I slept on a scarf I brought and Hannah and I tried to sort of cuddle/huddle to keep warm. Until about 3 am, when I realize that nature’s calling.
So, this is a funny side story, which you can totally skip. I’ll even mark it for you.
-_-_-_-_-_FUNNY STORY BEGINS HERE_-_-_-_-_
So I walk to the bathroom down and around the corner from the corner Hannah and I were sleeping in. It’s in an Italian airport, and a gang of older Italian dudes are surrounding the entrance to the female bathroom, saying slightly creepy things like, “Hey, pretty girl” and “Where are you going?” in Italian. Cool story, bro! No, but really, it’s quite awkward. Making my way through their vocal band, I enter the first stall I see, in a 3 am daze.
Naturally, I miss seeing the sign that says that this bathroom is broken.
So, I lock the door and the lock gets stuck, and the door handle falls out of it’s little socket. I’m trapped in this bathroom with creepy Italian bros outside.
Immediately, I start shouting horrible Italian and English, pounding at the doors. The thing about these bathroom doors was that there was no possible way for me to shimmy under the door- it went all the way to the floor- and no way to clamber over the top- it went all the way to the ceiling.
“Ho bisognio aiutare!” was my repeated scream. It translates to “I need to help!”, but in my fear addled mind I didn’t give a damn about conjugations. I just wanted out of the stupid stall!
I hear the men outside muttering and probably saying something, but unsure of what to do. Eventually, I’m pretty sure they found a cleaning lady, because she peeks her eye through the socket in the door where the handle used to be, and starts yelling at me in Italian. I can’t understand a word of it, and I just make it clear that I’m trapped.
Now, I didn’t see this, but Hannah did. Apparently the cleaning lady panicked and ran yelling down the corridor, past where Hannah was sitting, just waking up, and screamed for help. So, a cleaning man was summoned. He was riding his giant floor-cleaning machine that shoots industrial, probably carcinogenic liquid very close to your face to wake you up on the airport floor.
He rides the machine to my rescue instead of walking. I kid you not. So, I’m waiting, surrounded by silence, when all of a sudden he comes with a broom handle and starts POUNDING on the door, yelling at me in Italian, and I freak out and stand up on the toilet trying to stay out of his way. He gets some other heavy things and eventually breaks the door’s hinges or something, and I run out without washing my hands or thanking him (ungrateful American, I know). I was just SO happy to be out of there.
Just my luck that the entire airport had heard this happening and had gathered around the bathroom or waited eagerly to see the outcome. Indeed, I ran to Hannah and she peers at me, still sort of sleepy,
“Was that you?”
Oh, it was me.
-_-_-_-_-_END OF FUNNY STORY BACK TO POLAND THINGS_-_-_-_-_
We sleep on benches outside the gate, and board the plane. I’m still embarrassed about the morning’s activities. Eventually, though, we take off and touch back down again in good ole Krakow! WOO! We find the train to the main city, because the airport is a way away, and end up at the railroad station. Now to find our hostel!
Travel tip: If you ever go to Krakow, you HAVE to stay at Greg & Tom Hostel. Why? It’s dirt cheap, it’s super clean, the people are awesome, the beds are wonderful, you get a GIANT safe/locker to keep your things in, and everybody is super cool and welcoming. The showers have good water pressure, too. (I care about that, you know.)
So, we find Greg & Tom, and settle in, then decide to go take a gander at the Old Town. Greg & Tom is also super close to the Old Town, the Main Market Square, and Wawel Castle, so we decide to walk there.
We walk through Planty Park, past some old Arabic-style medieval walls, and down a street with a McDonald’s, and we already see the Gothic towers of St. Mary’s Basilica! So cool! It’s cold, windy, and grey outside, but we don’t give a damn. It’s also Easter weekend, so there are markets and lots of people milling about.
We ate at a place in the Main Square called Arlekan, I think. We had cake and gelato for dinner, and went back to the hostel to sleep.
The next day we woke up and got on a van to see Auschwitz, and we returned in the mid-afternoon, emotionally exhausted and feeling so many different things that we didn’t feel super enthusiastic about doing anything but napping for an hour or so and then getting up and going on a walk.
It was the night before Easter, and the market was busy- the day was beautiful, clear, and the square was the picturesque dream of Europe that I had always imagined. Hannah was a vegetarian, but I insisted on trying the kielbasa being served fresh from a stall with mustard and bread. That beat the gelato, for sure! Hannah munched on a pretzel, I think, and we did a couple loops around the square, buying necklaces for dirt cheap and purchasing trinkets for loved ones.
Then, we decided to do what any good visitor to Poland would do: go in search of some quality vodka! Not to get ohh-I’m-young-let’s-party drunk, but just to try it! We stopped in a shop, and asked the man what would be best. We both got tiny little samples, no bigger than a large shot glass of alcohol, and made our way to Wawel Castel, hoping to meander around it and have some quality experiences.
Of course, some VIP event was happening, and the gates were only open to limousines or luxury vehicles, so we hung out side and looked at the towers and looked at the vista, and downed our alcohol. Wandering down the hill again, we walked through the Jewish quarter, which was quite alive, and headed back to our hostel, bags with new things and minds buzzing.
The next morning, we had to be on a train by 11 am. I have to say, one of my favorite things was sharing our room with a gorgeous New Zealander who had rumpled hair and a killer smile. He borrowed money from us shamelessly: he dazzled us enough that we didn’t mind parting with the zlotys!
It was Easter morning, and a gorgeous morning, so we wandered back into the Main Square, and bought bagels from a cart. Immediately, we found that feeding the pigeons was hilarious. Touristy? Sure, I’ll give you that, but we were both laughing so hard, until we realized that literally HUNDREDS of these city rats were coming down from the Renaissance Cloth Hall, the Basilica, and everywhere else! So, we bought more bagels, perhaps a dozen, and ripped them to shreds, surrounded by birds and getting lots of looks from locals. We got to hear the bells on the Basilica toll for Easter, and eventually had to walk back to the hostel to grab our things and make the train.
We almost missed our train back, but once on it, mutually agreed that Krakow had been one of the most diverse, amazing places we’d ever been so lucky to get to. Also, Hannah and I were for sure best friends now. Even when we were both freezing on an airport floor, getting cranky about almost missing our train, and even when I was being a baby about the city streets at night, we both had the same awkward sense of humor about everything and the constant urge to EXPLORE and DO and ACT on this fleeting adventure.