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down nostalgia lane

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

Krakow, Poland

From ulica Batorego we used to walk to the Stary Kleparz (the old market you’ve seen in previous posts). This time we are staying virtually at the market and we walked back to Batorego, home to the second flat we lived in.


Due to the installation of domofones, we were initially unable to enter, but someone came out so I muttered a quick, “Dzien dobry, dziekuje” and walked in confidently. Everyone followed close on my heels, eager to see INSIDE where we used to live.

Considering we must have gone up the steps a thousand times, it seems surprising that at first we could not even remember which of the two staircases was “ours”. And not just that – are our memories failing us? – have we forgotten or did we never notice the beautifully tiled floors? Sure, they are grubby, and probably were back then too, covered in dust and grime, but the painted tiles and mosaics add a touch of art to everyday surroundings. Then we remembered. Up the rickety old wooden steps we clattered, running our hands along the wooden banisters, long ago rubbed smooth. Up to our doorway. Perhaps I was secretly hoping the current resident would just happen to step out on to their balcony and I could thrust my “we used to live here twenty years ago speech” onto them and invite ourselves all in for a peek. But it was not to be. The balcony was barely clinging to the building twenty years ago, and it appears it may now not be used at all; the doorway was blocked off completely, shelves inserted in the doorframe. Dream over. Back downstairs and out to the street, where the very same vege shop is still in operation. The bakery has been transformed into a pharmacy, the butcher into……well, we can’t say – we couldn’t quite work out which little shop was the one that used to be a butcher, the very butcher from which we first sampled horse meat sausages.

From ulica Batorego we used to make a Saturday evening pilgrimage every week to ulica Wyspianskiego, where we would look after the young son of an American couple. In this house we celebrated Christmas and Easter, we made bagels and froze cauliflower for the winter, we played UNO and made many good memories. In the church building next door, the four of us did the nineties aerobics thing, bouncing ourselves into fitness in the early morning a few days each week.

(our friends lived at the very top in the attic)

As we walked we remembered. At the end of the street there used to be a hand-operated pump where we’d queue to get our drinking water. We shot along the road – would it still be there? I guess it would have been more pertinent to wonder if people still get their water there – not much chance the pump will have moved. It’s surrounded by a fence now, gated and locked. Looks like they don’t.

We wandered back through “the park on the corner” towards another larger park just up the street. No wonder it was a pleasure to live here. There are trees everywhere, and not just trees, but big open spaces too. Wide paths run through these natural areas right in the centre of town. At the edge of the big-old-villa section, apartments rise – but they are not overpowering – largely due to the abundance of flora and generous spaces between them all.

As we cross the road, Rob says exactly what I’m thinking, “The doctor was up here.”
The no-English-speaking doctor, who operated on me with no assistants other than Rob. And even then, this MALE husband of mine was only allowed in when we bolshily INSISTED he would not stay out of the room (He’d been forbidden entry at the hospital, where I had been whisked away for a scan, and we were not about to let it happen again, figuring we’d make more of the Polskiego with two of us deciphering). I’m not sure what Pan Doktor would have done without him as the medically untrained Rob ended up as Pan Doktor’s Assistant, adjusting the drip rate of the anaesthetic, hoping he had understood the Polish medical terminology correctly, while I writhed about semi-conscious calling out, “Boli, boli” (it hurts, it hurts) Actually, nothing hurt; all I remember is desperately trying to speak, to inform them I was still alert, only to be told it was all over and when I could stand on one leg with my eyes closed for a few seconds I’d be allowed to go home. I remember too the hallucinations, the debilitating feeling of falling, Rob’s out-of-proportion enormous face lunging at me from across the room – but that was all after we had walked home and laid me down on the couch, minus our first baby that had not lived.

Sidetrack: sometimes we make collages that just don’t work.
                   Take this one, for example. Just a wee bit busy.
                   And some other obvious issues!

Ah the memories.

But this was not our first place in Krakow. We had started out in the suburbs.
So we went back there too. Today.

The tram ride was a bit disorienting – it used to wriggle along narrow streets; now it passes underneath big overpasses, between big modern buildings and an excavated building of some historical significance (well, there were big information boards beside it, and the road has been directed around the site, so we think it’s important).
A few stops from the centre and things looked more familiar; the changes in the suburbs are not as dramatic as in town. Arriving at our stop earlier than we expected, we thought we still had a few stops to go. But it *looked* right. A quick questioning of a fellow passenger assured us that indeed we were at ulica Ulanow and we jumped off as the bell clanged.
What used to be grey apartment blocks, are now gaily painted. But the paths were the same and the “supermarket” in the same place (and now it is truly a supermarket, not a few shelves supporting only a scrawny chicken, a few sausages, nondescript brown paper bags full of flour or sugar, strawberry or gooseberry jam, and a few bags of milk).


The bakery was in the same place (yes, we sampled more delicacies – and not just what’s in the picture! We had the Best Ever Yet kremowka as well as half a kilo of biscuits you used to be able to buy in only that bakery – we haven’t seen them anywhere else this time either, so we just *had* to get some….and the kremowka looked SOOOOO good….and it was….mmmmm), and the vege stall in the same place, although now it is a metal building instead of a wooden one.


We found our way to *our* apartment, set on top of a small hill, where we used to slide down an ice slide late at night after the neighbourhood kids had gone home in winter.


The next-door-to-us playground has been significantly upgraded and our kids enjoyed a good long play after a few weeks stuck in the inner city! Meanwhile, we tried to find old friends. Unfortunately all the flats now have domofones so we couldn’t just barge in and up the stairs. Even more unfortunately, most of them only have numbers and not people’s names on them, so our vision of picking out familiar surnames vanished. We approached anyone who came out buildings and asked about particular people – but it’s hard when one lady you used to visit regularly was only known to you as “Pani” (polite title for any lady), or Pani Redhead as we called her between ourselves. She was an artist, and so I stood by her block, wondering which one of the four stairwells was hers, and asking residents, who came out if they knew of an artist living there! Not surprisingly, this was singularly unsuccessful. Even when we remembered her son’s name (he ended up being our boss – through our contact with Pani Redhead we walked into good jobs working in his language school) and realised that she would share the same surname, and asked for her in person, we were no more successful.
Same story for every other block around.   
Except one. There was one apartment that Rob spent almost as much time in as our own. He got on really well with a couple’s same-age-as-us son and they hung out together, Rob improving his Polish, Krzysiek improving his English. I only met the couple once, at a farewell party for Krzysiek, who was moving to Australia, and although I could not remember what they looked like I did remember folk dancing with the father in the hallway! Rob assures me they look exactly the same today. And their hospitality has not changed. They welcomed us all with open arms, amazed at how many guests had descended so unexpectedly upon them. The offer of a cup of tea turned into a bowlful of soup and bread for everyone (except the hosts, who insisted they would eat later), followed by tea and cakes – all accompanied by profuse apologies at not providing enough food, and friendly admonitions that we should have told them we were coming!


Realising it was 10pm in Australia, they put through a call to Krzysiek and handed the phone to Rob! He could hardly believe his Kiwi mate from the now distant past was at that moment sitting in his parents’ apartment across the other side of the world.
Being our first conversation beyond marketplace pleasantries or our other standard exchange (yes, they are all our children, yes, there are eight of them, yes I gave birth to them myself, thank you for saying I’m so young, I don’t know how many more we’ll have, yes, that’s the youngest, she’s three years old, the eldest? she’s fifteen…), we found our brains struggling to pry out words that used to slip off the tongue effortlessly. Fortunately *understanding* was much easier – I think we caught 80% of their stories. Not bad after two decades.

Jews Lived Here.

Friday, October 30th, 2009

Krakow, Poland

Kazimierz, now a district of Krakow, used to be a separate entity, a region self-governed by the Jews, who were sent there for the first time in 1495. For hundreds of years it remained a Jewish enclave – right through to World War II when the word ghetto became more appropriate.
Today it is just another part of the city, filled with cafes and shops on the lower floor, residential apartments on upper floors, synagogues sprinkled through the streets, but nowhere near the 120 that were here in 1930.

We took a walk (as we do).

Highlight would have to be the cemetery. Large yellow leaves constantly fluttered down from the tall ancient trees, accumulating in massive piles on the ground, partly obscuring the tombstones inscribed in either Hebrew, Polish or both. Locals gave us directions to this cemetery, which turned out to the “new” one, opened in 1800. But we were looking for the old one, in operation from 1551 to 1800, and did manage to find it, although the steep entrance fee and the fact that we had already taken cemetery photos, meant we just looked from the outside.


All interesting enough, but probably most memorable would be either the pierogi we picked up for dinner or the fact that it was colder than we anticipated and being one layer underdressed, we all froze!

“What do you write about on a day like today when we did nothing mum?” asked Kboy12

Thursday, October 29th, 2009
Krakow, Poland Well, my dear boy, speak for yourself! YOU may have done nothing, but someone went to the market this morning to buy our food for the day. So I could write about the things I saw, the conversations I ... [Continue reading this entry]

lest we forget

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009
Krakow, Poland

The first time we visited Auschwitz, it was the middle of winter. Snow covered the ground and fell on to our woollen coats; we shivered, ... [Continue reading this entry]

did you say swaziland?

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009
Krakow, Poland There’s only one bus a week from Krakow that connects directly with the bus to Brasov. We tried to book it today, only to discover it’s full. So’s the one that leaves a week earlier and the one ... [Continue reading this entry]

we’re gonna get fat! (every day a birthday)

Monday, October 26th, 2009
Krakow, Poland Who would have thought that we’d be eating out in Europe? It’s meant to be expensive, right? But look……we’re managing to find cheap eats wherever we go, all of them decidedly Polish, all of them things we said we ... [Continue reading this entry]


Sunday, October 25th, 2009
Krakow, Poland Down the flights of stairs, across the courtyard, through the front building, and we burst out the door onto the busy bustling street. Only it isn’t busy. It’s quiet. There are no trams running, no cars passing, not ... [Continue reading this entry]

to (another) market (again)

Saturday, October 24th, 2009
Krakow, Poland Apologies about the recurring WhenWeUsedToLiveHere theme, but here goes the next edition…..

The first year we lived here (we arrived in 1990) we did not see ANY Western products at all. The choice ... [Continue reading this entry]

maybe fairy tales are true

Friday, October 23rd, 2009
Krakow, Poland


If you find yourself in an ancient city, with a castle (called Wawel) and a cave that once housed a dragon, you’d wonder if you’d stepped into a fairy tale!
A popular version ... [Continue reading this entry]

“I can see why you loved living here,” said Kboy12

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009
Krakow, Poland


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