Very quickly Berlin city is left behind and we enter open fields, pine forests, allotment gardens (some with most substantial houses on them). In the shadows that the sun has not yet licked away, frost lingers; making paths slippery and long grasses crispy, and accentuating dirt track ruts and the dark curve of rounded haybales lying in the fields. We pass an expanse of freshly tilled earth where hundreds upon hundreds of black birds stand waiting. We wonder how they know when it is time to fly south, but apart from thinking there might be something such as birdy instinct, we don’t know.
Neither do we know when we cross the border into Poland, but suddenly there are Polish words on buildings. And the buildings are different. The roofs are steeper, there are big overhanging eaves, occasionally a carved wooden gable-end. Each building has its white-lettering-on-blue-background sign attached proclaiming street name and number.
But the differences between Poland now and then (when we used to live here) are greater than the differences between Germany and Poland.
Now on the edge of the first town we stop at there’s a Kaufland, a large German supermarket. There are big billboards. What’s more, one is advertising credit; both concepts (credit and billboards) were unheard of here two decades ago.
The smooth train rolls on mostly through agricultural land. We might be comfortable in our airline-style seats, but we notice it was easier for the kids on noisy Asian trains. For eleven hours they need to try to stay *really* quiet – on Asian trains they could talk normally without anyone giving them a stare – oh yes, people looked at them, but not with *that* disapproving stare. We wonder why ER couldn’t have chosen one of those trains to have her two hour crying stint on! Four different ladies tell me in Polish and German that she is too hot, too cold, hungry, thirsty, tired, bored, has a headache, has a stomachache, should get some fresh air, should go back in the compartment out of the cold…. Actually she was just stubbornly, loudly, dramatically, heartrendingly insisting, “I don’t want to sit with you Mama; Dadda will let me do what I want.” My resolve was stronger than hers, especially as Dadda was feeling most grotty, having picked up the Berlin Bug from the people we’d been staying with. By tomorrow half of the kids will have as well.
8:30pm we roll into Krakow Glowny (those words don’t look half as good without the squiggles and dashes they are supposed to have on them!)
What is touted by the hostel as an eight minute walk from station to room, we expect to take quarter of an hour. In darkness, with lights reflecting in puddles we try to avoid, we stumble up the street. Whenever we’ve had packs on our backs up until now we have not been carrying a massive solid-based preserving pot, a heavy cast iron wok, a mega-set of Carcassone and two flea market dollies with complete wardrobes that have been created out of worn-out clothes over the past five months.
As we walk, the Lao phrase “same same but different” springs to mind. We had never had much cause to spend much time at the train station when we lived here, but it is immediately obvious that there is huge difference – big neon signs and a mall right beside the train station are the first signs of
progress change. It looks very unKrakowlike. We do not recognise anything, although my internal destination finder still knows where the centre is. Then round the corner trams, the same blue and cream trams, are running. Same same. The streets are still cobbled rather than asphalted over like in many other European cities. The distinctive Krakow smell, which I had not known was in my memory, wafts by. As expected, the horse monument has its back to us and at the end of its street is the old barbican – it’s hardly going to go anywhere in twenty years when it’s been there for a few hundred now, is it? The Stary Klepparz (old market) is still there. I had heard a few years ago that no markets exist in Poland any more, but I am quietly pleased to discover this to be untrue. We’ll go back during the day and have a look round – it used to be just a series of wooden tables covered with roofs, but now it seems to be little individual metal stalls. We’ll see another day, and check if the bakery is still across the street too.
Many of the lower floor shops have, as we predicted, turned boutiquey – but some are still the old style of everything behind the counter. I have a feeling Krakow has not changed as much as we might have thought, and it’s nice to think the kids might see things As It Was.