Monday, May 25, 2009

Cate stole my dinner

We started late as predicted – but not for the usual reasons.

This time Cate was on work phone calls until 5:30 AM on Thursday morning. I stayed up until 4:00 AM when I had to crash. So we were decidedly wobbly on Thursday and didn’t get moving until about 11.30.

There is a way not to drive to Krakow and we took it on the way there.

It appears that the NSW Government has been franchising its road building operations and many of the roads in Slovakia are collections of potholes joined loosely by gravel. Some of them are almost as bad as the northern parts of the Pacific ‘Highway’ in NSW except that there are no ‘Give Way To Goats’ signs.

(However, some of the minor roads in Poland are worse).

We explored these tracks for some hours as we wended our way via Zilina. Then the traffic going into Krakow was diabolical so the whole trip took us more than 7 hours.

In the process we left one country and visited three others. (Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland). This is a record for us which will probably stand for some time.

The way to go – as we worked out coming home – is via Brno. This trip took 5 hours - all on motorways. Next time we will have a close look at our Europe road atlas and not rely solely on out car GPS.

Lesson – the shortest route is not necessarily the quickest route if you are visiting countries which have had the benefit of previous Communist road building and maintenance programs.

As predicted – I could not get an Internet connection in Krakow. Despite the fact that there was a free wireless connection in the room – and that Cate was able to access this without any problems – I could not get liftoff.

My connection refused to work - until I got it home and then it lit up like a Christmas Tree and started beavering away. Perhaps it was homesick.

The car park used by the hotel was so far away from the hotel that they sent a porter with me to find it and guide me back on foot. He had little English so we conversed (after a fashion) in German. The car park man also spoke to me in German (because we have a car with Austrian number plates). I explained to both of them that I was Australian and (unlike the Pope) had not been a member of the Hitler Youth.

Anyway – Krakow is delightful and our hotel was very nice. The bed was (as usual) too short. This seems to be inevitable in any older hotel in Europe – and I don’t quite understand why.

On Friday we went to Auschwitz and Birkenau – which we have both wanted to do for many years. These are very scary places indeed and at Auschwitz I had to sit quietly for a while Cate soldiered on.

I have read many, many books about the war and the Nazis and the Jews but nothing really prepares you for a close encounter like this. There were zillions of people there – which is good – and indeed it should be compulsory viewing.

Also on Friday a man tried to deliver the ladder I ordered over the Internet. He was most disturbed to find – when he rang me – that I was not in Wien – and that there was no one else in the apartment.

This was a clear breach of the regulations as – once having ordered something in Wien – you are required to wait by the front door for it to be delivered – despite the fact the no one will ever give you even a vague hint of when this may happen.

I explained to him on a couple of occasions (in my very best German - Ich bin nicht in Wien heute!) that I was in Poland and that my Frau was with me and that no we were not home and would not be there until Monday.

I finally broke through the barrier of disbelief and he went off to report me to the appropriate authorities. I imagine that my ladder is now on its way back to Germany and that I will have to start the process again.

Saturday was slight cheerier as we visited the Castle (every city in Europe has at least one large one and often a few smaller ones) and Cate got to visit two churches. This of course pleased her no end.

The castle was especially harrowing for me as we had to buy a ticket and then wait two hours to get to see it - but on this occasion I must admit that it was of a very high standard with lots of tapestries and chairs and ancient stuff that you see in these types of places.

I am glad I didn’t live in the 16th century as there were apparently no vacuum cleaners and the dust from the tapestries would have killed me. And anyway who could move the beds to vacuum underneath them – they must weigh 20 tonnes! (But of course are far too short).

However, all this ancient stuff doesn’t mean much to me as I have no real interest in anything that existed much before 1870 - but Cate wallows in it.

The afternoon was a bit grimmer as we went to visit the old Jewish quarter, saw the remains of the Ghetto – and saw Oskar Schindler’s factory. But – once again – some things that had to be seen.

The hotel gave us a book which purported to be the best restaurants in Krakow and we sampled two that had received awards. If you are going to Krakow I can give you the names of two restaurants you should not bother visiting. They were very average indeed.

I ended up eating two ducks. I had duck the first night – and it was not much good at all. The second night I ordered a steak with Roquefort sauce and Cate had the duck – but it arrived too rare (It is supposed to be rare) so Cate stole my steak and I had duck again (and it was also not much good).

I am not sure I can face the guys across the road but will just have to tough it out.

Krakow hops night and day. The main square is colossally crowded – I would really not like to be there at peak tourist time – and there are more restaurants, clubs and nightclubs than I have ever seen before in such a small city.

There are almost as many beggars as there are in Wien but they are not as well organised and none had half crutches which I think are essential for this line of work. One man had a dog which gets me every time so I gave him some money.

If he had had a duck I would have given him the keys to Billy as I was feeling full of remorse.

Last week I went past the man who has the begging spot near Massimo and he was bent double leaning on his half crutch and shaking violently. When I came back that way later he was sitting on the bench with his feet up having a cigarette. This had evidently calmed his nerves considerably and he was no longer shaking.

Billy Benz went like a dream and we think that Cate has received at least one speeding ticket so I will watch the letter box with interest as I am still ahead on fines and she needs to catch up. One policeman by the side of the road tried to catch her on video but she swept by him at high speed and blew him into the shrubbery. I last saw him upside down with his legs sticking out of a hedge.

Naturally I was not allowed to drive much - except in the blinding rain coming home from Auschwitz and this was quite an ordeal. I was pretty safe as no sane policeman would be out in weather like that.

The Poles are very civilized and do not allow smoking in restaurants. Also not every person has at least one dog that needs to relieve itself in the middle of the footpath at least once each day.

Wien is a wonderful city but in terms of smoking and dog poo the whole town sucks and there is something seriously wrong with the people who run this country.

Muffin was bright and shiny when we got back and it is apparent that Gretchen gave her some good brushings. I am going to try to sign Gretchen up for our home leave as she appears to be a natural cat minder.

She also won’t use much electricity as at her age she is probably not allowed to stay up much past 8:00 PM when Hannah Montana finishes on the Disney Channel.


  1. Ah Poland and Slovak roads.. Joy Joy! Yes they are building the road across Slovakia in bits and pieces. Very annoying to say the least.
    Sorry about the ladder, best of luck next time!

  2. Amazingly enough - the ladder has arrived - a bit the worse for wear but I can fix it.

  3. What a great adventure! I had to laugh at your story about the begger. During my first trip to Wien I was accosted every morning by a little Italian boy who'd hold out his cupped hands, and with a pathetic facial expression that reminded me of Oliver Twist, said, "Please, Madame?" I always replied, "Nein" as politely as I could, but after two weeks of this, one morning I said, "Beissen mich!" He took off laughing, waving me goodbye. After that, each time he saw me, he'd say, "Beissen mich!" and laugh.

  4. Excellent riposte! I have added this to my repertoire of useful German phrases for special occasions. Do you happen to know the German for 'eat my shorts'.

  5. I think you were very ambitious trying to get to Krakow in a day – I like to break long journeys and stay the night in interesting places along the way. When we went to Krakow last year we did it the other way round, going through Brno on the way up and then back through Slovakia on the way down. On the way back we stopped off in a little Slovakian village called Cicmany which was beautiful and well worth seeing.

    In other beggar-related news, there is now a disable guy who zips around Graben and Karntnerstrasse on a little wooden trolley. I am keeping an eye on him to see if he ever picks it up and starts walking.

  6. Maybe he was trying out for Porgy and Bess?