This morning, I walked through a 1000 year old castle to get to school. And before that, I walked right past the exact spot where Pope John Paul II appeared in Błonia Park even though he was prohibited from doing so by the communist regime. And from that same spot, you can see the mound that was used as a strategic outlook for the Austrian forces that occupied southern poland in the mid-1800′s. And in the distant, Wawel Castle, the 10th century symbol for Polish strenght and determination through 1000 years of war, still stands on its fortified hill. And finally, after a 30 minute walk, I managed to find my seat in a 400 year old building to start my polish lesson.
The reason I walked was because the revisors caught me on the tram. For those of you who don’t know what a revisor is, they are the secret, dark, communist-like tram police that randomly check for people without tickets. For foreigners not used to transit checks, the revisors almost bring back a communist era feeling. Usually late at night, they spring up from their seats with their badges in hand and begin to bother every commuter on the tram. The people without tickets scramble to get off the tram as quickly as possible. I had a ticket! But the revisors said it was invalid “A one-time use ticket!” I tried to confuse them by speaking English, but unlucky for me, they were quite fluent in it. After a 20 minute argument between two very large men, I walked off the tram a mile and a half away from home and 77 złoty ($25 US) out of my pocket. It was my fault that I didn’t know the ticket rules, but they were very persistant that I didn’t get a second chance.
That’s one problem with Krakow, everyone speaks English. At least most of the students. I’m having a hard time learning polish because of this. But at the same time, I’m able to talk with people from every corner of the world. French people, czech people, german people, turkish people, and even spanish people. I even ran into a girl from Argentina who spoke only Spanish. Bascially, I’ve spoken more spanish than polish here! But I’m slowly learning. Slowly…polish is very hard.
I ask everyone I meet what they think of America. Richard from the Czech Republic and I have this on going joke that all Americans have gold houses and lots of pockets. The French people that I met started calling me John because they think all Americans are named John (and I call him Pierre because all French people are named Pierre). And now everyone in the Center knows me by John. Kévin, the frenchman, also thinks all things in America are huge. We were walking down the street when he stopped and pointed to a bus “Look, it’s an American car!”
On the other hand, I’ve learned a lot about other countries. For example, I learned from three sisters (from Dubai, United Arab Emirates) that dubains eat camel everyday, ride camel to school and work everyday, and race camels. From the turks, I learned that at the age of around 20, turkish men must join the army. My roommate said that “all turkish men are born soldiers.” From a Polish girl, I learned that many polish are alcoholics. Which is sad but only half true in Krakow- the majority of the singing drunks on the street are from the United Kingdom.
But I’m also learning that all Europeans are amazing cooks! On friday I had a fantastic candle lit french dinner (of course with real wine only found in france). On saturday and sunday, my roommates invited me to eat their traditional turkish meal of scrammbled eggs with vegatables, potatoes, lots of bread, and tea. With them, it’s more of a communal gathering around a frying pan on the floor than just eating. And of course, the 24 Hour Pierogi place proves everything true (what’s Poland without a 24 hour pierogi place!?)
Speaking of food, I’m off to buy a bagel from one of the thousands of bagel stands around the city. Krakow is the city of bagels! It’s where they were invented!