Time to lighten up a bit, fellas.
Life’s too short to dwell exclusively on the madness of our modern world. As the Booby has stressed again and again, travel can be an integral part of your self-education. And, given the state of our universities and colleges (see here), a self-education is often the best a young man can hope to attain.
So let’s go traveling once again. Today our destination is the historic Polish city of Krakow (pronounced KRAK-ov).
Krakow is the second largest city in Poland, eclipsed only by Warsaw, the capital. However, it is by far the most beautiful of Poland’s large cities. Part of the reason, of course, is that Krakow escaped much of the devastation that Warsaw and other parts of the country experienced in the Second World War.
As a tourist (yes, you will be a tourist and that’s OK) you will almost certainly end up spending most of your time in the historic centre of the city. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. As tourists we typically have limited time and want to see the most spectacular sites and achievements that our destinations offer.
Krakow has more than its fair share of these. The most prominent attraction in Krakow is the Main Square. Actually, the Main Square is a collection of attractions fanning out from a – you guessed, it – central square. It’s a great place to just wander around and get lost in the history of the place. Among other things you will find Empik, Europe’s oldest bookstore (see here), though many people still remember it as Matras, as it was known until recently. The square also offers any number of eateries, but the Booby’s favourite was Pod Aniolami, located in a delightfully sinister medieval basement, it is probably the best place in the world to enjoy pirogies (see here).
Still within the Main Square you can’t help but see Kościół Mariacki (Saint Mary’s Basilica). The interior is spectacular, featuring all the stained glass and gold you would expect, but on an even more gaudy scale. As for the Booby, his favourite feature of St. Mary’s was the climb to the top of the Bell Tower. Do this. The view of the Main Square and the surrounding city makes the climb well worth it.
Of course, there’s also Wawel Castle just a short walk from the Main Square. Dating back to the 16th Century this castle has adorned the omnipresent background to Poland’s tumultuous history. Today it can be enjoyed and explored by the public. In addition to the various museums you will see truly unique examples of European architecture. From the ramparts of the castle it is possible to look down upon the Vistula River and watch the various boats and activities of locals and tourists on her banks.
If you want to speak to locals and get a sense of the city’s vibe you’ll likely have to venture away from the Main Square and the other tourist attractions. Oftentimes those working in major tourist centres are themselves foreigners working their way through their travels, or migrants from more economically depressed regions seeking work. Krakow is no different. In the various shops, cafés, and restaurants the Booby met many such workers, from places like Romania, Bulgaria, and even Moldova.
When you actually speak to most Poles you notice a different mien from most people in Western Europe. Poles (along with Hungarians, Slovaks, and some Czechs) still retain pride in their heritage and culture. This is in stark contrast to the nihilistic self-abasement one sees in, say, the fashionable circles of England, Italy, Germany, or Holland.
Western Europeans seem to fall over themselves to embrace any culture except their own. They have been thoroughly indoctrinated by their Marxist academics and heirs to believe that everything Western is evil. Euro fashionistas seem to view the act of hating, or at least negating, their own cultures as a kind of virtue contest to see who can be most contemptuous of the civilizations they inherited.
If you’re staying in, or near, the Main Square, at least take a ride to other parts of the city in a taxi or a shuttle bus. This is sometimes the best way to have a conversation with an actual Pole. English is not as widely spoken in Poland as in some Western European countries, like the Netherlands, though one could argue English is more widely spoken here than in England. In Krakow the Booby had the occasion to converse with English-speaking locals on a few occasions.
One driver in particular was keen to discuss the social problems arising in Poland due to the large number of Ukrainians fleeing their homeland for more Westerly havens. Back home in the Americas, we hear much about the issues and tensions caused in Europe due to Muslim and North African migrants, but we hear virtually nothing about the Ukrainians. Discoveries like these are part of the self-education that travel proffers.
Another observation is that most Poles and other Central Europeans, specifically those who once lived under Soviet occupation, do not take their independence for granted, and they seem less willing to shun their heritage, again, in sharp contrast to Western Europeans, who have never known anything but First World luxury amid growing cultural nihilism.
This is very evident in places like Krakow, where Polish history is celebrated, instead of treated like a dark family secret. The sharing of Polish culture in not merely play-acted. It retains some real inner life. At the risk of offending Western Europeans, the Booby urges them to look to their brothers to the East. Western Europeans regard their culture much like a spoiled child regards his parents in adolescence: with embarrassment or even outright contempt.
Of course, it’s not that there’s no trace of the postmodern Western intelligentsia in places like Krakow. There is. There are always those who will wish to be the most fashionable, and the most “intellectual”. It’s just that here they haven’t completely taken over yet. Is that day coming? The Booby can’t say for sure, but he hopes not.
Travels With the Booby is a continuing series intended to inspire fellas to travel, discuss potential destinations, and offer a few helpful tips. To read more, scroll down to “Categories”, select “Travels With the Booby”, and browse other posts.