Day 11: Day Trip and a Little Krakow

The streets of Old Town in the early morning

The streets of Old Town in the early morning

We were up at 6:15 this morning and out the door by 7:30 to get to the bus station because we wanted to make sure to catch the 8:25 bus to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Because of our investigative work the day before we knew to go straight to the bus ticket window and soon had 2 tickets in hand, Jim confirming it was a big bus we’d be on (14zl each/each way/$4.70).  The ride took about one hour and 45 minutes and dropped us right in the main parking lot of Auschwitz I.

As with our visit to Majdanek earlier in this blog, due to the subject matter I am making a separate link below for those who wish to read more about our visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Click HERE to read on about Auschwitz-Birkenau.

More of Old Town

More of Old Town

After returning back to Krakow after 18:00 we were physically beat and emotionally exhausted.  We had already managed to formulate a dinner plan, and that was to hit up the internet café for inspiration and guidance so as not to wind up at the food court in the mall again.  Besides, taking a tour of Krakow’s restaurants online was sure a hell of a lot easier than taking that same tour on foot.  Wait, were we actually getting savvier?  Nah, I think the real savvy-ness will come when we join the 21st century and bring our own computer on a trip.  After looking online we narrowed our purview to either Mexican or Hungarian cuisines.  The most appealing Mexican restaurant was a little hike away, but the Hungarian restaurant was right in Old Town.  Perfect.  The place was called Balaton and it only took a couple minutes to reach.  Before going inside I wanted to scan the menu posted outside, you know, just to make sure it was appealing to my “discerning” palate.  Initially I was suspect this was the right choice, as the menu posted outside was limited and full of game-type items I will not eat.  But because we were tired and because I wanted to be a team player, we went inside so I could take a look at the full menu.  Ok, so a real team player would have skipped that step and just sat down, but I’m working on it.  While I was looking the waiter quietly and modestly mentioned this was the best restaurant in Krakow.  As the full menu offered many appealing options, we decided to sit and put his proclamation to the test.

Boy, were we glad we did.  Jim started with a giant salad full of delicious salami and cheeses, greens and assorted vegetables, and I started with the bean and smoked meat soup that came in a tiny vat hanging on a stand with a flame underneath the vat.  Outstanding.  For our entrees Jim had the most unbelievable melt-in-your-mouth pork goulash served over perfectly prepared potato pancakes and I had plain potato pancakes served with a savory garlic sauce.  This could very well have been the best meal on our trip and it sure gave anything we ate in Hungary a run for the money.  Mr. Waiter Sir, you are indeed right, this could very well be the best restaurant in Krakow.

St. Mary's Church tower (right), with the municipal watchtower and bugler (left)

St. Mary’s Church tower (right), with the municipal watchtower and bugler (left)

After dinner we wandered around the Main Market Square to find a spot for a drink in full view of the bugler who plays on the hour from the watchtower attached to St. Mary’s Church.  The bugler story is one of my favorite things about Krakow.  Legend has it that in this tower in the mid-1200s was a guard on the lookout for trouble.  Trouble eventually came in the form of a Tatar invasion and, as he had been trained, the guard saw them coming and immediately started playing the official town warning tune on his trumpet.  As he was nearing the end of his song a Tatar pierced his throat with an arrow, instantly killing him.  To this day, a real live person plays that same tune on a trumpet every hour, on the hour, 24 hours a day, and stops the song suddenly and abruptly toward the end to signify the arrow piercing.  I read about this (and saw/heard it) 8 years ago and the story had stuck with me, but it wasn’t until the first day we were in Krakow, with Jim standing by my side as we listened to the bugler, that he pointed out what a strange song it was to play as a warning.  And he makes an excellent point, one I’d never thought of before.  The song is slow and a bit melodramatic, nothing like what you would expect a warning would be for The Tatars are coming!!!  The Tatars are coming!!!!!

At any rate, we each had a coffee with Bailey’s in it, took in our great view of the bugler, and then went back to the room around 21:30, exhausted.

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