The lack of recent updating has been due to the fact that I'm in Poland. And I was too lazy to go to the internet cafe in Le Havre to type things on the azerty keyboard there. Poland is awesome. No, it is more than awesome. The countryside reminds me of the Midwest quite a bit. Much like South Dakota, with less corn palaces. The language is incomprehensible, and I rely on my friend James to help me get around. There has been much running after trains and drinking of vodka in Krakow pub basements.
The first day I flew into Katowice from the Beauvais airport in France. I tried to flirt with this really cute Polish girl sitting in the same row of seats next to me by making a little paper , drawing racing strips and some adorable little stars on it and throwing it at her. She wasn't havin it. My introduction to Poland was the passport control guy, who instead of being an asshole like the French ones was welcoming and warm. "Good evening!" he said when seeing my American passport. I was so shocked by his cordiality that I could only stutter a "Good evening" back. He checked my passport and stamped it, asking how long and why I'd be in Poland, and if it was my first time here. After doing so, he said, "Welcome to Poland" with an enthusiasm that couldn't be faked.
James and a couple of students of his picked me up in their car and we headed to Krakow to check into our hostel. My name in Polish is Mikolaj, the l in the name being the Polish l with a little line drawn through it to make it look not unlike a t, but pronounced as if it were a w before an o in a word, like word. So it sounds like mikowai. James' name is Kuba. I had not been aware that you recieved a Polish name upon arriving here, but I plan on changing all of my official documents to match.
We arrived in Krakow at about 8pm, checked into our hostel and went out to scope the town. Mostly, we drank a bunch of vodka and beer in a few of the many basement pubs they have there. It was fantastic. Here's a picture of me kinda drunk that James took.
Somehow, we woke up really early the next day and went to this fortress/palace/cathedral complex that Krakow's famous for called Wawel. The w's are pronounced like vs, like vavel. It was neat to see a lot of the palace rooms and part of the cathedral, but mostly James told me a ton of interesting things that I never knew about Polish history. Here's a picture that can't do justice to the largeness of the place.
After Wawel we walked around a bit and took in the architecture of Krakow, found some lunch, and went to this English book store called Massolit. It was bigger and had a better selection than some that I have found even in Paris. While there I saw this gorgeous woman walking around with an Italo Calvino book in her hand. While we were buying our stuff she was sitting at the little cafe they have there and reading LeMonde Diplomatique and browsing through some magazines. I waffled back and forth about talking to her, as she kept passing eyes at me. Finally, I got up enough courage to overcome the paralyzing nervousness and say, "That book by Calvino is excellent. Have you read anything else by him?" "Yeah, I've read The Path to the Spider's Nest," which to my fortune was one of the books I was buying. We started talking about literature and This American Life and then James and I had her show us places to go in Krakow. When we left the store, I immediately regretted not inviting her out with us. We got halfway down the street before deciding that we had to go back. Yes, we did the walk back in, using the excuse that James wanted to find a tobacco shop in Krakow to buy snuff at. She agreed to come out with us and I spent the next five hours becoming smitten with this artist from Chicago that spoke fluent Polish and good French and was so many things that are cool in a woman. That's all I really want to say here. We didn't see her again the next day, but I have a phone number and an email address.
The next day we went to the salt mine in Wieliczka. It is one of the most amazing things I have seen. It used to be a mine until the mid 90's, when they stopped producing salt but continued it as a tourist site. It's full of artificial lakes and sculptures by the miners done in salt, as well as two chapels carved completely out of salt that they still have services in. Here's the only picture James was able to sneak from the place (you had to pay ten zloty to do so without getting yelled at).
In the interest of seeing the rest of Poland, I'm going to end this post with a picture of James Wicka, teen hearthrob, my tour guide of a beautiful country. This is for all of the 14-year old girls out there.