Kraków,  Poland

Life in Kraków, Poland

Kraków
Marika Kasprzak
Bigos

The Place: Kraków, Poland

“…lights pierced through what I soon realised was a haze of smog hanging above the streets… the rugged faces that had peered curiously at me while I passed them in the countryside were replaced by eyes locked in a staring contest with the pale blue glow of a phone screen peaking out above air-filtration masks. But… the trepidations from my first impressions soon began to melt away.”

Read About Kraków

I pedalled in anticipation as I neared the crest of the final hill between me and Kraków; a mental milestone I’d been staring at on a map for months until now. I would roll over the top, and before me an ancient city would stretch away to the base of the Carpathian foothills. My heart rate soared, I took a breath, and waited… and waited… and waited. Did they move it? Weary brakes squealed as I came to a stop and squinted. A few lights pierced through what I soon realised was a haze of smog hanging above the streets. I descended from my viewpoint, and began my transition from rural to urban as more and more cars cluttered the roads, and the rugged faces that had peered curiously at me while I passed them in the countryside were replaced by eyes locked in a staring contest with the pale blue glow of a phone screen peaking out above air-filtration masks. But, safter a green sign notified me I’d crossed the city-boundaries, the trepidations from my first impressions soon melted away, and I made my way towards my hostel at the heart of the city. I forgot about the fact that I was breathing in what I’d seen from the hilltop and, for the first time in a long time, marvelled at architecture that literally took my breath away.

Every street you wander, every corner you turn, Kraków’s rich history stares back at you. Rather than sticking to a rigorous sightseeing itinerary, you can truly allow yourself to get lost amongst the cobbled roads, parks, and countless churches that puncture the skyline with needlelike spires. Every quarter of the city has its own story to tell, whether you’re exploring Wawel castle or a Jewish bookshop in Kazimierz, two areas that stand in such contrast they seem a world apart from one another. Up there with Berlin (Read an interview from Berlin here), it’s easily one of the most touristy places I’ve visited on the Arctic to Asia Cycle tour so far, with mobs of tourists on walking tours forcing you from the pavement. But after so much time alone on the road, that was a sight for sore eyes.  When it came time to leave, I fought against a strange sense of inertia; a desire stay for another week… maybe two. But I moved on, knowing that no matter how much time you spend in Kraków, there will always be something to come back to.


Please note that we do not fact-check our interviewees, and that their views do not necessarily represent our own.

The Person: Marika Kasprzak, 23, Student

“…we’ll see what new days will come in the future. I used to have a music radio program in my university, and also worked in regional television when I was in Poznan… after my experience… I decided that maybe radio would be a good place to work.”

 See Marika's Full Background

I am a student of ‘American Studies’. For now we’re learning about American society, and in the second year we will learn more about politics. I was studying journalism and social communication in Poznań, which is in the middle of Poland, and I graduated this year before deciding to move to Kraków to continue my student life. I also moved here because my boyfriend is from Slovakia which is super, super near and we have great transport connection there.

I’m working as a receptionist for additional work, and we’ll see what new days will come in the future. I used to have a music radio program in my university, and also worked in regional television when I was in Poznan. It’s not well known TV, but it is well known in Poznan. At the beginning of my ‘journalism adventure’, let’s say, I was thinking that “maybe I’m gonna work in TV.” But after my experience on the radio I decided that maybe radio would be a good place to work. We’ll see, because I’ve been studying in Kraków for just one month, so at the moment I’m just focused on my studies. After another month when I’m more confident here, I’m going to search for an internship somewhere.

What does home mean to you?

“I’m quite sad because I moved super, super far away from my home, because I’m from… like 800km from here… I think I can make a home anywhere. When I think about my boyfriend, I know that I can make a home with him someday. But, for now, I have one home which is far away.”

See Marika's Full Answer

Oh my gosh, it’s my everything. And I’m quite sad because I moved super, super far away from my home, because I’m from totally in the north of Poland, like 800km from here… so 12 hours on the train! But it’s whatever because when I know that I’m going home on a certain day, I get so excited because my home and my relatives are everything; I have a younger sister who’s 10-years-old. When I think about home, I think about my family. So home means family for me.

 

I think I can make a home anywhere. When I think about my boyfriend, I know that I can make a home with him someday. but, for now, I have one home which is far away. After one year he’ll move here, I know that I will be able to create my new home. But my family and my hometown will be forever in my head. I love travel, but home is home.

What’s special about Kraków?

“For Poland, it’s a super multicultural place. You can meet people from all over the world. Like for example, in one of my classes at university there is a girl from New York, girl from Seattle, a guy from Turkey, guys from Spain…”

See Marika's Full Answer

For Poland, it’s a super multicultural place. You can meet people from all over the world. Like for example, in one of my classes at university there is a girl from New York, girl from Seattle, a guy from Turkey, guys from Spain, two boys from Italy… for sure this makes it special.

 

Kraków is also a super historical place, the most historical in all of Poland. For example the Wawel Royal Castle is from the 14th century, and this is where our kings were. It was our first capital city. Before WWII we had the biggest Jewish population as well.

What have you learned from moving around Poland?

Honestly, the most difficult time in my life was when I moved to this dormitory in high school. I had to be more confident, and believe in myself more, and that was quite challenging…I think this is what created me as I am now. But the high school was not in Kraków. It was 40km from my hometown.”

See Marika's Full Answer

I moved from a super small village, where there isn’t a good quality high-school. Because I am lazy and didn’t want to wake up early every day to travel to and from a school further away, I decided to move to a dorm when I was 17. I would come back at the weekends to spend time with my family. Honestly, the most difficult time in my life was when I moved to this dormitory in high school. I had to be more confident, and believe in myself more, and that was quite challenging. But when I decided to go into journalism I knew I would have to be confident and speak with people I didn’t know. So it was easier for me to do that once I’d been to this high school. I think this is what created me as I am now. But the high school was not in Kraków. It was 40km from my hometown.

What is your favourite place outside of Poland, and why?

“…I think that every place has its own secrets, and you can, like, discover these secrets. I really like London for everything; it’s architecture, the people. Even when it’s raining and it’s quite depressing weather, everyone is, like, happy and helpful.”

See Marika's Full Answer

I have a lot of places… I love Paris for it’s amazing atmosphere. When I’m there, I think that every place has its own secrets, and you can, like, discover these secrets. I really like London for everything; it’s architecture, the people. Even when it’s raining and it’s quite depressing weather, everyone is, like, happy and helpful. But honestly I think the best place for me is Miami beach in Los Angeles. Oh my god, I loved this place. Even the homeless are different from here in Europe. They were super helpful, and they don’t always need money from you. Here in Poland it’s like “girl, give me money.”

Can you think of a time you have been proud of Poland or Kraków?

…on one hand, I love my hometown, but I do not think of my hometown as being ‘Poland’… my country is a weird country. We are trying to be more and more modern, and we are trying to make positive changes, but our government and politics are making everything worse”

See Marika's Full Answer

As I told you, on one hand, I love my hometown, but I do not think of my hometown as being ‘Poland’. I don’t know how to explain it, the point is that my country is a weird country. We are trying to be more and more modern, and we are trying to make positive changes, but our government and politics are making everything worse and worse from the time that we had this government change three years ago. For example, almost everywhere in Poland, you can see these signs: “this building was built with European money”. But now, our government is saying “we have to do something like the UK, we have to get out of the EU”. But, Jesus Christ, we’re getting profits from the EU all the time! So there’s a lot of problems with our politics. So, am I proud of my country? Not really, I don’t think.

 

I can be proud of my hometown, Polanov, even though it’s super small. There are no offices to work in or anything. If you want to spend the rest of your life in some grocery store as a shop assistant, you can stay in the town, but if you want to experience something more, you have to move. But politics from my hometown are different; they are doing everything they can to make their situation better.

 

What is your main concern or worry about Poland or Kraków?

“Because of this government, nowadays these Nazis and nationalists are more and more popular… we have this independence day on the 11th of November, and in Warsaw they are organising a huge meeting… the nationalists are dangerous and they are really getting more popular.”

See Marika's Full Answer

Because of this government, nowadays these Nazis and nationalists are more and more popular. For example, now we have this independence day on the 11th of November, and in Warsaw they are organising a huge meeting. The idea on the surface is great, because we are appreciating the fact that we are a free country, but on the other hand, these groups of people are quite dangerous. I am quite worried that these super dangerous people will be getting more and more popular and other people will want to do the same as them. For sure, we have a lot of groups of people who are supporting LGBT rights and such things, but the nationalists are dangerous and they are really getting more popular.

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in Poland in your lifetime?

“The thing is that it’s always like: you see some positives and you see some negatives also… there can be a march for LGBT people, but… there can be one with guys with no hair on their head who chant ‘f*ck homosexuals'”.

See Marika's Full Answer

The thing is that it’s always like: you see some positives and you see some negatives also, and you don’t know which are the bigger changes. It’s all like that, in this country. One day, there can be a march for LGBT people, but the next there can be one with guys with no hair on their head who chant “f*ck homosexuals” and such things.

What are your thoughts on Stereotypes of people from Kraków?

“Our grandmas – I mean the Grandmas of Poland, not mine – believe only in God, and you can’t say anything against God, so if you’re lesbian or gay, you can’t discuss that with them.”

See Marika's Full Answer

From this part of Poland, I don’t know, but in Poland in general… oh my god, we have a lot of stereotypes. For example, Polish people who are living in the UK are like drunken sailors, people from Poznan are counting money all the time and don’t like spending it. In general, people from Poland are close-minded. Our grandmas – I mean the Grandmas of Poland, not mine – believe only in God, and you can’t say anything against God, so if you’re lesbian or gay, you can’t discuss that with them. But a lot of these aren’t always true. I know that some of the Polish people abroad are good at their jobs, for example. There are a few people who fulfil the stereotype, but I think it’s changing, so some of the stereotypes are unfair.

Maybe I’m trying to be positive about the future of our nation. I hope that people will be more open minded. So we actually need people from abroad to make these people who are close-minded more open-minded.

What is the best thing to ever come out of Poland?

“Pierogi Ruskie; our national cuisine… inside, they have something inside that’s a bit like sour cream and potatoes, cheese and onion… Polish food is great. We are very proud of it.”

See Marika's Full Answer

Pierogi Ruskie; our national cuisine! They are the best of the best. Inside, they have something inside that’s a bit like sour cream and potatoes, cheese and onion. In general I can tell you that I love Polish cuisine. Maybe half of them are quite unhealthy, but Polish food is great. We are very proud of it. It’s quite funny actually, because we are like “Polish food is the best!” but everywhere in Poland you see ‘Kebab’, ‘MacDonalds’, or ‘KFC’!

 

What do you eat during the Holidays here?

My mum makes the best carp, because she puts inside some carrots and some vegetables… it’s amazing. For me Christmas is always about pierogi and carp.”

See Marika's Full Answer

Pierogi Ruskie, and carp, like the fish. My mum makes the best carp, because she puts inside some carrots and some vegetables… it’s amazing. For me Christmas is always about pierogi and carp. We also eat this tiny fish called herring. Also we really like to eat some cakes like cheesecake with chocolate or apple pies. We have this small, tiny pasta with poppy seeds and raisins; in my family, no, but in other families they prepare something like this.

 

What is your favourite  and least favourite Polish Dish?

“My least favourite is… kopytka, which is like the same dough as pierogi but there’s nothing inside, it’s just this dough, and they add onions on it…”

See Marika's Full Answer

Again, pierogi ruskie is my favourite! My least favourite is this pasta and poppy seeds with raisins… or kopytka, which is like the same dough as pierogi but there’s nothing inside, it’s just this dough, and they add onions on it or sour cream with sugar.

 

Reccomendation:

“…you can try bigos. It’s boiled and fried cabbage with sausages and lots of onion… it sometimes tastes quite sour… But when they add a good amount of salt and pepper and all the seasonings it’s amazing.”

See Marika's Full Reccomendation

I can recommend you Leczo, which is some kind of soup that contains meat, paprika, onion and everything is mixed with salt and pepper. Or you can try bigos. It’s boiled and fried cabbage with sausages and lots of onion. It’s quite unhealthy and it sometimes tastes quite sour. But when they add a good amount of salt and pepper and all the seasonings it’s amazing.

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The Plate: Bigos

“Watching the flames lick the base of an iron pan and dance to Polish music… I felt like I’d entered another world… for the first half of my meal, that’s how I remained… But slowly it dawned on me just how futile each bite was in diminishing my foe. It sat there, steaming away defiantly as I began to waver… Marek was already having seconds, and his friend, Sławek, had already finished and was up dancing with the largest hip-flask full of vodka I’d ever seen. By that point, it became a matter of will-power.”

Read About Bigos

My experience with Bigos was more than just a culinary one. I have to take you back a few steps to my stay in ‘Nowa Sól’, which the eager amongst you will notice was where I interviewed Grezegorz Miniach in Poland. There I met Marek, a local historian who, to pay tribute to his hometown, has started a yearly tradition: on the 8th of October, he and his friends meet on the riverbanks of the Oder to enjoy a traditional stew, cooked in a cast-iron pot over a fire just as it would have been done hundreds of years ago. That stew, unbeknownst to me at the time, was bigos, a favourite amongst locals.

Served to me still boiling in a cup almost as big as my forearm, I prepared myself for a challenge; as I’ve said with basically every Polish food I’ve tasted, a ‘light meal’ doesn’t seem to be in the local vocabulary. Outside on an autumn day, though, as the sun struggles to break through the clouds, bigos warms the soul. It’s taste is one of contradiction; the meat and cabbage compete for attention – sour vs salt – taking alternate turns to trigger your tastebuds. It’s not complicated, it’s an entire pot of the same flavour, and there are no undertones or lingering aftertastes that wait to surprise you. But if you like simple, and you like meat, and you really like cabbage, then Bigos may just be for you.

Watching the flames lick the base of an iron pan and dance to music that was gibberish to me, I felt like I’d entered another world. And, for the first half of my meal, that’s how I remained. Content, relaxed. But slowly it dawned on me just how futile each bite was in diminishing my foe. It sat there, steaming away defiantly as I began to waver. I looked to my right; Marek was already having seconds, and his friend, Sławek, had already finished and was up dancing with the largest hip-flask of vodka I’d ever seen. By that point, it became a matter of will-power. The sourness of the cabbage was only infusing more and more with the broth the longer I waited, becoming evermore overpowering, and so I made haste, barely taking a breath as I brought the level in my cup down, millimetre by millimetre.  “Maybe this bite will have less cabbage”, “Maybe I’ll get hungrier in a minute.” But in the last stretch, sheer determination wasn’t enough. They say the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and expecting different results, so with that in mind I finally conceded defeat, with 25% of a cupful left, and 75% of my dignity intact.


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The Changing Face of Poland
Returning to Poland After 18 Years
You may also be interested in:  Culture in Western Poland

Attempting to cycle from Tromsø in Northern Norway to Baku, Azerbaijan while interviewing locals en route. Despite my chequered history with bikes, here’s to me returning home with an intact facial structure and at least as many body parts as I left with.

2 Thoughts on Life in Kraków, Poland
    Hilda Freedman
    3 Feb 2019
    5:16pm

    I am a little confused re Polish Politics so cannot make much comment here. But good on you for eating 75% of Bigos

    Dennis
    31 Jan 2019
    4:51pm

    ….the food seems great but where will the politics take Poland?

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