Sunday, October 14, 2007

Krakow Adventure, Part 2: A City that Works

According to several sources, Krakow is the "new Prague" and L'viv is the "new Krakow." Prague long ago passed from the scene as the hip European outpost for young (non-native) Bohemians. The fact that Krakow is on the radar, and was full of tourists, suggests that it is also passing from semi-exotic status to passe. But, we adored this charming, friendly city.

We are still L'viv patriots, but the comment of a Ukrainian colleague sums up Krakow: "it is like L'viv, only clean and organized." That native L'vivite will remain anonymous for fear that he would be subject to fierce ridicule for such a pro-Polish assessment, but it was an apt characterization. Upon our arrival in Krakow, we were surprised and impressed with several amenities: clear signage in Polish and English, and with pictographs, a tourist information center with multilingual support staff in the rail station, and a simple process to buy return tickets (or so we thought - more about this in a future post).

By contrast, upon arrival in L'viv at the international airport, you find no multilingual support, no place to change money, and no information about how to get to the city center. When he picked up the Bistaks, Erik helped a lost Canadian whose ride did not show up. The Canadian had no local currency, and no sense of how to get to his hotel. Erik got him a ticket for the trolleybus, explained to the conductor where he was going and asked the conductor to tap him on the shoulder at the right stop, and drew him a map. He would have encountered no such trouble upon arrival in Krakow.

Another contrast struck Erik on an early morning stroll. In L'viv, Erik has often jogged around 6 a.m. In Krakow, he went for a walk. On his early morning L'viv jaunts, Erik shared the streets with a handful of unfortunate souls: drunks stumbling home, municipal workers cleaning up city streets, cabbies, and a handful of people waiting for marshrutkas to take them to work. L'viv does not rise early; it takes a few more hours for things to get moving. Krakow was abuzz with activity well before dawn. Many small grocery stores were open for business. Bakeries and sweet shops - as plentiful in Krakow as money exchanges in L'viv or pawn shops in Detroit - were piping the sweet smells of hot bread and buns into the streets, tempting passers-by. The tramvais were full of well-dressed professionals on the way to work. Krakow is a city on the go.

A few other observations: while Krakow has beautiful buildings like L'viv, L'viv's ornamentation is superior to Krakow's (we'll post about this later). The prices in Krakow also reflect its move into Europe; hotels, food, and other items were much more costly than in L'viv.

The city has made incredible progress in the last 18 years since communism's collapse. It provides a road map for L'viv; the bone structures of both cities are quite similar, but Krakow is healthier.

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