Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Krak Ow.

I am sat here with a hangover so intense that I have forgotten my email password. I seriously can't remember it, after having used it for several years. I am definitely buying some cherry wodka before leaving Poland.

I am now in Krakow, and I cannot recommend it more. It is so much better than grey, dull, soulless Warsaw, and we've only been here one evening. The only notable thing about Warsaw was the charming American lady in our hostel. She was playing cards with her friend when I asked her if she knew how to play 52 card Pick-up. (She did which is a shame, as I was looking forward to taking the pack and throwing it onto the floor.) She, in turn, asked me if I wanted to be in the Pen Fifteen club. Being bored, I said yes. She then wrote PEN15 on my hand with a biro. It took several showers and several hours to finally rid myself of it.

We left yesterday, having walked to Warszawa Centralna with our gigantic rucksacks looking very actually like tourists. We were both pleased to leave. Monday morning, I spirited off to the Warsaw state archives to get the birth certificate of my Great-Grandfather Yacob Ebolavitch, who was possibly born in the city. I say possibly, because all I have to prove it is the British 1901 census, where it states his parents having come from there. So this was all terribly exciting for me. If anything was going to make me feel special and make this shitty little planet of wankers in cars and imploding banks and Russians seem unworthy of worrying about, it was walking through the chocolate box tourist hell replica of Old Warsaw, negotiating with gruff security, and walking off ten minutes later with a huge piece of my family history.

Unfortunately, nothing works like that. It was more like two hours, and I hadn't reckoned on Polish fucking bureaucracy. I had my passport. They had the documentation I had to fill out and send them via email several days earlier back in London. I signed various bits of paper for no particular reason. The real fun didn't begin until I requested the birth certificate of a Jew over a century ago. No fewer than 6 microfilms had to be requested, which meant 6 forms to fill out. 10 minutes later, they arrived via a gruff Polish lady who seemed to resent having to do stuff for a living. I also caught her staring inquisitively at my hand, which still had a very visible 'Penis' on it. I looped the first microfilm into the large east Berliner machine and immediately realised what a fruitless task I had in store. The every page of the hundreds of ledgers that had been used for the express purpose of recording Jewish births in the centre of Warsaw were there. I wasn't even sure if my great-grandad was born in the centre, or indeed if the family weren't just near it and saying 'Warsaw' just made things easier when talking to British census officials.

Plus it was all in fucking Russian. Poland was effectively owned by the Russian Empire at that time, and it didn't help matters that a) this unintelligable cyrillic script was cursive too, block capitals seeming to have been invented in 1976 and, b) I couldn't actually see any names of any babies. Every paragraph seemed to start off with the same words, making me think that perhaps all every entry said was 'In the city today in the vovidship of Mzwarzwyzcszhazyc was born to Jewish rabbits another bawling infant' and all this was merely evidence of 19th century eastern European pen-pushing.

So I gave up and got the train south. The train journey unsettled me considerably. As I looked out on very British looking green rectangles and trees, and not so British rows of purple root vegetables and flat steppes and stalled tractors and skulls of disused factories and suicidal looking hamlets, it dawned on me that my anonymous Warsawvian family who remained in Poland may have been forced to take this exact train journey down south to that 'A' place.

So that was fun. Nonetheless, Krakow does seem at first light to be wonderful, even if it was raining when we got here. The town square is enormous, apparently the largest in Europe. There is an atmosphere in the air. We actually visited bars and were spoilt for choice - and this was on a rainy Monday. The reason for our rather excessive hangovers was that we had too much fun. We ended up in a charming rustic bar with a lady called Anna who served us too many wodka's to accompany our £1.50 beers. Then the last customer left and it was just the three of us, until I went to the toilet and returned to find the place heaving. I got talking to an attractive lady and her mute friend, both of whom suddenly realised they were talking to me and suddenly bolted for the door.

I don't quite recall how or when we left, or how we came to be watching a mediocre live band in another bar later. We got our first Polish taxi ever last night as, by then, we were totally confused and disorientated and looking for strip clubs. We awoke a short while ago having had a massive 13 hours sleep, our room trashed with clothes and toiletries, and now we're going for a wander.

Martin had just appeared in some distress, complaining that he had 200 Zlotys on him last night, and now he's only got 60. I reminded him that, 140 Zlots being the case, his mammoth evening of dinner an debauchery had cost about 35 pounds. God, I love cheap countries.


Peach said...

well that's a little better, I was beginning to worry about you from the previous post...

Z said...

I thought Krakow was lovely too, but I hesitated to praise it as my idea of a good night out isn't quite the same as yours. The food was fabulous though.

The Unbearable Banishment said...

A cheap country? I’m not sure what that feels like. I just returned from London where an ATM withdrawal of 500 pounds equated to 959 U.S. dollars! I was going to kill myself but my wife reminded me that we are on a holiday having fun.

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

Krakow's underground bars are the best. I went to a really cool one in the jewish quarter, which was cool until after a few drinks you dared each other to go into the 'themed' dodgy back rooms with no lights, just random strips of material hanging off the ceiling. Weird. At least I think that happened.

Quote said...

I think someone funny has hacked your blog.

Trixie said...

Sorry... I'm still freaking laughing from the PEN15 trick to read anymore!

Giggle! said...

HAHAHAH Yeah!!! The PEN15 Too funny!!!

Oh I can't wait for my Hubby to get home so I can do it to him!!!!! xx

fwengebola said...

Peach ~ It gets worse, love. Don't worry.
Z ~ Am I an alcoholic? I'm an alcoholic, aren't I? That said, it was still pleasant. Enjoyed the food too in a funky little self-service place. No, it wasn't McDonalds.
UB ~ And let's not forget that a monkey will buy you about three beers and a bowl of peas.
PDEWYMO ~ Oh brilliant. Where was that? Any idea? We basically circled all the bars around the square in the JD.
Quote ~ Well it certainly wasn't me.
Trixie ~ The annoying thing was that Pen 15 sounded familiar, but I wasn't sure why.
Giggle ~ And did you? I recommend writing on the forehead with a permanent marker.