Before i Forget : Simon Jones's blog

June 2010

Photography and TravelMonday, June 7th, 2010, (1:16 am)

I recently took a trip to Kraków in Poland and when I booked my ‘cheap-as-chips’ Ryanair flight I didn’t really know what the city had to offer. I chose to visit Kraków simply because it was one of the places I could travel to from my local airport, and at just £22.90 return (all-in) the flight was a bargain.

Krakow, Poland.

I had no idea what to expect as the wheels of the plane met the tarmac at Kraków airport with a familiar jolt. I had done absolutely no research at all aside a brief scan over an article someone sent me that hailed the city to be “Poland’s historic and cultural gem.” Everything I knew of Poland could have been written on the back of one of the stamps I would affix to postcards I’d send my niece and nephew.

Foolish as it now seems, I thought Poland would be cold, and dare I say, a little communist and grey in appearance. I had imagined square cars, utilitarian buildings, and people in uniforms with stern expressions on their hard faces to suit gruff accents familiar to those of villains from an old James Bond films. The reality though, could not have been further from that picture.

Krakow, Poland.

Under a blanket blue sky and basking in the warmth of a classic summers day, Kraków was about to take me by surprise. The walk from the train station to the center of the Old Town and the Main Market Square was a slow one as I carried the weight of my backpack and rued my decision to dress for cooler climes. Frequently stopping to look at the ancient buildings I was already impressed; humbled in fact, by my total ignorance of what this city clearly had to offer.

At the end of that street I turned the corner and walked onto the 13th century Market Square. Few cities in Europe, and maybe even the world, can boast a square as regal and impressive as this. It truly is a wonder and seeing it for the first time was an arresting experience. I put my bag down and just stood there consciously capturing the scene, soaking up the sounds, and savoring the moment.

Krakow, Poland.

Amid the tourists and locals hustling their way through the crowds, I met up with my couchsurfing friend, Stefan, who had kindly agreed to host me. Last year he visited me in Liverpool and had amused me with his overt enthusiasm for my city. So I was merely completing the circle as I exclaimed my genuine delight and awe at what I had seen so far of his hometown. He was busy at a conference, but we arranged to meet up that evening whereupon he would introduce me to his city by night.

With just two full days in the city I decided not to hit the tourist guide and attempt to rush around the ‘must-see’ sites. Instead I just wandered around the winding streets of the Old Town and Jewish quarter, allowing myself to stumble upon places of interest at a tempo befitting a carefree summer stroll. I wasn’t worried about missing some ‘essential’ landmarks, instead I wanted to discover Kraków at my own pace, as I have done with so many other cities across the world.

Krakow, Poland.

With lunch on my mind I found a small restaurant with tables outside primed for excellent people-watching opportunities. From here I could observe people going about their business, I could sit in the sun and make up stories for each of them. With a tall glass of Tyskie Polish beer shining like a block of gold on my table, I sat back in my chair and relaxed into Poland as the minutes melted away.

On the table next to me two men were talking business as a couple on a bench across the way kissed as if the rest of the world had disappeared. A young mother helped her child untangle a balloon from the handle of his stroller as an eco-taxi silently whispered by under the peddle power of its driver. A young boy fed pigeons as they fluttered and frenzied around him as if nobody else would ever throw them a crumb, and two nuns scurried by in their white habits, a religious uniform that surely Jesus himself would find utterly unflattering, but then again maybe that’s the point?

I’m always somewhat envious of countries that are able to have tables and chairs outside of their restaurants. I wonder if we British would be a more mellow and laid back people if we were able to eat ‘Alfresco’ without always having to adorn coats or be prepared to make a mad dash for cover when the heavens open.

My lunch was a delicious bowl of soup as recommended by the waitress who assured me this was a “truly Polish dish.” Żurek z kiełbasą is a Polish style soup with sausage and egg. This was probably one of the best soups I have ever tasted, or so I thought at the time. However, not to take anything away from the exquisite soup, I wonder if perhaps all food tastes just that little bit better when it’s enjoyed under the mellow warmth of the summer sun.

I continued my stroll around the labyrinth of the medieval streets and through some of the lush green public gardens that enclose Kraków’s Old Town in a beautiful two-mile-plus tree lined path. Along the way there were old men in traditional costume playing old Polish folk music on trumpets, clarinets, and accordions.

I bought a swirling chocolate and vanilla ice-cream and continued my aimless amble, stopping here and there to snap pictures that would become my travel trophies, proof that I was here.

I stopped frequently in small coffee shops to rest my feet and sip espressos while the smell of ground coffee beans danced with the swirls of cigarette smoke wafting from the tables of people whom I chose to imagine were artists and poets, regardless of the truth.

Krakow, Poland.

Krakow, Poland.

As the evening drew on, and the shadows of the horse drawn carriages stretched across market square, the passing of another hour came around again. Like every passing hour before, it was announced by a bugle call from the tower of St Mary’s Church. The notes ring out across the square then come to an abrupt end. I was listening carefully because I learned that the sudden end of the bugle call is to commemorate a trumpeter who was shot through the throat at that very location by a invading Tatar archer in 1241 when the Mongols besieged the city. It’s funny what history chooses to remember.

That evening I met up with Stefan and we headed out for some drinks. This is where couchsurfing trumps any tour book or Lonely Planet guide. Nothing beats having a local show you their city. It’s extremely unlikely I would have found the places Stefan took me as most of them seemed to be down dimly lit stairs into elaborately decorated basement bars. The most outlandish of them was called Łódź Kaliska in which the walls were emblazoned with arty pictures of naked ladies and mirrors that left me feeling disoriented while I was still completely sober!

Krakow, Poland.

Krakow, Poland.

Krakow, Poland.

The next day I explored the Jewish Kazimierz neighborhood. It has something of a chilling history because during the Holocaust the neighborhood was walled in and its residents were slowly removed to concentration camps. I walked into a number of the old apartment buildings that seemed to groan under the weight of the history they hold.

I spent much of the day exploring the cities many churches and looking up at graphic depictions of the wounded Christ upon the cross. I find it a little strange that Catholics like to depict their God in this most ungodly moment of weakness. I guess that’s some religious thing, but a part of me felt a sorry for him as I looked at the various statues of him suspended in torturous pain nailed to the crucifix. From a PR point of view it’s a disaster which, I suppose, is why the Church of England removed him from the cross and started depicting him as a guy who spent a lot of time walking around with sheep and an inconvenient glow emanating from his head.

Krakow, Poland.

As the second day came to an end, Stefan and I again hit the bars. In the old Jewish neighborhood he took me to a bar that had record players, vintage radios, and old bicycles hung upon its walls. Another one that felt more like an art gallery that was moonlighting as a bar, and one was so dark I imagine that it would make little difference if you were blind drunk.

Krakow, Poland.

Krakow, Poland. Blue van sausages. --- Thanks for watching the slideshow. I love hearing your comments so please consider taking the time to leave a comment.

After a few more bars in the Old Town we were done, it was late and having missed the last tram back to his apartment we had to walk to the bus stop. Along the way Stefan was keen to bring my time in his city to a fitting gastronomical finale with a Polish sausage from the “blue van” parked through the night at Hala Targowa marketplace.

Apparently the “Blue van” is a near legend among the locals, and really, what better way to end a night, and indeed a trip like this, than to eat meat out of a van cooked over an open fire right there on the side of the road by two shifty looking Polish men in white coasts. Yes, that sounds just about perfect if you ask me.

Kraków walks
MSNBC looks at Kraków

GeneralFriday, June 4th, 2010, (2:30 pm)

I was never a serious ‘LOST’ addict. The hit ABC TV series was never more than light entertainment for me, but after having just watched the series finale I find myself thinking ‘was that is?’

Lost Finale.

Plenty of people said that the finale of the series would inevitably be a disappointment that would answer few of the shows intriguing mysteries. I was expecting that, but come on, the ending could’ve only been a fraction more anticlimactic if Pam Ewing from TV’s Dallas had appeared in some dodgy looking 1980’s night frock to announce that the whole thing had all been one of her convoluted dreams.

Maybe I’m a little slow on the uptake, but I was still none the wiser as to what the heck was happening, even as I was half way through the finale episode. Desmond was running people over, Ben was a nerdy teacher, Sayid was coverting his brothers wife, and Sawyer was a cop! It was all a little confusing, but surely headed for a real head-bender of a finale.

Sure, I had already accepted the fact that there would be loose ends. I didn’t for one moment expect the script writers to tell us what the DHARMA Initiative was and why it had branded sharks. I knew that there would be no explanation as to why Walt had special powers, why polar bears were on the island, and how it was that everyone seemed to have the tracking abilities of Pocahontas.

I did, however, at least expect some of the bigger more pressing plot lines to be addressed. Like what the heck the island was, what was the infamous black smoke that somehow became Jon Locke, and who was Charles Widmore and what the heck was he after?

In the end though, while it wasn’t a dream, it wasn’t much better. Everyone we have been watching for the one hundred and fifteen hours that I spent following the show was in fact dead!

There wasn’t so much of a mention about all the other people who perished on Oceanic 815, not a whisper about ‘the others’ or indeed the other ‘others.’ Instead the whole series is wrapped up with some cheesy soft focus flipping back and forth through realities with people crying and saying “I remember” while Jack (and I) struggled to grasp what the heck was going on.

I can only imagine the dissapointment of the die-hard ‘LOST’ fans out there, crushed that there their complex calculations and theorizing were all for nothing. I’m not among them, in part because TV rarely pulls me in that much, and also because my brother told me when the show first started that the script writers had already got one disastrous series finale (Alias) under their belt so this was likely headed in the same direction.

But come on, ‘they were all dead’ … Really? The collective imaginations of the people who led us all down this make believe path, introducing us to the black smoke, the hatch, the diversionary sub plots, and ‘the others,’ couldn’t have come up with something just a little bit more imaginative than ‘they were all dead?’ For me I think that is far more disappointing than the ending itself.

I’m Lost
‘LOST’ Finale Explained: Answering the Unanswered Questions
‘LOST’ finale explanation has Twitter users, err, Lost
‘LOST’ season finale ends series six with more questions for fans
‘LOST’ leaves viewers a lesson on faith
Could ‘LOST’ Have Ended Differently?