It’s nearly 4:00 am. My eyes are half open (looking on the bright side here), and there’s a beautiful baby girl cradled in my arms. I’m so tired that I nearly put myself back to sleep rocking in this comfy chair. Yet, somehow in this moment my writing mojo has returned! Such nights have become the norm since eight weeks ago when my daughter greeted the world. Yes, I am now a mother. I am tired. I have aches and pains. I have moments of doubt. My strength and resolve are tested. But, my heart is full. I maintain a sense of humor. I love my husband even more as he gazes at our daughter. It’s no surprise she has him wrapped aroundher tiny finger. Together they are my whole heart, and together we will embark on new adventures as a family – adventure traveling 2.0.
Little Emilie is up to the task. Her early arrival tells me she is strong and willful. Her increasing hours of wakefulness tell me she is ready for wonder and understanding. Her growing repertoire of coos tells me she is ready to communicate and participate in her world. She is a blank slate, and it’s my job to guide her, to show her as many perspectives as possible. I must admit, seeing the world through her very young eyes is exciting and beautiful yet scary and overwhelming. We live in a major metropolis where noise is the norm. At any given time there are car horns honking and police sirens and bus engines humming. But, there are also birds chirping and leaves rustling and people laughing. An afternoon walk to the park is an assault on her very acute senses. I imagine her experience to be something like mine in Egypt – chaos, noise, crowds. Complete disorder was totally overwhelming, yet it somehow made sense. I could feel slight pangs of fear the less I understood about my surroundings, but it was in these moments I learned the most. I found beauty in methods of madness. But Emilie isn’t quite ready for a place like Egypt. For now this is what our travels consist of – walks to the park, narrated tours in our house, small adventures in brightly colored board books. With each little adventure she grows a little more aware, she inches closer to small understandings, her world becoming a little less blurry yet even bigger than ever.
A mother wears many hats, and one of my favorites is playing tour guide to a little lady whose natural tendency is to explore and learn all she can. Seeing the world through the eyes of my child is a gift, and damn if it isn’t beautiful! Each day I greet her with a smile and a kiss, and I’m reminded of a tale by Dr. Seuss that begins something like this:
Congratulations! Today is your day! You’re off to great places! You’re off and away!
Stepping into Kraków’s main market square is enchanting if not just a tad overwhelming. Bell-clad carriage horses clip-clop their way along the cobblestone streets while charmed tourists delight in the street scenes unfolding before them. The arcade of the Cloth Market echoes with the hum of shoppers searching for that just right souvenir. Locals and tourists alike mix and mingle in the Easter Market as they browse the stalls of traditional wares crafted by local artisans. And, everywhere you turn there are hawkers and street performers and local gentry flaunting their finest Easter hats scurring to the nearest church for mass. Standing in the middle of it all, it’s easy to see why Kraków is Poland’s cultural center. At first glance, it’s hard to believe that Poland, a former Eastern Bloc country, is still rising from the ashes of a not-so-distant turbulent past.
It’s not until you wander away from the fairytale plaza that the real Kraków begins to unfold. In any direction you choose you’ll find a grittier, darker side to the city, one whose story reads less like a fairytale and more like prose. The hint of a once vibrant golden yellow building facade struggles to shine through the smear of years of cakey soot. That same building, pockmarked from the implements of war and time, appears to be crumbling from its very foundation. With boarded up doors and a coating of graffiti art to seal its fate, it seems that this building has been all but forgotten in the name of time and progress. But, this is the scene you’ll encounter street after street, block after block. To me, this is what’s charming about Kraków; a city that despite the dark shadows of its past stands proud and determined to build itself anew.
But, this won’t be Kraków’s story for long. Poland is one of the few countries in Europe that has managed to push forward with progress despite the economic downturn. In fact, it has experienced growth fueled by a booming tourist industry. While it may still be one of Europe’s surprisingly budget-friendly destinations, this won’t last long. It is said that Kraków may very well be the next Prague, and it’s not difficult to imagine why. The streets of the romantic old town are laden with cobblestones and traveled by horse-drawn carriages. It’s where bell towers and church spires pierce the skies above, and all of which is surrounded by a lush, green city park that once served as a moat. Bustling streets are alive with shoppers and holiday makers, cappuccino sippers and fine diners. And like most European cultural hotspots, Kraków now boasts its very own boho neighborhood – the former Jewish district, Kazimierz. In this trendy, up-and-coming district you’ll find plenty of Jewish culture and history from the city’s original synagogue to Schindler’s Factory, which inspired the Oscar award winning movie, Schindler’s List. If it’s not history you’re looking for, you’ll find art galleries, trendy bars, and fusion restaurants housed in the once boarded up shops of the district’s original inhabitants.
Yes, change is a comin’ to Kraków, and when it does a piece of its authenticity will go with it. Go before it becomes the next Prague. When you do, take an adventurous ride on the public bus to learn of the horrors at the infamous Auschwitz Concentration Camp and to tour the magnificent Wieliczka Salt Mines. Eat your weight in doughy pierogis, knosh on a suculent kielbasa sausage, and simply wander before hordes of tourists have the same idea!