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Fishing around Poland’s second city

When my good girlfriend, Justyna, suggested a trip to Krakow to attend her sister’s 30th birthday party I immediately jumped at the chance to visit her native country, anticipating a fun filled weekend of culture, art, and a bit of partying. I was delighted to escape the familiar sights of Paris for a glimpse of this beautiful eastern European city untouched by the war. What I hadn’t bargained on was being forced to face my already fragile sensibilities about my single status. 

Krakow has a growing reputation in Europe for excellent nightlife, and the choices of venues in such a small area are endless. One of the benefits of traveling with a native speaker is being able to locate the “place to be” within moments, eliminating all the aimless wandering about and peeking in doors to see if it’s your kind of crowd. We found ourselves at Stalowe Magnolie, considered to be one of the trendiest clubs in Krakow at the moment because of the reputed strict door policy and hefty drink prices in comparison with the rest of the clubs. Although, the strictness of the door policy seems to lie only in the fact that there is a red rope and a large man outside that serve more for intimidation purposes than anything, as the bouncer merely glanced at us as we sauntered past his daunting rope and inside the club. Once inside, in the very back, there is a second level of exclusivity in the form of a VIP room, guarded by another large man and a sign that I believe states you need a card to enter. The word on the street is that the man guarding the door is tough, and one needs to be a smooth talker to get past his iron ruling, but a simple “Can we?” was all Justyna and I needed to enter the magnificent dim red haze of the VIP boudoir filled with four poster beds. The ambiance was impeccable, but like most eastern European countries, the music was about a decade behind and did not fit with the setting. However I was far too content sipping a glass of chardonnay while I lounged in bed to even consider that I would have rather been listening to something a little more electro-lounge than watch a guy rock out to George Michael on top of the bar.

Our next stop was what we gathered to be the city’s most popular nightclub, Prozac, conveniently located under a kebab restaurant for those late night munchies. The club is enormous with a complex layout, two underground levels and three dance floors.  It is my firm belief that you always have to make a full spin around the room to check out everything the night will have to offer, but I felt more like I was on a mythical exploration, uncovering some new magical dimly lit cove upon every turn rather than playing the role of seductress making her presence known to potential suitors in a club.  We ventured up and down endless curving staircases and peeked into various seating areas and watering stops. My tactic served only in getting us completely lost and wandering around for a full hour before we realized we were bumping into the same people three times, but we truly discovered the wonders of this aptly named club. The majority of the clientele were foreign men looking to pick up pretty local women, and in the end it did not feel like we were in Poland anymore so much as a pub in London. But the music and the ambiance were party perfection, and the kebab calling our name upstairs was just the Mediterranean delight needed to satisfy our stomachs and the ideal way to end the evening. 

Fortunately Krakow is a small enough city that we would be able to take in all of the major highlights in our one full day there and still have time to prepare for her sister’s party in the evening. We headed back to the Rynek Glowny, the Main Market Square, which was completely transformed from the meat market that we had experienced the night before. Gone were the ogling groups of men and catcalls (perhaps all in the impressive St. Mary’s Church repenting for their previous nights sins, where for a few zloty anything can be forgiven), and in their place were families pushing strollers and tourists desperately clicking away with their cameras at every angle of the magnificent buildings that lined the market. Cafes surrounded the area, and people relaxed with drinks, watching the passersby and horse drawn carriages. In the center is the large and elegant Sukiennice, or Cloth Hall, where inside you can find the lively market style stalls selling jewelry and furs whose lingering smell will forever remind you of your trip to Krakow.

One of my favorite activities in Poland quickly became eating out as I soon discovered that, contrary to the French custom of small portions, they loathe sending their customers away still hungry. We stopped for lunch at Chlopskie Jadlo, which literally translates to “peasant kitchen”, named for the authentic peasant décor and simple yet delectable and ample local dishes. Justyna had been promising me for days a very Polish dish simply called “Big Meat.” I was intrigued. I requested a morsel of specificity, but true to her nature, she just brushed the question aside with vague promises of big meat that was very good. I knew I had to have this big meat. I didn’t eat breakfast in preparation, and I could almost taste it, my mouth watering as soon as we walked in. She did the ordering in Polish, and as the waiter walked away, I asked excitedly, “So did you get the Big Meat?” She responded nonchalantly, “No, he didn’t think we could handle the Big Meat, so I just got us some other small things. Don’t worry you’ll like it.” And I did, I loved it. The meal was a feast of toast with cheese, dumplings, soup with sausage and potato, cabbage stuffed with meat and rice, but I will continue to dream about that Big Meat…

After lunch we continued along the river towards the Zamek Krolewski, the Royal Castle, which was once seat to Poland’s kings and is today a museum. After our festivities last night we simply didn’t have the energy to go in, and opted to simply enjoy its grandeur from outside, feeling as if we’d accomplished something by at least seeing it. About ten minutes walk and we were in the Kazimierz district. Once the center of Jewish culture, it is now being revived as a trendy spot, with lots of cafes, art galleries, concerts, and nightlife. Satisfied that we had fulfilled our touristic duties, we headed back to our apartment through the park to get ready for her sister’s birthday party that evening.

Though normally rather content being at the height of our lives as young, attractive, successful females living in Paris, Justyna and I had recently had a number of conversations leading in the direction that we wouldn’t mind sharing these moments in our beautiful city with an equally strapping man.

So you can imagine we weren’t at all prepared when we showed up at her sister’s apartment, dressed to impress and ready to party, only to be greeted by a room full of very pregnant woman not any older than ourselves. We felt like Sex and the City had just invaded the Desperate Housewives. Confronted with a potentially disastrous evening, we bee lined for the drink table, fortunately largely untouched, and spent a large part of the evening indulging in the national spirit and gorging ourselves on hors d’oeuvres while the ladies gabbed about their husbands, homes they were looking to buy, and their children. Fortunately, I could not understand any of the conversations and was only clued in to the mundane nature of the conversation by Justyna, so I could amuse myself by imagining saucy bits of gossip being passed around. When English was spoken, it was to inquire about my husband or my children, and then to express disbelief that I am single and childless, followed by a strong desire to explore the circumstances that have brought such misfortune upon my life. It had quickly turned from birthday party to pity party, and Justyna and I, previously unaware that there was a problem, were very unwilling participants. So we slowly drank more to drown our singular sorrows, before eventually heading back out to Prozac, a surefire way to feel good about ourselves. But at that point we were either too drunk or they could sense our desperation, because even the foreign men didn’t seem to be catching what we were throwing like they were the night before.

Krakow surpassed my expectations in terms of its beauty and entertainment, and I most certainly never expected to walk away with the deafening roar of my biological clock ticking.

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