Tarnowskie Góry dla Krolow
I don’t like Krakow. I think Tarnowskie Gory is better than Krakow. I wish I had a clever and witty way to write this opening paragraph but nothing else really has the impact of those first two sentences.
I have been a regular visitor to Krakow since autumn 2005. Between 2008 and 2011 my wife studied there and I visited and stayed with her in three different parts of town. I liked these different parts of town. In our home in Wales we even have a black and white framed picture of Krakow above the fireplace. We have stylish and artsy Krakow coasters on our coffee table for cups and glasses. In our spare bedroom we even have a toy dragon with ‘Krakow’ written across his belly! So why don’t I like Krakow?
Poland is a big part of my life – my grandfather was from there, I lived and worked there, my wife is Polish – so it is a recurring topic of conversation for me. When the topic of Poland comes into one of my conversations in Britain often the person I’m talking with will often smile and say, ‘I’ve been to Poland!’ I never have to ask where.
I first visited Krakow in November 2005, soon after I came to live in Tarnowskie Gory. Krakow wasn’t a very English-friendly town back then and I didn’t expect it to be. These days when I go to Krakow and try to order drinks in Polish they hear my accent and answer me in English. It is annoying.
Part of me is glad people are visiting Poland. When I was growing up Poland was a great big question mark in my life. My grandfather came from there but he died before I was born. His children didn’t seem to know much about Poland. Nobody in Britain knew much about Poland. When I made the decision to go and work out there I did it because I wanted to find out about the country. Fast forward a few years and it seems like half of Britain has been to Poland! It seems we all heard it wasn’t as grey and miserable as we thought so it was okay to visit. Cheap, too. Everybody loves Krakow too. I haven't heard a bad review yet. Although not all reviews are for the right reasons.
I don’t mind people wanting to visit for the cultural experience. Maybe they want to visit Auschwitz or Schindler’s Factory or somewhere else of historical importance. What I don’t like is people visiting Krakow just because the beer is cheap and because flights to Prague are more expensive.
Now, in Britain a ‘stag do’ is the party a man has before he gets married. These are normally pretty crazy and involve a group of guys getting really drunk and doing stupid things. Over time people started to do these abroad, maybe Dublin or Amsterdam. Then there was Prague. It seemed like everybody in Britain had to go on holiday to Prague. It was the law. That lasted a few years. Now it seems like it is Krakow. Prague raised the prices so now people started to look elsewhere.
I know so many people who have been to Krakow. If you asked them about The Wawel they wouldn’t know what you were talking about. If you asked them about The Rynek they wouldn’t know what you were talking about. If you asked them about Zywiec, Tyskie and Lech they would break into a huge smile and want to Hi-5 you.
For so many tourists Krakow is just a big, cheap pub. I’ve seen the Facebook photo albums – they’re just the insides of pubs! My wife has told me of a few times when her and her friends have had to leave bars because the drunk English guys were being rude and they didn’t want to be around them. I’ve seen them myself when I have walked around the city. They aren’t in Krakow for the culture or the history, they’re there because to them the flights are cheap, the beer is cheap and the hotels are cheap.
When I’m in Krakow now I’ll insist that my wife and I talk in Polish in shops. I don’t want to be confused for a tourist. I lived in the country for more than two years and find it insulting when I’m confused with somebody who is just there for a weekend to get drunk. When my wife was studying and I would visit her, when I had free time I would always stay on the edge of the city. I never went to the Rynek. If you went to the Rynek you heard boys from London talking about how drunk they got last night whilst drinking beer in their shorts. And you heard waitresses speaking English to them and smiling and laughing. I didn’t come to Poland to have people speak English to me.
When I had spare time in Krakow I used to find a quiet pub on the edge of town and sit there for a few hours. A pub where I could close my eyes and pretend I was back in Tarnowskie Gory. When I came to Poland I wanted to live in Poland. Now it seems to me Krakow isn’t part of Poland anymore. It can be on a list with Venice, Paris, Barcelona, Prague and a few others. Cities that want to provide whatever the tourist wants.
When I got married earlier this year there was a lot of planning of what I would do with my guests who came to Tarnowskie Gory a few days before the wedding. One of the suggestions was that I should take them to Krakow for the day. I refused. I said there was no way I was going to waste time on a train going to a city they could see whenever they wanted. I wanted these guys to see Tarnowskie Gory. I wanted them to see the real Poland, my Poland. Not a place where the waitress will speak to them in English. I wanted them to be in a place where they would have problems ordering food and drinks because I had problems ordering food and drinks when I came here! It was music to my ears when somebody asked my South African uncle, who lives in London, if he’d like to see Krakow before the wedding. He said “No, I just want to relax with some Polish guys and drink with them and talk about how the world works.” He was asked again how he could do this with the language difficulties and he said, “After a few vodkas we all speak the same language.” I must have heard this a million times in Poland.
So I had a kind of stag do in Tarnowskie Gory. My friends and family from Britain saw what the real Poland was like and they didn’t go there because it was cheaper than Prague. They went there out of love for your author! But I’m certain these guys would not have had a better time in Krakow. Tarnowskie Gory can be pretty entertaining for a few days! We went to the silver mine, the Rynek, Wisniowy Sad, Kurna Chata...you get the idea...
I have heard it said that you hate the things you are. I have always thought this was true. Now, looking over this, do I hate Krakow because I still think of myself as a tourist? I hate to hear English spoken in the Krakow Rynek but I still speak it there with my wife. At least it is never my choice to go to Krakow anymore. We only go there now to visit her friends. I’d rather stay in Tarnowskie Gory and make mistakes ordering food and have strange conversations on the street with tramps. It seems more real. It seems more like Poland that I came to find.