Observations of Krakow

Today I’ve gone out and ridden several of the Krakow tram lines. The map shown below gives you a good idea of a well built transit system with appropriate redundancies, requency, and overlapping lines to actually connect inner core city areas with outerlying areas, all crisscrossed with appropriate cocnnecting bus service for lower ridership local style service and a lot of 60 foot bus service.

The trams operate almost entirely in dedicated right of way, except in the old city inner core. Everywhere else they operate in medians, dedicated routes, tunnels, and other pathways that allow them unencumbered travel. This makes for easy frequency and timely travel that rivals that of auto-travel along similar routes. In rush hour it is easily the fastest, except for bicycling, way to travel throughout the inner core and immediate outter regions of the city.

A thought for comparing Portland to Krakow is, don’t. The comparisons really aren’t even close to apples to apples, however there are many things each city could learn from each other. Let’s take a look at a few of those learned lessons, by looking at each city. Not to compare competitively but to see from a learning perspective. (If we can do that) 😉

The trams and Portland’s streetcar and light rail operate in similar ways, at certain times. Both have some tunnel, but not much. Krakow has a tunnel that has two stops near Krakow Glowny, the main train station. In Portland we of course have the tunnel with the elevator to the Zoo and a minor cut and cover style tunnel at Gateway.

Both tram/light rail systems have street running, that is theoretically dedicated, but often mixes with traffic. Both also mix heavily with pedestrians, which honestly in both cities is much safer than the actual automobiles mixing with pedestrians. One major difference I noticed however was the delivery vehicles that come into the city core aren’t the type that would dismember or kill people the way they do in American cities. Anything coming into or out of the pedestrian heavy city core is generally traveling slow speeds and operated in an extremely safe manner. This is something Portland could very well learn and adapt a few rules on.

{Operational Observation}

The 3rd day I was in town some jack ass driver ran into the tram. I noticed an immediate difference in how things get resolved here versus in the United States. In the US, the police would likely need to come, some supervisor would need to show up, and in the meantime that entire tram/light rail vehicle would have to just sit there causing congestion among the entire transit system. In Krakow however the tram driver cursed at the driver to get out of the way, and then the driver took their dented and damaged Mini Cooper and got out of the way. The tram then continued on it’s way since both vehicle were still operative. As should be the case, the Mini Cooper driver would just have to deal with all of their stupidity and cover the costs of damage themselves without interupting the entire transit line! I was impressed!  (I also know, from hitting a pole with a Mini Cooper once, that the damage would be about $3000 dollars!)

Population and Geography

Both cities have unique landscapes to build around, as do all cities. Portland has many hills, two rivers, ancient volcanoes, and other geographic terrain to build around. Krakow is relatively flat, with thick forrests and greenery with a twisting river running through the city.

One city is hundreds and hundreds of years old, the other is barely over a century old. Portland has about 600k people living in the inner core and about 700k living outside of the inner core in town centers and sprawling suburbs of single family homes. Krakow has about 430k living in the core, with barely a measurable amount of people living in the surrounding area. Most in Krakow live in flats, or what Americans would call apartments.

{short rant start}
…and dont even look down at that notion, they’re doing just as good as single family home owners in life with those flats. If you scoff at that notion as Americans do sometimes, you’re showing your damnable ignorance. If anything it shows how deeply suckered you are by the marketing for “space space space!” Space doesn’t get you a loving family, a vibrant life, or otherwise.
{short rant over}

In the inner core of Portland, as in the inner core of Krakow everything is very walkable. There is zero need for a car in this city, albeit about 50-60% of the population uses a car on a regular basis to do something. Around 40-60% use a car to commute. In Portland of course, about 40-60% also use a car to commute into and out of the city inside Portland city itself, however outside the core about 95% commute into the city by car.

Portland and Krakow both have job centers distributed throughout the urban core of the city. In Portland the metropolitan area includes other town centers and job center areas such as the west side like Beaverton, Hillsboro, Intel, Nike, Vancouver also has several sprawled out job centers. This is something that does set Portland apart, in the number of jobs that are located well outside of the actual city itself.

Another key thing I’ve notied is the city of Krakow is an atomic city. There’s a huge Soviet Atomic energy plant just to the south eastern section of the city. It’s barely 1-2 kilometers away from where I’m actually staying. I have to admit it is somewhat forboding, however I know it’s doing volumes to keep the air clean compared to the horrid coal plants that would prospectively be here otherwise.

Even with the clean energy of the atom being provided, the city manages to get some strange toxic smells and is even smoggy on some days. When I say smoggy, I’m talking about Los Angeles level smoggy. I’m not sure what plants or other pollutants are cast into the air, but they are definitely there.

People

Polish people have a diet similar to that of Americans, albeit they eat dramatically less food. By proxy, I’ve seen two people that could be termed obese by American standards. Only two. Honestly, this is kind of a surreal experience because everyone simply looks very different because of this. Albeit we’re an extremely similar people, there are after all there have been many Polish immigrants come to the United States. Everyone else looks extremely healthy and fit in comparing to the average American, which makes me wonder what differences in lifestyle allow this. Again, this is just merely an observation of all the people I’ve seen so far here in Krakow. So just like Portland isn’t like the rest of the US so may Krakow be and outlier in Poland.

People in Poland also dress conservatively. Portland people dress however they want with all sorts of absurdities thrown in for good measure. In America in general people dress frumpy like they’re a walking catastrophe that don’t know how to purchase cloths that actually fit on their respective bodies. The difference at first glance might seem small, but the differences become very noticable after a couple of hours.

But Polish men generally dress in fitting jeans or slacks (for business), with tshirts or other comfortable and casual button
ups. Often wearing nice shoes of fair quality that look good.

Women dress very attractively in Poland. Pencil skirts, leather skirts, conservative leather jackets, blouses, jeans, shorts, tshirts, and the like. There is a distinctive cut off however right around 45-50 where women seem to shift entirely to long soft colored pencil skirts that run to the ankles and blouses that easily classify these happy ladies (that to Americans might seem grumpy, but they’re not, Communism fell after all and they’re real aware of this fact) remind me of merry grandmothers going about their business without a care in the world about the modern rat race.

Languages

Another thing I’ve noticed, that obviously differs from Portland and also other trips to western Europe.

In Portland, people speak English almost entirely. If you don’t speak english in Portland you basically are going to have an extremely hard time doing anything on a regular basis.

In Krakow you can speak english or polish and get by very very well. You could also speak russian and probably do very well too, just from the similarities in many words and such. Also, if you know Italian words for food, you’re also not going to go hungry if you eat out. There are Italian Coffee shops and places to eat everywhere. Italian food is easily more popular in these parts that Polish food actually is!

The difference in languages that I’ve seen between Poland and western european (north western I should add: Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, etc) countries is that most conversations start in Polish here, and almost the entirety of conversations in northern western european countries start in english. Often even conversations among locals in those countries start in english but in Poland you know when locals are speaking to each other beccause it is very clearly Polish.

I assume, again I have to research this theory, that Poland having english as a signficant language goes back to the formation and inclusion of Poland in the European Union. Where as the north western european countries like the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and other countries had started speaking english far before (likely in a significant way after WWII, but really even before that) Poland did. Also, Poland had to deal with decades of russian influence where english was absolutely not a preferrred language to know. With that in mind, the youth in Poland today (< 30) are the first generation(s) that actually had the opportunity to learn english as a core language.

Other Notes

A few other things that I have noticed that I find fascinating. Some of these are just interesting to me and others I’ve noted as they would drive me crazy since some things in America have me spoiled.

Note: Grocery Stores

{partial rant start}
Oh my god I want my natural, organic, non-mutated farm produce and meat! I want it now! Krakow, from what I’ve been able to determine, has no actual fresh food and produce. I realize America generally doesn’t either, but living in Portland has me ridiculously spoiled and dammit I want some fresh fish, some vegetables that were picked a few hours ago. I want something I know hasn’t been flash frozen!

The grocery stores here are the equivalent of Wal-mart style … how should I put it? Shit? The food just isn’t good in the grocery stores. The restaraunts are pretty good, I wonder where they get their food? Maybe they just inject tasty into it somehow? I don’t know.

But the last thing, which is such a small thing, but it makes me nuts. I don’t care about needing to buy a bag, or expectation that I should have my own bag for groceries (because in portland that’s how I roll anyway because I’m not a wasteful asshole). But what does bug me, is I have to hurriedly bag my own stuff (in my bag or the one I just bought) and quickly get out of the way myself at the grocery store.

That by itself might not be so bad, but combine that with the lack of a smile and a hello (even a Polish one that I only recently understood) would be an improvement, but instead the cashier just sits there like a machine, poking the buttons quickly and shoving you along to bag your groceries. This makes me miss New Seasons or even *gasp*
{partial rant complete}

Summary

So far I’m thoroughly impressed by Krakow. In the coming days I’ll be trying out many of their cycle tracks and river runs. So I’ll have a lot more to add to all of this, as biking is a legitimate and regular thing that people make use of here in Krakow. So stay tuned… more to come!

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