The First Bike Rides in Kraków – Part II – Lunch Time Mission

The adventure of Tuesday contiues…

Lunch Time Mission

As lunch time drew near I decided I wanted to have some Vietnamese Food, which I thought might be a small challenge in Kraków. I was correct in my assumption with only about 4-5 places I could find via Google. I also looked up based on what the words for vietnamese would be or vietnam would be in Polish. I got the same results. The one location that stood out, and was south of the city where I wanted to explore, was called Mekong. The Google bike directions looked something like this.

The various options for biking out to Mekong.

The various options for biking out to Mekong.

I started out, on my way, and it was interesting riding. South of the downtown region the cycle-tracks and bike lanes quickly dissappear. I could tell that I was no longer in the affluent part of the city. I ended up on alleys and in various unpaved backways. None that I would say are scary, by American standards. In America you get lost down an alleyway in a city like New Orleans, Chicago, St Louis, or New York and you may ever come out the other end. But here, even amid what looked like sketchy areas there is nothing to fear.

Some Criminal and Polluted Observations & Research

Speaking of crime and related things. Krakow has a murder rate lower than any US City. It is almost a third of Portland’s, which is a city that has an extremely low murder rate by many US city standards. But on the issue of crime you might experience, you can dramatically decrease chances of being victimized by not being stupid.

Here’s a few thoughts. When you’re in any crowded area, keep your valuables somewhere on your person that cannot be easily removed. A wallet chain becomes very useful, but even better have something you can attach to something not easily ripped off, like your belt or a front strap or something. For those using a purse use one that actually has a strong strap (none of those feeble skinny straps, a theif can yank that right off of you). However, in most places you won’t be in significantly crowded spaces and you won’t really have to worry about these things, however remember you’re in a foreign country (unless of course you’re Polish) and if you lose your passport or other informatoin you’re in deep shit. It could delay crossing borders or returning home. Simply, be smart, keep your things on your person and connected in a way you won’t easily lose them. If you’re an easy target then theives will be eyeing you, albeit there are very few in Kraków.

More on theives in a later entry also, because overall, there are far fewer theives and petty criminals in Kraków than in most cities. It’s kind of pleasant to realize this and not be worried about most things, but like I wrote, more on that later.

The one thing that Kraków does have that is risky is that it has horrible air quality and is regularly polluted by various other elements. It is, by measure the most polluted city in Poland. However, that doesn’t mean it will kill you, just that if you lived here you dramatically increase the possibility of other issues or even birth defects. Even in English it is easy to find information about Krakow’s horrible air quality. One article I dug up has this blurb in the center of the article,

“Two things work against Krakow’s air quality: pollution and geographical factors that prevent the dispersal of pollution. The two major sources of the most harmful pollutants are domestic solid fuel furnaces and motor vehicles, but local industry and air-borne pollutants from other parts of Poland and neighbouring countries also contribute.

Geographically, Krakow sits in a valley, which tends to concentrate pollutants, and experiences a low number of windy days, which means pollutants are not readily dispersed.

Clean air activists are focusing on the problem of domestic solid fuel furnaces as a major source of pollution, and one that could be eliminated relatively easily. Only about 10 percent of Krakow’s households use solid fuel furnaces for heating. Unfortunately, these furnaces are also frequently used to incinerate domestic waste, which is probably the leading cause of the most harmful pollutants. The problem becomes particularly visible during the winter heating season – always the period that sees the most extreme particulate and benzo[a]pyrene levels.”

Ugh, so by the end of reading that one realizes that the number one creator of pollutants is the dumb shit the Krakovians do with their own trash! Fortunately I do know, that this is being tackled quickly and a lot of this along with recycling has been put into place. As most of the city is quickly modernizing, and by proxy, cleaning itself up in this regard. Many of the other issues are going to be much more difficult to tackle, such as pollutants from other countries seeping into the air.

But just after that, because of the valley location of Kraków the second pollution source that causes this horrible air pollution is the automobile! Like most places, the Krakóvians have latched onto the automobile even though here, it is clearly NOT the most efficient way to get around! Even with the city maintaining and extensive and very effective transit system, an excellet bicycle system, still a full 50-60% of idiots decide to travel by single occupant vehicle and increase the pollution level. Albeit that shows greater intellgience among Krakóvians than say the average Portlander or American by a large degree, it still points the the idiotic behavior of people without a direct order or economic incentive to stop using such a detrimental tool (the automobile) so frequently that it actually injures, sickens, and kills so many hundreds and thousands of people. In Kraków alone the rates people get sick from these pollutants is high, and the amount of birth defects I’m finding is also very high – so every jack ass driving around alone in their car or burning solid fuels and waste in their furnace could be blamed for these problems.

One more note. Even with these higher rates of pollution and higher rates of hospitalization and medical needs of people in Kraków the cost per citizen in Kraków for medical needs is dramatically lower, by a LARGE degree than in the United States. So even though I’m pointing out these horrible pollutants that bring horror to this city and its people, the city by all means is being intelligent, yet acting slowly to remedy the problems and has few problems overall.

Anyway, back to the adventure of finding lunch!

Left, Right, But Wait, Where am I?

If you check out my route I took to Mekong, you can see that I didn’t get all of the turns correct.

My Twisted Route to Mekong (Click to see the full Strava report)

My Twisted Route to Mekong (Click to see the full Strava report)

I set out to right on the southern part of the river, but there was no clear way down to the path I knew existed there. In addition, I didn’t even see the path at that point, so I rode up and across the river to the northern shoreline and rode along that trail. It was very easy to do, as with most of my other cycling there was a marked cycle-track to ride on completely seperate from traffic and easy to navigate with cycling lights and other infrastructure.

I rode along and further toward a bridge (read more about the bridge) that would take me across at a location that would allow me to traverse and travel further south toward this Mekong location. However, as I came up from the river along the river wall (kind of like Portland’s river wall to protect from flooding) I came upon a bridge to cross. At first I didn’t realize what kind of bridge I was approaching, however I realized quickly that I was entering a pedestrian and cycling only bridge! Here are a few pictures.

The Pedestrian and Cycling Bridge to Kazimierz Neighborhood (Click for full size image)

The Pedestrian and Cycling Bridge to Kazimierz Neighborhood (Click for full size image)

Same Bridge, Slightly different angle (Click for full size image)

Same Bridge, Slightly different angle (Click for full size image)

Looking north. (click for full size image)

Looking north. (click for full size image)

The southern entrance of the bridge, from the Kazimierz neighborhood (Click for full size image)

The southern entrance of the bridge, from the Kazimierz neighborhood (Click for full size image)

The Bell Bullhorn (Click for full size image)

The Bell Bullhorn (Click for full size image)

The robot advertisement of sorts (Click for full size image)

The robot advertisement of sorts (Click for full size image)

After that I rode into the Kazimierz Neighborhood. I found a few pictures of murals on the wall, one being a kind of advertisement of sorts and one being simply a piece of art. It took me a moment to realize that the big bell, was also a bullhorn speaker with a hand holding it. Kind of the semblence of alarm and activism. Something that has been prevelent in these parts of the world more than one might realize at the modern peaceful nature of Kraków.

I then left from there, after winding down into the streets and returning, find that I needed to travel long the southern shore of the river a little further. I then navigated up onto a small and winding street, ended up having to traverse some city streets. These streets had moderate traffic but with the added tram tracks and the little bit of auto traffic it did seem a little awkward.

However at no point did I feel the drivers were anywhere near as incompetent or dangerous as drivers in America. As with almost every area of Europe I’ve been to the drivers are what I would call “aggressively competent” and “aggressively safe” compared to drivers in America. Even though, first impressions for Americans might be that European drivers are dangerous, this is however an incorrect perception. European drivers are routinely faced with dramatically more movement and objects within their driving realm. They are taught from the first days of driving how to deal with these things. This makes them more aware in almost every way than American drivers. By this training they also drive much closer and into confines that seem to close to Americans. We complain about cars passing us to quickly or to closely where in Europe this is a normal thing, and in many parts of the infrastructure a cyclist is expected to travel directly into traffic that will be traveling directly toward them. As a matter of this, I’ll have video and more of this coming to you, dear readers of Transit Sleuth, in the near future.

The Overpass. (Click for full size image)

The Overpass. (Click for full size image)

Overpass (Click for full size)

Overpass (Click for full size)

From these streets I rode, ironically, up through and around a Ford car dealership. Then down and over a highway on a rather pleasant pedestrian and cycling overpass bridge.

As I crossed I got a good view down onto the rail lines leading into the city from this direction. While crossing one of the local commuter trains passed by. Basically these are like diesal motorized units (DMUs) from what I can tell, except that they’re all electric.

Looking south, away from downtown. (Click for full size image)

Looking south, away from downtown. (Click for full size image)

I continued onward down a small road that climbed uphill about a kilometer. At the top I saw this sign that gave me serious chills. The horror of what the sign stated, and where I was standing at that very moment left me pausing for a long few minutes. I looked around with some shock as I realized how peaceful and pleasant the ride up to this point was.

Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp. (Click for full size image)

Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp. (Click for full size image)

For more on the Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp read the horrors on the Wikipedia page. Here’s a small excerpt from this insanity.

Goeth's Balcony. (Click for Wikipedia page)

Goeth’s Balcony. (Click for Wikipedia page)

The balcony of Amon Goeth’s house in Płaszów. Although Goeth was ruthless and would shoot at prisoners, he could not do so from this balcony: the geographical terrain as well as the layout of the camp infrastructure preclude this. He used to step outside to hunt humans, with his Tyrolean hat marking his intentions. It was the signal for seasoned prisoners to attempt to hide.

Needless to say, seriously disturbing. After taking a moment to pause and reflect on this. Also to just have silence in respect to the dead, I then carried onward down a steep decline. There I crossed a major highway again and then into the road complex around this large mall. This mall was where my destination is located, so I was relieved to finally be here. Albeit this was not the end of my jouney to lunch!

The final steps before food that I took were a complete 2 laps around the mall, trying to find the Mekong Restaraunt before I realized that it was just upstairs of where I’d parked my bike! Finally having arrived, and after 17 minutes of 2 laps being confused, I arrived and had a delicious lunch.

Enjoy!

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