September 30, 2007

Crazy Tours of Krakow, Poland.

This morning I clicked over to yahoo, and imagine my delight and surprise when I saw one of the main headlines: Poland's Showcase of Communism Becomes Offbeat Tourist Draw. I knew right away it could be none other than Crazy Guides Communist Tours. Most people don't think Poland when they think of planning a European vacation, but the history and architecture alone is worth the trip.

Since my husband and I very much enjoyed the tour we took with them, I thought I'd repost here write-up from our weekend trip to Krakow in July:

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So eventhough I should have been home finishing stuff for my show that opens on Thursday, my husband and I spent the weekend in Poland of all places. Krakow to be exact....or Cracow.

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We met up with Kasia and Kelly my pals from NYC and later we were joined by their friends from Berlin, Timo and Franka. Kasia was in Poland visiting her family and of course we were more than happy to all meet up. And what a time we had!

Friday night we got in late after taking 2 different buses and a very bumpy flight. We were too late to join everyone for dinner so FrenchBoy and I headed to Rynek Glowny to check it out. We soon realised that "Krakow" means "party" in Polish.

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The square was absolutely packed with revelers of all ages drinking enormous Polish beers at one of the hundred or so terrace cafes. I could have sworn I even saw the Virgin Mary do a shot of Żubrówka .

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After dinner and a few very affordable cocktails we stumbled back to our hotel room and drifted off into a deep sleep only to be awaken at 3 AM by the group of drunk hooligans singing in the hotel hallway. One of many early morning impromptu sing-alongs to take place over the course of the weekend.

Saturday morning we headed over to meet Kasia & Kelly at their swank hotel. And since our free breakfast looked like this:


we decided that the buffet breakfast in their hotel restaurant was a better option.

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After I finished my 2 glasses of Prosecco we were off to the famous Salt Mines of Wieliczka which was just bizarre and quite hilarious. But if it's good enough for the Pope, Copernicus, Goethe, and Chopin ...well then I guess it was good enough for us too.

Salty Mary:

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Salty Gnomes:

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Salty Jesus:

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About 1.5 hours into the tour we couldn't take it anymore so we escaped the mines. In my humble opinion, you an only look at salt for so long.
Later that evening we all met up again for the annual Wianki Festival which used to be based on a very charming ancient Polish celebration on St. John’s Day that involved young girls floating wreaths of flowers and magic herbs with lit candles down the Vistula (Wisla) river. But apparently that was too old fashioned so the whole thing got upgraded to performances by 80's popstars and a mind-blowingly long fireworks display upon the riverbank opposite the Royal Wawel Castle.

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Yes folks---I saw Bananarama live in concert in Krakow. And those Poles can really shake it!

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After about 2 hours of sitting on wet grass watching a few musical acts we headed up to Kasia and Kelly's swank hotel room which had a panoramic view of all the events.

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Sunday was our last day in Krakow, so French Boy and I made the best of it by taking a "Crazy Communist Tour" of the Nowa Huta district of Krakow.

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Our guide Jacob picked us up at the hotel and wisked us away to the historic communist district that was originally gifted to Krakow by Stalin himself. It later came to be one of the centers of revolution and resistance within Poland, leading to the eventual overthrow of the communist government.

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The Crazy Guides is run by a group of young guys who really know their history. We met up with another group led by Bartek and so we actually had the advantage of hearing two very different perspectives on the history of Communism in Poland. (If I remember correctly, Bartek studied Economics and Jacob studied Sociology.) The whole thing was just a real treat.

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After our crazy tour we headed back to the hotel to change for our fancy dinner reservations at Wierzynek Restaurant which has been in business since 1364. (No that is not a typo.) It was crazy old-fashioned fancy. The hostesses wore ball gowns and the waiters brought us our main courses wearing white gloves.

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Then just when you thought it couldn't get any better the four waiters revealed our dinner entrees by by lifting the sterling-silver plate dome thingies in one perfectly choreographed motion.


After dinner we headed over to the very un-touristy Kazimierz neighborhood to hang out at a local bar----where apparently drinks are free. We each got a glass of something and the total came to $7.

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I love Krakow.

September 23, 2007

Americans Don't Travel.

I found this interesting editorial about Black Americans, travel, and "Creating Legacy" on The Coup Magazine blog, so I thought I'd give it a reprint here:

Americans don’t travel. Currently less than 30% of Americans have a US passport and even fewer travel outside of the American continents. If experience is a master teacher, then the American public has fallen behind.

While considering the 30% of passport holding Americans I began to wonder, how many black Americans were a part of that percentage. It seems that when it comes to international travel, black travelers are few and far between. There are a number of factors, of course, that contribute to this reality. Social standing and income as well as the experiences of those around you—a legacy of travel experience—are some of the most obvious issues.

According to the U.S. Census Bureauthe median income of black households is a few thousand below that of the American average. And while many people who travel develop the habit in college the bureau also reports that less than 20% of black Americans hold a bachelor’s degree. However, the U.S. Census also reports that black Americans make up a large part of American entrepreneurship, and black investors are making waves in the financial market. It is important as we make strides forward that we also consider the wealth of experience.

According to Black Meetings and Tourism magazine, African-Americans are developing more of an interest in domestic travel. The magazine reports that there has recently been a boom in what they refer to as “heritage tourism.” It’s a step in the right direction.

International travel not only provides insight into the past and various communities but it is an equalizer of experience. Traveling internationally, familiarity with different cultures translates into varied understanding; a point of view that is valued not only in the work of philosophers and social reformists but from marketing and industry standpoints. No matter how “globalized” the world becomes, how readily available cultures are made from our own homes, it remains true that nothing beats a face to face.

-Ashleigh Rae

September 12, 2007

Soul of America International Guides.

You might not know this, but over at SoulofAmerica.com there's a whole section dedicated to Black International Travels. There you can find international travel tips on Europe, Canada, Mexico, and Brazil--just to name a few. I particularly enjoyed reading more about Monique Wells, owner of Discover Paris, and her experience cooking with the Chefs at Coconut Lagoon in Kerala, India!

If you haven’t already, stop by to read up on your next destination, or just stop by to read what other Black international travelers. And of course, if your considering Paris as a future travel destination, definitely stop by and visit Monique Wells at DiscoverParis.net for Afrocentric walking tours and custom-designed travel itineraries of the City of Lights.