Adventures in Krakow
Krakow, Poland is a major tourist destination filled with university students, beautiful historical structures and commerce. Despite the thriving tourism industry and general economy, remnants of Nazi-rule still exist in the city, which, during WWII, saw its Jewish population disappear from 60,000 to virtually 0 (nearly all its Jewish citizens, after being consolidated into a ghetto, were sent to Auschwitz). Funny thing is, Jews were originally invited to Krakow to escape persecution in Spain and Portugal by the Polish King Casimir III around 1360.
First off, let me just say something about organized city tours (in general). In the past, I wouldn't have been caught DEAD on one of these picture-snapping excursions that I've frequently witnessed from outside my apartment in Manhattan. If I have to watch one more German (sorry Timm) take a picture of a squirrel at Madison Square Park...truth is, after taking a few of my own (I highly recommend walking or biking tours with a live commentator). Had it not been for Amish's suggestion that we take a bike tour of Krakow, I would have never had the opportunity to get a first-hand look at some of the most interesting parts of the city that most tourists don't get to see. I felt like I was a kid in Lord of the Flies, cruising the city in the pouring rain with a posse of bikers in ponchos.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the tour (aside from visiting many of the 14th-15th century buildings of significance and the factory of Oskar Schindler), was learning about the fierce rivalry among the teams of the Polish soccer league. Often connected to this rivalry are the skinheads (neo-Nazis), who appear to use soccer as an opportunity to vent... See the following video (its 5 parts, in total) if interested. Our bike-tour guide, John, was consulted and featured during a portion of it for his connections with the local gangs and his knowledge of the area: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuytQvvv2qw&feature=related.
Upon first hearing about the madness of the Polish hooligans, I scoffed, thinking of the rowdy
Manchester United fans, the Ohio State / Michigan rivalry, or my days as an SC hooligan during high school soccer matches (ha). But as you'll see in the video, the hooligans of Polish league soccer are like nothing I've ever seen or heard of. The fans have the most intense hatred for their rivals, which results in routine violence at games, organized brawls and occasionally murders. The most intense of these rivalries is between the two teams located in Krakow (Wisla and Cracovia), whose supporters geographically split the city and have expressed their support by covering parts of the city in graffiti. I'd encourage you to check out the video above for a taste. I'm now in Scotland, and will try to catch up with the blogs soon. Thanks for the comments and for following along.