I hereby declare this winter over. It’s been around quite long enough and it’s high time it called a taxi and got its coat on. This morning 90 percent of the snow in Krakow was gone and I swear I heard a bird singing. I’ve no doubt winter will pop back once or twice because it forgot its wallet or gloves but it’s definitely on the way out. It was a fine winter and I’m going to miss it; I’m sure we’ll be talking about this one for years to come.
1. Freezing peril
For us foreigners from soft Western countries there is great satisfaction to be had from casually mentioning to our families back home that it was minus 20 last night. They gasp and admire our fortitude and we feel pretty tough and hardy. This doesn’t work if you are from Sweden, Canada or Minnesota.
2. Hilarious news
I thoroughly enjoy the evening news in winter. At the end of every program there’s always a short segment featuring a shrill old woman suffering a winter catastrophe. Her roof has collapsed or her house has flooded or an articulated lorry has smashed through her front room and she always begins by screeching “Proszę pana…!” I rush home so I don’t miss it.
3. No more hats
Soon it will no longer be necessary to wear a hat. My attachment to winter hats is already well documented. There are no respectable spring or summer hats.
4. Long nights
Already it’s still light at 5 o’clock. By the end of March the Sun won’t go down until 10 past 7. That’s two and a half hours of darkness that could have been usefully spent huddling in a cellar bar and complaining about how dark it is. All this daylight encourages clean living, exercise and other morally damaging activities.
5. Slushy shops
When there’s two feet of snow on the ground a significant proportion of it ends up tramped into shops and restaurants. There’s something about a local shop with sodden cardboard on the floor and two inches of slush by the meat counter that will be forever Poland in my mind. Somehow it makes me feel like I’m part of a shared hardship. There’s something about the way the winter invades everybody’s everyday life and makes it harder that gives me a sense of community that I never otherwise feel in Poland. That and people clearing the pavements in front of their buildings. I love it.
We’re all in it together
6. Icicle peril
The past few days of gradual thaw have brought the annual running of the icicles spectacular to Krakow. As the snow on the roofs melts it drips over the edges and forms truly gigantic icicles on the eaves of every building. These then weaken and drop onto the pavement below with the force of small meteorites. If you happen to be standing under one of these it’s goodnight sweetheart. For a couple of weeks in February the streets of Krakow are every bit as dangerous as Pamplona’s running of the bulls, but without the dung. Taking your life in your hands every time you go to the shops is a thrilling experience.
Krakow is utterly silent in winter. During the sunny months every evening and night is filled with the wailings of drunk locals and tourists making their way up and down my street. In winter all windows are hermetically sealed and there is total silence from the street outside. It’s just past midnight now and I might as well be living in the Yukon for all the sound I can hear from outside. In three months’ time I’ll have trouble hearing myself think.
Krakow is pretty and atmospheric in equal measures. The pretty part is right in the center and is very smart and carefully swept. The further you get from this golden square the more obvious 50 years of neglect becomes. I live half a kilometer from the old town and, to be honest, the streets and building round here are a complete mess. It’s going to take decades and billions of zlotys to bring these areas up to the standard of their rich Western equivalents. In winter, though, none of this matters. Coated in pristine snow and glittering icicles the whole place is picture-book charming. Next is the season of bald grass, three months worth of defrosted dog crap and discarded cardboard flooring.
Not at all inspired by: