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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Vacation Days 12-16: Krakow

Click here to view pictures from days 12-16.

This is probably going to be the longest single post about our vacation.
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I should explain.

The whole reason we took a trip to Europe was because I was to spend a week working at the Google Krakow office. Today was my first day in the Krakow office.

For the most part, over the next week, I worked and Beth napped, ate and visited local sites. I worked.

Here are some of the interesting parts of that week.

Monday

Monday morning in Krakow, my first day of work! I checked the online map to find my way from the hotel to the office, it was less than a 10 minute walk. Beth and I grabbed breakfast and headed for the building. It wasn't too far a walk, very close to the Old Town Square.

I arrived at the Google office, a three story salmon-colored building with large wooden doors and tall ceilings. I entered to discover that this was the first day that Google Krakow had two offices. I was in the original office, and the new office was half-way back towards my hotel -- directly in the Old Town square.

I walked over to the new Google office, accompanied by one of the Krakow field techs who pointed out some of the local Krakow history as we walked. We arrived at the new office just in time for the engineers to enjoy a champagne and strawberry celebration, and an exciting speech from the local site director.

The two offices were very different. The old office had large ceilings with dark rooms, and large wooden doors that slammed loudly if left to close on their own. The new office had bright natural light and almost no offices. The old office had 1.5 bathrooms on each floor, and by that I mean each floor had its own shower and two rooms for toilets. The new office had several bathrooms, all in the far corner of the office, far away from where everybody sat.

Tuesday

Tuesday morning I spent an hour showing a few engineers some of the work I have been doing, in an effort to help them be more productive. It was a successful hour, peppered with phrases like "Cool!"

Tuesday for lunch I went out with a few of the people I spent the morning with. It was a great opportunity to just speak with people without worrying that I was a tourist. At the table, only 1/3 of us were Polish, so I felt very comfortable in the group. One of my colleagues ordered some kind of liver, which he claimed was "the best liver he ever had." I hate liver but I had to try it if it was really that good. I would say that I agree with his sentiment. It was the best liver that I also ever had, but it was still liver. Nyuch.

Tuesday evening I was invited out for a couple of beers with two engineers: Ilona and Dmitry. Ilona was from Poland and Dmitry from Belarus. (I later learned that Dmitry was married two weeks prior in Belarus, where his wife remained.) Beth was happy to stay in the hotel room, and I thought it made sense: Beth just wouldn't have fit in. In the meantime, we had a really fun time. The beer was tasty, and I had a chance to eat a Polish Sausage soup and a standard dish called Bigos. I discovered that Dmitry and I shared an interest in Stanislaw Lem. Dmitry did not know about the exhibit at the local gallery, he did know that Lem was buried nearby and he invite to take me to see it. In return, I would take him to the gallery.

During the evening, Ilona asked me where my favorite place was. I told her it was Chicago. (She did not hide her disappointment. I think if I said "a lake by a mountain" she would have been happier.) But I described why I liked it so much and then said, "but the problem is, in the winter, it gets so cold!" Dmitry, the Belarussian, said, "Oh really? How cold does it get?" and then Ilona and Dmitry high-fived each other for putting the American in his place. It went back and forth like that all night. I had fun.

We stayed out way too late and I was happy about it.

Wednesday

Wednesday afternoon I gave a presentation to the engineers at the office. It's not the best presentation I've ever given, probably one of the worst. On the positive side, I managed to deliver the information I needed to deliver, but I'm certain I wouldn't have done a better job if I made it to bed on time the night before.

By Wednesday evening I was desperate for a meal without meat. Beth took me to a vegetarian restaurant where we shared a delicious plate of samosas.

Thursday

Thursday morning I arrived to work to discover a camera crew setting up for the day not far from the office. In fact, I would be able to watch the camera crew from an office window.

Dmitry and I took a ride to see Stanislaw Lem's grave. It was the most beautiful day, and the first one since going on vacation where I saw someone in shorts. The cemetery was plain looking with a lovely view. Lem's grave was quiet and well adorned by visitors' flowers and rocks.
The grave had an inscription, "Feci, quod potui, faciant meliora potentes". Later I asked for a translation and received it: "I have done what I could, those who can will do better." The view from the cemetery was lovely.

Dmitry then took me to
Kosciushko fort and correspondingly the Kosciushko mound, one of the highest points and best views of the area. By the way, did you ever wonder how to mow a very steep hill?

We returned to the office around noon. Here's a video of me biking through the streets.

Upon return to the office I watched then
film the commercial for a while longer. At one point in the square we saw the commercial, a dude dressed as beer, and an dozen sexy female police prowling the street (I am told they were marketing Axe body spray. Whatever. After watching that, I'd spray it on my food if I had to.)

That evening we ate at the fancy shmancy restaurant in the square. Drat that I can't remember its name. The food was wonderful and the service was too. White gloves and silver serving trays and everything. I'm not expensing that meal.

Friday

I had a somewhat ordinary day at work, though I took an hour to show Dmitry the gallery of Stanislaw Lem sketches, and also introduced the Krakow office to the idea of a reading group. Having recently finished leading the Santa Monica Google office through the famous book Design Patterns, I led the Krakow office through two design patterns to give them an idea of what a reading group can be like. The Krakovian Googlers were an amazingly smart bunch of people, and were all well prepared, not because they did the prerequisite reading, but because they knew it so well.

Beth visited the grounds of Wawel Castle and had another easy day, which made her very happy.

At the end of the day, Beth and I shared a few beers with colleagues, and we returned to the hotel. The staff was kind enough to let us use an unused room to shower in the late afternoon, since they knew our next step was to take an overnight train to Vienna! But more on that later.

Laundry

I'd like to add a quick note about the nature of doing laundry when visiting Krakow.

The past Friday, when we first arrived, we asked people at the front desk of our hotel how we could get our laundry done, they said there were two choices: we could leave the clothes at the hotel to be dry-cleaned, which was very expensive, or we could bring the clothes to a dry cleaner, which, if I managed to consider it, was also very expensive. Maybe they didn't understand. I explained that we wanted more of a washer-dryer style of laundry. The people at the front desk said they understood, but in Krakow, everyone had their own laundry, and nobody did it out.

"But that's strange. In America we ..." and really, does any sentence that leads with that really help create understanding between our nations, or does it just make me look like a boob?

So, with two pieces of luggage full of clothing, we looked for the dry cleaner. We got lost part way there, and I stopped to ask an old man for directions to the dry cleaner. Though the man didn't speak English, he managed to explain to us where a honest-to-goodness laundry service was, nearby. We walked to the laundry, and it was clear: this was a laundry that specialized in dealing with hostel visitors. It also advertised itself as the first, and only, laundry business in Krakow. This makes sense: as Krakow becomes a more popular tourist destination, there will be more laundry services, but I guess for now, there is only the one. Fortunately, they were willing to wash all our clothing and deliver it to our hotel all for the approximate equivalent of $30 USD.

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