Geocache City – Touring Krakow by Geocache
We are in front of a shrine to Mary, in the centre of the Poland’s second largest city, Krakow But we’re not here to pray. We are scrubbing around in the shrubbery, trying to look inconspicuous. Cameron pokes at some dead flowers, before squealing, “I think I’ve found the micro capsule!” and we all gather around excitedly. But we’re soon back scrubbing when he announces, “Oh no, it’s just some chewing gum.”
Twenty minutes later and we are near the Academy of Fine Arts on Matejko Square. We’re within sight of an impressive statue commemorating the Battle Of Grunwald, horses, soldiers and all. But we aren’t interested in the sculpture that towers into the cloud. Instead we are looking at the wall. And at street signs. And lampposts. And bins. And then, inevitably, we are back in the dirt. Matthew pulls a plastic bag out from a under a bush. “Is that it? Oh no it’s someone’s old takeaway meal,” he cries, quickly letting go of the parcel. After a while we give up. We have now failed twice, so we give Hannah the GPS for luck. Off she goes, holding the i-phone out in front of her carefully studying the little arrow that will lead us to treasure. Surely we must strike lucky soon.
Grubbing around the city
Stumbling upon the treasures of a city by searching for geocaches might be an unconventional way of looking around, but with all the history, museums, culture, food and drink Krakow has to offer, we couldn’t agree between us what to do for the day. So, in a moment of inspiration, we decided to let others who have gone before show us by spending the day searching out city geocaches. Our guidebook and guide a set of coordinates, a mobile phone with GPS, a few lines and clues about each cache (usually in Polish) and sometimes a picture to help. In a strange way it is paying off.
Next we are looking for Vinci, not the man but a cache named after him. We are taken to a museum where Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine” is on display. Not that we’re going to see it, we’re looking for something much smaller but more valuable to us – a tiny magnetic film canister. Surely this must be a more cultured part of town? But there’s building work going on, and workmen are pulling plaster off walls and dismantling brickwork outside the museum.
Watch out for the golf carts
“Are they all looking for the geocache?” asks Hannah, wide eyed in disbelief. Her expression changes to fear when she is almost run over by a golf cart full of tourists, sitting in an electric buggy doing more conventional tours of the Ghetto and Wawel Castle.
“Electric car tours, see the city from an electric car,” says a man, thrusting a sheet of laminated paper under our noses and pointing towards an idle golf cart further down the street.
“Electric car tours, come this way please,” says another lad, and he’s then followed by two others, all vying for our business. They can obviously spot a family who like buggy riding. We politely decline as today we are on foot. We reset the GPS to a new cache and all follow Cameron, who is this time leading us to a cache at an old cabaret club. But the electric car people aren’t put off by a boy in charge of a few coordinates. The driver of one of the golf carts, who is eating a hamburger, comes to persuade us himself. His charms are obscured by the tomato ketchup on his chin and a gherkin drops at our feet as we thank him for the offer and move on.
I’m worried we may get picked up
Cameron takes us to Piwinica pod Baranami and to a bronze sculpture of Piotr Skrzynecki, a prominent MC of the bohemian Krakow caberet scene in the 50’s and 60’s. The bronze Piotr sits quietly with a real flower in his hand and a bronze coffee on the bronze table in front of him while policeman deal with a couple of bloodied thugs next door and we search around for a magnetic nanocache. It’s difficult with the police and security cameras trying not to look suspicious while patting down a sculpture and examining anything metal within a ten metre radius. But we don’t get picked up. But perhaps we just look as eccentric as Piotr.
Stuart is full of excuses
On this Friday evening Krakow’s beautiful Market Square is buzzing. The restaurants with their outdoor seating and patio lights and umbrellas are full of holidaymakers and locals. The parades of craft and souvenir shops in the Cloth Hall are doing a roaring trade. There are street dancers, and stilt walkers and accordion players. Tickets for concerts are changing hands. The sun casts warm orange light onto Town Hall Tower. Horses and carriages are clip clopping around the square taking tourists on short outings. St Mary’s Basilica watches over everyone. Unfortunately the golf buggies hang around the perimeter too, and they are getting more persistent. But as they get more creative with their invitations, Stuart gets more creative with his replies.
“Lovely tour of city in electric car,” one says. “I’m sorry, but I really don’t like electricity, never have.” he replies.
“Electric tours of Krakow. Don’t miss out,” cries the next enthusiastic salesman immediately after his colleague has been fobbed off.
“I’m actually allergic to electricity. Achhooo!” Stuart sneezes us down the square.
Finding our first geocache of the day isn’t quite the triumphant moment it should be. We are directed to a tree outside St Adalbert’s Church. But the cache isn’t hidden in church or tree. It’s lying on the floor near the trunk, in a little plastic bag. And there’s nothing in the bag apart from a tiny capsule with a piece of paper in it to write our name. There isn’t even a pen. “The bin men could have swept it away,” Cameron shakes his head at the thought that such a treasure could be lost forever with one careless sweep of the brush.
As Krakow prepares for night to descend, we decide to go for one last treasure. It is a kilometre across town, in an English bookshop. Matthew is in charge, and sets off at a fast pace, until he is tripped up by the buggy salesmen.
“Electric tour of city. Very good for children.”
“Their grandmother was run over on a golf course. I can’t believe you are so being so insensitive,” says Stuart. As we push through the salesmen, one of them says, “Oh here’s the guy who doesn’t like electricity,” and they all snigger.
Treasure hidden inside a bookshop
Massolit Books is a delightful English language bookshop. A tiny café selling bagels heads up a maze of small reading rooms, packed with new and old books, with comfortable sofa’s scattered around and soft lighting that invites you to sit and read. The staff are obviously briefed about Geocachers and smile as our children tear in and look around.
“It’s over there somewhere. You might need to use the ladder,” says an assistant.
Within seconds Matthew has climbed to a top shelf and pulled down an intruiging looking wooden chest. He lifts the lid and out spill prizes; geocache coins, sweetie necklaces, table mats, pens, and plastic toys. The children lay the treasure out on the table and spend twenty minutes choosing a prize. We scrabble around in the bottom of our bar bags for our own meagre treasures to leave in return; a Hilton Hotel Pen, a strawberry shortcake pencil and some sweeties. The children pore over their new treasures in this magical place, tucked away in a foreign city, and then buy a book for the train journey home.
We didn’t tour, but we saw it all
“We’ve had a really good day,” says Matthew as we head back through the square, “but we haven’t seen any of the city.”
“Actually, we’ve seen quite a lot,” I tell him. Tomorrow we have a tour, and I’m willing to bet our guide takes us to a few of the historic sites we have hit by accident today.
“I am water! I conduct electricity! Very dangerous for you,” Stuart interrupts. But he’s not talking to me. He’s collared the driver with the hamburger we met earlier who has taken three golf carts of tourists around Wawel castle, yet still has ketchup on his chin.