The first thing we do in each new city is get a little tourist map from the hotel that gives a basic outline of the city and lists the main sights. I thought about this wandering around Krakow yesterday, so many of us with our little maps, exploring.
It made me think about what would be on a tourist map of San Francisco–the museums, Chinatown, Golden Gate Park, Fisherman’s Wharf, the ferries, Alcatraz… and how that wouldn’t be my idea of the city at all. I don’t think you can hope to get to know a city by seeing its sights or even shopping in its markets or going to its museums. Tourists can’t penetrate beyond the outer layer of a city. But still, it’s fun to see the great sights, and for me best of all, to wander the streets somewhat aimlessly.
Being a tourist by definition is being an outsider. And I know as an inhabitant you might never get around to seeing the things on the map. Just the history here is overwhelming–poor Poland, invaded over and over by Tartars, Swedes, Germans, Russians, burned, ravaged, partitioned… And yet, great things happened here.
The hotel we’re staying in was where Copernicus stayed when he visited the city 500 years ago, writing his tract on a heliocentric universe. The main square has been excavated to discover and display the layers of history going back to over a thousand years. The university is one of the oldest in Europe.