Requiem

Music Spotlight: Duruflé’s Requiem

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According to the TED presentation, The transformative power of classical music | Benjamin Zander (which I can recommend if you’re craving a bit of emotional inspiration), the purpose of music is simply to make us feel something. Not all music has a well defined purpose, but the topic of this spotlight does—it’s a requiem.

If you learn nothing else from this post, remember this:

A Requiem is a celebration for the dead.

Where did requiems originate from?

Requiems are inspired by the Requiem Mass, a Catholic liturgical service. Composers began to use the texts from the Requiem Mass simply because of the dramatic character, but these works are not performed for services (they’re too long and have no liturgical relevance). Even though a Requiem may have limited genuine religious value, it’s still interesting to note some of the context.

A Requiem Mass is offered for the repose of the soul or souls of one or more deceased persons. It is frequently, but not necessarily, celebrated in the context of a funeral. In Catholic funerals, the Church seeks firstly to offer Mass for the benefit of the soul of the deceased so that the temporal effects of sin in Purgatory may be extinguished, and secondly to provide condolence and comfort for the deceased’s family and exhort the latter to pray, along with the Church, for the soul of the departed. [Adapted from Wikipedia]

Maurice Duruflé

The piece is simply titled Requiem so we call it Duruflé’s Requiem. The composer was a notorious perfectionist who would even touch up his works after they were published! That’s something that speaks to me strongly. It is difficult for me to describe or categorize Requiem. Some might call it arabesque music, others might even say it’s impressionist music (a controversial term—”conveying the moods and emotions aroused by the subject rather than a detailed tone‐picture”). It definitely incorporates themes from Gregorian chants.

Personal significance of Duruflé’s Requiem

My overall reaction to hearing Requiem was at first, and still is, I can’t believe music like this exists. I’ve sung Gregorian chants and other Requiems before. This isn’t even close to anything else I know. Musically speaking, there are so many time changes in the music, and yet it has this fluidity due to its Gregorian inspirations that transcends standard time. Difficult to count through, I cannot imagine myself being able to master playing the organ part within a lifetime. There’s also so much diversity and richness of emotion over the various ritual texts. Even the disinterested observer would not be able to write it off as “the same old religious music.”

I had the ‘privilege’ of singing Duruflé’s Requiem for its actual written purpose, in dedication to our own choir member who had taken his own life. Although he was simply a loose acquaintance, I had just started to enjoy interacting with him under a different context to our less-than-cordial past. Our preparation and performance came near the height of my dissatisfaction with our choir. I cared nothing for our group on a personal level, and, while supposedly being the best permanent choir in town, I held our work ethic and lack of attention beyond notes and ego-based environment in absolute disdain. Eventually I did quit and no longer wished to pursue one of my former dreams of joining the national youth choir, which somehow I’m sure I was capable of doing. It’s funny, but I just do not gel with musicians.

Naturally, singing the Requiem was not about me. I put everything aside to do my best in this celebration for the dead. It didn’t matter if I was performing alongside others for whom this was a mere formality. It didn’t even matter if I made mistakes, which remarkably I didn’t. My sincere and brave presence was required, and that was it.

Requiem is a damn sophisticated work. There were many parts I didn’t fully appreciate in context until I bothered to examine the translation of the Latin. Whether you understand the words or music or not, just imagine listening to it as a parting celebration for a hypothetical person, and then it will start to make sense. Not all of it, but some of it will speak out powerfully.

Translation

Duruflé’s Requiem is set in nine movements. To provide context, I’ve included small excerpts with translations for each movement. I encourage you to read along while listening to it.

I. Introit (entrance)

Requiem aeternam
dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Eternal rest
give to them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.

II. Kyrie (Lord, have mercy)

Kyrie eleison,
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.

Lord have mercy on us,
Christ have mercy on us.
Lord have mercy on us.

III. Domine Jesu Christe (Lord Jesus Christ—offertory)

Domine Jesu Christe, rex gloriae
libera animas omnium fidelium
defunctorum de poenis inferni

O Lord Jesus Christ, King of Glory,
deliver the souls of all the faithful
departed from the pains of hell
and from the deep pit.

Tu suscipe pro animabus illis,
quarum hodie
memoriam facimus,
fac eas, Domine,
de morte transire ad vitam

do Thou accept them
for those souls
whom we this day commemorate;
grant them, O Lord,
to pass from death to the life

IV. Sanctus (Holy)

Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth,
pleni sunt coeli
et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis!
Benedictus, qui venit
in nomine Domini.
Hosanna in excelsis!

Holy, Lord God of hosts.
The heavens and the earth are full of Thy glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is He Who cometh
in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

V. Pie Jesu (Pious Jesus)

Pie Jesu Domine,
dona eis requiem sempiternam.

Gentle Lord Jesus,
grant them eternal rest.

VI. Agnus Dei (Lamb of God)

Agnus Dei, qui tollis
peccata mundi,
dona eis requiem sempiternam

Lamb of God, Who takest away
the sins of the world:
grant them eternal rest.

VII. Lux aeterna (Eternal light)

Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine,
cum sanctis tuis in aeternum,
quia pius es.

May light eternal shine upon them, O Lord,
with Thy saints forever,
for Thou art merciful.

Requiem aeternam
dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Eternal rest
give to them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.

VIII. Libera me (Deliver me)

Libera me, Domine,
de morte aeterna,

Deliver me, O Lord,
from eternal death

dum veneris judicare
saeculum per ignem.

and Thou shalt come
to judge the world by fire.

Tremens factus sum ego et timeo
dum discussio venerit

I quake with fear and I tremble
awaiting the day of account

Dies illa, dies irae,
calamitatis et miseriae,

Day of mourning, day of wrath,
of calamity, of misery,

Requiem aeternam
dona eis, Domine,

Eternal rest
give to them, O Lord,

Libera me, Domine,
de morte aeterna,

Deliver me, O Lord,
from eternal death

IX. In Paradisum (Into paradise)

In Paradisum
deducant Angeli in tuo
adventu suscipiant te Martyres
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.
Chorus Angelorum te suscipiat,
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere
aeternam habeas requiem.

May the angels
receive them in Paradise,
at thy coming may the martyrs receive thee
and bring thee into the holy city Jerusalem.
There may the chorus of angels receive thee,
and with Lazarus, once a beggar,
may thou have eternal rest.

Listen

At the time of writing, this one is my favorite recording of Requiem available on YouTube. It’s a very difficult work and I feel some of the other performances are a bit off.

Further reading

Full text and translation.

There’s even a whole Honors thesis on this. The Duruflé Requiem: A Guide for Interpretation

What is the purpose of travel?

“Too often travel, instead of broadening the mind, merely lengthens the conversation.”
— Elizabeth Drew

Having been overseas for over two months, I’ve occasionally wondered what the purpose of travel is for other people and for myself. Other personal questions include:

  • How much of the non-material things that I’ve gained here will I actually be able to take home?
  • Are these experiences with people real (and repeatable) or are people only nice because I’m a visitor? (Or both?)
  • Is all of this personal development I’m experiencing going to the right box, or will that box be put away when I go home and everything reset to normal? How bad will the mood crash be once I get home?

Aside: how INTPs feel about travel

It’s kind of funny especially relating to that last point: in an informal survey of INTPs, I found that many of us don’t like to talk about our travel experiences with family, friends, and colleagues. Some of us will pretend like our trip never happened. We only want to talk about it in a high quality conversation and to say exactly what we want to say. This usually requires a friend who’s trusted for that purpose. People who ask about the trip but don’t have to the right or capacity to receive our full enthusiastic answer will often just get a minimal response like “It was fun.” Something that can be annoying is when someone feels they have the privilege to hear your full answer and when they don’t get it they keep asking the wrong questions. We like relevant deepening questions the most. Broadening questions can surprise us but are not unwelcome. Irrelevant and presumptuous deepening questions that are about how the listener wants or expects to think are bad. (INTPs are often highly misunderstood by women, especially the kind of women who think they understand us despite virtually every past experience contributing to evidence of the contrary. Another thing that’s kind of funny. I talk slow when I’m recalling things and I want to pick the right words to describe something. When it comes to abstract ideas, people who habitually try to guess how I’ll complete my sentence almost never guess the right way.) It can very quickly send us to the conclusion “Okay, this conversation is pointless. Minimal answers from now on, end as soon as possible.”

In short, we often prefer to solicit the right listener, and preferably a listener who is actually good at listening. I should point out that being a good listener is a relative thing; you can be a good listener to most people yet fail spectacularly when it comes to INTPs, for example.

All of the above coupled with never finding the right words in a conversation is why I’ve gravitated to writing as the most faithful form of expression. (As a minor benefit, why explain something poorly multiple times in online correspondences when I could just refer to a blog post with my exact thoughts?)

Why do other people travel?

This was my first completely independent solo trip, so it made sense for me to consult on other people’s thoughts. Here are some of the answers to “What is the purpose of travel?”

The simplest reasons

  • For business/employment purposes
  • For medical tourism
  • For religious purposes
  • For shopping
  • For study or conference purposes
  • For training purposes
  • To attend a specific event (e.g., concert or marathon)
  • To challenge oneself and expand one’s comfort zone
  • To escape stress and other burdens
  • To find or experience adventure
  • To learn about culture
  • To learn more about yourself, others, and the world
  • To meet new people and make new friends
  • To not be bored
  • To party
  • To see the nature/beauty of the world
  • To take a break from routine
  • To visit family/friends/other

More involved answers and indirect answers referring to benefits

To share experiences with people you’ll never see again

I think exploring that common humanity is nice, but it doesn’t really sound like a reason.

To tick items off a list so you can brag about it or in response to a fear of missing out

People can do what they wanna do, even if that means visiting Belgrade for one day just to “see how un-European it is.” Despite my inexperience and tragic lack of knowledge about geography/history, I’ve realized that I’m not the least aware traveler when it comes to cultural appreciation.

I’ve certainly experienced the fear of missing out and it has influenced some of my decisions. I’m slowly learning to let it go, because I think it’s not a constructive feeling and it stems from emotional insecurity rather than rational considerations. If you’re comfortable with who you are and what you’re doing, and you choose to be genuine in the moment, there’s no good reason to be anxious about the (often false) perceived consensus of what everyone else thinks is universally worthwhile.

Travel gives us the chance to be truly engaged in an activity, to develop new skills and to discover new cultures. It brings us closer to ourselves and others.

I agree with this; in my own words I’d say:
You get to enjoy things you usually wouldn’t, sometimes because you don’t have a better choice but to enjoy it since you’re already there.

That said, it seems hard to pin this down as a specific reason for traveling, especially if you often have no idea what you might come across once you get to your destination.

To explore the unknown, and to just go with the flow

I suppose this is something you can “plan”, in a manner of speaking.

Learn to take care of yourself

I definitely see this as a side effect of traveling; by learning about culture, food, language, people, art, economy, etc, we inevitably pick up some new ideas on how to live our own lives. Learn from people who do it better than you. I’m a hypocrite for saying this (and not in the sense of the usual negative connotation), but I think this is usually a side effect rather than a primary intention.

Traveling is an art.

Okay, I think that explains. All artists are crazy (the question is just to what degree and in what way) so we travel because we’re crazy enough to.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did do….” — Mark Twain

Travel is not a reward for working, it’s an education for living.

Multiple people mention that quote from Mark Twain. The full quote does seem to be referring to travel specifically. Except Mark Twain never actually wrote this, and it’s also a stupid quote so I don’t think he’d be happy to have it wrongly attributed to him. Referring to this quote really does not support a specific reason and it’s not like anyone will respond like “I’m so convinced about going traveling now; I don’t want to feel that disappointment in twenty years,” unless they already had other motivations.

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” — William Shakespeare, Pablo Picasso, and whoever else you want to misattribute it to.

The purpose of life is to discover your gift.
The work of life is to develop it.
The meaning of life is to give your gift away.

—David Viscott

The first one is another meaningless quote. The second one which might be considered the original statement makes a bit more sense. I suppose that by traveling and exploring the unknown, one might come to stumble upon some clues as to what they want to do with their lives.

Would you regret NOT traveling the world?

I’m pretty sure many INTPs including myself would answer no. However, I might regret not finding a place where I feel like I belong, but I don’t have to travel the world to find it.

Maybe travel can help you find the purpose that you’re lacking in the first place.

May be.

Other general comments and discussion

Travel broadens the mind.

Travel helps you learn about yourself and increase your resilience.

Although there are many unpredictable aspects of travel, I think we encourage other people to travel for the first time because we know, at a certain level, that it can very much be an eye-opening, life-changing experience. It’s not necessarily that for everyone, but overall it is not unlikely to be the beginning of a journey of many things. The part where we’re forced to adapt and grow and be challenged and surprised and reconsider—one might argue that that is in fact foreseeable on an intuitive level, just not a logical one. The only practical advice, then, is “Do it!”

A personal example is the number of times I’ve told myself: I’m done with churches. There is nothing that can possibly impress me anymore. Oh, how I’ve been made a believer. I guess that’s the thing. You don’t know what might really fascinate you in the moment. In rational terms, our understanding of other places and cultures is so so limited that there’s almost bound to be something we’ve never seen, never thought about, never experienced before that will leave us a strong impression. There are precious opportunities for our preconceptions to be proven wrong if we allow it.

It opens up your possibilities and your horizons and the kinds of conversations you can have, the kinds of experiences you can have.

My goodness, I’ve had so many new normal experiences that I’ve never experienced at home. The conditions aren’t favorable where I live and it’s hard to do something when you don’t know how to and you don’t know it’s even possible. For one thing, people over here actually think I’m an interesting person and a worthwhile friend, whereas life has always told me the opposite must be true. I’m able to form genuine connections here, and what this means is that the same should be possible at home. There must be some people I can connect with like this. Maybe it’ll require a different approach to find these people, but I’m inspired to keep trying despite the odds.

I want to visit every country in the world.

This kinda makes me cringe because I can’t understand it. I’ve met someone who has visited over 100 countries. He didn’t seem particularly different to someone who’s visited 40 or even “just” 10 countries. I get that trying different things is a path of learning. I get that surrounding yourself by the unknown is a unique experience. But if there’s really any objective goal aside from being able to say you’ve been to every country, I feel that this approach necessarily sacrifices depth for the sake of breadth. Although INTPs usually have our fingers in a lot of pies, we definitely value quality over quantity. For me, I would rather explore “just enough” to figure out some favorite places to visit, then mostly revisit around those places. (That said, tastes change with the seasons of life, as do people and places.) One could think of it in terms of the diminishing returns on visiting new countries when you already have some favorites that are very suitable for further enjoyment. One thing I’m starting to realize about myself:

Life is too short to be objective.

Actually, I have no idea what this means. The words just popped out.

Travel provides context apart from me.

This context can include, for example, awareness of and compassion for others. I’m not one of those people that can naturally sympathize like that. I care about people on a personal basis, but I cannot feel the pain of a whole nation. Even if I could, I wouldn’t want to. I think it’s irrational and non-beneficial. If I were a philanthropist, I’d rather be one who pretends not to care.

Travel as an escape does not make up for having a soul-destroying job or other unsatisfactory life conditions. You can’t escape reality by traveling.

Actually, I traveled in order to escape my studies (which I no longer consider to be important) and search for reality away from the corruption of my past. Anyhow, I don’t really know, but I feel like some people cope really well with difficult jobs and then have really good holidays too. I’m too lazy to persist in doing something I don’t enjoy, even though I’ve basically been persisting like that with education for most of my young adult life. The key difference is that I didn’t realize what was going on.

That said, I feel that there are definitely some jobs that you can’t recover from through travel (or anything else). I mean, can you really enjoy money and travel after you’ve sold your soul?

It’s about the adventure of exploring the unknown, and going with the flow of the unplanned.

Adventure for the sake of adventure. So not me. I like experiments for the sake of learning, but adventure is another thing. This kind of reminds me of what is said about BJJ: To train in BJJ is to continually drown—or, rather, to be drowned, in sudden and ingenious ways—and to be taught, again and again, how to swim. Maybe those adrenaline junkies should try it.

Travel should always have a purpose.

I agree; I think you’ll get less out of something if you don’t at least have some idea of what you want. Locals say this a lot too: “depends on what you’re looking for.”

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. — Lewis Carroll

Mom: Was your trip fun?
Traveler: I learned a lot.

😂

The purpose of my trip

As cheesy as it may sound, the purpose of my trip was to find, learn more about, and develop the real me. I had specific ideas for how I was to go about doing that, though a lot of it went differently to how I expected.

The reason for traveling, as opposed to just taking time off at home, was to distance myself from everyone in my life and all that might have reminded me of my past. Traveling solo is good for not caring what other people think about you. I chose my destinations (originally only Romania and Hungary) in order to not spend too much more than I would usually at home. (There were other contenders of course, but in the wrong season.) It was never really about traveling so much as travel being a good way to experience a fresh, unfamiliar environment and expand my comfort zone and gain a better understanding of myself through the trials to come. The opportunity to practice interacting with people without lasting repercussions on failing was another perceived benefit.

I have to say that I miscalculated on the ideal length of this trip. One month less would have been perfect as there were clear diminishing returns. No matter how much freedom I have, I still need an actual haven in the end. About halfway through, I’d absorbed all that I needed and more. I was tired. I was inspired enough. What I needed was a private space to play; to create and internalize some of the things I learned and make them my own.

As much as I really started getting into this travel thing, my instincts assert that I’m not a traveler or explorer. I simply happened to need travel at the time.

Quotes I like

People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.

To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.

I really hope these are true.

Not until we are lost do we begin to find ourselves.

Basically the right idea.

If an ass goes traveling he will not return a horse.

I like it 😛

(If you’re confused, this is supposedly a proverb, not a travel quote.)

My final answer

I never intended to submit my own answer since my trip initially had clear objectives. However, I started asking the question because I was drawn to the experiences that travel brings in a way that distracted me from my goals. I couldn’t explain why I had to try things that I didn’t need to or even want to. I wanted justification or assurance that I wasn’t wasting my time chasing after the fleeting. For better or worse, I went along with it mostly. When one of your secondary goals is to have the bravery to make mistakes, you’re bound to achieve either way ;). Besides, this is hopefully not going to be my last trip. I’m very slow at processing the general picture and it’s completely fine if I overlooked some things. It’ll come one day.

So, for my “answer.” Actually, it’s part of the indirect / non-answer category, but I’d like to share it anyway.

Travel is an investment in one’s personal growth and development.

Although my trip has not officially ended, I’m inclined to summarize my overall experience as follows:

I never wanted to be this happy, but soon I won’t have to be. (º̩̩́⌣º̩̩̀ʃƪ)

 

I’m scared

I’m scared.

This could be my third day in Budapest spent hiding in my room.

I’m tired of people. I don’t want to meet anyone new. I’m tired of going out and seeing things. I was ready to go home a month ago.

It’s like when I first landed in Bucharest again. Have I learned nothing since then?

No, this is different. I’m socially exhausted and tired of analysis and I can feel this two-month Fe grip soon to crash.

And I’m afraid for different reasons. I’m scared that I won’t like Budapest when everyone seems to love it. I’m scared that I’ll like it. I’m scared that I won’t have enough time to decide how I feel. I’m wary of making new friends while I’m all too aware of the oncoming crash. Will any of my new friends from this trip stand the test of time and distance?

To get food

Outside is not so bad. What did I feel so overwhelmed by that I had to hide?

It must be that I have really high activation energy thresholds lately. There must be a way around it… I can lower them by manipulating my mood.

Budapest is my oyster

I’ve spent almost two weeks in other parts of Hungary, and Krakow was part of my training too. Why should I feel unprepared?

It’s a matter of confidence. I own this place. I’m not visiting Budapest so much as Budapest is having the privilege of hosting me. Focus less on what Budapest has to offer and more on how it can serve my needs.

Soup

My friend has ‘reminded’ me to get Jókai bean soup from Paprika Vendéglő in Budapest five times over the last month. Okay okay. This time I’ll order the right soup. How good can it possibly be though? Soup is just an appetizer to warm your stomach.

I was shocked from the first mouthful. Soup isn’t meant to be this good. It really made me reflect on my life views.

Try Jókai bean soup at Paprika Vendéglő. Their Gulyás is also better/different to other places. I do not recommend any of their other dishes—just too salty.

A walking tour to ease the discomfort of not knowing anything

Look at these humans doing their normal human things. I can barely stand it. It seems difficult for me to mimic their behaviors.

A public meetup

My gosh, people are so easy to talk to. And so adorable. Humans can be really surprising sometimes; I didn’t expect this at all. How can such simple and relaxed conversations be so fun? Freaking Fe… whatever, just let it flow.

Realizing the fatal flaw

I know why I’ve felt overwhelmed about Budapest. There’s too much hype and expectation surrounding the place. I’ve been putting pressure on myself to understand something that is not actually supported by facts.

Travel is a subjective experience. There doesn’t have to be a logic behind whether we enjoy something or not. Trying to analyze Budapest as a whole is the wrong approach. I should be feeling my way around information, the buildings, and the city as a whole. This would make things less overwhelming and less stressful. It requires a certain kind of bravery for me to use a skill I don’t often rely on: introverted intuition. But it works even if I don’t understand it. Throughout this trip I’ve stumbled upon as many good things unintentionally than through planning.

How do I know my intuition is correct when it doesn’t leave a trail of logic? Four terrible pizzas in a row doesn’t mean all pizza is like that in this part of Europe. How can I possibly form a ‘fair’ impression of Budapest in just a week?

That’s the problem: objectivity.

A fair impression. It’s pointless—what do I need to justify and for whos benefit? Trying to reserve judgment in this context is exhausting. I like embracing my inner child, so why I do I try so hard to resist forming uneducated opinions? It’s a necessity sometimes, and most people seem to enjoy it. I’m taking everything too seriously, like usual. Why must I form a coherent opinion? Why can’t I just enjoy and think nothing? (I’m often surprised how many people my age can have so many opinions on everything. It makes me wonder how they can know so much more than me. It’s impressive, even if it’s an illusion.)

I want to be silly. I want to have the comfort of doing that. Doing.

I’m almost sure now that forcing myself to try and be impartial is one of the main reasons I’ve maintained such a long Fe phase. Trying to make sense of all these unfamiliar things using logic is draining. That and probably all the writing I’m doing. I long to be home, to have a familiar place to play, to have privacy away from people, and figure out how to fix my life. Some things definitely need fixing.

Why do I find it so hard to let go?

Traveling should be about doing what you want to do. In my case that means doing ‘nothing much’. Why do I keep pushing myself? I have nothing to prove, although I am curious about the great things other travelers talk about. Then again, I don’t care about any of it. (Or, I don’t want to care.) The history of Hungary has nothing to do with my life. Most of this ‘great architecture’ will get overwritten from my memory within days, if not seconds. I don’t want to enjoy myself right now. Happiness is irrelevant; the future is more important. I should be planning my return and reading books.

Lingering insecurities

A part of me from the past wonders whether I deserve this experience. I want to come back some day to some of the places I’ve been to. Partly to bask in some of my favorite places, to explore some aspects that weren’t particularly accessible, and mostly to [re]connect with the people I met. I’d be curious to see how they’re doing in a few years time.

But I’m worried it will all get swept away. The richer my experience, the more I have to lose. I’ve never had so much to lose before; it’s the first time I’ve truly felt I had so much worth holding on to in life. And what if this isn’t real or genuine? Is it really okay to allow myself to be vulnerable and wear these experiences on my sleeves? Or should they be locked away like forbidden treasures?

Worst of all, my future at home feels like a coin flip in terms of where it will lead me. With so much riding on luck, am I meant to make one hard logical decision or risk trying to feel and adapt?

young and stupid

Probably the one line that will haunt me from this trip

During a carpool trip from Budapest to Wroclaw, I asked an alleged Budapest snob why she had decided to live in Wroclaw since a few years ago. The normality of her answer shocked me to the core.

Because I was young and stupid. …[unsuccessful relationship]…. I stayed and now I have a life here.

“Because I was young and stupid.” Her unhesitating delivery mesmerizes me still. I’ve been completely outdone. She didn’t look much older than I am.

In some ways, her story is like the complete opposite of mine. I’m envious beyond comprehension at her ability to say those words. I cannot imagine, but I wish they could be my own words. They can’t; it’s too late—at least that’s how I feel.

Krakow was as overrated as I expected

Krakow seems to be the most recommended city in Poland among travelers. It has such a strong reputation as a party city that you might wonder how it compares to Budapest. If you scrape all the travel forums for the “Krakow or Budapest” debate, Budapest wins the popular vote most of the time, but not always. Although this is hardly accurate, the thing to note is simply that there isn’t a clear consensus even among people who have visited both cities.

If the travel experts can be trusted, then there’s really no contest. Krakow is not even on the radar of top 50 European cities on anyone‘s list, whereas Budapest is consistently top 20 and sometimes top 10. So what’s the deal?

I’m hardly experienced myself, so what I’m going to present is simply my current hypothesis. Firstly, we know that Krakow is a reputable party city. It doesn’t have to come close to Budapest to be a great party city, it just has to be accessible and affordable for backpackers, etc. Oh boy, at least the vodka is cheap and it won’t be hard to go out partying when so many people are in Krakow for the same purpose.

The other main allure of Krakow is that it’s perfect for a 2 or 3 day visit. Its location is not the most convenient for traveling to on a short trip, but once you get there you can visit everything you want to see in an efficient schedule due to the proximity of the city’s main attractions. I think both Krakow enthusiasts and critics agree that there isn’t too much to see, and it’s a matter of taste whether those main attractions make Krakow “convenient and beautiful” or “mediocre and boring.”

To state my hypothesis, I think that Krakow is highly recommended mainly because it is a convenient visit to fit into a traveler’s schedule, not because of the quality of the attractions themselves. It provides an easy balance between low-ish cost, number of activities to do, and time taken to feel like you’ve seen enough.

My opinion on Krakow

I’m generally happy to stay a week in places where travel snobs say it’s ‘impossible’ to take more than three days to see. However, Krakow would probably be an exception. My only goals arriving in Krakow were to eat more pierogi (Polish dumplings) and see Auschwitz. I pushed myself to do more than that, but those remained as my only priorities.

Jewish Krakow

This is the free walking tour organized by the group that uses a yellow umbrella. The tour of the Jewish Quarter is actually mentioned a lot online, more than you’d expect when there are several tours to choose from. This tour was by far the best and most interesting activity for me in Krakow. As much focus on a sequential history and buildings, so not just a random sequence of things to see. Comparing my experience with other people who took the tours of other places and also the same tour with a different guide, etc, I am convinced that the Jewish walking tour is probably the highlight of Krakow for a lot of people (other than the nightlife).

Wawel Castle free audio tour

I use PocketGuide for audio tours in cities without free walking tours. In this case I simply missed a tour and had time to kill. The tour content was good, the castle was okay. I didn’t go inside though, there’s enough on the outside. I appreciated the fact that this castle seemed to be more than just a rich man’s palace and had various surrounding functional structures. I don’t know why, but I feel like this perspective was usually lacking from the other castles I’ve visited.

Overall, there’s no specific reason why I’d recommend this tour. By the way, the dragon breathes fire for one or two seconds roughly every five minutes. Its flame isn’t always strong so it appeared invisible on my camera anyway…

Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum

Common words used to describe Auschwitz: “depressing,” “an interesting experience,” and “very touristy.” I will withhold my full opinion but propose a social experiment. Don’t read online reviews or suggestions. Ask random tourists who have visited it whether they would recommend going there or not. The impression of the answers you’ll get may be worlds apart from what you might read on TripAdvisor, although it still might not make sense until you go and visit anyway.

Wieliczka Salt Mine

If you have other choices available, don’t go to this just because it’s popular. Look at pictures online and decide if you want to see the salt mine in person. The [next] best thing is to find these posters somewhere near the center. I’ve visited a salt mine before but these provided a better practical overview than even seeing it that time. I could kiss whoever designed these posters.

Pierogi and ice cream

Pierogi and ice cream are really the two most accessible things in Krakow. There are several pierogi flavors to try from, both salty and sweet, meat, vegetarian or dessert. As for ice cream, the best ice cream is in the Jewish Quarter. There are two good spots, one of them is on one of the maps you get from free walking tours. Just look out for the long lines in the afternoon, which has to mean something considering there’s no shortage of ice cream shops during this relatively recent ice cream boom in Poland. Zapiekanka (mushroom and cheese baguette) is also iconic and you might be able to find sernik (Polish cheesecake).

Polish vodka

Shots are just 4 PLN at Pijalnia Wódki i Piwa. Try different flavors. I like the ones with milk better, particularly the coconut one.

A recommendation on accommodation

Mosquito Hostel in Krakow was awarded the 9th best Worldwide Small Hostel (2017) on HostelWorld. It really is an excellent hostel for its facilitates, value for money, and hostel culture; read I survived three nights at a party hostel if you’re interested.

Verdict

In conclusion, Krakow is fun but it’s way overrated if you’re not a lover of partying, not a connoisseur of architecture, not under tight money/time constraints, and not visiting a friend/relative. But it’s still a fine choice if you want to visit a city that’s “easy.”

I survived three nights at a party hostel

Warning: this is a rambly post.

Now that I think of it, I have actually seen a waterfall during this trip. I hiked with an Australian stranger in Sinaia (Romania) and we came across Cascada Urlătoarea on the Bucegi Mountains. We didn’t know it was there and it was somewhat puzzling why there would be a waterfall there. I almost suspected it was artificial in origin given the strange large pipe near it. Anyway, this guy insisted that I go to a particular hostel in Krakow, explaining that it was not like other party hostels, totally fine for introverts, and had really well organized and inclusive activities.

You can probably imagine I prefer hotels and Airbnbs with private room/apartment. A hostel is considered the worst case scenario for many INTPs. At the beginning of my trip, I did promise myself to try adapting to a hostel environment. I tried one night with a private room in a hostel in Pécs (Hungary) and noped out of there pretty quickly. I blame the standard in Hungary for cities not named Budapest, so it wasn’t really a genuine experience.

So, this mysterious hostel in Krakow was called Mosquito Hostel. What a terrible name, right? How good can a hostel possibly be that a stranger could suggest I go to Krakow just because it’s “close to Hungary” and there is a great hostel there? Nevertheless, I decided to pencil in the suggestion and do no further research about Krakow. Almost two months later, I finally booked a stay there just one day before arriving. Private rooms too expensive and taken anyway. Only 10 and 12 person dorms available…

The day leading up to my stay, I was afraid for my life. This was pretty how I imagined it:2452df6c81147d2b6d89e1aec0dcb01e-january-sarah-andersen

In the end, I not only survived three nights, but now I want to share the hype too. They’re meant to be one of the best hostels in Europe, and I’d totally believe that.

What’s so good about Mosquito hostel?

Honestly, you can find it all on their website, so my job is really just to convince you to bother Googling them. I’ll talk in really hand-wavey terms. The whole building and experience is really well designed. They take security really seriously (24/7 access with human supervision), which really made me feel safe in terms of my belongings, whether I decided to lock them or not. The staff are all young and friendly and know how to party. 10 people in a room sounds like a lot to me, but I was surprised how reasonable the space was. And my goodness, every bed has their own power outlet with USB charging too. Way too many places have poor or unreachable access to power sockets. I never really took into account the breakfast, which you’d never expect to be free at the reasonable price of the dorm beds. There’s real food for breakfast. I’m not kidding. Free laundry service (but you still have to hang your clothes to dry). There are other good things as well but let’s talk about the main one…

Nightly activities

Every day you can sign up to participate in the preparation of dinner, followed by eating the dinner. This is free of course. Some time after that the evening activity of the week begins. There’s drinking games, vodka shots, other games, and whatever the game is there will probably be drinking no matter what. I never much enjoyed drinking until this trip and I always just found it awkward.

Protip: If you’re socially awkward like me, arrive at an organized activity fashionably late (which is often when things start) so that you can join in without going through the awkward phase where everyone is socializing except you just sitting there not knowing what to do and not wanting to interrupt anyone.

I often employ this tip at home but I forgot about it. Looks like some things never change, and while we were waiting to get started I did end up as the only person not having anyone to talk to. Good thing I’ve gotten more comfortable with it. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Don’t shrink; own it and be proud of who you are.

Misadventures

This seems to be one of those days where I just ramble. I’ll just go with it and talk about my (mis)adventures. I had a lot more fun than I would have expected here. I played beer pong for the first time and confirmed my secret talent for it: over 50% accuracy in the group variation! Pub crawl each night after the evening activity is always lead by a member of the hostel staff. It’s a surprise to see them act professionally while on duty and then totally let loose (even though they are still being paid to do it). I got rejected from a place for wearing tracksuit pants, but someone accompanied me back and we had wine and a really deep conversation. Drunk or profound? (Or both?) Obligatory hug. No regrets. The next night, I went to a classical concert and totally overlooked the fact that I needed to return too early or too late to get dragged along by the forming assembly. A lot of people had warmed up to me after just some basic acknowledgments in the morning. No one even cares about the awkward I-don’t-remember-your-name-or-your-country scenarios. We went to a place where the small dance area upstairs feels like someone’s parent’s house. I’m told it was trance music, though I really have no idea. What I do know is that I danced like that for the first time in eight years. I got an orange juice and everyone thought it was some fancy drink. Unfortunately I didn’t scull it for bonus points. It got hot and tiring and smoky and way too loud, but thankfully another person thought so too and we chilled outside on the balcony. Huh, so this is how you negotiate with drunk people. You learn something new every day right? Why didn’t they teach this in school? On the last night a small group of us went together for dinner and had three vodka shots later. Polish vodka comes with some really nice flavors, and one shot basically costs one euro. Everyone liked the coconut milk one. I chose not to go partying after that. The Brazilian guy who had been very keen for me to tag along returned much later, very… exhilarated and keen to share his success. Apparently the staff girl was involved. Why was I trying to sleep in the common room on a bean bag that late? There were two snorers in my room, and the louder of them exactly matched the sound and volume of a passing motorbike…

Things that could be better

Mosquito Hostel certainly isn’t perfect, so I’ll list some of the bad things. This might seem like a long list, but you can probably judge from the things that aren’t on the list that they get the most important things right.

  • You have to make your own bed.
  • The ladders on the bunk beds are painful to climb (without shoes).
  • There’s a fair chance that there will be a snorer or two in a dorm room and there’s nothing you can do about it (except wear ear plugs or sleep in the common room like I tried).
  • At 7am it sounds like the next door building is being demolished…
  • The staff members taking everyone drinking seem to pick their personal favorites and don’t always respect what the people want.
  • Rubbish/recycling bins could be bigger.
  • The website is not completely up to date on some of the finer details.
  • You need a 5 PLN deposit for a towel and a fresh change of towel is meant to cost. Unclear whether it’s refundable or not.
  • You can’t request a top or bottom bunk bed while booking or any other special requests.
  • WiFi not the best, but just get an Orange prepaid SIM card starter pack for 5 PLN and register the free 100 GB roaming data bonus…

Advice

  • If you don’t want to get swept away by peer pressure, arrive before the evening activity ends and hide in your room. (Otherwise arrive after everyone has left.)
  • Statistically speaking, the people in the 10 bed dorm tend to have significantly lower pub crawl participation and thus sleep earlier than the people in the 12 bed dorm. The 10 bed dorm only costs a few dollars a night extra.
  • Booking prices seem to change dynamically as beds become more scarce closer to the day.

Final word

Seriously, Mosquito Hostel is great. I would definitely consider going there again if I went to Krakow, since accommodation in Poland can be scarce if you don’t book early and on the expensive side. Although I don’t really understand or identify with partying like that, I still definitely enjoyed it and it did facilitate my observing the Polish nightlife culture. If there are up to 20 people actively participating at one of the hostel events, even an introvert is likely to find someone they can get along with. The environment is naturally inclusive (because people came here to have fun and meet people and party). You can also sign up for paid tours at the hostel if you want to have people you can talk to. Exchanging recommendations, talking about the most popular trips, and so on make for very natural conversation starters. I do value my privacy but the setup is nice enough that I think I could survive there for a whole week. However, I definitely wouldn’t choose Mosquito Hostel if I wanted to get any work done, and the private rooms are too expensive unless you book the right ones early.