The writer, a reporter for The Washington Post last summer and now a law student at Oxford University, was vacationing in Poland when martial law was imposed Sunday. By Nicholas D. Kristof Special to The Washington Post

KRAKOW, Poland, Dec. 14 (Delayed) -- The sudden imposition of martial law Sunday left Poland's third-largest city subdued and tense, but with few troops in the streets and surprisingly a still-functioning office of Solidarity, the independent trade union federation that is the main target of the military takeover.

A few soldiers with machine guns were visible on the streets Monday, but generally there was no sense of a "state-of-war" from the activity in the city. All three Krakow daily newspapers were merged into one edition that reported the government's proclamation but did not comment on it. The television station was closed and reportedly ringed by soldiers.

Diplomatic sources confirmed that the center of Krakow remained calm on Tuesday, but added that a tense confrontation seemed to be building up at the Nova Huta Steel Works outside of Krakow. Solidarity militants have taken control of the steel yard, with army units positioning themselves around the factory complex.

Monday, people seemed quiet, watchful and apprehensive in Krakow, a city of 600,000 that is a major industrial center as well as Poland's cultural capital. They listened to foreign radio broadcasts and closely followed TV reports from Warsaw, 160 miles to the north, where the news was read by Army officers.

About 200 Americans, most of them students, are in Krakow, according to Andrzej Glowacz, the senior press assistant at the U.S. consulate general.

The consulate advised Americans here to stay in contact and it issued special papers to those who had turned their passports in to the Army to get visas. Under the martial law, all persons must carry identity papers at all times.

The first curfew, from 10 p.m. Sunday to 6 a.m. Monday appeared to be obeyed in the part of the city in which I was staying. After 10 p.m. only military cars and a few pedestrians could be seen.

The main Krakow headquarters of Solidarity were closed by the Army on Sunday. Two Army cars were parked outside on Monday and two soldiers inside turned people away.

But at least one small Solidarity office remained open Monday and Mieczyslaw Gil, chairman of the Solidarity chapter at the huge Lenin Steel Works at Nova Huta, said the local union branch was acting alone since communications with Solidarity in other cities was impossible. In addition, the new military government has interned much of Solidarity's leadership.

"The government has used means which wipe out not only the national accord but also hopes for a free and independent country," a declaration presented by Gil said. "Don't let us be frightened by police methods. Siberia is far away and all 36 million Poles cannot be interned."

While reeling from the closing of its offices and the ban on union activity, the remaining organizers of Solidarity here were planning a general strike to attempt to force the government to back down from its imposition of martial law.

Strike posters attracted clusters of people in the downtown market square but on Monday, before the call for a strike was publicized, most people went to work. Most businesses were open Monday and some buses and streetcars were running, as were intercity trains, but the Krakow airport was closed.

Many Poles said they had expected such a confrontation and were not taken by surprise. Because there was no communication possible between cities and little official news, speculation was widespread and rumors flew. Some speculated that the government imposed martial law to ward off a Czechoslovak or East German invasion.

Douglas MacPherson and David Hosbein, Middlebury College students who were vacationing in Poland and left the country by train yesterday, reported the following:

Schools in Krakow have been closed at least until Jan. 1, giving students a longer than usual Christmas vacation. The city's many Roman Catholic churches were crowded on Sunday, the first day of martial law, and many Poles were visiting the churches again Monday.

While reports from other cities told of troops and riot police surrounding public buildings and moving through the streets, there were few troops in evidence in Krakow, with only an occasional pair of policemen in the streets and two or three guarding sensitive offices such as the American consulate.