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Day 7 (Krakow)

May 16, 2012

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Cześć !!!  Ten fictitious bucks to the first person who knows how to pronounce that.

I first stepped on Polish soil at a gas station.  Charming, I know.  Actually it was quite nice!  My first Polish food was also at the gas station.  Do I know what I ate?  No, but for its mysterious nature and consistency I would say it was quite good.

Krakow was an absolutely wonderful city and I hope so much to return one day.  In true study tour fashion we began our first full day with a walking tour of the city.  We walked on cobblestone roads down streets that twisted and turned with each step.  Sometimes an unexpected hill would greet us (Poland is supposed to be the flattest country on Earth) and we would huff and puff up the hill making sure not to twist our ankles on the ancient road.

We began the tour with a look at the Church of St. Mary’s.  One legend tells of the disproportionate bell towers as being a competitive streak among two siblings.  They each designed one tower and, the one brother wanting to outshine his sibling, murdered him and built the church higher.  But being grief stricken from his selfishness, he then leapt off his tower and fell to the ground.

This is one of a few Krakovian legends we learned about from our guide.  Another popular one called the “pigeon legend” tells of Henry the Righteous who aspired to be king.  He went to the Pope in hopes of confirmation.  Along the way he encountered a witch who agreed to help him on his journey.  The witch turned his fellow knights into pigeons and they then picked up pebbles, soared into the air, and dropped them on the ground.  The pebbles on contact with the ground turned into gold.  Henry now had enough money to get to Rome but he squandered it!  He tried to find the witch but was unsuccessful and lived in shame for the rest of his life.  The pigeons were never restored as knights but they enjoy a certain respect from the Krakovians for their honor and bravery.  The end.   (Ta da!)

Back to the history.  So in the picture you can see the left hand tower has two small windows on top of each other, and that continues around the entire perimeter at the top.  Each hour a bugler comes out and plays a tune four times (North, South, East, West).  The tune commemorates the soldiers who used to rally their troops for war.  During one such instance a bugler was shot mid-tune and was killed.  When the bugler today gets to the last window, he too abruptly stops the song to honor the former musician (I am pretty sure this is not a legend).  The job of being a bugler in the Church of St. Mary is a very honorable one.  There is an apartment up in that tower and each hour on the hour the bugler comes out.  Don’t worry though, they switch out the soldiers who do it today.  This isn’t the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

As we made our way past the cathedral we stopped to look at another church which was um… in the ground.  Centuries ago people would get rid of their trash by stamping on it to make it flat and then covered it with soil.  This created a sediment and so today in Krakow you’re several feet higher than what once was.  We couldn’t go into this little church but the picture on the kind of shows how it’s underneath the pavement.  Thank goodness it doesn’t smell anymore, catch my drift?

From there we walked (and walked and walked) to the Jagellionian University and stood in the middle of the Collegium Maius where Copernicus and Pope John Paul II once studied.  This area though once belonged to the Jewish Quarter, whose first mention appears in the 11th century.

I’m not sure how many phrases and synonyms of “to walk” I can use but believe it or not we kept walking (and walking) until we stood in front of an old church called the St. Peter and Paul Church, which is a Jesuit church founded in the Baroque era.  Then just a little down the path there was another church if you can believe it, and this one was built in the 1070s.  It was old old old- built in the Romanesque era and named after St. Andrew.

Whew.  That’s a lot of churches.  Then again, it is Europe.

On our way again we huffed and puffed up a hill to get to……. a fast food restaurant!  No just kidding, it was another cathedral.  But this one is BIG and worth every minute of visual splendor you can get.  For us that meant a total of fifteen minutes inside the cathedral which was an injustice.  Wawel Cathedral was built at different times but it’s earliest construction dates to 900 years ago.  Wawel has many sections that are all situated on top of Wawel Hill including the Renaissance Courtyard, Wawel Castle, and underground crypts named after famous Catholic saints and / or Polish notables.  This complex lies on the edge of the Vistula River.

When we walked in BAM! magnificence everywhere.  We are not allowed to take pictures which is unfortunate but the place was adorned from ceiling to floor in dark velvet, silver, gold, marble, ornate wood, you name it.  Every time I looked somewhere I was taken about by the ornate decor of the nave and the awe this must have produce when it was first consecrated.  From artwork to artifacts the cathedral held many treasures including a stirrup from the Battle of Vienna 1683.  Many people are buried there too, most notably John III Sobieski.  And where might you know of this battle and this name?!  FROM MY THESIS!

You’re welcome.


Oh and by the way it’s pronounced cheschj.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. KSB permalink
    July 8, 2012 14:31

    The bugler story was my favorite when I went. I loved “promenading” (best synonym) around krakow. Well written entry with wisdom and wit. Supremely enjoyable :)

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