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Published: November 16th 2011
I arrived in Krakow from Vienna after a relatively comfortable night in an overnight sleeper. I was pleasantly surprised at how clean the compartment was, and was glad that out of 6 beds, only the 2 were occupied. I love sleeping with the movement of the train. I was in for a bit of a shock on stepping outside – it was pretty darn cold and I was without winter clothes. After finding my hostel I spent a few hours on its free internet before going to join the free walking tour outside St Mary’s Basilica.
We walked first to the Barbican which is one of the few remaining relics of the complex network of fortifications and defensive barriers that once encircled the royal city. Built around 1498, it is one of only three such fortified outposts still surviving in Europe, and the best preserved. The barbican was originally linked to the city walls by a covered passageway that led through St. Florian's Gate and served as a checkpoint for all who entered the city. We then walked down Florianska Street whose buildings all still have their original cellars before coming back to the main square which we reached just
in time to hear the Hejnał mariacki. Every hour, a trumpet signal is played from the top of the taller of St. Mary's two towers. The plaintive tune breaks off in mid-stream, allegedly to commemorate the famous 13th century trumpeter, who was shot in the throat while sounding the alarm before the Mongol attack on the city. The noon-time hejnał is heard across Poland and abroad broadcast live by the Polish national Radio 1 Station. Everyone clapped once he had finished and we were all smiling and laughing. I wonder how he puts up with doing that on the hour every hour? Probably the clapping and smiling and laughing that it generates. We then had a brief tour around the main square, which is the largest medieval square in Europe and possibly even the world as generally only Europe has medieval squares. We saw the Church of St. Adalbert which is one of the oldest stone churches in Poland. It is almost one thousand year old history goes back to the beginning of the Polish Romanesque architecture of the early Middle Ages. The Church was built in the 11th century and named after the martyred missionary Saint Adalbert whose body
was bought back for its weight in gold from the pagan Prussia and placed in Gniezno Cathedral by Boleslaus I of Poland. Since the level of the plaza, overlaid with new pavement, rose between 2 to 2.6 meters, the walls of the church were raised up in the 17th century. At present, the walls of the church are unearthed to show their lowest level. We also saw the Town Hall Tower which once housed a city prison and medievel torture chamber in its cellar, and according to our guide, a brothel too. We then made our way to Wawel Hill with a pit stop at the Archbishop's, John Paul II's, residence for a number of years to see ‘the most famous window in the world’ where he greeted people and the Juliusz Slowacki Theater which is allegedly cursed.
We then walked up Wawel Hill to the Cathedral and Castle, where Hindu thinkers believe that the seventh "chakra" resides, centred in the chancel of St Gereon's Church. It is part of a powerful, supernatural energy force that connects all living things together. They claim that there are seven points on Earth where this force is most concentrated-Delhi, Delphi, Jerusalem, Mecca,
Town Hall Tower
At the bottom of which used to be a prison and a brothel
Rome, Velehrad and..........Krakow. I didn’t touch it unfortunately.
After talking about the architecture surrounding us, we made our way to the fire-breathing dragon. One of the most popular stories about the Wawel-dragon takes place in Kraków during the reign of King Krak, the city's legendary founder. Each day the evil dragon would beat a path of destruction across the countryside, killing the civilians, pillaging their homes and devouring their livestock. In many versions of the story, the dragon especially enjoyed eating young maidens, and could only be appeased if the townsfolk left a young girl in front of its cave once a month. The King certainly wanted to put a stop to the dragon, but his bravest knights fell to its fiery breath. In the versions involving the sacrifice of young girls, every girl in the city was eventually sacrificed except one, the King's daughter Wanda. In desperation, the King promised his beautiful daughter's hand in marriage to anyone who could defeat the dragon. Great warriors from near and far fought for the prize and failed. One day a poor cobbler's apprentice named Skuba accepted the challenge. He stuffed a lamb with sulphur and set it outside the dragon's
cave. The dragon ate it and soon became incredibly thirsty. He turned to the Vistula River for relief and drank and drank. But no amount of water could quench his aching stomach, and after swelling up from drinking half the Vistula river, he exploded. Skuba married the King's daughter as promised, and they lived happily ever after.
Following the tour I went to a self serve place for meat dumplings which were very tasty, before chilling for the rest of the afternoon waiting for the pub crawl and tram party to start later in the evening. That turned out to be very messy, with an hour of all-you-can-drink with sheesha smoking and then dancing on a tram with some fun Irish girls I had introduced myself to. I have never so desperately needed a wee in all my life I was ready to burst on that bloody tram. Good fun though! We mocked the Aussies for their lack of understanding of our immense wit. Dimwit was one word used to describe one of the lads. Bless.
Needless to say I was extremely drunk but had learnt my lesson from Vienna. I called it a night when it was
Where apparently the Jews got revenge by killing a few nazis who were drinking here during WW2
time to call it a night and made my way back to the hostel, getting lost on the way. It was cold and I just wanted to get home, but eventually found it thank god! The next morning I heard stories from an Aussie girl, Steph, that a guy staying at another hostel had shit his pants and left a trail of it. I believed this because the first day at my hostel one of the bathroom floors was covered in bits of sick. Also, a guy who was staying at the hostel had to sleep on the sofa in the common room because a random drunkard had taken his bed.
The next day me and Steph got the bus to Wieliczka Salt Mine. It was a minor ordeal because we got off at the wrong stop, but it was only a km walk to the mine, so like I said, only minor. I forgot my student card for reduced entry which was a bit of a bummer but oh well. It was a long way down to access the mine – hundreds of wooden steps leading us down into the coolness of the earth. As you would probably
expect, everything was made of salt, apart from the wooden support beams. We walked through chamber after chamber of sculptures made of salt. The most impressive being the chapel. Our guide told us about a freak accident causing the death of a tourist on one of the lakes leading to the neglect of a boating service that used to run. My visit to the salt mine was fairly interesting but forgettable. The guide didn’t really emotionally engage with her surroundings which was a bit of a shame. It doesn’t compare even slightly with the next place – Auschwitz and Birkenau.
I visited Auschwitz the following day. The place was rammed with tourists, but my heart still felt heavy and I still got a lump in my throat outside the Wall of Death. I actually saw a grown man wipe tears from his eyes, and it wasn’t in the least bit suprising. Words can’t describe the feeling of being there. It’s a feeling of deep sadness and heaviness even with all those tourists, and it is a feeling I will never forget. It is surreal seeing the actual belongings of the victims and the actual gas canisters used in the
Old City Walls
Only part that has been kept in order to prevent wind from blowing up ladies' skirts
gas chambers. I’m glad I went with a guide and not after 3pm where although you get in for free, you have to go round the site alone so things aren’t really explained to you.
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