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Published: June 22nd 2017
Geo: 51.7292, 18.516
Yesterday was a day of travel. We boarded a flight from Vilnius to Warsaw, and another from Warsaw to Krakow. Flight #2 was on a prop plane, which was interesting and small. It provided its own stairs for boarding (part of the door). It was not a confidence-inspiring aircraft. They have good candy bars on LOT Polish airlines.
We arrived at Globtrotter and knew right away this was going to be a nice place to stay. Right off the main square and yet surrounding a garden courtyard behind the street, Globtrotter is like a private estate hidden away from plain sight. We were graciously welcomed by the desk attendant, Marek. He had pre-marked a map for us of good places to eat. A walk to the town's market square put a smile on all of our faces. Once again, a special city. Castles, churches, sidewalk cafes, entertainers, street musicians, vendors, and people everywhere... but not so many to overcrowd the plaza. We took a quick stroll around and then headed back to a local place for Polish cuisine. The restaurant was set up like a country kitchen from days gone by and we could smell the wood burning in
the oven used to bake the bread. The food was delicious! We went to bed happy to be in Krakow and in such a great guest house.
This morning, we went to a breakfast buffet that was unimpressive. After that, it was time for a walking tour of Krakow based on a Rick Steves book. We took a similar tour in Amsterdam and were very happy with it, and Rick did not let us down today. We started a walk along the Royal Way at the city gate and barbican, down busy Florianska Street in the direction of the market square. Along the way, we stopped off at McDonalds, not for value meals but to see the medieval cellar that had been renovated and turned into the perfect place to enjoy McNuggets. Outside of the city wall, there used to be a moat, but it was filled in and turned into a park known as the Planty, based not on the English root for plant, but on a Polish word that means "flat." The next highlight was arriving at St. Mary's just in time for the hour to change. We heard the bells ring, and then enjoyed the fireman trumpeter project
an hourly tune, cut short in honor of a medieval trumpeter who was shot by an arrow while warning the city about an attack by the "Tatars" as they are referred to in Eastern Europe. At noon, this trumpeting is featured on Polish radio. The post is manned 24 hours a day by firemen/watchmen.
Though it has been hot and muggy here and our guest house conditions the air with an open window, we have little to complain about. The environment around us in this beautiful, welcoming city more than makes up for a little sweat and discomfort.
Next, we explored the Cloth Hall and picked up various pieces of Poland to bring home with us. It is an enclosed marketplace full of various vendors and has been in use since 1555. We emerged from the other end and headed down another street that led us to St. Francis Basilica. We arrived just in time to catch the tail end of Sunday mass and were grateful to be able to hear the organ play. This was the home to Karol Wojtyta (later known as Pope John Paul II) when he was archbishop of Krakow. In the back of the church, a
silver plate marked the place where he liked to pray in solitude. Across the street was the archbishop's residence, where 10,000 Poles gathered in 2005 to mourn the loss of their beloved Pope.
Next stop, Wawel Castle, which is atop a hill and is the most visited location in Poland. Here, we saw all sorts of architectural styles in both the Cathedral and surrounding buildings, all of which have been altered and added onto over the centuries. An Italian style courtyard was most impressive, as was a nice view overlooking the Vistula River. Inside (and outside) were Renaissance performers of dance and drum corps. The Hindu faith believes in something known as chakra, a powerful energy field that connects all living things. There are seven places on earth that are supposed to be home to this energy field: Delhi, Delphi, Jerusalem, Mecca, Rome, Velehradi, and Wawel Hill. It was interesting.
Legend has it that Prince Krak was annoyed by a fire-breathing dragon that accosted the people of the city. He tricked the dragon by feeding it a bag of sulfur stuffed into sheepskin. It then had such bad heartburn that it drank too much water from the Vistula and exploded. It was
a Krak victory.
From here, we went back down the hill to get into the shade and rehydrate, before catching a cab to Oskar Shindler's factory. The museum on the factory site was one about the German (and later, Russian) occupation of Krakow, with only incidental attention paid to the story of Schinder. This was surprising to us, but the museum did prove to share a wealth of information that will better inform our trip tomorrow. Then, we are going to witness the site that is most synonymous with the Holocaust: Auschwitz. It will be a lot to take in.
Dinner tonight was had at Restauracya Jarema, decorated like a nineteenth century mansion. With live music, roses on the tables, and waitresses dressed in prints that matched from shoulder to shoe, it was nicer than the nicest restaurants we think of at home. Though a little more costly than usual, it probably cost about the same as a dinner for four at Popolano's. Again, we retired to our guest house well fed, both with food and experience, and look forward, with trepidation, to our solemn excursion tomorrow.
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