Friday, 18 June 2010

Sunny Sunday City

Written 14th June

We have decided that Sundays are the day to hit big cities - less traffic, less frenetic, working, rushing about (from other people obviously ;) ) and most importantly, free parking! - and once again this has proved to be the way forward - hurrah!

We found a nice little pavement spot almost immediately - five minutes walk from the castle, in a line of other pavement-parked cars. perfect - and set off towards to Jewish quarter.

First up we followed our noses and the noise to Plac Wolnica where we found some sort of regional food market in full swing and munched our way round the free samples of bread, smoked mountain chese and various sausage and meat and fish offerings accompanied by a full brass band playing various light jazz classics - excellent.

Munchies satisfied, we set off on our walking tour.

New Jewish cemetery first,

followed by some synagogues,

the new market square, a cappuccino and some chocolate cake (lunch!) and some typical streets. We didn't go in anywhere, mainly as Will didn't have any sort of hat or headcovering. We think you can borrow or rent them inside places but decided that we had a lot to see so moved on. Jewish Quarter:Tick!

And so to the Old Town. Krakow is famous for its castle, its mediaeval old town and the fact that these buildings were not destroyed during the two wars of last century, like most of the rest of Polish towns. From our walking tour though, it does appear that most of it was destroyed and rebuilt at some point or other so there was a lot of 'here is a church, it was built in [some long time ago], then destroyed by some invaders, then rebuilt in a different style and given another purpose, then it was burnt down in the great fire, then it was rebuilt in a completely different style, then it was given back to the original people'. And there are a lot of churches, a lot a lot. But its all very lovely.

And so we found;

The Slowaki theatre - apparently considered to be one of the examples of european theatrical architecture.

The monument to the battle of Grunwald - when Polish and Lithuanian (then part of poland) troops defeated the Teutonic knights in 1400-and-something.

The Barbican - built in 1498 it was the most important element of the defensive system of the town, guarding as it did, the main city gate.

The Florianska Gate - built in the 13th century with a 17th century baroque roof.

Some typical streets

The Lord's Transfiguration Church - has some fabulous trompe d'oeil paintings inside but we only got a glimpse as there wass a service going on - I don't know, you want to sightsee on a sunday in churches and their in use! What is the world coming to... :)

The Main Market square - at 200m by 200m, it is the largest mediaeval market place in Europe

with the covered street of the Sukiennice or Cloth Hall

(described by the guidebook as ' very popular with tourists who would like to purchase something as a souvenir, as the offer here is not just limited to mugs and magnetic momentos. Here you will find all manner of high quality, hand crafted souvenirs and many typical Polish folk products' tat then :) - bisecting the square.

The Basilica of the Holy Virgin Mary - with its two mismatched towers

and stunning altar and interior.

The tallest tower belonged to the city and was used as a watch tower with a horn being blown if enemies were spotted so the gates could be closed. There is still a horn blown every hour on the hour which stops mid-call in memory of a guard who was struck by an arrow. I was expecting some urgent fanfare with a sudden squeaky stop but it is more of a lethargic 'you-might-be-interested-to-know' sort of call and to be quite honest, if someone got close enough to shoot him with an arrow, I would say they were already inside the gates and he must have ben sleeping on the job... But there is a real trumpeter up there, which we weren't expecting.

The tower which is all that remains of the old town hall

The Collegium Maius - the oldest seat of learning in Poland, given to the university in 1400, with its splendid courtyard

and another clock treat, the procession of wooden characters from history which process round the clock to the tune of some folk anthem.

The greek orthodox church - an innocuous doorway sandwiched almost invisibly between a supermarket and a hotel.

A window where Pope Jean-Paul II once visited and addressed the crowds - hard to tell which window it was... I hadn't realised quite the strength of feeling about the former pope in Poland - or that he was the first non-italian pope for 450 years - and you seemingly can't go anywhere in Poland without some mention of him and what his connection is with wherever you are. According to the guidebook, Benedict stood at this same window recently and although it is very polite, reading between the lines, it's very clear, he's no PJP2.

And then the Franciscan Church, the Basilica of the Holy Trinity, the Church of St Peter and St Paul and St Andrew's church.

I told you there were a lot of churches!

And eventually to Wawel Castle.

There has been some sort of settlement on the wawel hill since the 8th century, with the polish kings having their throne here for 700 years from the 10th century. The castle buldings have been extended, added to, repurposed, demolished and reconstructed many times over the years, most recently by the austrians who built the very functiinal looking baraks amid the towers and spires.

The cathedral, crown treasury, armoury and various state rooms, private apartments are open for visiting

but we weren't really in a castle frame of mind so wandered round the courtyard and hill a bit

before deciding that we'd had enough for the day and back to the van.

more blinkered nuns though!

Krakow: done! It is a lovely city and apparently has a great nightlife so would be a lovely weekend minibreak destination with lots to keep you busy.

Next stop: Carrefour. We have found that it is only france where everything seems to stop on a sunday and the further east we have come, the more sundays are shopping days like any other.

We had intended just to stop in for a few essentials but ended up at the frozen pick'n'mix section - this is a new one, frozen veg, fruit, chips ect that you can by by the scoop load - where we found dumplings. Well, that sounds more interesting than onion risotto!

Of course we had no idea how to cook frozen dumplings, much less what was in them, and the girl on the counter didn't speak any english. But undeterred, Will headed off into the rest of the shop in search of props and with the aid of a saucepan, a bottle of water, a bottle of oil and lots of pointing and gesturing, we managed to ascertain that we had to boil them for 10 minutes - perfect.

And they turned out ok. Perogi Ruski appear to be savory - I thought potato, a starchy cornish pasty like taste, although Will was getting undertones of cheese - and Perogi w Serum Luz, were unexpectedly sweet, they smelt of jam and tasted a bit vanilla-y. But they were alright, for random polish experience .

So here we are, parked in a petrol station TIR area in Wieliczka waiting for it to stop raining so we can head out to the salt mine this morning.

In other news, we have been back in touch with our new swiss van-dwelling friends who are a bit ahead of us - traffic in Krakow on a saturday is apparently horrible! - who have warned us about the expensive parking actually at the mines - which is why we are in this nice petrol station - and we are going to meet them near Auschwitz tonight for dinner.

We have also had a nice email from someone called Sara who saw Jules in Krakow and wrote to say hello. Sadly we're not headed towards where she lives (c150km in the wrong direction) but we've asked her to tell us what we had for dinner so we shall see.... :)

Now, we just need it to stop raining for long enough to get out and then underground without getting too wet....

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