Thursday, August 13, 2009

Magiczny Kraków

Now for a change in style and emotion.
We woke to a dull and wet morning that suited my mood. After we went down into the cavern of the basement for breakfast we came back to our room where I finished the blog from yesterday. I was too tired in so many ways to complete it last night. Afterwards, I am really cold which for me, is a sign that I am tired. So I lay down and slept some more.

Michael on the other hand went exploring Magiczny Kraków. First he took a walk through the Main Square and its off-shoot streets, stopping at a delicastessen to buy a Chocolate Eclair and a Barboran (Blueberry) tart. The eclair is filled with patisserie cream and the tart is filled with thickened dry-ish cream. Both are deliciously rich! By this point everyone at home is awake, online and wanting to chat! Hels was first on Skype followed in quick succession by Antony and then by my brother Damien who is new to Skype. Its nice to keep up with everyone!

Michael later goes out for a fag and walks down to the Barbican (or Rondel) built in 1498-1499, the oldest and best preserved one in mainland Europe. Few remain to this day and we have seen the other one still complete in its original state - in Carcassonne in southern France all those months ago last January. This is an amazing structure that belies its age - perhaps because much of it was brick rather than stone. At the time of its completion, it finalised the Kraków defense system of a walled city with an amazing 41 towers.
Today, only the 120 m of the City wall just behind the Barbican is intact. The Barbican now holds a museum and is where medieval displays are staged.

OK, it is now late afternoon and I am ready to venture out. We go into Krakowski Kredens, a Cracovian Cupboard (Deli) where we buy rusks with poppy seed and with caraway seeds. But we pass up the lard "Fresh bread with lard is worthy of being served to connoisseurs, especially if it is a lard from the Krakowski Kredens - with added onion and bacon, or home-made lard with bacon bits."

There are a few electric golf buggys lining the street here. They're used to take touists on tours of the City. Seeing our time is so limited, we opt to take one so that we can get to see some of the areas away from the Stare Miasto (Old Town). In we jump with our driver Michael ready to talk to us and give us his take on this fascinating city. He is a relative new-comer, having lived here only for 4 years while studying law. But I have always said the converts are the zealots, and I doubt that a native Cracovian could have been more passionate about the City.

We start with the Jewish Quarter (Kazimierz) and learnt that most of the population of 30,000 just before WWII perished - many of them at Auschwitz. At this time, there were 120 synagogues and prayer houses. Today, although the area is quite vibrant with lots of restaurants, there are only about 300 people who live according to Jewish Law and customs in the suburb of Kazimierz and about 500 in Kraków in total. Of course there are many more that identify as Jewish.

At the height of the nazi occupation of Poland, the german industrialist Oskar Schindler who had a ceramics and munitions factory in the nearby suburb of Podgórze requested access to slave Jews to work in his factory. He was to become the saviour for approximately 1,200 Jews who worked in his factory - especially when the nazis were moving them from Kazimierz to a ghetto established in Podgórze or worse, to the concentration camps. His factory today is a museum, but is closed by the time we get there. We also drive through the street where the footage of the Jews being herded together for transfer to Auschwitz took place in the movie 'Schindler's List'.
This area remains a ghetto in many senses - there seems to be little money spent there to maintain or improve facilities such as the roads. (Michael is particularly embarrassed by this). But we do see a new apartment block being constructed - though who would want to live with outlook I can't imagine. The square with all the chairs was where the nazis piled all the furniture from the homes of Jews who had been shipped earlier from the same square to Auschwitz.

Then it is back in to the old town passed the impressive Wawel Royal Castle, and down the Royal Route that connects St Florian's Church through the town and the Main Square with the Castle - a route used by all monarchs following their coronation. He zips in and out of the Old Town streets showing us little treasures -
- the 'cat's heads' - the cobblestones on the streets! (Later we see a girl trying to take a photo of a cat - I couldn't work out why it was running towards her so much, until I realised that she had a rat around her neck - yuk!) - a view that includes 5 churches seen from one spot
- lovely original buildings - many with buttressed walls
- the beautiful green space that now rings the old town
- where the flow of Vistula River was moved to ensure that the suburb of Kazimierz was included in the city of Kraków when the Jews began to build fortifications
- the amazingly beautiful Kraków Thetr, still used for performances today, and finally
- he proudly showed us his university where there are about 35,000 students - 6,000 in the Law and Administration campus.

Michael drops us off back near Rynek Główny (the Main Square) where we leave him and take a serious wander right around the Square. Kraków has an incredible number of street performers and they all seem to be out this evening. From the marionette artist that Michael says he saw this morning, still performing; to street break dancers rapping along to modern music; to the four rural-looking accordian players whose music swells the heart. Not only do they play local folk music, they also play the classics including Mozart's Requiem - enough to bring tears to your eyes. We buy all three of their CDs!

We wander, taking in the changing mood of the buildings as the light fades into dusk. We can just see the trumpet played at dusk from high in the tower of St Mary's Church - an event that is played out every hour and has been done so for more than 600 years! Once he finished, the bugler gave a wave to those far below him on the square.

A walk at night through the Cloth Hall - originally established to facilitate the trading in cloth and now a series of market stalls. It felt both magical and disappointing - the stalls are very commercial and just don't seem to do the setting justice.

Then on to dinner. We move from restaurant to restaurant along the square, surveying the menus and the crowds. Kraków comes to life at night. All the young people come out from where they have been hiding during the day for the dance clubs. The square starts to fill with them, and those security people who we have learned are employed by the council as compliance officers, booking non-conforming motorists, people drinking in the street and anyone being a true nuisance. Finally we come to the Sphinx Restauracje that appeals. We sit down at the last available table and order:
Breaded Fried Camembert with blueberry jam and (tinned) fruits - interesting!
Grilled Shoulder Steak with stewed peppers, onions and champignon mushrooms served with 'Ale Feta' salad and rice (Michael)
Two taste Shoarma - grilled pork and chicken with oriental seasoning served with fresh vegetable salad and french fries (Maria)

Nice and spicy and a nice change from local cuisine. But I am cold, so we don't have dessert and hurry back to the Hotel Jan. The young receptionist Ela, has been ever so friendly and helpful and we have bought her a small bouquet of tiny roses at one of the market stalls. She is genuinely touched and thrilled when we hand them to her as we collect the key. Little things matter people!

Another fag beckons Michael before bed and he reports that the fire jugglers and fire eaters have now come out!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Let me change a little;) every day we meet so many people, and each one matters to us and leaves some traces in us! thank you for your smile and kindness - you've left the worm trace in my heart! good luck Maria and Michael! Ela