Crakow and Kate and Richard
Trip Start Oct 20, 2003
20Trip End Dec 22, 2004
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Kate and Richard arrived from New York on May 22. The Prague Spring Music Festival was going on, and we were able to get four tickets for Verdi's Requiem with full orchestra and the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra Choir and four soloists at the National Theater, a beautiful opera house. It was a remarkable experience. The orchestra and chorus were exceptionally good, and the staging was very exciting and attractive. The stage was generally partially dark except for lighting effects, and clouds blew through almost all the time, giving us a sense of the life after death. At various times during the Requiem, the chorus moved gradually forward or backward on stage; there was enough movement on stage to make it dramatically effective rather than a choir simply singing. Also, the soloists moved into or out of the chorus depending on when they sang solos. There were also tremendous stage effects done with light and other devices. At one point gas jets filled much of the stage with flames and light, as if you were seeing hell. At another point, some of the chorus members floated above the chorus on aerial harnesses as it sang. At another time there was a great white cone at the back of the stage, and four or five people in white writhed in it as the chorus sang. At another time there was a circle of lights above the stage, and they moved as the singers performed. It was a very exciting production we will not soon forget.
On Sunday the four of us met after church to go to the Charles Bridge, lunch at a favorite bar, and a boat ride. We didn't go very far in 40 minutes, but we did learn a lot about the buildings near the river at the bridge. One is a state building used to house guests of the Republic, including Queen Elizabeth.
On Monday we were up early for the train to Krakow. To get there by day rather than at night, we had to take a train to Katowice and then transfer to a commuter train into Krakow; the first train was quite comfortable, though our compartment was full with six people; the second train was very old, noisy, and slow; the brakes made quite a racket to stop the train. The seats were covered with upholstery material over wood-pretty basic. We arrived a little late, about 7:30 pm. The trains did not have any instructions or announcements in English; in the bathroom were signs in Polish, French German, and Russian. All the cars that had seating compartments had jump seats in the aisles for when they oversell a train. (Another reason to buy seat reservations.)
The hardest part of our trips is often the first half hour. You don't speak the language, though in this case we could speak a little Czech, which is very similar to Polish, and Kate had studied her Polish tapes so that she could say hello and thank you. We had a map and were able to use it to find the apartment (officially we had two "apartments," which meant that our room included a table with two chairs and a unit with burners and a small refrigerator and a few dishes), but we needed to call the attendant to make sure she would be there to let us in. Our "apartments" were on the European 2nd floor. The stairs were all beautiful pine that was highly polished. They were also quite worn in spots. Our apartment must have been the parlor of a larger unit because it had a huge, coal-burning, tile stove in one corner. By "huge" we mean at least eight feet tall and four wide.
When we were settled in and had keys, about 20:00 (8:00pm) we went out to the main square of Krakow, which is enormous, larger than a couple of football fields with a large building, the cloth exchange originally (now hundreds of gift sellers in stalls), and restaurants on all sides with umbrellas and chairs out on the square, and ten or so horses and carriages to carry tourists. During the course of a day, the horses often dropped manure that the men had to clean up, which they did very thoroughly, ending with a few pails of water to finish the job. The water was available in a spigot right near where the horses waited for customers. Sometimes a horse became tired of standing and started to kick and neigh; then the driver took him out of the line and gave him a spirited ride around the square to ease the tension; people need to watch out for these horses; they are only a few feet away from customers at an outdoor restaurant. After our late supper we walked around the square. All the hawkers and tourist conveyances were gone, so the square was very quiet. The dramatic lighting on the buildings makes it strikingly beautiful. While we were walking around, the clock struck 23:00 (11:00pm) and the trumpeter sounded the Hejnal. (More on the Hejnal later.) It was hauntingly beautiful and sent shivers up and down the spine. The fact that we had balmy temperatures, a crescent moon and beautiful clear sky didn't hurt either.
The stalls in the former cloth exchange feature dolls, jewelry, children and ladies' Polish costumes, glass, and several forms of folk art. We bought an angel made of wood with a curious face; she is playing a long horn fit for heaven.
You can only tell where one restaurant ends and another begins by the change in the colors of umbrellas. There is a little traffic on the square around the edge close to the umbrellas, but for the most part it is a mall with only a few fast-driving cars, including police cars. The square also contains a small, very old chapel, the Romanesque Church of St. Wojciech, that had been there before the square was planned. As in all the churches we visited, it had at least one worshipper inside when we entered. There were so many worshippers and masses going on during the week day in the churches that we had to be careful not to interrupt them; many people stopped off during their lunch break for a brief prayer. There were also more priests and nuns and seminarians of various religious orders and habits than we had previously seen anywhere in Europe, including the Vatican. This is in sharp contrast to Prague, where many churches are not used, and one huge monastery has (since the end of Communism in 1989) six monks in attendance. Part of the purpose of the skeleton crew is to keep alive the idea that these monasteries and churches are property of the Catholic Church, which is an issue under discussion here, because so many of the churches are not used. But in Krakow, churches are often close together, and all are in use every day.
People selling soft, dough pretzels are everywhere in Krakow, and they are cheap-$.25-and good. There are also tremendous displays of beautiful flowers. There is first of all a flower seller's market in the square with forty or fifty flower sellers in booths. Also, there are hanging pots everywhere around the umbrellas of the restaurants of beautiful petunias or geraniums-so many in one pot that you can't see how they could be healthy. We noticed that, like Prague, when people buy flowers, they carry them home with the stems up. The square also has hundreds of pigeons because the people feed them at a point near the flower market. They are tame enough to sit on the hand or shoulder of someone with food for them. If they are startled and fly into the air, the effect is spectacular, hundreds of birds swirling into the sky at once. Outdoor musicians perform all over the place for a small contribution; sometimes they are alone, but other times there is a small band, and the music varies from folk to classical. There is also a group that moves from café to café playing for anyone who contributes.
The churches are also very beautiful and quite different from Czech churches. They are usually stucco, and from the front you see two steeples. Inside they are beautifully and extensively decorated, with every square inch of wall part of a design that includes saints and angels and colorful designs in handsome colors; compared to them, the church building our congregation uses, the Anglican-Episcopalian Church of St. Clement, would appear very plain and undecorated.
One of the most beautiful churches faces the main square. It is the 14th century church of St. Mary's. On every hour, a trumpeter plays from all four sides of one of the steeples through the windows. His tune, the Hejnal, is incomplete in memory of a trumpeter in the middle ages who was killed playing an attack warning and never finished. You can go into that church through a "Visitors" entrance on the side. The rear third of the church is always reserved for worshippers. The people of St. Mary's congregation built it to rival the cathedral on the hill that is part of the castle grounds. The cathedral is large and includes the Shrine of St. Stanislaw, and a crypt with kings and leaders of the church, but the people of St. Mary's did build a church of their own that rivals the cathedral in beauty. In fact, the 15th century altar and reredos in St. Mary's, the Veit Stoss Altar, is the largest of it's kind in Europe. When opened it is approximately 35' wide by 43' high from the base of the altar. It is hand carved from oak and linden and painted and gilded. The 12 sections start with the tree of Jesse on the base of the altar and lead up to the reredos to deal with the life of Mary, the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, and Pentecost.
There was another church right next to St. Mary's with a scene outside of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane with the disciples sleeping, but we could not get in to see this church.
We ate that first night in a candle lit, basement restaurant on the square
and had very good food at a very reasonable price. Poland is supposed to be even less expensive to travel in than the Czech Republic, and we could see that that was true. We all had lots of food and drinks for four people for $40. The second evening we ate in another basement restaurant. It wasn't on the square, but it was full of tourists. There was a small band and lots of drunken singing and dancing on the part of diners. Rich had a super-sized klobusy (Polish sausage) and was ecstatic. Again the dinner, with drinks, was in the $40 range.
Like Prague, restaurants usually provide a plate for everyone at the table that includes silverware and napkins, often carefully arranged so that there is a pattern to the knives and forks. If you need more silverware, another plate will arrive with the additional pieces. The napkins seemed very strange to us. They were small and waxed and looked like the doilies our mothers used to put under plants or objects on a table. One thing that didn't do was stay on your lap; another was they didn't absorb moisture.
On the second day Marty and Fred were alone for lunch and ate at a small neighborhood restaurant with seats for about 12 or 15. In one window a girl sat to sell ice cream; mostly she waited. Another girl waited on us. We had chicken cutlets breaded, creamed beats, potatoes and beer for a total of $7.00 for both of us.
There were many tourists in Krakow. Some were large school groups. One was a group of children, who could have been from a school in Krakow. They had been assigned the task of drawing the old chapel in the square. They were sitting on the pavement and drawing the outside; they were doing a very nice job. Others are tour groups in many different languages. Others are young people in small or large groups, carrying backpacks of all sizes.
On the first day, the four of us went toward the hill where the castle and cathedral are but stopped for lunch on the way. Lunch was very cheap, but portions were also very small, but it was a nice friendly little café. We saw the cathedral and the crypt, but were too late for the castle, and rain came down before we could get back. That night we looked for another restaurant on the square and were very pleased again with the food and the price. Then we walked around the square to find a place for dessert, but it was too late, though we did find one the next night.
The next day we decided to go in different directions, Kate and Richard to see the old Jewish section of Krakow and a town where Nazi Germany shipped Jews to be distributed from; some ended up in the camps; the nearest one to Krakow is Auschwitz, but we decided not to go there. Marty and I spent the day looking for churches listed in the guidebook and were very glad we did. At one point we visited the 14th century Collegium Maius, the oldest existing part of the Jagiellonian University. It was here that Copernicus, who was born in Poland, studied. After their tour, Fred and Marty spent 90 minutes sitting at an umbrella table at one of the restaurants on the square, having a liter of beer in mugs that were so heavy two hands were required to lift them, and watching the people pass by. What fun. Lots of English and American speakers. We were amazed at the number of HUGE male dogs.
We had brought some of Fred's granola with us for breakfast. We also went to a deli around the corner and picked up juice, fruit, and delicious baked goods to have with our morning coffee. The baked goods seem to be a good deal sweeter than in the Czech Republic.
We had two days for travel and two days to see Krakow. We saw a lot but would be happy to go again and see more.
The train home made a long day, because we couldn't start until about 11:00, and then we had to switch trains and wait for the second one, arriving at Prague at about 8:00 pm. But it was a very nice trip. Then we all needed some rest and some laundry done before we were ready to launch out again in Prague. Kate and Richard saw a lot with us and then with their friends Stephen and Sian from Swansea, who arrived on the Monday after we returned on Thursday. The six of us saw a program at the beautiful Jewish Synagogue of religious music through the ages written for women to sing in worship. Before Stephen and Sian came, the four of us also saw Janacek's "The Excursions of Mr. Brouchek," who goes to the moon and then to the middle ages to visit an important scene in Prague's history, the battle of the followers of John Hus against the emperor's soldiers sent to crush the followers of a new religious movement. The music was very nice; the two parts were only loosely related to each other, the connection being two places Mr. Brouchek, a sort of Everyman, visited in his drunken reveries.
Kate and Richard's last night was to be in Vienna, so we helped them aboard the train to Vienna the morning after Stephen and Sian took us all to dinner at a bar for typical Czech food-schnitzels, pork cuts, fish, and beer.