Polish Dancing – Krakowiak (contd..)

I wrote down a few stories of Krakow in the previous post. It’s a wonderful city and I wanted to see every bit of it despite the painfully cold weather. The Tuesday that was my first day of sightseeing there, was a bit windy and therefore, felt much more colder than it actually was. So, the best thing to do – keep walking and added bonus – learning more stories of the city.

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A horse carriage waiting for riders at the market square, Cloth Hall building behind the P sign

Continuing from the last set of stories.

Fifth Story

The main market square – Rynek Glowny has retained its shape since the medieval ages. However, the level has grown by 6 meters! Why? That’s because of – guess what? Garbage disposal. In the houses, what would now be the cellar, would have been the ground floor in the 13th century. In 2005, an excavation led to the discovery of the settlement that must have been destroyed by the Tatars in the 13th century. There is an underground museum today there called the Rynek Underground which was opened in 2010 and has a great multimedia system to explain everything about that settlement. How the people lived in those days, what they wore, their tools, the toys, the clothes – every big and small detail is displayed and explained.

A terrible and yet, fascinating piece of the exhibition is getting to see how suspected vampires were buried in those days! If you are curious, then I must tell you – it was not a comfortable position as can be seen in the open graves displayed there with the bones of the legs and hands arranged at unnatural angles. (Thinking back, I realized that I was there on Halloween day, so I guess it’s not by chance that I was getting the dose of spooky!).

A tip – the museum is open for free entry on Tuesdays!

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A man in the multimedia clip telling you to move on and not stare at him (after you watch an argument between him and a woman in the street)

Sixth Story

How can one leave the market square without the story of the Brave Trumpeter of Krakow? So, there I was – listening to the Hejnal (Hymn for Mary) being played on the trumpet by someone from a window at the top of the St. Mary’s Cathedral. It is played every hour in all four directions but it stops abruptly.  Now there was once a trumpeter who played his trumpet for the hejnal as well as important announcements for the city in the 13th century. One day, as he looked out of his window on the top of the cathedral, he saw a big cloud of dust coming closer and closer to the city. And then on looking carefully, he could see the invading Tatars. What could he do to save his city? It would be a waste of the precious time to climb down and alert someone. So he thought may be if he started played the Hejnal over and over, people would surely take notice. And he did that. First nobody understood but slowly it dawned that it was a warning and the people prepared themselves and defended the city. But also, the Hejnal stopped as suddenly as it had started because alas, the Tatars saw the Trumpeter and shot an arrow to his throat! After the battle, one of the friends of the trumpeter went looking for him and found him dead with the throat pierced by the Tatar arrow but still holding his trumpet as if ready to play more!

The story of the brave trumpeter is commemorated till today with the ritual of playing the trumpet and stopping abruptly by the people of Krakow. There are three conditions for becoming the trumpeter of the tower today:

  1. You should be a man (yeah, yeah, I know)
  2. You should be a member of the fire-brigade
  3. Most importantly, you should know how to play a trumpet.
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St. Mary’s Basilica from where the Trumpeter plays the Hejnal (top of the left tower)

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See the window that’s opening for the trumpeter?

Side note: The trumpeters have to stay at the top of the tower for a few days at a time. So it has all the facilities that one might need to live like in one’s home. I don’t know about the internet connection though.

Seventh Story

Now since I started writing about the cathedral, it is important to know that the entrance for tourists is different from the entrance of the worshippers – makes sense so as not to disturb the ones who are going to pray for that is the main purpose of a place of worship. One can go inside for free and admire the magnificence. But for going up to the tower and to get close to the most famous piece of work there – the altarpiece by Wit Swotsz (German name – Veit Stoss), there is a small fee.

Now Veit was a renowned sculptor from Nuremberg, Germany. His fame reached Poland and somewhere in the 15th century he was commissioned to make this altarpiece for the cathedral in Krakow. He moved there with his family and worked on this piece for 12 years! After living in Krakow for 20 years, he decided to leave the family business there to his son Andreas who was also quite skilled and returned back to Nuremberg with the rest of his family. Mmay be he was missing the German Bread – which I have seen people from Germany missing when they are abroad for too long or may be Poland was getting too cold (it was definitely super cold when I was there) – who knows why he went back. But it was not as rosy for him when he went back – got arrested twice, getting branded on the cheeks was prohibited from leaving Nuremberg, getting on the wrong side of the city council but being in the good books of the Emperor Maximilian saved his neck. He did carry out some interesting pieces of work despite all the drama for it was probably difficult to stop a good artist of some international acclaim, from making art.

I didn’t get a picture of the altarpiece from too close but you can see it at the back in the picture below.

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Inside the St. Mary’s Basilica

What else did I do? Ah yes, I went to see some more churches from inside to both admire them as well as to get some respite from the cold weather, while waiting to go for the next tour that would start at around 6 PM. Despite the freezing cold, I was quite keen on going for that tour, for one never knows what would “tomorrow” bring.  The stories from that tour – in the next post. Until next..”Do widzenia”.

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Polish Dancing – Krakowiak

On the evening of an icy, windy Monday, I boarded the flight from Gdansk to reach the next beautiful city of Poland – Krakow. Upon arriving at the airport, it was easy to follow the signs and find the way to the train that runs between the city center and the airport except at the point where a sign was kept on the floor (like a board) and a girl standing in front of it obliterated the view. So in the confusion, I missed the first train by two minutes. The next one was after half an hour, which I then boarded and reached the city center in about 20 minutes. From there, with the help of google maps, I walked to the room I had booked. I had informed the property and the receptionist was waiting for me till that late even though it was not a 24 hour reception kind of place (it was around 11 PM). She handed me the keys, explained everything and then left. I was too cold and tired to go get anything to eat (although a 24 hour supermarket was just round the corner). So I just snacked on something I had in my bag and went to sleep. Had a restful sleep. In the morning, I searched the net and found a restaurant close by that offered gluten-free options for breakfast. So I got ready and reached that restaurant. It was a very modern themed restaurant. I ordered something but it took too long to come. So I had to gobble it up quickly instead of savoring it, as I was getting late for the walking tour that was about to start.

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The Fancy Breakfast

And then I sped towards the Florian’s Gate, where the tour was supposed to start. Thankfully, I reached in time and other people were also just getting in. We had a pleasant guide who started with the first story of Krakow.

First Story

In the 10th century, there was a king with 5 sons. Probably he seemed to consider all of them equally worthy of the kingdom, or he couldn’t decide who would take the kingdom after his death. So the kingdom got divided into 5 parts. Thus began the struggle of 200 years when the kingdom kept getting divided over generations. Then in 1320, Wladislav I “Lokietek” (the Elbow High) from Krakow, reunited all these fragments. For 400 years after that, every king of Poland was crowned in Krakow. The coronation route would start from the St. Florian’s church. The church was renovated several times and the current look is from the 18th century.

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Street musicians in traditional attire under Florian’s gate

There were 7 gates to the city but the only way to enter was through the Barbican – which was the defense gate since the 15th century. There used to be a huge moat around that which has now been transformed into a beautiful park – the Planty.

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Autumn in the Planty

Today, there still remains a small part of the city wall with St. Florian’s Gate and the Barbican due to the efforts of a Professor named Feliks Radwanski at the beginning of 19th century when the city officials wanted to demolish the city walls. The reasons given for preserving these ranged from logical to hilarious. I don’t know which one finally convinced the authorities. One of the arguments given was that if the wall was broken, then the Northern winds blowing till the Main Market Square will knock people off their feet, while exposing women and children to influenza, rheumatism, and perhaps even to paralysis. However, the funniest one of all was that the wind would blow up women’s skirts and who would want that inappropriate thing to happen :-).

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Tourists in front of Florian’s Gate

Second Story

In the photo of Florian’s Gate, do you see the McDonald’s logo? That’s the first McD that opened in Krakow. The guide told us that when it first opened, it was like the symbol of a huge transformation for the country – from communism to capitalism! The queue was legendary – people waited for hours to get the taste of the big mac. The significance was not because of the taste or quality of McD burgers (a controversial topic), but because of the freedom of choice after living in the communist regime for so long.

Third Story

Going back to 14th century, after king Wladyslaw I, his son Cassimir the Great or as he is called in Polish – Kazimierz, became the king. He was a very strong king but the last one of the Piast dynasty as he didn’t have any sons. A huge contribution from him was the founding of the University of Krakow – which he could establish with the blessing of the pope but only on agreeing that there won’t be a theology department in the university! We don’t know the exact reason for that but one reason could be that the king needed lawyers and accountants instead of theologians. Another reason stated is the pressure from the pope to not have that department. Now, after Cassimir’s demise, the kingdom went to his nephew from Hungary – Louis I. He also didn’t have any sons but had a daughter – Hedwig (Jadwiga) who was then crowned king of Poland (yes, you read it right – King). That happened because of the work (read – giving privileges to noblemen) done by Louis during his lifetime to persuade the noblemen to allow his daughters inheriting the throne. The kings of Poland needed to be “elected” by the noblemen of Poland, unlike in other countries where this was a hereditary practice. The kings therefore, granted a lot of privileges to the noblemen in return for their loyalty.

So, Jadwiga became the king and then as a religious-political move, she married the king of Lithuania Jogaila when he pledged to convert to Roman Catholicism, thus making Lithuania a catholic country. The king was baptized as Wladyslaw Jogiello and he became the co-ruler of Poland with Jadwiga.

Jadwiga had a life full of political turmoil but despite that, she did a lot for the University of Krakow which became the Jagiellonian University. She funded it with her own jewellery. The people of Poland venerated her during her lifetime and even after, and in she was canonized in 1997 by the Pope.

Wawel Cathedral where Jadwiga was coronated and buried

Fourth Story

Now that I mentioned the Wawel Cathedral, let me tell you the most iconic legend of Krakow. There was once, a long time ago, a terrible dragon who lived on the Wawel Hill. He had to be appeased with a regular diet of cattle and once a month treat of a young maiden . Then the day came when there were no more maidens left except the king’s daughter Wanda.  The king in desperation, announced that whoever gets rid of the dragon, would get the princess as his bride. Several people tried and of course failed. Then came forth a shoemaker called Skuba. He stuffed a sheep with sulphur and left it outside the cave of the dragon. The dragon ate it and because of the sulphur, became so thirsty that he started drinking the water from the river Vistula. But the thirst just wouldn’t get quenched. When the dragon had drunk almost half of the waters of the river, he could drink no more and exploded! Thus came the end of the terrible dragon, and of course, the princess married the shoemaker and everyone lived happily ever after!

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The Story in the Souvenir

There are two huge bones hanging today at the entrance of the Wawel Cathedral, assumed to be the bones of the dragon; the guide told us that they actually belong to a whale and a mammoth.

With this, I can finally bring this post to an end (has been in draft mode for soooo long) and write the remaining memories of Krakow in the next one.

Polish Dancing – Polonaise (contd..)


A nice sunny morning today with a good coffee, is making me feel hopeful for a good day ahead.

But first I should finish the story of Gdansk although I don’t think I can manage it in one post. Let’s see.

So, the city of Gdansk has been around for a very long time but written records are from about 1000 AD onwards. It is on the Baltic coast. Strategically located for trading by the sea and hence, has had the best economy in the whole of Poland.


We started the walking tour from the Golden Gate. It was a chilly, windy day interspersed with sunshine, drizzle and  sometimes the raindrops turning to ice! Opposite to the gate was an imposing tower which is an Amber Museum today but was a prison tower in the past.

The guide showed us the old city gates which had the coat of arms of Poland, Prussia and the city of Gdansk on it. There was something written in Latin below : “justitia et pietate sunt publica rum omnium fundamental” which translates to “Justice and Piety are the foundations of all states”. Locals have their own interpretation “Rum is the foundation” due to the typo ;). That would make sense considering the city is a harbor city with a lot of sailors coming and going out of there.

We moved along the main street which was used also for royal processions in the past. Every new elected (yes, elected – more later) king of Poland had to have a procession here on this street leading from the Golden Gate to the Long Market at the end where the townhall/clock tower is. The wealthiest merchants lived on this street. The ornamentations on the houses were indicative of the wealth – the ones with the stone ornaments being the most wealthy to be able to afford those! In the previous post, I mentioned that the buildings reminded me of Amsterdam and I was not wrong! The guide informed us that the people of Gdansk were not the experts in travelling by ships. So the city had a lot of foreigners working there – Dutch being the most prominent ones. Especially because the river flooded every year and who are the best to claim land from water? You got it right – the Dutch. So naturally, they brought their architecture with them. And just like in Amsterdam, here also the tax was according to the width occupied on the street by the building, hence the houses would grow vertically and deep inside.


Sometimes during the tour we would dive into the sidelanes when the guide wanted to show us some other interesting things like the armoury or the “pukers” (kind of gorgoyles on the sides of staircases leading up to the houses.

The Church of St. Mary on the Main street is supposed to be the biggest gothic church in the world made of bricks. According to some estimates, it has about 5.5 million bricks! I went later inside the church, after the tour, and was kind of surprised that the imposing structure outside houses a very plain interior. I asked my tour guide in Krakow about this contrast and he explained that the church became Lutheran (Protestant) church in around 16th century and hence all ornamentation was probably removed as is the ideology of the Protestant churches.

St. Mary’s basilica

The next imposing building is the city hall which was already there from about 14th century but expanded later. It has a golden idol of the king Sigismund on the top of it – which moves in the direction of the wind. The most interesting thing for me there was to understand the presence of a sundial despite a huge mechanical clock being there. That was there because pendulum was not known at that time.  The mechanical clock though easier to read, lost time over a period of time. So an expert had to correct the time every few months by reading the correct time from the sundial! Seemingly, this was the case everywhere where the mechanical clocks were installed but the other places got rid of sundials when they replaced the machinery of their clocks with the pendulum mechanics.

Town hall

This is all I can write today. Will come back with some more about Gdansk in the next post. Keep an eye on the blog. The next post will have some humor but also some tragedy – going to be very interesting.

Polish Dancing – Polonaise

After a restful sleep despite the very cold night, I woke up on my own at the usual Monday morning time. Then tried to go back to sleep as I didn’t have to go to work. “To get up or not to get up, that is the question” as a modern day Shakespeare would say. Ultimately I got up at 7 when there was some light outside. And when I looked out of the window, the thought that had been nagging me since yesterday finally cleared up. I realized that the houses reminded me of Amsterdam.

Rows of houses slowly coming to life with the rising sun

Slowly I proceeded to get ready. Realized that the shoulders and neck that have been painful since two months due to an accident, were again aching. Got an idea to apply warm compress to the sore points with the help of the heater. Did that and it helped.

Then I made myself some coffee, had the leftovers from last night’s dinner as breakfast along with an Indian snack mixture (I had a packet with me) and checked out of the hotel. The receptionist stored my luggage safely so that I could go out freely.

I had registered online yesterday for a walking tour that was supposed to start at 10:30 am. I had plenty of time before that to stroll around. So instead of going to the main part of the town, I just took some other turns and came across interesting buildings. I have no idea of their identities though at the moment.

A building with some wooden sculptures


Came across an indoor market which reminded me of Bangalore! The outside is much more beautiful though of this market.

Exterior of the Indoor market

Also came across flower and fresh vegetables market where locals were buying their day’s or week’s supplies.

Flowers

Then after taking some more pictures and unsuccessfully trying to see the monastery (the door didn’t open), I went towards the meeting point for the walking tour. The story of the walking tour to come in the next post as now I am exhausted after having a majority of my time spent outdoors on a very cold day. 

Until next..dobranoc!

Polish Dancing – Kujawiak

After exploring so many places to go for the extended weekend, somehow I got whimsical and booked Poland. It is super cold, rainy and very windy at the moment but I often have the feeling that one reaches the place one is supposed to be at, when he/she is destined to be. So, let’s see how the next four days would go.

I started this morning from my home quite early because the airport from which I had to take the flight is at a not so well-connected location. So instead of directly going there and sitting there for the whole day, I went to another city from where there are more connections to the airport.

Started there with a coffee and a huge portion of scrambled eggs (not eating meat and being gluten-sensitive is still not easy).


After getting refreshed with the breakfast, I walked a bit in the old town area and remembered the day when I had been there  a few years back in Spring and had spent a full day. This time it was a wet Autumn day with leaves fallen everywhere giving a completely different feel. Memory here.

Then I returned to the main station from where I was supposed to board the airport shuttle. Even this was quite early but I didn’t want to take a chance as this was the first time I was going to this airport and didn’t know what kind of traffic was to be expected. There was actually none! The scenery was beautiful along the way.

Then at the airport, waited while charging the phone which seemed to take forever. Then did the security check and then  waited at the gate. I always forget to keep a book and the magazines sold at Relay are not in a language I can understand yet. So there is no choice but to look around and observe people. May be one day this observation will pay off and I can write a book myself! Until that day, I’ll just keep posting on my blog.

So, after some delay, the flight started and then after some flying, we landed in Gdansk. Now it was only about 6 pm or so but it was freezing cold outside the plane. Everyone hurried up to the terminal to get out of the wind. Upon reaching inside, almost everyone queued up at the currency exchange counter (Kantor) or at one of the two ATMs in sight. I was getting worried that I would miss the bus to the city center as I had read that on Sunday the frequency is less than on week days. Nonetheless, got the local currency (Zloty) and came out of the airport. Found the bus stop, went to wrong bus, then saw the stop for the correct one, had some struggle with the ticket automat (nobody was ready to accept that it didn’t work – so everyone in the queue gave it a try –  with coins, notes, credit cards – but it didn’t work). Then ran back inside to get some change as the ATM had spit out big notes only. The friendly shopkeeper changed it for many of us who struggled. In other places, people just refuse or ask to buy something first. So this gesture of the lady was just the first impresson of the nice disposotion of the Polish people. Then got the bus, reached the city, and then walked to my hotel. It was raining but I managed. However, I couldn’t stop myself from wondering as to why the buildings have no awnings here! So there is just no way to take shelter if it’s raining.Then I checked into my hotel which is very nice, went for some dinner at a friendly place and now going to sleep.

Hooooo Hoooo Halloween

Dinner

Amsterdam 1

I reached Amsterdam on a wet Saturday morning in June after taking a long journey with a bus. It was an extended weekend, so I had three days at hand. Had been wanting to go there since years but it wasn’t just materializing and then as it happens with most of my trips, I booked it 3 days before the journey.

First briefly about the journey – I have had good experiences with these long distance buses. This one was also fine except for one administrative glitch. This bus company doesn’t have an app and wants people to print out the ticket. I printed it but the setting was to print on both sides of the paper. Now there was a change required at one place in the journey and the issue was that the driver takes that paper from you. So, as you may have guessed it, I didn’t have the paper with me for the second leg of the journey. But seemingly the language of money is understood all over the world. The driver took 5 Euros from me to return that piece of paper to me. I don’t understand it – if he could give it back to me in exchange for money, why did he need to keep that paper in the first place! If I had the ticket printed on separate papers, he wouldn’t have been able to make any money on that. Unsolved Mysteries. Another thing that happened was that when I woke up upon reaching Amsterdam, I found that some liquid had drained out into my bag from somewhere and had moistened the papers inside. I suspected the collapsible water bottle that had in my bag. Immediately took out the important things and put them in a plastic bag. Later I realized that it was not the water bottle but the pack of disinfectant wipes that had gotten pressed and the liquid soaking them spilled out. Since then, I have started carrying them around in a zip-lock bag!

Anyway, so I reached the destination which was a train station somewhere outside of Amsterdam. I tried to figure out the way to go to the city as per the information I had collected from the internet. They have a good public transport network. You just need to locate the right ticket machine (which took me some time). Then a metro train and a bus journey later (meanwhile also meeting a man who appeared stoned, at the bus stop who wanted me to wake him up when the bus arrived..), I reached my hotel. Thankfully, they had the room ready even though I was early. The window overlooked a beautiful marina.

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After resting a bit, I started for my exploration of the city. It was cold and rainy, so I had a lot of things with me – camera, jacket, umbrella, water…uff! There was a tram stop close to the hotel from where the tram brought me directly to the central station. And as you can see in the picture below, everyone was trying to find a shelter from the rain.

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But by the time I got the information from the tourist information center (opposite to the central station) and sorted out some things, the rain stopped and I could proceed. Reached a shop that invited inside to take a look at the cheeses and take pictures. So I went in. Looked interesting as you can see below with cheese wheels, wooden shoes, weighing scales, mugs and a cow!

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Inside the cheese shop

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Royal Palace

Thus walking around a bit and taking in the scenery of the city, I decided to go for some lunch. I knew of my favorite South Indian restaurant being there somewhere. Went and had a hearty lunch.

I was waiting for the walking tour that was to start from the Dam Square. Reached and then the tour started. Sharing what I learnt from that tour.

The guide warned us by telling us that national sport of Holland is hunting tourists with the bicycle – we have to be verrrrrrrrry careful while walking around – nobody was to take a chance by stepping into the bicycle lanes! Second piece of warning was to NOT go inside the “Coffee Shop” if anyone wanted Coffee. Why you wonder? Because in Amsterdam, Coffee Shops are for getting drugs not coffee. Coffee is served at a Cafe. Phew..just saved! Thank goodness I had my coffee at the South Indian restaurant!

With those instructions we started on the tour. First stop was the Red Light district. It looked like any normal neighborhood during the daytime. Some windows showed the women waiting for clients. Although it is a profession, it still evoked some sadness inside seeing those women looking at people in a matter of fact emotionless way. Only good thing is that since 2000 it is a legalized profession in Amsterdam, so the workers can get insurance.

There was a huge church right in the middle of that area – Oude Kerk – Old Church with all the windows around that church, clearly showing how the city turned a blind eye towards the profession. According to our guide, and I guess there is some truth in that – it was a necessary evil – considering the number of sailors who came into Amsterdam after being on the ships for months, in the last centuries.

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Oude Kerk

About the Dam Square – the big street there used to be the Amstel river. About 800 years ago, fishermen built a dam because the river used to flood the town.

As the country had no major natural resources, so they started business with other countries and gave rise to a huge shipping industry. In the 17th century, it was the richest nation in Europe. There was a city wall from medieval times, which was removed in early 17th century. It became the golden age for the country.

In 1889 – the harbor used to be where the current Central Station is – it is an artificial island!

Walking ahead, I saw this interesting setup with all the old style clothes and the photographer there.

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The photo artist with his paraphernalia

We reached the New Market square and then moved on towards the Jewish quarter. Before WW2, around 120000 Jews lived there but around 60000 were killed.

The harsh winter of 1944 destroyed the area because it was so cold that people took everything and burnt down. It was in such a bad shape that when the city was liberated, the soldiers thought that this area was bombed! This is now a quiet beautiful residential area.IMG_5210[1]

Then we came to the Dutch East India Company. It was started in 1602 and closed by 1792 or so (taken over by Batavian government). It was the first company to start share trading in 1602 – at that time it was for shipping companies.

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Dutch East India Company

 

The current king of Holland is Wilhelm and the queen is Maxima (Argentinian). They live in Hague.

In 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte established the Kingdom of Holland and made his brother – Louis Bonaparte the king. But it was a short-lived kingship for him as he was not the puppet his elder brother had hoped him to be.

A funny side effect of the French occupation of Holland was that til today, the people are carrying the whimsical surnames that their ancestors came up with when they were forced to have one for the purposes of population registry.  Family names were not prevalent before. People followed a kind of patronymic system like “son of x” or “daughter of y” – Jansen or  Jandr but there was no set pattern as such. But when forced, then they came up with interesting names like Zondervan (without a surname), Zeldenthuis (rarely at home). I am leaving out the more “strange” ones. Now this story could be a joke or real – take your pick :).

Other quick facts that I learnt from our guide were:

  • Eduard Douwes Dekker , pen name Multatuli, was a Dutch writer famous for his satirical novel Max Havelaar. It was about the Dutch exploitation of Indonesia.IMG_5218[1]
  • The Dutch people have grown taller – about 20 cm increase in height in the last century!
  • Every year, the water department of Amsterdam fishes out 12000 to 15000 bicycles from the canals. Seemingly throwing bicycles in canals is a popular past-time!
  • In Amsterdam, houseboats are like normal houses with gas and electricity connection. Mooring rights are sold just like you would sell houses in other places.
  • 11 million trees were used to build the base for the city center after reclaiming the land from the sea. The trees have rotted slowly over the years thereby tilting the houses.
  • 20% of country is below sea level
  • Amsterdam is a Unesco world heritage site with 165 canals!

Thus with fun and facts, we ended the walking tour.. There was another interesting thing that happened later but more on that in the next post.

 

Afterwards

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The Clouds with the message..

As I was waving away goodbye to Italy, little did I know that the return journey would become so long. First the flight didn’t start on time – stood in that queue for almost 1.5 hours because in this cheap flight, they don’t let you in sequentially but rather haphazardly. So everyone just queues up to avoid problem later with no spaces left for the carry on luggage.

Finally it started and I went to sleep. When I woke up, it was being announced that we would be landing soon although the weather conditions don’t look good. I was thinking of my options from the airport once the flight lands. And then all of a sudden, the pilot made the announcement that the flight will go to another airport which is about 125 km away from the airport at which we were supposed to land! Reason given was weather conditions. But I think it had something to do with the delayed arrival too.

Everyone looked at one another incredulously but what else could we do? A little muttering started among people.

Finally we landed and waited in the aircraft while the crew was getting the information about what would be done. Then after some time, they let us disembark and told us that there would be a bus arranged to go to the other airport and “most probably there would be information at the terminal”! Not very promising but again, what could you do? I remember one such incident in India with a local low cost carrier there. They served us water and snacks for free while we waited for more information and then they flew that flight to the correct destination! But probably there it was a strategic move to prevent the situation from getting escalated – we all know the passion that warm countries can generate :).

So here, everyone came out of the plane and reached the terminal but nobody was there to give any directions. I went like some others to get something to eat while all this was getting figured out. Waited near the exit and gradually the people started appearing (after having collected their checked-in luggage). I wasn’t sure what would be better. To sit at this airport and wait for a shuttle that would start post midnight but that which goes to the city I needed to go or go to the other airport which has a proper train station (so possibility of more connections). I had about 3 hours to kill whether I sat at this airport or took the bus ride to the other one. Finally after an hour, a bus arrived while I was still deliberating, and I took it to go to the other airport. (First one got filled just before I could get a place, then a second one arrived some minutes later.)

Reached the main airport at around 23:10 hrs. But it is so huge, it was difficult to get the ticket, figure out where the train would be arriving, reach the platform and board the earliest train. You know the drill.

The next train was at 00:28 hrs. Not any better than the shuttle that I could have waited for at the previous airport. But it just felt safer here waiting than at the other airport which is in the middle of nowhere! It did need a train change at one station. So it was risky due to possible train delay. But I took the chance. The first train was delayed but thankfully the connection was from the adjacent platform (no running needed) and was also delayed. So I managed to reach as planned. Then took a taxi home. Finally sometime between 2 and 3 am, I was at home. And did I mention that temperatures were arouns 10 degrees outside and I was clothed according to the 22 degrees of Italian temperatures?

Was so exhausted but grateful to be safely at home in the warmth of my blanket and went to sleep immediately.

Looking back, it seems that the real adventure was in returning..

Italian Adventure – Day 8

Alas, the trip has come to an end.

As they say, the body is tired but the soul is longing for more. Looks like I’ll have to come again. Italy had captivated me long ago when I came here for 2 days in 2005. One day was spent in Rome and one in Venice – a whirlwind trip. I can’t believe that it took me 12 years to be able to visit this lovely country again. I hope the next trip is sooner.

About today then. I woke up this morning at a lazy pace, had a slow breakfast and then had the major task of packing everything back in the suitcase. I need the charm that I saw Professor Lupib use in the Harry Potter movies! It was such a time consuming task – to compress everything and fit into the carry-on luggage and that when I hardly bought anything here (so much self control – I must be reaching the gyaan stage of the Buddha!).

So I came to Pisa from Florence – this time I did take the train that was in 10 minutes. Took the chance and it worked :).

The first thing at the Pisa station – the airport shuttle (mini train) goes every 5 minutes from there and costs 2.70 Eur one way. There is a machine at the same place from where the train leaves. It is not the same as that for normal trains. The Tabacci at the station very patiently and genially answered my queries about the regular bus and airport shuttle. The regular public bus can take you to the tower. Ticket one way costs 1.20 Eur and valid for 70 mins after stamping in the bus.

I noted the location of the shuttle departure (at the end of the platforms – there are 13 of them) and then went on my exploration of the famous architecture of Pisa. It was perfect to be able to see all the buildings in just one location with green grass lawns around. I lightened my luggage by having the food that I had brought along. Sat at the lawns and enjoyed the view. Since I had started late, I didn’t have time to go inside any building.

Battistry

Of course

Keith Haring Mural

Now I need to board my flight. I checked the temperatures back at home and it is going to be so different there after all the sun and warmth in Italy. Until next – Ciao Italy.

Italian Adventure – Day 7

According to the Old Testament, God created everything in 6 days and rested on the 7th. I can imagine why us humans would think that – we get exhausted after 6 days and need to rest – whether at work or on vacation , as has been my experience since the last one week.

Today morning I was just not in the mood to venture out for anything. It was raining in the night and I had again a broken sleep. But then at around 9 AM, I saw that the sun was peeking out. That encouraged me a bit as then it would feel like committing a sin to keep sitting inside the hotel. So I got ready, had breakfast and did a kind of “Eena Meena mina moe” to decide between Lucca and Siena as the destination for today. Siena won.

At the train station, I bought the ticket that gave me 25 minutes – you know why! Then located the right platform after asking a trenitalia staff member. It was hidden behind due to some renovation work going on at the station. The train looked rather small – I guess 3 carriages only. The driver was a young guy and just went past us in the carriage and entered his cabin through a door within the carriage. That was unusual – I had never before seen a train driver get inside his cabin through the passenger seating area. 

Then after about 1.5 hr of journey (sleeping intermittently), the train reached Siena. I had read on the net that there is some kind of escalator going up from train station to the city. The posts were from 2011 and peope were discussing in it the ongoing construction. Now it is all running very well – I can tell from first hand exprience today. There is a shopping mall opposite the station. Just keep going up in it using the escalators and you would reach the town. Upon exiting, go left and keep going until you reach a medieval style gate on your right hand side through which majot traffic is passing by. You have to enter that and then just follow the crowd. You would reach the city center.

Siena is a town which had rivalry with Florence. While Florence became the main center of Renaissance, Siena retained the Medieval character. 
I stopped for a coffee and rest room break as the train journey had given me a headache. Then proceeded to the Piazza del Campo while peeking into the smaller churches on the way. 

The piazza was circular with a stunning huge tower on the arc. Lots of people were just sitting there and enjoying the feeble sun. I also sat down to eat something as it was lunch time. People were either at the restaurants or at the piazza with their sandwiches etc. Kids were running after the pigeons and parents after the kids. Thus taking in all the scenery and relaxing my feet, I moved ahead.


The guides yesterday had told that Siena had a huge cathedral and Florence had built its Cathedral to score on Siena. So of course I wanted to see the cathedral here. There was a OPA ticket that allowed to visit 5 places. I took that though wondering if I would have enough time to see everything. I managed by skipping the panoramic view for which the queues were really long with a waiting time of 1 hour. 

The cathedral was indeed impressive but after having seen the one in Florence before it, it seemed just fine. But I am glad that I went inside. I had not seen these bright colors inside a church before this one. It was just awesome. And in addition, there was a library inside which was also lovely. I saw the hand written books on display with beautiful artwork as was the way before the printing press of Gutenberg.



Then I went to the museum, baptistry, crypt and oratorium in that sequence. The panoramic view was through the museum but I skipped it as I wanted to see the other things before they closed.

The amount of religious art from the middle ages that I have seen in the last 3 days is enough to make me see green faces, and babies with adult features in my nightmares! The reason is that the skin tone was made by first giving a green base and then coloring on top. Over the centuries the top coats have faded and one can see the green underneath. And regarding the adult face – for whatever reason, the artists in medieval times had to represent Jesus as a homunculus man – perfectly formed but small.


But the sculptures and architecture works that I have seen makes up for it. They are just marvelous.

I wanted to spend some more time in Siena but was afraid that I might reach too late to Florence, as it is about an hour and half journey plus the time to reach the station and waiting for the train. It had also started raining a bit so I set off. After having missed one by a few minutes, I took the ticket for the next direct one which was one hour later, grabbed some dinner from a lovely salad shop (make your own combinations), returned to the station, found the train and came back home (hotel after 2 days starts feeling like home).

Oh, I forgot to mention – a daily dose of sorbet/gelato is also being taken during all the sightseeing. It’s not cheap here considering it’s the source but it’s superb.

So that’s the end of day 7. Tomorrow is the day of return. Hopefully everything will go smoothly. Ciao for now. 

Italian Adventure – Day 5

First Lesson for the Day

Do not become overconfident about the public transport of a country. The moment you think that you understand it and you can handle it, you will be caught by surprise – and a missed connection.

Today morning, I had 10 minutes to catch a train and I thought it’s easy. I bought the ticket from a ticket machine. The platform number indicated on the board was 6. I was standing next to one that said 6 but the train indicated there said something else. I thought may be there is still time and when this one goes, then the next one – the one I have to take would be here. But now only 3 minutes were left. So I went inside the train and asked a lady there (there was no train number or destination mentioned on the train). She tried to tell me that I needed to go to another Binari (Platform in Italian). Thankfully my senses worked and I exited the train in time. Then looking around, I realized it was 6 Ovest and not 6. Ovest means “West” in Italian – which I know now. So I ran with 3 minutes in hand to find 6. Reached in 4 minutes and the train was gone..as explained to me by an Italian guy standing on the next platform when I asked. So much for my confidence that I would be able to catch a train if I have 10 minutes at hand. So then I thought of going to the human beings instead of the machine – at the ticket counter. Mind you Bologna station is not a simple station. It has 4 levels underground which I now know. Somehow I managed to reach the ticket counter after some up and down. Then I asked the lady outside the counter who was helping people find where they needed to go for their query. She told me to go to a kiosk labeled La Frecce and “try” changing my ticket. That was for last minute service for the passengers of La Frecce – the fast trains managed by Trenitalia. The lady there was occupied – a passenger in front of me took more than 10 minutes – I don’t know what was so complicated in his query. Anyway, so my turn came, I explained the issue and she agreed to change it (Phew!!). I asked for a train that was about 30 minutes later (there was one in 10 minutes too but you know “once missed twice careful”). She gave the new ticket and told me that the platform was 4 levels below the ground. I didn’t believe her but then found that it was true. Then I waited for 20 minutes at the platform. The train came, I boarded and then it was all fine from there. Or so I thought. The weather prediction displayed on the monitor in the train for Florence said “Rain”!! And I had no umbrella. When I reached, I thought I’d be stuck now but then it wasn’t raining. I managed to go to the tourist center, got myself a bus pass for the day (it’s interesting that here you get it from Tobacco shops labeled Tabacchi or newspaper kiosks) and boarded the right bus. And then on getting down, as you would have guessed – it started raining. 

I still went on – moving stopping – as it was nothing compared to the Indian monsoon rain and reached the hotel. The receptionist told me that the room was not ready because I was early. He double checked it for me with housekeeping. I already knew it because I had mailed and asked last night for which they had responded that they would be unable to do so. Moving on, I decided to take out the camera and leave the luggage at the reception. The receptionist got occupied with a family that was leaving, I wanted to ask something and so I waited and in the meantime – he got informed by the lady from housekeeping that the room was ready!! Buon giorno!! Since it was raining anyway, I went to my room, relaxed a bit and then came out when it stopped raining. 

So in the end, all turned out to be perfectly fine – missing the train, reaching later than planned, rain, getting the room….

I would write more about this day tomorrow. For now, it is raining again – heavily this time and I am safely back in my room looking from my window at it.