There is an eerie stillness after a snowfall. The pure white blanket of snow induces a different kind of serenity inside – not of bliss but that of surrender, as if the nature is telling you to slow down and go into a peaceful sleep…
There is an eerie stillness after a snowfall. The pure white blanket of snow induces a different kind of serenity inside – not of bliss but that of surrender, as if the nature is telling you to slow down and go into a peaceful sleep…
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.
Continuing from the last set of stories.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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”.
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.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.
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.
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.
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 :-).
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.
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.
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!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.
It was a cold windy day, with occasional rain and with the sun sometimes peeking out from between the clouds. So it felt very nice when we would stop to see a sight while being in the sun. This was the case when we stood on the bridge on the river Motlawa outside the Green Gate – which was at the end of the main street (Long Market). It was built in the 16th century.
It includes a palace which was made for the king. Funnily – neither the gate was green nor the king ever stayed in that palace! Why you ask? The gate probably got its name from the wooden draw bridge that used to be on the river here which must have been mossy, hence green. As for the king not staying there – that is more easy to guess. The place had fishermen selling their fishes, hence, it must have been very smelly. Sulphur was a major item being traded – another smelly issue. And thirdly, the place was lined with taverns where loud, brash sailors would spend their time when in town. Definitely not a place fit for the king. So the palace was there just for namesake.
Thereafter, we moved along the river, towards another landmark of Gdansk – the Crane.
It had two huge wheels that we could see. Four heavily built men used to stand in each wheel (probably like a hamster), and thus, the wheels rotated (gravity played an important role). The chains linked to the wheels thus, uploaded or offloaded the cargo from the boats. It was a legit job at the harbor – no prisoners or slaves were involved. The workers got a daily payout of money and beer! Yes, you read it right – beer. The reason being the high calories in beer which were required to replenish the energy for the workers (besides being better than unclean water).
While walking on the streets we also got to know about some of the famous people born in Gdansk – Fahrenheit being one of them. The current President of the European Council – Donald Tusk is from there.
On that note, let me come to the 20th century. We reached this building which was the Post Office of Free city of Gdansk established in 1920, after the Treaty of Versailles. Now this post office was unusual than others because it was not just for post. The postal workers were secretly trained for defending the city.
And on the 1st of September, 1939, 4 AM, the fears came true when the German army invaded Poland. So this became the place where the first shots of WWII were fired. The German army was taken aback because they were not expecting any resistance, it being a post office with just 56 people! The battle continued until 3 PM when the Germans declared a ceasefire, expecting the defenders to surrender. The brave defenders decided not to surrender, unaware (because of the phone and electricity lines having been cut by the Germans already in the beginning of the battle) that the whole country was under attack by then and the army won’t be able to come for their help. But they couldn’t continue for long, after the basement was filled with gasoline and set to fire with a grenade! First the director came out with a white flag – shot by the frustrated German army, then the commandant tried again with a white flag – same fate as the director…then the rest were allowed to surrender. The German army had brought along journalists, thinking they would have occupied the post office in no time and could use this for their propaganda material. But the bravery of the soldiers didn’t make it that easy. What came out of this was the coverage of the whole battle. Not that it helped Poland but just that this unfortunate time of history was recorded in pictures. The surrendered soldiers were not immediately slaughtered but later were court martialled and put to death.
After that we all know what happened in WWII.
At this place, the tour ended and we thanked our guide and took our leave. I wanted to go look at the second part of the history – post war and hence, the Solidarity Museum but unfortunately, it being a Monday, the museums were closed. Now that I think of it, I could have taken the walking tour about it but I was tired and cold. May be some other time for that. So I went to get myself some lunch and looked around a bit, went inside the church, braved the rain, got some Amber and then went back to my hotel. Relaxed there for some time before taking off for the flight that I had to take to go to my next destination – Krakow. Thus, comes to end my very slowly performed 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.
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.
Also came across flower and fresh vegetables market where locals were buying their day’s or week’s supplies.
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.
My entry for daily post’s theme Glow
Whenever I am in an airplane, I am fascinated by the scenes that I get to see through the window. I remember that one time I was travelling and I didn’t have a camera at hand (ya, pre-camera-phone era existed – believe it or not) and I saw the most wonderfully shaped hanging clouds – they were like sculptures lit by the orange glow of the sun and appeared to be made of cottony sandstone. I was very disappointed at not being able to capture that. Although the funny thing is that now I keep the camera or at least the smartphone (in flight mode) handy but then I’m asleep during most of the time in the flight :-).
But sometimes, I am awake and the gods of photography reward me for that. Sharing some of the images I captured through the windows on various flights.
For more images of or through the windows, you can this page.
It’s quite a coincidence that the theme of the photo challenge is “Layered” which was the exact feeling I have from my recent trip to Italy. Why, one would be curious..
That’s because the present day Italy has several layers of civilizations underneath it. I am not sure which city of Italy wouldn’t have ruins of as far as the Roman times, if not even older, under it.
But for the photo challenge, I’d like to present these terracota statues – “The Compianto” made by Niccolo dell’Arca in the 15th century, which are today housed in the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita, in Bologna. The statues are so lifelike that it feels like someone froze a moment in time. Now what is the connection to layers here? The traditional statue making with stone involves chipping off the stone but in terracota, one needs to add one layer over the other to achieve the effect. It was considered by sculptors of the likes of Michelangelo an inferior form to create something by adding (putting layers of clay) than by removing (chipping off marble)! To each his opinion. My opinion is that art forms are means of expression of the same thing inside us human beings that wants to come out – and hence, no form can be inferior or superior. A form can be easier or difficult to work with – but ultimately, it is the end result that is important. Does the work on display evoke any emotion in the observer? If yes, then it’s good work. If not, then it probably could be made better.
For more interpretations of the theme, you can visit here.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.