The story in pictures of a trip to Rameswaram..

Pamban Bridge


Poland – Travel Help

I had been just procrastinating on this topic. But today while waiting for a flight for another journey, I thought that I could put the time to good use.

So here are the tips and some links that helped me.

1. The currency is Polish Zloty. You can take it out from the ATM at the airport or exchange at the currency exchange vendors. But be aware the exchange rates at the airport will be not so good. And in my experience, the ATM was even more expensive in that regard. So my tip – Exchange/Withdraw the minimum amount at the airport you might need to reach the city and a little more. Once in the city, you will find better rates.

2. Learning a few Polish phrases would be useful and also nice:


3. Do not make the one rookie kind of mistake I made. Check beforehand what is closed on which day so that you can plan your sightseeing accordingly. For example, on Mondays most museums are closed, on National holidays many places (even shops) are closed and so on. So – look up the details of attractions o whichever city you are visiting and make your sightseeing itinerary for a satisfying and “no disappointments later” kind of trip!


1. Airport train: Very convenient. Ticket can be bought either at the station via the machine (cash/card) or in the train via the conductor (cash only).


2. Public transport


3. If you want to take the tour of Auschwitz, do make the booking beforehand with a tour because it gets sold out. Tripadvisor will give you the details of the tour operators.


1. The airport bus is 210. You should keep some change with you. The machine at the airport may or may not work. It didn’t when I was there. So change the bills for coins at some shop at the airport. The people are really nice there and will help.

For returning from city to the airport, one helpful soul even made a video to help locate the bus stop as it can be confusing sometimes. Here is the link.

Here is the airport guide:


2. You don’t need transport to move within the city for tourist areas as it’s not so big. I found a hotel close to the waterfront and the city center was also in walking distance.

I hope the information is useful for all those of you who wish to travel to Poland. It’s a lovely country with charming people. Do put it on your travel list it if not already been there.

Check out all my posts about my Poland trip here:


And now it is time to go – the flight is boarding :). Until next..

Verona contd..

In the last post, I ended with the story of Isabella and Corrado but that’s not the end of my stories of Verona.

Continuing on our exploration of Verona, we came across a lovely square with Fra Costera – a monk standing on a pedestal above the arch with a stone ball in hand. The legend says that this ball will drop if an honest person passes by under the statue. It has of course not fallen down so far ever, for who is really honest in this world?

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Fra Costera waiting for a honest person

At the center of the square, Dante stands looking at everyone. Verona was the place where Dante seeked refuge when he was exiled from Florence.  Probably as a gratitude, he dedicated the Paradise part of his masterpiece – Divine Comedy – to Verona, more specifically to the Cangrande – the library of Verona which is on the left hand side in the picture below.

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Dante in contemplation

At some places we saw the symbol of city – a dog with a ladder. And almost everywhere we could see the colors of the city – red and white. See the cathedral below with the red and white stones to get an idea.

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The Duomo of Verona

We came across Emilio Salgari at the bibliothek, who was the creator of Sandokan – the 19th century fictional pirate


Creator of Sandokan

We passed by the Church of St. Thomas where Mozart played a concert while still a child, Porta Leoni, the church of St. Fermo and St. Rustico, a street going into the Veronetta – small Verona. On the hills, we could see the Medieval Military buildings.


Our tour ended at the oldest bridge of Verona – the Ponte Pietra. You can see the different colored stones there – the white ones are from the original bridge and had fallen into the river when the German army blew the bridge during the second world war. The locals pulled out those stones painstakingly from the river and rebuilt the bridge over a period of 10 years piece by piece.

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Ponte Pietra

Then our guide sat down to answer our queries and give suggestions on what we could do next depending upon our interests. We thanked her with tips and took our leave.

Since we had only about 2 hours left to return to our bus, we decided to do the touristy task of visiting Juliet. I wanted to see the Cathedral first so three of us took a different route than the other three co-passengers from the bus. The Cathedral was nice – not as magnificent as in Florence or Milan but serene. A service was ongoing inside as it was a Sunday, which felt so lovely.

Then we found our way towards Juliet. I couldn’t catch her alone for even one moment. So here she is with someone who also, probably like me, felt inappropriate to grab Juliet’s breast which is supposedly the thing one should do here. I wonder who came up with that stupid idea in the first place. A side note – the same statue of Juliet – albeit not golden – stands in Munich too!


Juliet with her admirers

Then we went to grab something to eat before heading back to the bus and call it a day.

It was a long journey back home but the beautiful sunny day in Verona somehow kept the heart warm when I had to step out into the freezing cold night to get to home…


The Journey Back..



After the tiring day at Venice, the tour came to the camping site and it was time to get some rest. The bus was supposed to start early morning so I tried to make the best of the time by sleeping as soon as possible. But I somehow woke up too early and couldn’t get back to sleep. Anyway, finally after everyone was ready, we started on our return journey. The great thing – we stopped at Verona. That was wonderful because of two reasons – a) the sun was out b) we’d left the mad crowd in Venice.

Once we got down, I rushed towards the place where the walking tour was supposed to start from. Having missed the opportunity in Venice, I was quite determined to not miss it here. So I reached the venue along with the two other girls that I had made friends with in the tour. We had some time to kill. The tea and some french fries at the McD there was not hurting anyone, so we sat down to get ourselves fuelled for the tour.


Then we started the tour, quite on time, when the guide and all the people who wanted to take the tour were assembled.

The guide told us Verona means “terrace on the river”. The city is on the river Adige and has a history of more than 2000 years! It was a Roman settlement in the 1st century BC. The most important ruling family was the Scaligeri family (also known as Scala) which ruled for around a 100 years between the 13th and 14th centuries. Then it came under the rule of Venice in 1405 AD. Later, it was taken over by Napoleon, then Austria before becoming part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1866. It is a Unesco world heritage site today. Quite a history!

So the first thing that the guide showed us was this huge arch with a clock on it. This is the entrance to the old city. It is called Portoni della Bra.


Portoni della Bra

Then we made our way to the statue of the Bard who had chosen Verona as the setting of the romantic tragedy “Romeo and Juliet”.

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We briefly passed from the Arena – which is like a mini colloseum. We got to know that the word “Arena” actually means “sand” which was spread in such theaters to absorb the blood of the fighters (men, animals..all the same).

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The Arena

Then the guide took us to the Castel Veccio also called Castello Scaligero. The walls of the fort were great overlooking the river and seemed quite popular for photos.


Castel Veccio with King Tut!

There were two rulers from the Scaligero family with the same name – Cangrande – first one was good and the second one as cruel as they come  (nicknamed – Can Rabbioso – Angry Dog). He was assassinated by his brother. The rule of the Scaligero family didn’t last for too long after that. Within 25 years or so, Verona was part of the Venetian rule.

In 1805, the castle was used as the Barracks for Napoleon’s army.

On the road close to the castle, we saw some embedded white marble pieces and our guide asked us to make a note of them. Then we reached a beautiful stone arch overlooking the river. It was Arc de Gavia – Gavia being an influential Roman family in 1st century. Napoleon’s army had dismantled the arch to make way for advancing easily.  100 years later, the people of Verona collected the pieces and resurrected the arch in front of the river. The marble pieces seen earlier were at the original location of the arch.

We reached the Jupiter Gate which must have had the temples of Roman Gods in the past. The San Seno Gate was where the Roman soldiers holding bags collected tax there – hence the name Porta Borsa (Gate of Bag). Once we went through that gate, we also saw a small piece of wall which had the Head of Medusa, thereby confirming that there must have been some Roman temples in that area.

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Porta Borsa

Then the guide showed us the place of origin of something very Italian – the Pandorro – which is the traditional Italian Christmas Cake! Domingo Meligati made the first Pandorro in 1894 in his bakery on this street.


Home of the Pandorro

We passed Piazza Herbe which was the ancient Roman city center and the market for spices, the column of San Marco which shows the Lion with open book indicating it was constructed in the time of peace, the Justice Square – with a statue of a lady pointing a sword towards the skies asking for justice for the 14000 people killed in 1915 by Austrian armies in the WWI (in the old time, there used to be executions of convicts here).

We also saw the Rib of a whale hanging between two buildings on a street. It was actually the advertisement for the pharmacy that has been there since the 1700s when the whale bones were supposed to have medicinal properties!

Since we were in the city of the romantic tragedy, we came across another symbol of doomed lovers. It was a well. The protagonists of this story were Corrado and Isabella from the 16th century. The story goes that Corrado pursued Isabella incessantly but Isabella played hard to get. Then one day a fed up Corrado accused her of being as cold as the water in that well. Isabella asked him to jump into the well and see for himself if the water was indeed as cold as he thought. She was probably indicating to him that she wasn’t as cold but as the young men in love in the world of stories do, he took it literally and jumped into the well. Isabella, overcome by this turn of events, jumped into the well, to be forever with Corrado.

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At this story, I should probably stop and continue in my next post with the remaining things I want to write about Verona. Until next, arrivederci!

Poland – End of the Journey

At the end of the evening’s tour, I was tired – both physically and mentally, and very cold. It was interesting to have met some new people who had joined the tour – two from South Africa, a few from India are the ones I can recall. There was a girl from Brazil who walked with me towards the tram station. We were going in the same direction. She told me that the next day she was going to take a trip to the concentration camp. I never wanted to go there – having read about it is shocking enough – and because of the emotional toll that the tour had already taken on me, I am quite sure that my decision was right. So I thought that I would probably go to some museums etc. the next day.

But – as fate would have it – on the 1st of November, All Saint’s Day – almost everything in Poland is closed! I didn’t know that, else I would have planned my days differently. The concentration camp was open though – quite strange – isn’t it? Anyway, so my hopes of being able to go to the salt mines were shattered. Then I thought of climbing the Wawel Hill again because I read somewhere that in November, the castle museum is allowing free entrance. Did that and found that it being the All Saint’s Day – the museum was closed.


The day was getting colder and more difficult to pass. Then I looked up at google for some help. And like a good friend, it did. I found that the city zoo was open. Having nothing else to do, I descended the hill and made my way towards the bus that would take me to the zoo. It was a long journey – had to make a change in between – which was like a rural stop with no shelter but just a stone bench on which I sat. There seemed to be nobody around although there were many houses, the breeze was quite cold, the tree branches swayed and swished and except for the occasional cars passing by, it felt like something has happened and I am the only human being left on earth! Thankfully, a couple arrived and then the bus appeared as well. I reached the zoo and it was such a picturesque route through the hilly forests – all colored by the master strokes of the autumnal brush. I am sure if the sun would have been out, this would have been totally magical – justifying the name of the penultimate bus stop – Baba Jaga (the witch from the East European folk tales)! As probably it was a festival day, there were not too many people there. It is a big lovely zoo but that day the animals seemed to be lethargic with the cold weather in the same way that the people did. I was feeling kind of sorry for them to be trapped there. But probably they would have more survival challenges in the wild than in the zoo. Not justifying the captivity but just contemplating.


Anyway, so after spending the zoo and getting chilled to the bone, I decided to head back. The bus was already there and I went back to the city. Found a nice Indian restaurant to have some warm lunch and tea. Then went back to my room to take some rest. At around 6 pm, there was supposed to be a walking tour of the Macabre Krakow.


I had planned to meet a friend D – who lives in Krakow, but I didn’t know what time he would be back to the city as he had gone to spend the All Saints’ Day with his family. So I went to the tour, thinking that if D comes, then I would leave the tour midway. It was quite good for me that D sent a message just as I was listening to the guide and thinking that I don’t want to go on that tour else I would get nightmares later. So D kind of rescued me :-). Then we went to get a drink in the main square while waiting for his girlfriend A, who joined us in some time. I was curious about the tradition of going to the cemeteries on this day and asked if they could take me to one. They very graciously agreed and in the process, poor D had to let go of his plans for a dinner although he was hungry, for A mentioned that the cemeteries might close if we delayed. There were special tram services that day to take people from one cemetery to the other! Shows how important that festival is for the people there. Basically the day is about remembering the saints, martyrs and deceased members of your family. The cemeteries were lit up with thousands of candles and there were people everywhere, unlike my experience during the day while waiting for the bus.


I was given a candle by A to light as well. That was so kind and thoughtful of her! I really appreciate it when people include me in their traditions. Makes me feel welcome and not an aloof outsider! I lit it up on a grave that seemed like the candles there were about to go out.

Then D and A walked me back to my room while D had to satisfy his hunger with a doner on the way. It was late and super cold but the warm gesture of D and A made the day so much better! I had something to eat in my room and went to sleep.

The next day I had my flight back. The morning was a bit hectic as I couldn’t find the key of my suitcase anymore – but that’s another story. I managed to get out in time for my flight and all was fine. I went for my customary Indian food at the restaurant I like very much but it wasn’t up to the expectations that day. Then as the bus I had to take still had time, I went to a nearby mall and then some time later, was on my way home. That was the end of my first trip to Poland. Hope to be there once again, albeit in less cold weather :-).

Poland – Another History

It took long for me to come from the previous post to this one. But let me pick up the thread from where I stopped.

So in the evening, despite the freezing cold, I braced myself and went towards the Old Synagogue. It was getting dark already at 5 PM as it was the end of October. When I reached there, I was not sure if that was the right place as I saw 3 people. Getting closer, I found one of them was the guide and the other two wanted to take the tour just like me. We waited for some more time and more people arrived albeit late. Then the tour started.

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The Old Synagogue

The area – Kazimierz was set up as a separate city by Kassimir in the beginning of the 14th century with its own city gates and walls. The history of Jews in Krakow is quite old. They arrived here and settled between 11th and 13th century as the tolerance for them was higher than in the rest of, especially Western, Europe. Kazimierz became a major Jewish settlement by the end of 14th century. The Jews who arrived here from Prague in 1389, made this first synagogue as a replica of the one in Prague. It had separate parts for women and men, as is the traditional way. This is known as the Old Synagogue now. Part of it was the townhall, part of it was used for trading. Today it is a museum.

Side-note: The rulers of Poland didn’t participate in the crusades for various reasons but the “official” one given to the Pope (Henry II) was that there is no beer in Jerusalem!

The 2nd synagogue was made by another set of Jews who lived near the present University area and were moved here when there was a fire there. They made their own synagogue as they didn’t want to pray with the ones from Prague.

Then there is another one – Remah/Remu Synagogue – Rabbi Moshe Isserles fame. It could have been built by his father Israel ben Josef in honor of his illustrious son or by the Rabbi himself to in memory of his first wife. It is not clearly known.  Our guide told us this little story. In the 16th century, Rabbi Yosef Karo wrote a book which contained code of Jewish law. He sent it to Rabbi Moshe Isserles in Krakow for review – who was also in the process of writing such a book. He got disheartened that someone else had written something before him. But then, he concluded that the book was for Sephardi (settlers in North Africa) Jews and he could add his work to it as the guidelines for the Ashkenazi Jews (settlers along Rhine)!

Another synagogue made in 1620. I don’t know what was the reason for this one.

During the tour, we got to get inside one – the Izaak/Isaac Synagogue – which was made in 1644.  It was made with the donation from banker to the King Wladyslav IV – Isaac Jakubowicz or Isaac the Rich. There is a legend associated with this synagogue. Isaac Jakubowicz (another spelling Ayzik) was a poor pious Jew. One night he dreamt of a big city and a bridge and was instructed to go to Prague and look for treasure under the Charles Bridge. He got this dream several times. So he decided to go. On reaching there, he found the bridge being guarded by a squad of soldiers. He talked to them about his dream asking for permission to dig. They laughed at him and shooed him away. Some time later,  one of the soldiers came to him and told him that he had been dreaming that he would find treasure in the oven at the home of someone named Izaak, the son of Jacob, who lives in Krakow, but he wasn’t stupid to go searching for treasure based on dreams. Izaak immediately returned home and found the treasure in the oven of his own home. In gratitude, he constructed this synagogue. Out of the 7 surviving synagogues in Krakow today, four are still active and this is one of them.

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Inside the Izaak synagogue

We took a small break at a place called Okraglak with a circular  building – a relic of the communist times of Poland – which has kiosks selling Zapiekanki – baguettes with mushrooms, cheese and other toppings. Even today, the prices have been kept very low just like in the communist times.

Fast forward to the 20th century and crossing the river from Kazimierz. One of the darkest periods and a dark place for humanity. It was at Podgorze where the Jewish ghetto was established across the river Vistula. About 20000 people were made to live in a place with a capacity of 3500. The food ration assigned to the victims was 350 calories/day while the perpetrators had 3000 calories/day. We were standing on that cold Halloween night at the Zgody square of the ghetto listening to our guide tell us about the horrific segregating process that began at the end of May 1942. Those considered being able to work were sent to labor camps and the others straightaway to their deaths. Initially the perpetrators pretended that the victims were going to a better place where there would be work and food and the people felt hopeful and fell for that lie – even carrying their suitcases with things they considered important for them! I think that dying itself wouldn’t be as excruciating as the loss of the hope on getting to know what really awaited them at those death camps..We saw an exhibit of 68 chairs in that square as a memorial to the 68000 Jews of Poland who were the victims. Our guide interpreted the empty chairs as the city waiting for those people to come back and take their place. It was quite heart-breaking – a sight that won’t leave the thoughts of the observer who understands the meaning, for a very long time.

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The empty chairs at the Zgody Square

From there we moved towards Schindler’s factory – which we know from the famous movie Schindler’s List. Now Oskar Schindler was a member of the Nazi party and spied for the German army. He was captured in Czech but was released when the Germans occupied Czech. Thereafter, he came to Krakow to make money like many others. The Jewish shops and factories were snatched and given over to the Nazi supporters. That’s how Schindler came into the possession of this factory. The Poles and Jews were hired/forced to work in those occupied businesses. The Jews were not paid. But Schindler made the conditions comparatively much better for the Jews working in his factory. And as we know from the movie, he saved the lives of so many of them. Makes one wonder about the machinations of destiny. The story of how this movie came about is also equally arduous. One of the survivors of the holocaust Poldek Pfefferberg worked with Schindler at his factory. He tried to persuade many writers to write the book about this story and ultimately succeeded in 1980, six years after Schindler had passed away, to make the Australian author Thomas Keneally take the project. Thereafter,  he persevered to persuade Steven Spielberg – for 11 long years after the book was published – to make a movie about the remarkable story. My thought about it is that he must have felt that it is important that the world also gets to know about not only the horrors of that war about which a plenty is written down, but about those who brought hope and saved lives in their own ways.

This is where I would end my post about this part of the Krakowian history. In the next one, I would write about my last day of stay in Krakow which started quite disappointingly but ended much better. Until then..

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.


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!


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)


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”.

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.


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.


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 :-).


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!


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 (finale)

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.

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Green Gate and Palace

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.

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Fingerprints of surrendered soldiers on the left wall and the photo of that event straight ahead

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.

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.