Kraków, Ancient Capital – May 7


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How to Kill a Dragon Named Smok:

The old story is told that Kraków was founded in 350 A.D. by a bloke named Krakus. He had a beautiful daughter, handy if you want dangerous work done. Let’s call her Jo. Worried by Smok, who lived in a cave under Wawel Hill (see model above), Krakus offered Jo’s hand in marriage to any man who could snuff Smok. Many tried, but when they cut off Smok’s head, he grew two more instantly. It was a bloody, dragon-head-filled while before one chappie whom I’ll call Pawel figured out that cutting off one or more heads just made things worse. He poisoned a goat and left it in front of Smok’s cave. Poison worked. Pawel won the damsel, Jo’s dowry and a lifetime supply of Grey Goose.

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We had a lazy morning, since we had opted not to opt for the optional tour of the Salt Mines.There were many stairs down even after the elevator. Going down a ton of stairs is hard for Anita. We still had 9 days left in our trip; not a time to risk your mobility! I opted to stay at the Sheraton with her, tying up some loose ends… where to eat lunch, what museum(s) to see after lunch, and how we might fit in a walk to the 14th C. Kazimierz neighbourhood… until our Salt o’ the Deep Earth group got back. The Salt Mine, and its beautiful acoustic space and sculpture, is a World Heritage Site. Kinda wish I’d gone…

Wawel Hill:

Anyway, when the salts, old and young, returned and had been hosed down with Perrier and rubbed up with aloe cream, we walked up Wawel Hill. Our local expert took us through its cathedral. Most of the royal bodies are kept there, so it is still the most important cathedral in Poland. Our young guide charmed us with stories of love, tragedy and intrigue. No photos inside :(.

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We learned about Jadwiga, the aural inspiration, perhaps, for Harry Potter’s owl, Hedwig. Jadwiga, a female, was crowned King of Poland in 1384. Raised in Buda, she was 10 years old when she came to Wawel for the coronation.  At 12 she married Jogaila of Lithuania, who figured that marrying a 12-year-old Polish King/Queen was the safest way of turning Lithuania Catholic and avoiding the wrath and greed of the dogmatic Teutonic Knights. European history is complicated. Jogaila and Jadwiga kicked off the Jagiellonian Dynasty (1386-1587), which succeeded the Piast Dynasty, Poland’s first dynasty. The Piast Dynasty began with Prince Mieszko I in 930 A.D. and ended with the death of King Casimir III, who produced 5 daughters from two of his four wives but died in 1370 with no sons.

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The third Polish dynasty called Waza (1587-1668) began, after a hiatus of various rulers, with King Sigismund III Waza  – elected by Polish nobility in 1587. Sigismund, who had a long, divisive reign (1587-1632),  was also King of Sweden for about 7 years until the Swedes that mattered deposed him in 1599. He is not too popular in Kraków because he moved the Polish seat of power to the upstart, Warsaw, in 1596. Old wounds do not die…

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Our local expert had a good sense of humour. While a few of us waited in the Wawel Palace’s courtyard, I told her I had read that moving the capital to Warsaw made sense because Warsaw was centrally located between Kraków and Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. She countered, saying that Sigismund III moved the capital to Warsaw in 1609 because he carelessly set the castle on fire in 1595, burning down the NE wing. The Waza connections with Sweden turned sour, with the nadir occurring when the Swedes swept through Lithuania and Poland, whose armies had been weakened by conflict with Russia (It was surprising to me to learn that the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth included the Ukraine!) More on this in my next post). This Swedish invasion (1655-1660) is called the Swedish Deluge. After visiting Wawel we walked down to Rynek Glówny, the main square, to see the famous Cloth Hall and listen to the 1 P.M. trumpet in the steeple of the Basilica of St. Mary (Mariaka). A trumpeter lurks in the Mariaka’s taller tower, opens a high window after the bell sounds the time, and plays. I videoed it sideways… Duh…

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Rynek Glówny, Post Cards and Polka:

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Then we were on our own for the afternoon. We ate at a cool sports pub called C. K. Browar near Rynek Glówny, then went back to the square and visited the Cloth Hall, where silk and other fabrics were sold in old Kraków. It is now a large indoor bazaar.

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We found the Rynek Underground Museum nearby, very different from more paintings of old masters. This is a new, modern, interpretive  museum that houses the excavations below the modern street level of Rynek Glówny. Items found, films and modern audio-visual presentations took us back to olden times. I bought, wrote and sent two post cards at a little tourist post office inside an old horse-drawn coach. Then we went back to the hotel and got ready for our optional local dinner with traditional Polish music and dancing. Above average in the category of tour-organized dinners.

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Couple of things for next visit in 20?? :

  • Walk around Kasimierz and visit a synagogue
  • Visit the Salt Mine Museum
  • Visit the Oscar Schindler Factory museum
  • Visit Rynek Glówny at sunset!!

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Author: mytiturk

Travelbug Minstrel: Strum for my supper, croon for my cuppa Search for a sign, write for my whine

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