Poland, Day 1 (Krakow)

Breakfast was in the hotel crypt again (because it was included with the room, and also very tasty — though wow, Polish breakfast includes a lot more in the way of savory foods than I’m used to seeing at that time of day), and then it was time to defy jet lag and set forth.

I made a miscalculation in planning this trip, though. I didn’t realize that Polish museums, like theatres, are frequently closed on Mondays. As it turned out, this made very little dent in our plans (since there was enough to fill an entire day with regardless), but it was annoying.

We go first to Wawel, the fortified hill overlooking the Vistula River at the southern end of the Stare Miasto. This is home to a large number of things: Wawel Castle, Wawel Cathedral, various museum displays, and more. Of course, half of them are closed; we aren’t able to go into the royal apartments, for example, or the “Oriental Art” exhibit currently there. But that’s okay, because the stuff I really care about was open.

Starting with “Lost Wawel,” the archaeological museum. (Kraków does very good archaeological museums, along with their hot chocolate. If it weren’t for the winters, this place might be made for me.) This is small, but includes a nifty path curving above the conserved remnants of walls from earlier structures. Archaeology Geek Brain turns on immediately.

From there we go to another great love of mine: the Crown armory. !!!!! Pictures aren’t allowed, so I can’t show you the many, many, many, many, many pretty things in there, but let’s just say that I wanted to adopt some of the rapiers and take them home with me. Several of them had piercework running the length of the forte, which I’ve never seen before and possibly isn’t practical, but is certainly lovely. And the guns! Normally I’m not much for guns, but the inlay on their stocks was nothing short of amazing. Armor, too, and polearms, and, and, and, and . . . okay, I’m a weapons geek, I admit it. (I’m sure you’re all shocked.) The Crown treasury is nothing shabby, either, but in the end, I love swords more than I love more standard-issue valuables.

Side note: I love the fact that the souvenir shops on the Wawel are not all the same. Sure, you see the same kinds of things in a number of them, but others are quite different: one sells old maps, one sells collectible coins (some of them very valuable), and a third sells music. Given how cookie-cutter souvenir shops tend to be, it makes for a refreshing change.

The different parts of the hill have different closing times, so next we cross the hill (passing by more conserved wall remnants, out in the grass) and go to the entrance of the Dragon’s Den. This is a cavern underlying the Wawel Hill, which is associated with the legend of the Wawel Dragon. And here, I must pause for storytime.

The legend begins in a fairly standard-issue fashion. Livestock went missing along the river, and so did people, and King Krakus (the legendary founder of Kraków) discovered that the cause was a dragon, living in a cave beneath the hill. He offered his daughter’s hand in marriage to anyone who could kill the dragon, which attracted the usual assortment of brave knights, etc, but all of them got munched. Then a cobbler’s apprentice offered his assistance . . . and here is where things get less than standard.

The aforementioned apprentice took a lamb, slaughtered it, stuffed its body with sulfur, and left this tasty treat outside the cave. The dragon ate it, and developed a terrible stomach-ache. In its attempt to ease the pain, the dragon drank half the Vistula River — and EXPLODED.

So we descend into the cave. It’s not terribly large, but it’s pretty nifty, and when we exit the cave at the base of the hill we find this outside. I now understand the little souvenir statues I’ve been seeing in various places, and also why dragon-themed memorabilia is such a Thing in this city.

The cave trip has, however, dumped us at the bottom of the hill, and we aren’t quite done with the top of it yet. So we circle back around, and now we visit the Wawel Cathedral, which (being part of the general royal complex there) contains the tombs of just about everybody who’s anybody in Krakovian history. (Exception: Pope John Paul II. He’s got a chapel — we have an entertaining conversation the following night with the Polish Co-Worker Crew about who got evicted from that chapel to make room for him — but his tomb, of course, is in the Vatican.) It’s an odd building; as you can see in that photo, it sort of has this glued-together look, like somebody took bits of other buildings and stacked them up. The result is hardly unattractive, but it’s also a far cry from the more coherent look I’m accustomed to in cathedrals.

We end up rushing through this a little bit, though, because by now it’s early afternoon and I’m starving. So we head back north through the Stare Miasto and get lunch at Chłopskie Jadło, a restaurant recommended to me by Chris of The King of Elfland’s Second Cousin. Its name, I’m told, means “peasant’s grub,” and that’s what they serve: I have pierogies and black currant juice for lunch, kniedzw has some kind of stew and a strong hot mead, and it’s all wonderfully hearty.

After that is when trouble sets in. We try to go to one museum on the market square: it’s closed. We try another, one we spotted the previous night, when I went to make friends with a black-and-white cat near the coffeeshop; it’s closed, too. We do succeed at climbing the City Hall tower, which is our second demonstration (the Dragon’s Den being the first) of the oft-repeated principle of our trip: Poland is not built for kniedzws. (Ironic, given that one of his grandfathers was Polish. But his medieval ancestors did not plan for people being six foot three.) The stairs are knee-height on me in places, and narrow enough that I have to turn my foot sideways (yay ballet); the ceiling is low enough that I have to duck, let alone my husband. But the top room gives a great view of the market, including St. Mary’s.

With the time we have left after that, we walk down to the main archaeological museum (passing along the way a big outdoor display of pictures dedicated to, you guessed it, John Paul II). But it is — say it with me — closed! Ah well. We have plans for the evening anyway. After grabbing a quick dinner on the north edge of the market (really tasty pasta with salmon and zucchini in a sort of garlicky lemon sauce), we head off to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul for a concert of baroque chamber music. This is a thing they do every Monday, with other concerts on Tuesday and Wednesday, and they’re not the only ones; several other churches seem to do the same thing. Combined with the quality of the street performers, it makes Kraków seem like a very musical city.

So we didn’t make it to several things we wanted to see (like other parts of the Wawel, and various museums), but there’s a day allocated at the end of the trip for catch-up, so that’s fine. We had splendid weather, too — very nearly the last day of it we were going to get.

But that is a tale for the next few posts.

0 Responses to “Poland, Day 1 (Krakow)”

  1. Marie Brennan

    He did indeed! My apologies; I was distracted while typing this up, and didn’t realize I had left the ending out. 🙂

  2. jennifergale

    Exploded!

    Yup. That usually happens when one drinks half a river. Next time I admonish my children for drinking too much or eating too much, I think I might use the Wawel dragon to support my argument. :firm nod:

    • Marie Brennan

      It was even better when I first read it, because I briefly confused sulfur with sodium, and thought it was a chemical reaction that blew up the dragon. 😀

  3. hawkwing_lb

    This post reminds me of my too-brief trip to Kraków, and makes me want so much to go back with more than half a day to explore.

Comments are closed.