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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  

Polish Flag POLAND


September 20. KRAKOW We took this day to do justice to Krakow's old town area.  After two partial days of strolling we needed to start knocking off the sights.  Beginning at  Rynek Główny we walked past the great St. Anne's Church where a large plaque commemorated Pope John Paul II's visit to the church and conducted mass.  From behind St. Anne's we entered into the smaller Maly Rynek and down Stolarska Street.  On our right we came up on the United States Consulate.  It was looking less manned than the other diplomatic offices we had seen in the world and I took a quite photo of the emblem next to the door.  As we turned around several military men with guns emerged from a van across street and, giving us a sympathetic "you silly American tourist" look, indicated that photos were not allowed.  So, it was a manned consulate, just inconspicuously so. 

A bit further down Stolarska Street we knocked on the door of the 13th century Dominican monastery and visited its cloister area to see the interior of one of its smaller chapels which was sadly closed.  Continuing down to Grodzka Street, which connected Rynek Główny with Wawel Hill, we came upon the glorious early 17th century baroque Church of SS Peter & Paul, the first baroque church built in Poland.  The most impressive part of this church was the wall that protected the entrance from the street and was topped with nearly life-sized white statues of saints.  Next door stood the 11th century Romanesque St. Andrew's Church, a survivor of Poland's encounter with the Tartars.

The street was filled with tourist and the occasional wedding party.  Monk sightings were fairly common as well.  With both the Dominican and Franciscan monasteries nestled in the middle of old town we saw brown or black robed men riding the trolley or strolling along.  We even witnessed one young monk, couldn't have been more than his late teens or maybe early twenties, decked out in his robe and carrying a large backpack.  Even monks could be tourists apparently and this city was the place a touring monk would visit.  The whole of the city really exuded religiosity with the abundance of churches and noticeable clergymen and nuns.   Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was elected Pope in 1978 and his parents are buried in Krakow.  His election and the determined faith of the Polish people are credited with helping to bring about the downfall of the Soviet Union.  It is no wonder that Poland's religious community should be so strong in Krakow.

When we reached the end of Grodza Street we could look up and see the outer wall of the citadel and back side of the palace it contained.  Climbing the slope into the courtyard we first encountered the 14th century Wawel Cathedral, the coronation and birthplace of the Polish royalty.  The interior was beautiful but what was far more spiritual was the sea of priests standing in front of a red robed clad bishop or, perhaps even, cardinal.  He was giving a special service and not long after we arrived the group began chanting "Amen" and slowing breaking away and moving around the back of the main alter.  They continued to chant as they moved and the deep collective sound reverberated through the high ceiling.  After a few more words at the tomb behind the alter they moved again to a smaller chapel,, not all able to fit.  In the middle of the mass of black robes stood one white robed monk with blue eyes and blonde hair.  Onlookers, like us, carefully moved around the group to try and observe without disrupting them. They were totally tolerant of the movement around them and remained focused on the bishop.  As the service showed signs of coming to an end we moved swiftly out the front door and waited across the courtyard. The vision of these men pouring out of the door and down the stairs into the sunlight was almost chilling.  Crowds of Buddhist monks had become familiar to me since the Buddhist monasteries often housed hundreds of monks.  However, I had never seen such a large population of Catholic priests in my life.  Coming from a country where many priests are secured from overseas, it is a challenge for some churches to even get their own priest in the United States.  And these men were not an old group by any means.  There were many young men breathing life into the Catholic clergy of Poland.  It was a fortuitous sight.

We returned to take a closer look at the actual church interior and I explored the tombs and took a hike up the bell tower to gain a brilliant view of old Krakow.  With all of the priests now gone the church was busy readying itself for a wedding ceremony.  We moved into the spacious lawn area in front of palace and peeked briefly into the palace courtyard.  Not interested in seeing another collection of imperial bedrooms, we opted not to take the tour but instead enjoyed the beautiful weather outside. 

As we moved towards the opposite side of the citadel from where we had entered we observed the very same massive tour groups of high school kids that had imposed on our salt mines tour the previous day.  We ducked and went in the other direction but not too soon to see them begin singing again, this time in front of the church, as a wedding couple arrived for their special day.  I had to wonder how a Catholic couple would feel about a large group of high school kids singing in Hebrew at the start of their wedding.  It may have been festive and well intended but perhaps not what they had in mind.

Somewhere in the large grounds of Wawel Hill was supposed to be an Om Wall, an energy point that represented one of the world's chakras to the Buddhist practitioners.  We looked for it but found nothing.  We suspected that the area was blocked off.  Apparently the Catholic population was not thrilled about this newly realized point of Buddhist energy and actively discouraged its discovery.  They'd had too many Buddhist standing against the wall to feel the chakra and it seemed to disturb their Catholic values. 

Starting to feel tired we made our way back up Grodza Street to the 13th century Franciscan monastery.  A deep blue color covered the walls from floor to ceiling with stars up above and an occasional sunflower amidst the religious images.  Stained glass windows illuminated the altar.  It was warm and inviting. 

From the monastery we swept out to the edge of old town and passed through a park where a large photo exhibition was on display.  There were photos of different parts of the world but the two that this stuck in my mind were of a crowded beach full of naturists and a colony of sea lions - meaningfully displayed next to each other.  Veering back into old town we peeked into the courtyard of the Jagiellonian University, founded in 1364 and the second oldest university in Central Europe, after Prague.  Fatigue was well set in at this point so spotting a nice little cafe, far enough from the square to be empty of tourists, we plopped into the seats in the open window.

We lingered long in our cafe before finally making a move towards dinner.  After days of kebabs, gyros and Polish sausage we decided it was time to bend the budget and have a proper meal.  We chose a cafe on the square with seating outside.  It turned out to be a good choice as a stage that had been erected on that side of the square came to life with an eclectic mix of performances of musicals, rock music and dancing.  Our table was on the outer edge of the cafe and gave us good views.  We chatted up a Canadian couple sitting next to us and were later joined in conversation by three New Yorkers.  Together we began counting all of the brides we saw walking around the square.  There were at least a few, since we carefully identified each dress.  The weather would be getting colder soon so wedding season was coming to an end. A parade began circumambulating the square led by a tuxedo clad man on stilts with a flare in one hand. He was followed by whimsical costumed people, fat men in tutus, a bizarre drum ensemble and a tall women in a cone-like white dress that stretched all of the way down her stilts to the ground and was a glow with light from underneath.  It was dramatic and modern, a wild contrast to the medieval square.   

POLAND Warsaw Sept 16-17 Krakow Sept 18 Sept 19 Sept 20 Sept 21-22

CZECH REPUBLIC Prague Sept 23 Sept 24-25 Cesky Krumlov Sept 26 Sept 27-30

AUSTRIA Vienna Oct 1 Oct 2

HUNGARY Budapest Oct 3 Oct 4 Oct 5-6