June 23, 5:10AM
At 5:10AM, a huge clap of thunder woke us all with a start. Groaning, moaning, and uttering expletives… we tried to go back to sleep, but the thunder storm and heavy rain raged all around us.
And then, eventually, the storm moved off…finally, we could sleep…
…but before it could happen, one by one, our alarm clocks started to go off. It was time to leave.
Grumbling, lights flicked on, and we headed to the washrooms and showers…
A few people reported that there was some food missing from the hostel kitchen. Tom and Tara reported half a carton of chocolate milk had been pilfered, and half of Linn’s salami was missing.
Apparently, some of the guests thought we wouldn’t mind sharing. Or there was a mix up.
Either way, it didn’t improve anyone’s mood.
Not long after, we packed up our stuff, got on the bus, and left Wroclaw for Krakow.
We had been on the bus for a few hours, and I had been trying (unsuccessfully) to take a nap. I eventually gave up, and I joined in with a bunch of the group who were quizzing each other on Canadian provinces and U.S. states.
It turns out that I know relatively little about Canadian provinces, and next to nothing about U.S. states. Hmph.
Eventually, we pulled over at a rest stop. I took the opportunity to try some of the local junk food, and purchased two chocolate bars – a “Corny Big” and a “3Bit”. They tasted better than they sound.
Tamara also took the opportunity to tell us how the rest of the trip was going to work. She also lightly condemned the last hostel, which was clearly not to her liking.
While talking about the rest of the trip, she mentioned that she had arranged for us to visit Auschwitz for the next morning. The group got quiet. Tamara also said that she had left open the possibility of visiting the Wieliczka Salt Mines after Auschwitz, but that it would really depend on our mood. We would probably be upset after Auschwitz, and would want to go home and rest.
We arrived at the hostel around 11:30PM, and man, what a difference! The place was absolutely spartan, the rooms were gorgeous, the views were incredible… we were quite happy, as you can see:
Yes, it was a welcome change. In case you’re interested, the hostel was called “Cracow Hostel Apartment“. You can see more photos of the place if you click these words – but having been there, it’s pretty clear that these photos try to make the rooms seem bigger with lens effects.
So we had nice rooms. But guess what?
Peter got the pent house! The lucky guy got the hostel apartment! The room was incredible! It was too bad we were only staying a few nights.
The hostel was particularly awesome because it was in the Market Square. Here are a few shots of the view from the common room window:
Wow! (Looks a lot like Wroclaw, doesn’t it? That’s what I thought, too.)
If it isn’t clear from the photos, it was still drizzling out. But that didn’t mean we weren’t starving. After unpacking and cleaning up, we hit the pavement to try to find some lunch.
This was lunch:
And this was where we ate it:
After leaving the restaurant, Tamara took us on a walking tour of the surrounding area:
The rain had stopped, and the air was left dripping with humidity.
We stopped by a church called Bazylika Sw Franciszka Z Asyzku XIII W. Hm. Maybe I wasn’t hearing right, but apparently there was some stained-glass work by Adam Mickiewicz there…
Here are some shots from the church. Not the greatest shots I’ve ever taken, but hey – it was dark in there:
I don’t know if Mickiewicz did the stained-glass – regardless, here’s a shot of one of the pieces:
We left the church, and meandered through the streets.
Here’s a window dog we saw on our way to the castle ramp. It breaks the narrative, but I can’t resist:
And while I’m breaking narrative, here’s Alex posing in front of a Bauhaus poster:
…and eventually, we found ourselves climbing the ramp up to Wawel Castle:
Here’s a view from one of the castle turrets:
At the castle gate, we bought tickets to enter, and to see the “Dragon’s Den” underneath the castle grounds. We were stoked.
2:45PM – Wawel Castle
High security. Metal detectors. Armed guards. This place wasn’t taking any chances. There was a very strict code of conduct in there – no sitting, no leaning on walls, keep quiet, and absolutely no pictures. So I just took notes.
So I can’t show you what it was like inside, but I can try to describe it:
It was a museum. Stone and hardwood floors. Quiet like a tomb. Marble staircases. Wooden cabinets, uncomfortable looking wooden chairs, wooden tables…tapestries, beds. Old paintings.
Tamara told us a story about how when the Germans invaded, relics and artifacts were smuggled out of Europe. It turns out that some relics from Wawel Castle eventually found themselves holed up with a cloister of nuns in Canada. Go figure.
Everything was ornate, and gold rimmed. Even the ceilings were covered in gold.
Oh the hell with it – so I couldn’t take any photos: that doesn’t mean I can’t scrape some from off the Internet. Here’s what I was seeing, care of this website:
There, that’s better. I’ve always been a visual kind of guy.
Check out the ceiling on this room:
You probably can just barely see them, but those are human heads carved and painted into the ceiling. Just staring down. And one has his mouth gagged. It was creepy. Apparently, those heads were carved by Sebastian Tauerbach back in the 1500s.
The castle wasn’t the only thing on Wawel Hill. Inevitably, there was a church – Wawel Cathedral.
So, interesting theatre connection with Wawel Cathedral:
There was a theatre artist who wanted to do a show in the cathedral. His idea for the play: that all of the tapestries and statues would come to life on the night before Easter to demonstrate the resurrection of Christ. It was like Night at the Museum, but with 100% more Jesus.
Anyhow, that play was called Akropolis, and would eventually be staged by Jerzy Grotowski in the 1960’s. Grotowki’s spin on it was to stage it in Auschwitz instead of the Wawel Cathedral.
Anyhow, Grotowki’s Akropolis caused ripples in the theatre world, and was a shining example of the “poor theatre” that he was striving to achieve.
For the people who don’t study drama, Grotowski, Poor Theater, and Akropolis are a pretty big deal. I’ve seen a taping of Akropolis a few times…it’s one of the few recordings of Grotowski’s work.
Anyhow, that’s the connection. We were inside the cathedral where that whole thing began.
Walking through the cathedral. Once again, I couldn’t take any photos.
Description: high ceilings, gold, tapestries, stained glass. Gothic architecture. Gold alter. Chandaliers. Ornate, dark woodwork. Coffins and tombs. Sarcophagi.
There was a narrow, claustrophobic staircase that led up to the cathedral bell tower. It was windy up there, and the bells were absolutely massive. Huge cast-iron things. Mother of all bells. I couldn’t help myself – I whipped out my camera like a gunslinger, and snuck a shot:
Yeah, I know – doesn’t look that impressive. It’s due to lack of size reference points. You’ve just got to trust me.
There were tombs in the basement. Thick marble slabs, stone… there were some disturbingly small sarcophagi too.
The tombs got more modern the farther through we went – towards the end, we saw tombs with the occupants’ firearms strapped to the wall.
Maybe I’ve seen too many Indiana Jones movies, but I couldn’t help feeling that there were probably secret passages all over the place.
Finally, we got out of the catacombs into the fresh air. We hung around outside, and waited for stragglers. I took the opportunity to take a photo of some kids who were clearly disobeying the “don’t step on the grass” rule:
Thunder rumbled in the distance.
Remember the Dragon’s Den? That was our last stop on Wawel. We took a narrow, twisty flight of stairs down…down…deep…down…wayyyyy down into the cave beneath the castle.
It was…a cave. Kinda underwhelming, but I don’t know what we were expecting. A real dragon?
The lighting conditions weren’t ideal, so here are my crappy photos of the cave:
And here’s Tom filling up the cave with some dragon presence:
We eventually left the cave. We took the time to sit, rest our legs, and stare up at this dragon monument that was outside the exit:
Now, I don’t know how the rumour got started, but apparently, every hour, that dragon was supposed to breathe fire. So the bunch of us stuck around for about 15 minutes, waiting for the fireball.
Evidently, the group of us make enough of a crowd to cause other people to wonder what’s going on, because more people from off the street started joining our group, staring up at the dragon, waiting.
And then the hour came…and went…and nothing happened.
Jiv went to talk to a local street vendor. It went something like this:
Jiv: Isn’t this thing supposed to breathe fire every hour?
Vendor: [Look of confusion]
Jiv: [Mimes breathing fire, and points at dragon]
Vendor: [Shakes head vigorously]
Disappointed, the crowd dispersed.
Tamara had led us into the Jewish Quarter of Krakow.
The storm was really threatening now – dark clouds, and rumbling that was closer than before.
Rain started to fall. It was time to get indoors. As a torrent of rain started to come down, we found a restaurant, and took shelter.
And then it started to hail for a bit. Strange.
The restaurant we had chosen was pretty fancy. I ordered what eventually turned out to be chicken shish kabab. For the price…not that great. But whatever, we were inside and dry. And I was full.
The group was pretty tired at this point. The lack of sleep from the night before, and the long tour of the day had worn us out. After we had finished eating, Tamara told us that we had the rest of the day to ourselves.
A pack of us left the restaurant to explore the Jewish Quarter. Eventually, we found ourselves back in the Market Square, where I promptly ordered myself a lemon sorbet. I missed the ice cream from Wroclaw, but the lemon sorbet was amazing. Sonia took the opportunity to buy some zapiekanka.
Have I told you about zapiekanka? I don’t think I have. Polish equivalent to a hot dog. Long half of a baguette, topped with melted cheese and mushrooms, and a long strip of ketchup. I liked ’em.
Some of us went back to the hostel. I hung around the Market Square for a little bit and snapped a few photos:
Here’s Adam Mickiewicz again! What a guy!
And a giant head:
The very center of the Market Square was a…market. Lots of little booths selling trinkets. Religious figurines…amber… a high number of chess boards, which I found strange.
And wouldn’t you know it, I also found some miniature copies of those creepy head sculptures that I’d seen in Wawel Castle!
At this point, I was pretty tuckered out. I walked back to the hostel, and eventually went to sleep.
We would be getting up early the next day to go to Auschwitz.