Kings, Dragons & Kawa
To start of this blog post I have to first recap on a few things that happened yesterday….The whole day Filip was reminding me that we need to be awake in order to leave the house at 07:30hrs enabling us to reach our coach to Krakow on time. As well he managed to get us a lift to the coach station from his neighbour, whose daughter was conveniently also heading towards the coach station at the same time, with this it was planned that he would pick us up at 07:30 and we would wake up at 06:45 to be ready on time. Now to fast forward back to today’s blog post!
“Ohhhh sh*t, its half six and we are getting picked up at half six!!!!” – these are the delightful words I was woken up by this morning which left me in a confused state of panic. After trying to argue the fact that the alarm wasn’t due to sound for another fifteen minutes and that we weren’t in fact getting picked up until 07:30, Filip managed to sheepishly admit that he had got the time wrong and in fact we was getting picked up at 06:30 and the coach was leaving at 07:30!! I’m not sure how we did it but it took us just 6 minutes to go from laying in bed to sitting in a car heading towards the coach station. Our lunch we had pre-made the night before became our breakfast and we committed the ultimate crime of not brushing our teeth until much later in the day, which I am still grossed out at this very second.
With the morning drama over, we arrived at the coach station to catch our 3hr PolskiBus into Krakow. To quickly mention PolskiBus, polish version of the UK’s Megabus, is a must if you’re planning to travel around Poland; ride cost from as little as £0.40 including booking fee! The journey itself went considerably quickly with myself taking advantage of the free wi-fi while Filip snoozed reading a book. The first impressions as such of Krakow were not immediately great as the bus station looked dated and we was met by some homeless men asking for money. But from this we walked through Krakow’s main shopping mall which was home to some of the biggest designer brands. From the station we headed towards Krakow’s Main Square, one of the largest medieval town squares in Europe at roughly 40,000m2. In 1978 UNESCO placed the Main Square as part of the Old Town Kraków on the list of World Heritage Sites with its rich surroundings of history coming from the historic townhouses and churches. The centre of the square is dominated by the Cloth Hall – ‘Sukiennice’, rebuilt in 1555 in the Renaissance style, completed by a beautiful Polish parapet decorated with carved masks. On one side of the Cloth Hall is the Town Hall Tower ‘Wieża Ratuszowa’, and on the other the 10th century Church of St. Adalbert and 1898 Adam Mickiewicz Monument. Rising above the square with its demanding presence are the Gothic towers of St. Mary’s Basilica – ‘Kościół Mariacki’. From the historic town square we seeked out our first café of the day and most likely not the last. Filip did his research (of coffeeshops) and listed down a few favourites, including ‘Karma Coffee Roasters’ – a simple yet unique coffee-house that offered to establish our first fix of the day. Karma brews its own coffee and it can definitely be tasted in their perfectly bitter roast, just a walk away from Rynek. Now geared up for the rest of the day we started the short walk back through the Main Square towards our next destination – ‘Wawel Castle’.
Wawel Castle is a castle residency built at the behest of King Casimir III the Great, who reigned from 1333 to 1370, consisting of a number of structures situated around a central courtyard. The Royal Castle and the Wawel Hill constitute the most historically and culturally important site in Poland. For centuries the residence of the Kings and Queens of Poland and the symbol of Polish statehood, the Castle is now one of the country’s premier art museums. Within the castles perimeter also stands Wawel Cathedral, more than 900 years old, it is the Polish national sanctuary and traditionally has served as coronation site of the Polish monarchs as well as the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Kraków. Being the main burial site for Polish monarchs since the 14th century, the cathedral has been significantly extended and altered over time as individual rulers have added multiple burial chapels forming part of the main crypt beneath its foundations. What amazed me was the difference from British castles that I’m used to – clear cut out, massive building (imagine the Windsor), as Wawel looks like a palace beyond the barbican, with the beauty and glory of one, rather than a building of simple castle significance.
In front of the grand entrance to the cathedral there are bones of Pleistocene creatures hanging on a chain, which were found and carried to the cathedral in medieval times as the remains of a dragon. The Wawel Dragon, also known as the Dragon of Wawel Hill, is a famous dragon in Polish folklore. His lair was in a cave at the foot of Wawel Hill on the bank of the Vistula River.
“The frightening monster appeared during the reign of King Krakus (lat. Gracchus). The dragon required weekly offerings of cattle, if not, the humans would have been devoured instead. In the hope of killing the dragon, Krakus called on his two sons, Lech and Krakus II. They could not, however, defeat the creature by hand, so they came up with a trick. They fed him a calf skin stuffed with smoldering sulfur causing his fiery death. Then the brothers argued about who deserves the honor for slaying the dragon. The older brother killed the younger brother Grakch (Krakus), and told that the dragon killed him. When he became king, his secret was revealed, and he got expelled from the country. The city was named in recognition of the brave and innocent Krakus.“
From Wawel castle we moved onwards to get the keys for our apartment in which we were staying overnight. For just £22 via Airbnb, the two-floor apartment was a two-minute walk from the Main square allowing us a perfect base for our brief time in Krakow. Although we would not spend too much time staying here it’s always nice to know that if needed we had a place where we could retreat away from the crowds of tourists and locals. Most importantly AirBnb being so affordable, especially in Poland, gives you a convenience of being able to make your own food or simply feel more like a local. For the rest of the evening we explored the outer Barbican before once again heading to the Market Square to visit the ‘Rynek Underground Tunnels’, situated below the market square. A project that cost 38 million złoty, the main exhibit, “In the footsteps of Krakow’s European identity”, makes use of holograms constructed by using projectors alongside fog machines and several dozen screens and projectors to recreate the atmosphere of Kraków seven hundred years ago. While constructing the museum in 2005 a number of Archeological digs begun revealing layer upon layer of early foundations, and studies of the finds led to some surprising conclusions. The Main Square, now such a city icon, looked nothing like it does today; even as it began to take shape as the central point of the city some seven hundred years ago, it would have appeared more as a labyrinth of wide intersecting avenues cluttered with stalls and buildings. Most of the buildings that once covered the main square weren’t brought down until about the nineteenth century, creating the open vista we enjoy today.
Leaving the impressive Underground museum left me with a deep understanding of medieval life and the significance it has had for the city. Although appearing expensive to first go in, the layout and style of the museum will leave you with much more knowledge in a relaxed interactive environment. With the excitement of the museum leaving us hungry we headed back towards the apartment stopping on the way in ‘Vegab’, a vegan kebab house which fulfilled every inch of hunger that we entailed. Meatless kebab was a first for us and according to Google a first for Poland, a place truly worth visiting even if you’re not vegetarian or vegan. Easily being one of the best fast food options around this busy but small kebab house was a vegans dream, a dream that will live me forever as I will be dreaming of the day I could eat here again.