Prague and Krakow are only about 250 miles apart as the crow flies. Both have a long history of occupation by others. In the last century, both cities were occupied by Nazis in WWII and then fell behind the Communist iron curtain afterwards. Yet, to me, they couldn't be more different. Admittedly, I base this more on feeling than anything else. Both cities are intersected by a wide river, have a sprawling medieval castle on a hill, contain a historic Jewish district, have similar architecture, etc. But Krakow feels totally different from Prague. I think it's the people.
I probably shouldn't draw conclusions based on short visits to select cities, so please forgive me, but that's exactly what I'm about to do. After all, these brief visits are all I have on which to base my observations, and that's what this blog is about...just my personal observations along the way. The people of Dublin and Amsterdam were festive and gregarious. In Edinburgh, people were subdued, polite, and well mannered. In Stockholm, they all seemed busy and productive. In Prague, they were mostly a bit surly and impatient. There were exceptions, of course, but they were just that: exceptions. In Poland, people are humble and kind. At least, that's how it seems to me. They are also proud of their rich history of Polish kings and knights, their dragon legends, and especially of Pope John Paul II.
Which brings me to my visit today to Wawel (pronounced Vavel) Castle. I left the apartment after having some cereal and taking a shower to revive, and headed into town. No problems this time with getting lost. Krakow is tourist friendly, and although few people speak English, tourist info and signs are printed in several languages. I took the tram a couple of stops and got off at the Wisla River. It's a beautiful, broad waterway with a lovely greenway running along either side. Of course, it was snowing all day and it's still winter here, so there isn't much green right now. Still, it's pretty even this time of year and I imagine it's stunning in the summer. I walked along the river for a little while and then headed up to the castle. Like the Prague Castle, it is an entire complex and contains the Wawel Cathedral. Now, I have seen a lot of old cathedrals on this trip, but Wawel is definitely one of the most impressive. Unfortunately, you are just going to have to take my word for it because no photography is allowed inside (I do have pics of the outside). It's tombs and naves are amazing. There are also incredible tapestries and sculptures. Because I couldn't take any photos to share, I'm going to download a couple of pictures from the Internet for you to see.
From there I headed towards the market square and stopped off at a restaurant called Pod Baranem for lunch. There I had the best stuffed cabbage I've ever eaten. I think they must steam the cabbage, wrap it around the filling, and then roast it. It was caramelized a little on the outside, but still held it's texture. It came with a mushroom gravy that was succulent and delicious. Fabulous!
Here are some pics from my first day in Krakow...
Looking across the rive towards Wawel Castle.
The castle entrance. It's brown now, but I bet the ivy over the gate is beautiful in summer.
Wawel Cathedral inside the castle complex. Like a lot of these old churches, it's had many additions over hundreds of years making it very interesting architecturally.
A side view of two domed chapels added to the church.
This is the tomb of King Vladislav, III. He became king at the age of 10 and died in battle at the age of 20. Even though he was so young, he is remembered as a great warrior with exceptional strategic skill.
This is the tomb of St. Stanislaus. He was said to be a humble man, beloved by the people. He was the Bishop of Krakow during the reign of King Boleslaw, the Cruel. The legend goes that Stanislaus tried to get the king to live a more peaceful and moral life. But the king refused, so Stanislaus excommunicated him from the church. The king ordered him killed, but the knights sent to do the deed couldn't bring themselves to kill such a good man. So the king himself stormed the church and hacked Stanislaus to pieces, throwing his remains in the river. According to the legend, the pieces rose from the river and reassembled themselves so he could have a proper buriel.
This one's for you, Trez! A statue of Pope John Paul II at Wawel Castle. I love that he's adorned by 2 Christmas trees.
A view of part of the castle from inside the courtyard. Oh, the snow!
This is the first place I've ever been where cars park on the sidewalk. It's like this all around Krakow.
The Galleria Krakow. I only include this because it is absolute proof that every mall in the world looks exactly the same.