September 26, 2018


by Rosemary

We rented a car and drove from Warsaw to Krakow. The flat Polish countryside looked a lot like Nebraska, but with more trees.

Krakow was perhaps the roughest city we've visited so far. Here, we were shortchanged, a restaurant tried to cheat us, we were menaced by street punks, and we got caught in the open in a fierce rainstorm that left us completely drenched. Because of divided roads with few outlets, one-way streets, wild traffic circles, and extremely aggressive drivers, navigating by car was a challenge.

Despite all that, we enjoyed exploring the city and visiting its historic sites.

Looking north across the Vistula River toward the castle area.

Tadeusz Kościuszko was a Polish engineer and military hero who served as an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. He designed the defenses at West Point. His statue stands outside the castle grounds.

Inside the castle wall is a statue of Poland's favorite pope, John Paul II.

In the center of the castle complex we can still see the foundations of two Gothic churches that were destroyed when the Austrian Empire conquered this area in the 1800s. The red brick building is a former hospital, now used for administrative offices.

In Old Town, a huge monument commemorates the battle of Grunwald in 1410, when Polish and Lithuanian forces defeated the Teutonic knights. The monument is often seen as symbolizing Poland's spirit in its many struggles against foreign invaders.

The Florian Gate was one of the entry points of the old city wall. On one side of the tower is the crowned eagle, the historic symbol of the Polish people. On the other side is a bas-relief of St. Florian.

The eagle appears in many locations throughout the city, on walls and buildings, and is sometimes incorporated into statues and other artworks.

At the Cloth Hall, once a marketplace for fabric, the eagle is perched atop one of the jolly sculptures on the roof.

Most statues just get pigeons on their heads.

In the main market square, there is a grand monument to Adam Mickiewicz, considered Poland's greatest writer. The eagle at the base of the statue seems particularly aggressive.

A very different animal is portrayed in this sculpture, which memorializes Dzok the Dog, who loyally waited for his deceased master to return.

Who's a good boy?

In the nearby park is this tribute to Jan Matejko, one of Poland's best-known artists, relaxing in a picture frame. The statue, by Jan Tutaj, was unveiled in 2013 next to the path where Matejko used to walk every day.

Of course, there is a big Gothic church. St. Mary's Basilica was built in the 1300s, on the foundation of an even older church that had been destroyed during a Mongol invasion. Inside, it is elaborately decorated.

The huge, complex altarpiece was carved by German Sculptor Veit Stoss. He and his team worked on it for twelve years, finishing in 1489.

Unfortunately, crime follows tourists everywhere, even into church.

According to legend, when the Mongols invaded, the watchman in the church tower blew his bugle to sound the alarm, but an arrow pierced his throat before he could finish. Today, in his memory, buglers play a tune from the tower several times a day, always ending mid-tune. Unlike the original watchman, they all survive the performance and are able to wave to the appreciative crowd below.

About ten miles outside of Krakow is the Wieliczka Salt Mine, a very popular tourist attraction. Deep underground, it consists of a lot of long, dark, salty tunnels and pits. Its claim to fame is that it contains a number of sculptures, carved out of salt by the miners. Everything down here is made of salt. The floor tiles are salt, the decorations are salt, even the chandeliers are salt. The mine includes the world's largest - and saltiest - underground church.

"Please pass the salt."

Before leaving Krakow, we visited one more place, which will be described in detail in our next post.

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  1. the Matejko sculpture is so cool. thanks for these.

  2. The eagle on top of the head looks more like a chicken to me.

  3. Never again. Thank you.


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