Cracow Poland….Cafe Szał, where we just had a coffee or soda, has a nice view of a grand church. It is the XIII century church of St Mary’s Church standing proudly and majestically on the edge of the Market Square. Facing the square, this impressing church, with its almost twin towers, has long been an icon of the city. From outside it might look like many medieval cathedrals, but its interior is jaw dropping! Inside of the church you can find a masterpiece made by Veit Stoss. One of the most impressive medieval woodcarvings in existence. Yeah, this place for sure has the wow factor. What I love the most in it, is not even its marvelous altar, but its ceiling! The ceiling looks like a soft, blue, night sky, brightened by immortal stars. The beautiful stained glass windows let the sun’s rays in and create inside of the church arias of colors that fondle visual senses.
It is also possible to climb the stairs of one of the church’s towers. The stairs were dangerous so the tower was closed for long years. It was open to the public just recently as the stairtcase was renovated. The climb is long and not so pleasant. Somewhere in the middle of the climb you almost feel like approaching at least the moon. However the views from the top reward every single drop of sweat and a short of breath.
Each midday, crowds gather on the Market Square, in front of the St Mary’s Church to hear the bugle call played from its tower. It is played twice, or to be more precise, it is one song that breaks off for a few seconds. There is a legend connected with this tune, which ends unexpectedly in the middle. The story says that it was played by a guard, during the Tatars’ invasion, to warn Cracovians of an imminent attack. He was shot down by an arrow in mid tune and since that day the melody breaks off just at the moment he died and then starts again a few seconds later in a moment when someone else picked up his bugle and carried on in his place. The Cracow’s bugle call was played many, many times since invasions haven’t been so unusual for Poland. My country has had an unlucky history of entertaining uninvited guests from East, West, North and South. We hosted many huge „parties”. Especially our closest neighbors liked to come and party hard! Sometimes months, sometimes years, sometimes centuries, but always on our Polish cost. Now, playing the bugle call is a daily rutine and warns only about a noon.
The Old Town is also a perfect place to meet all the kinds of weirdos. The biggest number of them is usually in front of St Mary’s Church’s doors. While waiting for the stroke of noon you can bump into a dragon but the only fire he might have is from a lighter. You can also meet a Polish, medieval, elite shock troop, better known as Winged Hussar. Most likely he won’t notice you as he will be too busy texting to his lady-in-waiting. You can meet some guys dressed like Polish nobility. Once I even saw Death, but obviously she wasn’t waiting for me, perhaps someone else. She was also wanting money, perhaps for new scythe. All these figures are the cheesy side of Cracow. They are there to attract and entertain tourists, especially kids. As silly as they look, as eye-catching they are.
Cracow’s Old Town is one of the best places in Europe to get lost, mainly because it’s very hard to do so. In the Middle Ages, the entire city of Cracow was ringed by a system of walls and moats. A lot from this is already gone, but a historic, main gateway leading into the Old Town left. The most famous part of the defensive structure is the Barbican. It was both a principal gateway and a key element of defence. For any self-respecting foe of Poland, Cracow, a very wealthy city, was quite a prize and a booty to desire, so it was attacked on many occasions, by many invaders. If you want to know what a siege is, ask Cracow. Today the Barbican has an almost Disney’s fairytale presence, not authentic at all. It could resist only an attacked of Seven Dwarfs maybe. And even that I’m not 100% sure.
The Old Town is surrounded now by something else. What rounds the Old Town is a garden forming a narrow green belt that encompasses the entire district, known as the Planty Park. The citizens of the royal city of Cracow are really proud of it. Not sure why as it is just a row of trees, visually having nothing to do with a park.
After the war, Warsaw’s city planners had a chance to modernize the city as they were building the capital almost from a scratch. Cracow, the granny capital of Poland, missed this chance, but somehow lack of it turned out to be a blessing for the city. Warsaw gained new squares, parks and monuments while all that Cracow had to do was to dust off its old, medieval walls. While Warsaw is Poland’s future and Poland’s blood, Cracow is in many ways Poland’s past and Poland’s soul.