We woke this morning to a grey sky and a light rain. But it was still warm enough to hit the street and take a walk in this lovely historic city. So come with me on a short tour – in the rain. We are on our way to Wawel Castle, which is the pivotal tourist bulwark of this town, and one of its beautiful icons. After walking through the Rynek Glówny, (the gorgeous main market square is one of the largest medieval squares in Europe), we take off on the wide cobbled, wet pavements of Grodzka Street (called the Royal Way in English). The main thoroughfare of the old city, it crosses the town to the Wawel castle. I always like to think about the Polish Kings, Queens and their entourages who would walk or ride this way to coronations and royal events on the hill. Today it was full of people and the clip-clopping sound of the horses on the cobbles pulling the elegant dorożki (hansom cabs) through the streets – all out for a Sunday stroll in the drizzly weather.
I ducked inside the church of St. Andrew, the oldest church in Kraków and the only survivor of the Mongol invasion of 1241. It was a ‘fortress church’ providing shelter for the majority of residents and inhabitants of the city. The sanctuary is a small Baroque chapel with a lot of gleaming gold accents. The area behind the church is called a ‘cloister’, possibly because it used to house the convent of the ‘Poor Clares’ in the 12th century. The cloister and the garden felt eerie and silent in the grey drizzle and strangely deserted even so close to the busy avenue
I climbed back up through the portal of the cloister wall and hit the street again arriving very quickly at the Wawel Castle complex set on a hill that rises above the town and the banks of the Wisla River. Entrance to the castle is free during the month of November. We did not go in when we saw the streams of people on the walkway that climbs to the courtyard. It was autumn but felt just like a summer’s day full of tourists. Think I’ll wait to visit again in December when the crowds die down for another viewing of Leonardo Da Vinci’s mystifying “Lady with an Ermine”, a stunning portrait that is a national treasure of Poland.
On our way back from the Wawel hill through the Planty, the park that circles the old walled city, we found the walkways and grassy areas were strewn with wet, yellow leaves, a reminder that the fall season is almost over.
We found ourselves in the All Saints Square where I could not resist a stop at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, another church dating back to the 11th century and the Mongol invasion. I wanted to see the uniquely modern and stunning stained glass windows dating from 1899 – 1904. They are a “must see” in Kraków. Mass was in session on this Sunday. I sat in the back of the nave filled with a spiritual presence cast by the high ceilings and colorful windows that envelope the sanctuary.
Now it was time for lunch on nearby Bracka, a narrow sheltered street we have found to be littered with small cafes. Wiener Schnitzel and Kopitki (this is another type of Polish dumpling not related to pierogi), tea with raspberry syrup and apple strudel and then we were on our way home.
One last stop at a shop called “Polskie Czapki” (Polish Hats) where Greg ogled the leather and goat-fur headgear with ear flaps and chin strap (only $80!). And I enjoyed browsing all the colors and styles of hats (more hats than one would ever see at Macy’s). These were lined with fleece, durably constructed, and affordable. All the hats were made in Poland. I have noticed that the Poles love to wear knit hats even in October when the weather is still relatively mild. Even the young fashionable women are not shy about completing a coat and jacket ensemble with a knit hat topped with a bouncing pom-pom. It is a fashion statement here. We will be living here all winter so I made some preparations for the winter weather and bought a hat.