5 days in Poland, the Land of dragons. Episode 2: Krakow
January 2, 2020
Sunday and Monday, legends in Krakow
I catch a train from Warszawa Centralna and in 3 hours I reach Krakow. My hostel is Hostel B Movie: very convenient, close to the Jewish quarter Kazimierz, it’s a bit spoiled and noisy at night. I rush to the Vistula, admire the Castle from the shore and jump on a boat to take a half-hour panoramic ride, cradled by the mysterious explanation in Polish of the boatman…
I take ulica Grodzka and start visiting the central sanctuaries of the “City of one hundred churches”, as Krakow is called, starting from my favourite one, the smallbut delightful St. Andrew’s Church, very ancient (dates back to the 11th century), Romanesque style, with a fantastic boat-shaped pulpit; therefore I visit St. Peter’s St. Paul’s, St. Cross’, St. Francis’ and Holy Trinity’s Churches.
What a lovely view… I land in the huge Rynek Główny, the largest medieval square in Europe. Unlike Warsaw, Krakow was not affected by the bombings of the Second World War, and the square still keeps the Fabrics warehouse, the clock tower and St. Mary’s Church. This church preserves two curious legends: one explains the different size of the two towers telling the story of a fatal fight between two brothers, while the second tells the origin of the “hejnal mariacki”, the sound of trumpet resounding twice a day in the square, which is roughly interrupted every time. Once upon a time a Krakow’s sentinel, who was guarding from the tower during the Tartar’s attack in 1240, seeing the Tartar’s army approaching, began to play the hejnal to warn everyone, but was pierced by an arrow and died suddenly interrupting the alarm. Curiously, this seems to be a legend invented by a Polish guide expatriated abroad, and then “come back” to the country, where it has still been successful today.
In the evening I go at the Luna Park on the Vistula, with its Ferris wheel, and drink a beer at the Harris Jazz Café, one of the many interesting underground clubs in Krakow.
Next morning is devoted to the amazing Cathedral and Wavel Castle, where I also explore the dragon cave, the scene of another fascinating medieval legend. Before Krakow’s foundation, a dragon lived in a cave under the Wawel hill, spreading terror in the area, until King Krak promised his daughter in marriage to the man who would kill the dragon. The only winner was the poor but wise shoemaker Skuba, who offered the monster a sheep filled with sulfur, the dragon after devouring it suffered from a terrible thirst and drank too much water to calm it, ending up bursting its belly. Today outside the cave there is also a statue of a dragon that spits fire every 5 minutes: the joy for children! Picnic on the grass with a typical “bigos” (considered the national Polish dish, it is chopped meat, stewed with sauerkraut and shredded fresh cabbage), then I join a free English tour of the Old City with the nice Dima, who tells us stories about the city and also makes us discover the Collegium Maius where Copernicus studied and the “Pope’s window”, where Wojtyla talked all night with his fellow citizens each time he returned to his hometown.
Nice surprise, I find out that in these days Krakow is holding the Off Camera Film Festival, an independent film festival, with also outdoor screenings: at this point, it becomes my stubborn matter of principle to find the famous “kino nad wisla”, and that nobody seems to know. I get there after a long walk and many questions, and it will be worth it: lying on the grass in front of the river, I enjoy “The Hurt Locker” in English with the Polish youth, while on my left the full moon rises over the Castle.