The Castle and the market...
The Castle and the market place. The square. Right in the middle is a huge market place where you can buy all manner of souveniers. I had to borrow a suitcase from the friend I was staying with just to put my purchases in.
Medieval Krakow had round it two-mile-long (3.2 km) walls with 39 TOWERS and 8 GATES.
Their construction began in the late 13th century. The city walls proper were as high as 10 m (33 ft) and 2,5 m (8.2 ft) thick. Alongside them additional lower walls ran. And an eight-meter-deep (26 ft) and 22-meter-wide (72 ft) moat protected both.
In the first decades of the 19th century those imposing if outdated fortifications were largely pulled down. Very bad decision - who did it? Austrians that time?
Fortunately, the main city gate called Brama Florianska (FLORIAN'S GATE) survived together with three adjacent towers, the walls between them, the 16th-century city arsenal, and a giant BARBICAN in front of them all.
The Brama Florianska gate, built about 1300 as a rectangular Gothic tower of wild stone, is 33,5 m (110 ft = about 11 storey building) tall - hmm... really?. In the Middle Ages Krakow furriers defended it. Its present Baroque roof dates from 1694 and big 16th-century bas-relief of St. Florian adorns the south wall. Famed 19th-century painter Jan Matejko designed the stone eagle on the other side of the gate tower. At the Brama Florianska gate Krakow's Royal Road begins. Here entered kings and princes, foreign envoys and guests of distinction, coronation processions and other parades, to move up the Florianska Street to the central Grand Square, and further down the Grodzka Street to the Wawel Royal Castle.
There are hundreds of PAINTINGS hang on the southern side of the city wall just left to (=west of) Florianska Gate. You can buy or just look at them. Some are horrible but some... quite interesting. You can talk to their painters as well (notice: real artists usually can't speak English haha, it seems they didn't like to go to school much; although some of them can count money in many languages :-).
Vodka is the national drink of Poland. Beer is also popular. The local beer is ok, not great. But it is pretty strong.
The basic and most popular vodka is Wyborowa. I really don't care for it at all. Try Belveder or Chopin instead. They cost a little more, around $2-3 a shot. But you get what you pay for!
Vodka is always drank straight up as a shot, period.
Christmas in Krakow
Thanks to its climate, spectacular architecture and rich traditions that enliven the holiday season, Krakow may well aspire to the title of the world capital of white Christmas. And the whole thing lasts longer in the Krakow region than anywhere else–Christmas trees glitter here and carols resound till the end of January.
WARMING-UP to Christmastide starts at the outset of December. Seasonal street decorations and window-dressing, omnipresent noel tunes, shopping spree, universal well-wishing, etc.–it may look alike elsewhere but the fairyland scenery of Krakow’s numerous Gothic churches and Baroque palaces is unique. And Santa Claus keeps on visiting every kid in the city early, i.e. on December 6, his name day, to return later on the Christmas Eve. Another highlight comes on the first Thursday of December with the yearly contest of famous Krakow Christmas cribs on the Grand Square.
CHRISTMAS EVE celebration begins when the first star appears in the sky, with sharing an ‘oplatek’ wafer with everybody present and wishing him nice things to happen in the next twelve months. Then comes traditional 12-course common dinner of time-honored meatless dishes (fish, and notably carp, being a must), an additional cover always laid for an unexpected guest and a handful of hay put under the tablecloth for good luck. After the meal is time for caroling and unwrapping Christmas gifts. The faithful pack into the beautiful Krakow churches at midnight when the special ‘Pasterka’ mass is said in remembrance of shepherds adoring newly born Christ. And on the Christmas Eve immediately after midnight animals allegedly can speak their minds.
CHRISTMAS DAY and notably the following holiday on December 26 are popular occasions for visiting relatives and friends. Add eating, eating and eating hahaha :-).
"MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR" in over 80 languages:
Do you want to send Christmas wishes: click on "nowa wiadomosc" just below "FORUM-ZYCZENIA" and write.
Nova Huta, continued......
Getting to Nova Huta from central Krakow involves about a 30 minute bus or tram ride - look for those going to Kombinat which is close to the steelworks gates, or tram 4 which loops through the whole area. Having gotten off at the steelworks a good wander is to head back into the city centre taking a small diversion to visit the wooden church and the adjacent lake to your left as you head west down al Solidarnosci before rejoining the main road into the city proper.
Even on a misty December day, which you would expect not to do the place any favours, I personally found the walk quite pleasant, the streets are wide with tree-lined pavements. The twin tram lines run central and the road as busy with buses as with cars and other vehicles. The people around seemed no more, or less, content than in central Krakow, no obvious drunks or beggars, certainly no atmosphere of depression nor of threat - just ordinary folk going about their daily business.
This makes for an interesting couple of hours as a contrast to pretty bits of central Krakow, and no less interesting as part of the city's history.