This post is a continuation of a series documenting our travels across the country of Poland. We had spent the last 3 days rained out in the Tatra mountain resort town of Zakopane. Inspite of the bad weather we had managed to do the hike to Morskie Oko (Zakopane , Part 1 – The hike to Morskie Oko on a rare non rainy day in the Tatras) and roamed around the lesser sights of Zakopane in the pouring rain (Zakopane, Part 2 – Walking around in the pouring rain).
When we left Zakopane as if on cue, the spell of bad weather ended and it was sunshine galore on our bus ride back to Krakow. That brought a huge smile to our faces as we had 2 days left in Krakow and wanted to make the most of them. The bus dropped us off at the main bus station from where we walked to the hotel that we had booked for our last two nights in Krakow, the Aparthotel Stare Miasto.
The Aparthotel Stare Miasto was right in the middle of the Old town just 100 metres away from the Rynek Glowny (Main market square) and hence very convenient for sightseeing around old town. We reached the hotel and just dumped our luggage in our studio apartment and rushed back out. At that point we didn’t know when the good weather will say goodbye & we didn’t want to waste any minute of it in our cosy apartment.
The Main market square was buzzing as expected on a beautiful sunny day. Even though it was crowded and not ideal for photos, the beautiful skies were begging for a few photos. So we walked around the square and took a few photos before proceeding to the main sight on the square, the imposing St Mary’s Basilica.
We had reached Krakow around noon and by the time we reached the ticket office to the St Mary’s Basilica & Tower climb all the tower climb tickets for the day were sold out. That meant that our compulsory tower climb would have to wait till the next day. We bought tickets to enter the Basilica itself and went in through the gate intended for tourists. (Intensely religious Poland has a separate entries for those entering to pray and tourists)
The first emotion as I entered the Basilica was disappointment as the famous largest gothic altarpiece in the world was scaffolded up for restoration. But that soon passed as I realised that the church was very different to the other big churches I had seen yet. Where most churches like to keep their ceilings white or a mix of white and gilded edged religious paintings, the ceiling at St Mary’s was a sea of blue and gold stars. It was quite simply, spectacular!
I could not get enough of the beautiful ceiling. The blue was a perfect match for the gilded columns and walls below and was very pleasing to the eye. It was like u were under a star filled sky. Photos will never do such places justice as I repeatedly say. I still tried to capture the elegant magnificence of this Church and its vivid colour with my camera.
When I had had enough of the ceiling then I turned my attention downwards to eye level which was filled with religious art of the Gothic style. It was meant to inspire awe and amazement among the devout and boy does it succeed.
As expected there is a chapel dedicated to Poland’s most famous son Pope John Paul II and it is a pretty sight. I’m not a Christian or a Roman catholic but I do enjoy the beauty and the sense of peace & serenity that I have always found these beautiful churches to possess.
I can safely say that this church can be added to the list of most beautiful churches / cathedrals that I have visited ( And I have visited a decent number!). We walked around the nave and into the side chapels for a fair amount of time. We then completed our church routine of sitting in the pews for some time and moved out of the St Mary’s Basilica. (I hope to be back some day to see the restored altar!)
We came out into the little square adjacent to the Basilica the Place Mariacki and stepped straight into the small Church right behind it. This was the Church of St Barbara in Krakow. While I have seen churches empty all across Europe, it has never been the case in Poland, there are always a few locals praying in every church that we visited.
St Barbara’s is your typical beautiful Gothic Church. Stained glass windows behind a glittering altar, painstakingly painted ceilings and the typical air of calm that comes with it. The entry was free and surprisingly we were the only tourists around, not that we were complaining.
Once again its a surprise to me that there may be a crowd right outside but there is no one inside this beautiful church.
We completed our church routine and stepped back out into the sunshine. The square and the old town was at it’s busiest at this time. So we consciously made a decision to visit places that were most likely to be less crowded at this time – Churches!
The next church that we visited was one of the oldest churches in all of Poland. The small copper domed Church of St Adalbert right on the main Market square. This small little church has been standing here in one form or the other since a 1000 years. It is so small that even my ultra wide lens was found wanting.
We were now feeling hungry so we walked down the main tourist drag to the Cafe Santos where we had eaten on our previous stop in Krakow. We walked past the church of St Peter & Paul and the Church of St Andrew next to it. We would return to these after satiating our growling tummies.
Lunch at the Cafe Santos was a hearty affair with tomato & carrot soup & pierogis for the better half with a huge strawberry shake & Pork belly with a huge beer for me. We were too hungry this time to take photos of the food itself and the plates were empty in no time.
With our tummies purring in contentment we walked around the corner to the base of the Wawel hill. We were booked for a tour there the next morning so right now we were content with just enjoying the view from ground level.
We decided to walk back to the churches via a lane parallel to the main tourist route, the Kanonicza street and even though it wasn’t exactly empty it wasn’t as crowded as the main drag, the Grodzka street.
We soon reached the Mary Magdalene square opposite the two churches and it has a pillar with the monument to Peter Skarga ( A Priest whose remains are in the church opposite). We crossed across to the churches and first went inside the smaller St Andrew’s Church.
The church main nave was closed by an exquisite cast iron gate that made for a prettier picture than the church itself. Since we couldn’t do our routine here we peeked in through the gate and looked around before moving out and next door to visit Sts Peter & Paul.
We then stepped inside Poland’s first Baroque church , the Church of Sts Peter & Paul. This church seemed very familiar having visited a lot of similar churches in my travels around Europe. Typical high domes surrounded by arches and carved pillars, a huge gilded altar underneath and a huger organ at the opposite end. I have always enjoyed taking photos of these churches as the symmetry makes for pleasing photos.
The church is known as a venue for live concerts but there were none scheduled that day. We walked out to the sound of a guitar being played on the street just outside. The musician was really good and we stood and listened to him play for a few minutes till he completed one piece and then proceeded back along Grodzka street.
Just off Grodzka was another church with a striking exterior, the Dominican Church or the Church of the Holy trinity. We went inside but the whole thing was covered in scaffolding for restoration so we walked out without venturing in any further.
By now we were almost Churched out. But there was one thing I wanted to see , the God the Father Let it be – A beautiful stained glass window by the great Stanislaw Wyspianki. It was in the St Francis Basilica on the way back to our apartment.
So we went inside the extremely dimly lit church and admired the massive and striking stained glass window I had come to see. I have been a great admirer of stained glass windows ever since visiting St Chapelle in Paris almost half a decade ago and seek out these famous pieces wherever I can. The flowing lines, vibrant colours and sheer size of it made the window worth the effort.
The church itself is a riot of colour. Once you get used to the dim lighting you can appreciate that its painted from roof to floor with vibrant colours in stark contrast to the St Peter and Paul church. It even has a place marked with a silver plaque where the Pope John Paul II used to pray when he lived in the archbishop’s palace across the street. We sat down and admired the effort gone into making this place look so elegant and colourful.
We moved out from the gate below the magnificent stained glass window and in front of the Archbishop’s palace. We then walked back to our hotel using only the less crowded lanes totally bypassing the Rynek Glowny.
We would rest our legs for a while before setting out again to visit the Jewish Quarter in Kazimierz for dinner at an outdoor food market ( Skwer Judah Food truck court) that I had heard about there. We also stood in a line for some of the best ice cream ever at Good Lood in Kazimerz. After a fingerpicking dinner made up of an overflowing pulled pork sandwich at the famous Andrus food truck and belgian waffles & fries for the better half we bought another lody (ice cream) at the other outlet of Good Lood in the area.
We then returned back to our room fully satisfied with our days exploits and slept off for a good nights sleep.
I would be up at dawn next day to roam around the old town followed by our climb up the St Mary’s Tower and a visit to the Wawel castle but that is topic for another post. Some Other time, some other day! (as I seem to exceed my set limit of words on every post nowadays)