Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Krakow (Day 1 Part 1) - Once the capital of Poland

Finally we have arrived in Krakow, the capital of Poland from 1038 to 1596 and our original destination for this trip :)  The weather wasn't great, and it was grey and cold, but somehow it matched the image that I had about Poland.  It was just a perfectly wonderful autumn that I felt once I stepped out of our car.

It took us much longer to get to Krakow from Kobior than Google maps said. It was past 3pm when we checked into our hotel. So, we decided to just walk towards the center of the Old Town, which was only 5 mins away from our hotel, to see what might be cooking.

The Old Town was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1978.  It is just full of distinctive characters and charms. The main square called Rynek Główny (Main Market Square) is the icon of Krakow. It is said to be the largest medieval market square in Europe (roughly 40,000 m² or 430,000 ft²)  and dates back to the 13th century. 

The Cloth Hall, which stands right in the middle of this vast square, had characteristics of Central Europe, Russia, and the Middle East all mixed together. The first floor of the building was filled with small shops, probably for the tourists. The second floor and up is the National Museum, and there was a long line when we were there. The square was also filled with lots of people, and there was a live concert which we enjoyed listening to while we had a glass of beer and a small snack in one of the cafes along the square. 

Alongside the square, you see St. Mary's Basilica (Mariacki Church) with two towers with different hights. It was originally a stone Romanesque temple that was constructed in the 13th century, and was turned into a Gothic triple-aisle basilica in the 15th century. The two towers have a sad legend associated with them. It says that each tower was being built by two brothers, but the one who finished the higher tower first killed the other brother as he was afraid that he would build a better tower. Thus the lower tower was never finished and was simply covered with a steeple. But even worse, the one who killed his brother also killed himself at the end out of remorse.

I have to say this church was just breathtaking. I probably gasped and then said "oh my..." when I stepped into the church. Everything inside is just overwhelming. Lots of gold, lots of colors, and lots of decorative patterns and objects on all the walls and ceilings. The stained-glass windows extend high to the ceiling. The ambience and some of the decorative wall designs had an essence of the East. It reminded me of temples from Southeast Asia.

Being fully rejuvenated by St. Mary's Basilica, we headed towards the edge of the Old Town to see Barbican and St. Florian's Gate. St. Florian's Gate is the only surviving one out of the eight original gates, and is said to be have been built in the early 14th century. There were some street artists selling their paintings along the wall of St. Florian's Gate. Once you go through the gate, you see a green park and the Barbican (btw, I really liked the fact that the Old Town was surrounded by the parks and not too many cars were inside the Old Town. Very well protected). The Barbican which was originally built in the late 15th century is the defensive architecture that is the largest and best preserved in Europe.

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