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DAY 3 WAWEL CASTLE http://www.wawel.krakow.pl/en/ This impressive complex of royal buildings used to serve as the residence of the Polish monarchs until the court moved to Warsaw in 1611. To the Poles it represents one of the most important symbols of national perseverance and pride. Although plundered and damaged countless times, the castle survived the upheavals and today has been for the most part restored to its former magnificence. Visiting Wawel is a whole undertaking in itself. It offers so many different exhibitions and attractions that it’s impossible to see it all in one day. You can either plan to tour it over a more extended period of time or just choose the collections that interest you most. In the summer especially you would want to get there early, because the tickets sell out fast. Only a limited contingent of timed passes is available every day, so often they will run out of the most popular ones by early afternoon. Every exhibition requires purchasing a separate ticket in order to view it. After you have entered the grounds and admired the opulent architecture, it’s time to visit the museums to deepen your understanding of the Polish history. Below a short description of the exhibits we have selected. Please note: photography is NOT permitted inside any of Wawel buildings. ROYAL PRIVATE APARTMENTS ****** This tour gives us a good idea of how the royal court, but particularly the king and his family used to live. The rooms have retained many of their original elements (such as beamed ceilings, portals or fireplaces) and house collections mostly consisting of priceless antique furniture, tapestries, paintings, clocks and porcelain. One of the highlights (and the castle’s humorous pride and joy) was viewing the royal toilet: well, I guess even the kings have to answer nature’s call!  STATE ROOMS ****** These chambers were utilized in a formal capacity, mainly for representative and administrative purposes and were the center of political life of the country. Here the most important issues were discussed, foreign officials received, festive occasions celebrated. Just like the Royal Apartments, also this interior contains a multitude of art objects, beautiful wallpaper and furnishings from the era. Both the Royal Apartments and State Rooms can only be entered in organized groups. Your pass already contains the fee for participating in one of the guided tours held in the language of your choice. CROWN TREASURY AND ARMORY ****** Not many precious objects from the period survived, as they were obviously the first thing any self-respecting invading power would grab. But what was salvaged from their greedy hands now found its home in the Treasury, namely jewelry, intricately decorated cups, exquisite art and decorative objects, clocks as well as Szczerbiec (the coronation sword) and the royal insignia. The Armory, on the other hand, appears to be equipped with an abundance of different weapons, enough to start a small war in fact. That is if spears, swords, rapiers, smallswords, ancient guns (like old, not actually from the Antiquity) would be the instrument of choice in your military endeavors. Horse caparisons, cannons and knight armors also constitute a substantial part of this broad collection. Gazing at all those steel contraptions you can’t help but acknowledge that these dudes had a hard life. I felt exhausted beyond belief just looking at them, imagine having to actually wear one! I would sincerely recommend visiting all three of these exhibitions. Considering Poland’s turbulent past, all the invasions and partitions this tragic country endured it’s actually astonishing that so many objects remained intact to this day. A wonderful trip into the past, full of Gothic mystery, Renaissance beauty and Baroque splendor. LEONARDO DA VINCI: LADY WITH AN ERMINE ****** One of Poland’s most valuable art pieces, this painting is a true gem among the master’s creations, especially considering how few of those survived. We have all seen pictures of it, but contemplating this work in real life permits the visitor to perceive it in a completely different light. The Lady with an Ermine can easily be considered Mona Lisa’s  younger sister: perhaps not genetically, but artistically for sure! DRAGON’S DEN ****** After descending what feels like a million steps (spiraling staircase made me quite dizzy) you will find yourself in the alleged former residence of the legendary Wawel dragon. This underground cave looks rather adventurous: it’s full of moss, dripping water, strange rock formations, as well as some darkly appealing nooks and crannies. It emanates the aura of hidden treasures and Gothic secrets. A great place to explore for an extra thrill! After leaving the Lair and stepping outside you will be able to meet the iron dragon spitting real fire and enjoy the Vistula River with its beautiful views. Benches are scattered all throughout this area. A wonderful place to sit back and relax after the strenuous day you’ve just had. To be able to thoroughly tour these attractions you will need at least one full day, from opening till closing (times vary depending on season; please check their website for details). DAY 4 WAWEL CATHEDRAL  ****** http://www.katedra-wawelska.pl/english Located right next to the Wawel castle, this Cathedral is one of the most impressive sacral buildings in all of Europe. It served as the site of coronations of the Polish kings; it also holds the remains of the Royal families as well as those of national heroes. Its rich ornamentation and artistry make for an aesthetical experience of the highest caliber, including gold and marble elements everywhere! The many chapels dedicated to important Polish personalities of the earthly and religious variety all possess a specific character and are decorated in different styles reflecting the periods they were built in. The Royal Sarcophagi and Tombs inspire some serious awe: it’s an overwhelming feeling to realize you are standing just a few feet away from mortal remains of the kings that ruled this once powerful country. If you want to see the enormous Sigismund Bell, you must undertake quite a steep climb up the stairs to the top of the tower (the strenuous hike definitely requires some decent level of fitness), but the effort was well worth it. Not only have I never seen a bell this gigantic before, but the view from up there is just breathtaking. The place does get rather crowded though in case you were hoping for solitude. The whole Cathedral is hopping and unfortunately does not offer much opportunity for secluded contemplation. Please do remember that this beautiful church is still a place of worship (many Poles come here to pray), so respectful conduct and attire are required. There is no photography permitted, but for a small fee you can rent out audio tour equipment available in different languages. We found it very helpful in better understanding the history and significance of this remarkable place. THE JOHN PAUL II WAWEL CATHEDRAL MUSEUM ****** Situated right across from the Cathedral, this museum houses the collections formerly held in the Cathedral Treasury. The exhibits provide the visitor with another chance to travel back many centuries and admire sacral objects of unimaginable value. Some of the displayed items include: paintings, sculptures, national regalia, religious paraphernalia of all kinds and devotional robes. To thoroughly tour both the Cathedral and the Museum you will need 3-4 hrs. THE JEWISH QUARTER ****** After spending the morning enveloped in Christian symbolism, we thought we would shake things up a little and visit the Jewish Quarter (Kazimierz) in the afternoon. Before the devastating events of the Holocaust, Cracow was the home of one of the largest Jewish populations in Poland. Today this part of town looks somewhat shabby, if consciously left so to commemorate its original appearance from before the war or simply unattended due to lack of funds I am not sure. The little streets can be very confusing and this is the only place we got lost during our entire stay, even though we were walking with a map! The depressing, gray buildings are a very poignant contrast to the elaborate Cathedral (since the Wawel Castle served as the Nazi Headquarters in Poland, it went against their interests to destroy it) and painfully remind of the horrible fate the majority of their inhabitants suffered during the war. Only the little Jewish centre, where the restaurants and little stores are located, made a cheerful impression. The first synagogue we visited was the Tempel Synagogue. Very impressive and beautifully decorated (the upstairs area was being renovated at the time unfortunately), this place of worship also contains a small exhibition of enlarged photographs connected to the Holocaust and it’s still a center of religious and cultural activity among the contemporary Jewish community. The second one was the Remuh Sunagogue. Built in the 16th century, it’s still active to this day on top of serving as a crucial landmark. Much smaller and less spectacular than the Tempel, it is nonetheless a true historic jewel, with centuries of tradition behind it. The Remuh Cemetary is situated right next to this Synagogue. Founded around the same time as the neighboring building, it holds the remains of many of Poland’s most distinguished Jews. The Nazis managed to almost completely destroy the site, but thanks to considerable efforts numerous tombstones ware recovered and restored to their rightful place. A wall made out of crashed fragments commemorates the profaned graves. Even today a visitor will find prayer sheets, stones and candles on some of the tombs. This cemetery is a truly riveting place: peaceful and serene, it literally represents hundreds of years of Judaic faith in Poland. Please plan at least 2 hrs to tour the Jewish Quarter DAY 5 AUSCHWITZ MUSEUM AND MEMORIAL For an account of our excursion to Auschwitz, please click on the link below: The Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau Museum and Memorial           PLEASE CLICK TO CONTINUE           RETURN TO PREVIOUS PAGE
 RATING     ****** excellent     ***** very good     ****good     *** average     ** pretty bad     * horrible
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DAY 3 WAWEL CASTLE http://www.wawel.krakow.pl/en/ This impressive complex of royal buildings used to serve as the residence of the Polish monarchs until the court moved to Warsaw in 1611. To the Poles it represents one of the most important symbols of national perseverance and pride. Although plundered and damaged countless times, the castle survived the upheavals and today has been for the most part restored to its former magnificence. Visiting Wawel is a whole undertaking in itself. It offers so many different exhibitions and attractions that it’s impossible to see it all in one day. You can either plan to tour it over a more extended period of time or just choose the collections that interest you most. In the summer especially you would want to get there early, because the tickets sell out fast. Only a limited contingent of timed passes is available every day, so often they will run out of the most popular ones by early afternoon. Every exhibition requires purchasing a separate ticket in order to view it. After you have entered the grounds and admired the opulent architecture, it’s time to visit the museums to deepen your understanding of the Polish history. Below a short description of the exhibits we have selected. Please note: photography is NOT permitted inside any of Wawel buildings. ROYAL PRIVATE APARTMENTS ****** This tour gives us a good idea of how the royal court, but particularly the king and his family used to live. The rooms have retained many of their original elements (such as beamed ceilings, portals or fireplaces) and house collections mostly consisting of priceless antique furniture, tapestries, paintings, clocks and porcelain. One of the highlights (and the castle’s humorous pride and joy) was viewing the royal toilet: well, I guess even the kings have to answer nature’s call!  STATE ROOMS ****** These chambers were utilized in a formal capacity, mainly for representative and administrative purposes and were the center of political life of the country. Here the most important issues were discussed, foreign officials received, festive occasions celebrated. Just like the Royal Apartments, also this interior contains a multitude of art objects, beautiful wallpaper and furnishings from the era. Both the Royal Apartments and State Rooms can only be entered in organized groups. Your pass already contains the fee for participating in one of the guided tours held in the language of your choice. CROWN TREASURY AND ARMORY ****** Not many precious objects from the period survived, as they were obviously the first thing any self-respecting invading power would grab. But what was salvaged from their greedy hands now found its home in the Treasury, namely jewelry, intricately decorated cups, exquisite art and decorative objects, clocks as well as Szczerbiec (the coronation sword) and the royal insignia. The Armory, on the other hand, appears to be equipped with an abundance of different weapons, enough to start a small war in fact. That is if spears, swords, rapiers, smallswords, ancient guns (like old, not actually from the Antiquity) would be the instrument of choice in your military endeavors. Horse caparisons, cannons and knight armors also constitute a substantial part of this broad collection. Gazing at all those steel contraptions you can’t help but acknowledge that these dudes had a hard life. I felt exhausted beyond belief just looking at them, imagine having to actually wear one! I would sincerely recommend visiting all three of these exhibitions. Considering Poland’s turbulent past, all the invasions and partitions this tragic country endured it’s actually astonishing that so many objects remained intact to this day. A wonderful trip into the past, full of Gothic mystery, Renaissance beauty and Baroque splendor. LEONARDO DA VINCI: LADY WITH AN ERMINE ****** One of Poland’s most valuable art pieces, this painting is a true gem among the master’s creations, especially considering how few of those survived. We have all seen pictures of it, but contemplating this work in real life permits the visitor to perceive it in a completely different light. The Lady with an Ermine  can easily be considered Mona Lisa’s younger sister: perhaps not genetically, but artistically for sure! DRAGON’S DEN ****** After descending what feels like a million steps (spiraling staircase made me quite dizzy) you will find yourself in the alleged former residence of the legendary Wawel dragon. This underground cave looks rather adventurous: it’s full of moss, dripping water, strange rock formations, as well as some darkly appealing nooks and crannies. It emanates the aura of hidden treasures and Gothic secrets. A great place to explore for an extra thrill! After leaving the Lair and stepping outside you will be able to meet the iron dragon spitting real fire and enjoy the Vistula River with its beautiful views. Benches are scattered all throughout this area. A wonderful place to sit back and relax after the strenuous day you’ve just had. To be able to thoroughly tour these attractions you will need at least one full day, from opening till closing (times vary depending on season; please check their website for details). DAY 4 WAWEL CATHEDRAL  ****** http://www.katedra-wawelska.pl/english Located right next to the Wawel castle, this Cathedral is one of the most impressive sacral buildings in all of Europe. It served as the site of coronations of the Polish kings; it also holds the remains of the Royal families as well as those of national heroes. Its rich ornamentation and artistry make for an aesthetical experience of the highest caliber, including gold and marble elements everywhere! The many chapels dedicated to important Polish personalities of the earthly and religious variety all possess a specific character and are decorated in different styles reflecting the periods they were built in. The Royal Sarcophagi and Tombs inspire some serious awe: it’s an overwhelming feeling to realize you are standing just a few feet away from mortal remains of the kings that ruled this once powerful country. If you want to see the enormous Sigismund Bell, you must undertake quite a steep climb up the stairs to the top of the tower (the strenuous hike definitely requires some decent level of fitness), but the effort was well worth it. Not only have I never seen a bell this gigantic before, but the view from up there is just breathtaking. The place does get rather crowded though in case you were hoping for solitude. The whole Cathedral is hopping and unfortunately does not offer much opportunity for secluded contemplation. Please do remember that this beautiful church is still a place of worship (many Poles come here to pray), so respectful conduct and attire are required. There is no photography permitted, but for a small fee you can rent out audio tour equipment available in different languages. We found it very helpful in better understanding the history and significance of this remarkable place. THE JOHN PAUL II WAWEL CATHEDRAL MUSEUM ****** Situated right across from the Cathedral, this museum houses the collections formerly held in the Cathedral Treasury. The exhibits provide the visitor with another chance to travel back many centuries and admire sacral objects of unimaginable value. Some of the displayed items include: paintings, sculptures, national regalia, religious paraphernalia of all kinds and devotional robes. To thoroughly tour both the Cathedral and the Museum you will need 3-4 hrs. THE JEWISH QUARTER ****** After spending the morning enveloped in Christian symbolism, we thought we would shake things up a little and visit the Jewish Quarter (Kazimierz) in the afternoon. Before the devastating events of the Holocaust, Cracow was the home of one of the largest Jewish populations in Poland. Today this part of town looks somewhat shabby, if consciously left so to commemorate its original appearance from before the war or simply unattended due to lack of funds I am not sure. The little streets can be very confusing and this is the only place we got lost during our entire stay, even though we were walking with a map! The depressing, gray buildings are a very poignant contrast to the elaborate Cathedral (since the Wawel Castle served as the Nazi Headquarters in Poland, it went against their interests to destroy it) and painfully remind of the horrible fate the majority of their inhabitants suffered during the war. Only the little Jewish centre, where the restaurants and little stores are located, made a cheerful impression. The first synagogue we visited was the Tempel Synagogue. Very impressive and beautifully decorated (the upstairs area was being renovated at the time unfortunately), this place of worship also contains a small exhibition of enlarged photographs connected to the Holocaust and it’s still a center of religious and cultural activity among the contemporary Jewish community. The second one was the Remuh Sunagogue. Built in the 16th century, it’s still active to this day on top of serving as a crucial landmark. Much smaller and less spectacular than the Tempel, it is nonetheless a true historic jewel, with centuries of tradition behind it. The Remuh Cemetary is situated right next to this Synagogue. Founded around the same time as the neighboring building, it holds the remains of many of Poland’s most distinguished Jews. The Nazis managed to almost completely destroy the site, but thanks to considerable efforts numerous tombstones ware recovered and restored to their rightful place. A wall made out of crashed fragments commemorates the profaned graves. Even today a visitor will find prayer sheets, stones and candles on some of the tombs. This cemetery is a truly riveting place: peaceful and serene, it literally represents hundreds of years of Judaic faith in Poland. Please plan at least 2 hrs to tour the Jewish Quarter DAY 5 AUSCHWITZ MUSEUM AND MEMORIAL For an account of our excursion to Auschwitz, please click on the link below: The Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau Museum and Memorial j PLEASE CLICK TO CONTINUE RETURN TO PREVIOUS PAGE
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