There is a land in the East which holds sway over me. It is a proud nation and I have loved it unconditionally and without question before I could even speak. My heart beats in time with the plunging hooves of horse-drawn carriages clattering around its cobbled square. It pulses to the peals of a hundred church bells calling me to mass on a crisp Sunday morning. It quickens at the sound of the bugle call catching a ride on the wind drifting down from the Wierza Mariacka; a seasoned tune full of memory and pride played from this tower since the Mongol invasion of 1241. The unique rhythm and hum of this city pulls at my heart strings and remains deeply engrained in my very core long after I've returned home to England. I have often contemplated the wonders of dual nationality and the difficulties of being infatuated with two cultures simultaneously, and am yet to reach a decision on whether it is a blessing or a curse.
It is the last week of October, and the cold wind is tugging me East. Come on a journey with me to commemorate the faithful departed and experience Kraków in all its autumnal splendour...
In Poland, Halloween is celebrated a little differently; it is a religious festival and the days are spent visiting and tending to the graves of family members. All Soul's Day is the last day of celebrations and all of the graves have been cleaned and decorated with copious amounts of flowers and grave lanterns. It is a magnificent spectacle of colour and light and Polish people flock to the cemeteries in their hundreds to pray for the dead, staying well into the night.
Podgórze Cemetery in the day
Rakowice Cemetery at night
My sister and I took our boyfriends' to Poland for the first time to see our beloved Kraków and to meet our family. It was great as my sister and I were able to revisit all of the most prominent places and sites that we hadn't seen for a very long time. As we tend to stay with family for the duration of our stay it was also really wonderful to view the city in a completely different light; we were able to spend more time wondering the cobbled streets, stopping off in hidden little cafes or doing some of the more typical 'touristy' stuff like eating lunch outside on the rynek (square) or taking a horse-drawn carriage ride up to Wawel - the castle.
Wierza Mariacka i Kościół Mariacki - St. Mary's Tower and St. Mary's Basilica
This is the tower from which the bugle call can be heard every hour, on the hour, four times- once from each face. The sentry who sounded the alarm by playing the 'hejnał' during a Tartar invasion in the 13th Century was shot by an arrow. The hejnał therefore always ends abruptly to commemorate this as the gates were closed in time to save the city.
The beautiful interior of St. Mary's Basilica
Rynek Główny i Sukiennice - The Main Square and the Cloth Hall
Horse-drawn carriages are always stationed around the main square ready to take passers by for a ride around Kraków. My sister and I have been wanting to take a ride in one since we were little but never got the chance so we were so excited when we decided to take one up to Wawel Castle with the boys!
Wawel Castle was built in the early 14th Century as the residence of many Polish monarchs and is now the burial site of Polish Kings and Queens. Sigismund's Bell in the Bell Tower of Wawel Cathedral is a national Polish symbol and tolls only on special occasions and religious and national holidays. It weighs nearly 13 tonnes and required 12 bell-ringers to ring it!
More architecture, styles and interiors
Trams are the scariest thing. Trust. Also in Poland it's not compulsory for cars to stop at zebra crossings so getting across the road is a mission and a half! Above is a photo of the house Pope John Paul II stayed in whenever he visited his hometown of Kraków. He had a fantastic sense of humour and people used to gather in their hundreds under his window to hear him speak. He'd talk to them for hours then retire only to pop his head out every now and again to tell them to bugger off and let him sleep.
Food - it's a big deal if you're Polish...
Our brave boys survived three evenings with my larger-than-life family and tried every Polish dish that was placed in front of them. This encompassed a variety of weird stuff including beetroot soup, cabbage stew, meat roulade with a pickled gherkin at the centre, rye soup with egg, pickled herrings, cheese and onion dumplings, and minced meat and rice cabbage rolls... ok they all sound really disgusting when they're written so bluntly in English! A lot of them are actually super nice! I'm so proud of our boys for mustering up the courage to try these weird and wonderful dishes and pleased to say that they did actually enjoy the majority of them!
Having a dual nationality is almost as difficult as being in two places at once, but every time I think of Kraków I know that I would not give it up for the world.
Bo najpiękniejsze są Polskie kwiaty...
Labels: All Souls, cemetery, city break, cobblestones, dual nationality, faithful departed, Halloween, Krakow, Mariacki, pierogi, Podgorze, Poland, Pope John Paul II, Rakowice, St. Mary's Tower, Sukiennice, Wawel Castle