Tour de Pologne

Less than two weeks after the Tour de France the next big race begins; the Tour de Pologne.  This year the six-day race begins in Krakow.  At 1PM the likes of Peter Sagan and Rafal Majka will begin their pedaling from the main market square of Krakow and will be returning to the sqaure after 130km of pedalling.   The weather is warm today we hope all the athletes finish safe.  We will see you in the main square at the finish line.

Our first Eagles’ Nests bike tour

A few weeks ago we completed our first bike tour of the Eagles’ Nests.  A three-day bike ride over limestone ridges sprinkled with medieval fortresses and castles perched atop cliffs, not unlike an Eagle’s nest.

Our first day we headed north out of Krakow to the national park of Ojcow.  The temperature dropped that day to a meager 15 degrees but we were still in high spirits.  After lunch in the national park, we visited our first castle ruins of Ojcow.  From there we saw a wedding take place at the chapel on the river before continuing north to the castle on Dog’s rock.  We made our way out of the park through Poland’s narrowest and longest town of Suloszowa.  At this point, we were fighting against a strong head wind.  But soon we were sheltered by trees as we traversed our way in the sand through the forest of Olewin.   From there we climbed up to the second Eagle’s nest of Rabsztyn.  Along the way, we passed by the house of Antoni Kacjan who is credited with helping win the war by finding the secret production of German V1 and V2 long-range rockets on Polish occupied territory.  Our first night we finished cold and wet, but we enjoyed a nice meal at the hotel before a night cap.

 

Day 2 began the way Day 1 was supposed to finish; with a visit to the Bledkowski dessert.  But as stated by Michael from Maryland a dessert in the rain is no dessert. The weather was pleasant that day a good breeze and not too hot.  We dined at the foot of the largest castle, on our trip, in Ogrodziniec, then we took a tour of the enormous grounds.  That weekend a kids fair surrounded the grounds.  It was surreal to see a large castle overlooking a smaller inflated bouncy castle at its foot.  Despite the number of people, it was easy to get lost the in the labyrinth of tunnels and rooms in the castle ruins.  After our visit, we rode a nice paved bike path through wheat fields lined with protruding rocks.  From there we climbed out of the valley into a forest where we saw the ruins of the Morsko castle and then we descended through the woods along a sandy trail, where we had to concentrate on not turning our handlebars in order to avoid sliding.  We made it all unscathed.  The day ended at our spa hotel where some of us took advantage of the masseuse on-site, and we all took advantage of the hot tub and numerous saunas.

 

 

Day 3 was hot!  Immediately after we check out we headed into the woods where the foliage could shelter us from the heat.  Our first ruins were only 12Km away in the town of Bobolice.  This castle was bought by a Polish senator and restored to its original state. It almost looked like it was a castle from Disney world.  This was one of few castles we got a guide to take us through, but to our dismay we were accompanied by fifty pre-teens at summer camp.   The guide took his time and was very accessible to us, which made for an enjoyable tour.  From there are next castle was only 3 Km away but was in ruins and not accessible.  From there our lone bike path went out of the valley and down into the town of Zary, where we stopped for some taste bakery treats.  After lunch it was time to do penance and climb up one of the steepest climbs on our trip at 12% gradient.  But we would soon be blessed with a colorful paved bike path down through the forest.  At the bottom i treated our guests with a visit to a secret cave slightly off the path.  Many feared the sign that greeted us to ‘enter at your own risk’  With me as their guide they were in good hands.  Afterwards we headed down a forested path that traversed wondrous rock formations whose origins were weaved in legends of devils and wizards.  Our last castle ruins were in Olsztyn where Sheri took a break in the sunshine.

 

After reaching Czestochowa we said our good-byes to Pawel and Agnieszka as they took the train home.  I stayed with Michael and Sheri and we celebrated their wedding anniversary with a fancy supper.  The next day we would visit the holy site of the Black Madonna on ‘Bright Hill’.  And so our trip came to a close with lots of sweat, satisfaction and sites.  I hope this trip will be the first of many.  Thanks to Sheri, Michael, Pawel and Agnieszka for making this a memorable trip.

 

27th Jewish Cultural Festival

There aren’t many Jews left in Krakow since the war.  Around 200 reside in Krakow today as opposed to the 68 000 that was here before at the turn of the 20th century.  So why have a Jewish festival in a city with so few jews? The idea is to re-introduce jewish culture to a place where it once richly thrived.

Starting today and all week long Jewish workshops, seminars,  art shows, theater, tours, and most of all music will be held all around the city.  This year a new site for the opening party was settled upon; the Hala Targowa.  Tonight the music begins at 6:00 pm, in an old Jewish market house the Mahane Yehuda.

The main event of the festival, as always, is held next Saturday; Shalom on Szeroka street, or as some call it ‘Jewish woodstock.’  For one night a year Szeroka is cleared of all its restaurant terraces and parked cars and a stage is set-up in front of the Old Synagogue.  Starting at 6:00 pm and going to the last man standing or swaying.

If you’re in Krakow you will not want to miss this.

For more info check out http://www.jewishfestival.pl/en/

Wianki: The Reef fesitival

As the longest day has just come, it’s time to stay out all night and party! This celebration goes back to pagan times when bonfires and dances were had to ensure health and good harvest.  It’s called the reef festival because on this night girls make reefs and placed them on their heads like crowns.  At night these reefs are placed in the river lit with candles and set afloat.  If a bachelor finds your reef on the river he will be your future husband.  If your reef sinks to the bottom you will remain a spinster forever.  To this day a contest for the most beautifully decorated reef is held.

During the day our medieval fair for Saint John’s day is held alongside the river.  You can feel as though you are walking through a medieval village with blacksmiths, bakers, and wenches. You can listen to music of yore and party like its 1200.

The reef festival is also a festival of music and dance.  And if you have not noticed by now stages have been set up all around town; on the main square, Szczepanski square, Podgorze square, and even in Nowa Huta.

The celebration culminates with a fireworks display on the river at the foot of the castle at 10:45 pm.

All these events in Krakow take place free of charge and beverages will be plentiful. Remember if you rented a bike from us overnight drinking and riding can lead to a five hundred zloty fine.  Enjoy responsibly.

Lajkonik

There are two symbols of Krakow, one is the dragon and the other the Lajkonik; a polish timber rafter dressed as a Mongol or tartar invader.  In June of 1287 theTartarr invaders set up base in a convent just outside of Krakow in the town of Zwierzyniec.  Their plan was to spend the night and invade Krakow in the early hours of the next morning.  Zwierzyniec lies along the Vistula river and the polish timber rafters noticed the Mongol intruder, thus in the middle of the night surprised them with an attack that left no one spared.  The leader of the timber rafters came up with an idea to play a trick on the people of Krakow.  The band of timber rafters would dress up like their Mongol foes and pretend to invade the city of Krakow.  Before the city could ring the alarm they revealed their true identities as polish lumber rafters.  To this day to honor those brave poles the week after Corpus Christi a fellow Cracovian appointed by the mayor plays the role of the Lajkonik, and dresses in mongol dress.  At 12:00 PM he begins a parade from the Norbetan convent in Zwierzyniec and heads towards Krakow’s main square arriving at 7:00PM.  The reason for his tardiness is that he stops at all the bars, restaurants, and cafes along the route to have a drink with the owner as a sign of a prosperous year.  Not to mention that he is surrounded by children during the parade who want to get hit on the head by his club to give them luck.  This year’s arrival was marked with cheer and rosy cheeks on the one dressed as the Lajkonik.

Corpus Christi

Today, 60 days after Easter, we celebrate the transubstantiation of the body and blood of Christ.  This tradition dates back to Orvieto in Rome in the XIII century, where during mass the priest knocked the Eucharist chalice over and the few drops of wine that spilled turned into blood.  Christians believe that this is proof that the Ostia and wine taken during communion are, in fact, the body and blood of Christ.  In Krakow after mass, a procession will be held through Grodzka street to the main square where  4 stops will be made under temporary altars symbolizing the four evangelists.  Those that take part in the procession ofter are dressed in folk dress and attire.

An interesting place to witness these events is the Corpus Christi church in Kazimierz.  Legend has it, the name comes from the story of two thieves that broke into All Saints Church, which no longer stands today, and stole the monstration thinking it was of gold.  After realizing it was only gold plated they threw it into the bogged area of Kazimierz.  years later blue beams of light emerged from the mud in Kazimierz.  The bishop was called over to see the miracle and he ordered the area to be excavated after which the stolen monstration was found.  And so a church of an unusual name was built in that very spot.

The Great Dragon Parade

In the VI century Krak, the founder of Krakow poisoned the dragon that once lived at the foot of the Wawel castle, with a sheep stuffed with sulfur.  All this weekend Dragons will once again infest the streets of Krakow.   The puppet theater Groteska hosts the 17th annual dragon parade.  This year’s theme will me influenced by Mediterranean history and culture. During the day you can see Dragon floats along the river and at night a fireworks and laser light spectacle on the riverside by the Wawel Castle.  Then on sunday, you can catch giant dragon shaped balloons floating above the main market square at noon.  This time rather than terrorizing the people the dragons will be a source of delight and fun.

Beerweek Festival

If you have been to Poland before you may have been struck by strange site of ladies drinking beer from a straw.  The straw isn’t actually there to be drunk from but rather is used to stir the raspberry or ginger syrup at the bottom of the pint glass.  People who don’t like the bitter taste of beer can order syrup in it to sweeten the flavor.  This weekend in Krakow you won’t have to that as you can find beer infused with these sweet fruity flavors.

This weekend the Cracovia stadium becomes a beer-lovers paradise, as the third annual beer week begins.

When I arrived in Poland 11 years ago there were only 4 large breweries; Zywiec, Okocim, Tyskie, and to a lesser degree Perla and they all tasted pretty much the same.  Today there are hundreds of breweries to chose from! You can find anything from dark coffee porters to earl gray lagers. And this Saturday we will have a futbol stadium full of beer.  Movies will be shown, beer will be drunk, and conversations will be had all weekend.  And some point you will find the Cruising Krakow team sitting at table 23.

 

Krakow Film Music Festival

Tomorrow is the last day of Krakow’s Film festival.  And as always it failed to disappoint.  One of my favorite festivals of the year.  A chance to watch great films with grand musical scores alongside a full symphony orchestra that plays alongside the film.  Before Krakow had the Tauron arena and the ICE conference centers the symphony took place in Krakow’s historic communist steel mill plant in Nowa Huta. As of 2014 Krakow regularly hosts big sporting and musical events at the Tauron arena, but we lost the opportunity to witness these cultural events in the unique landscape of the steel mill plant.  This, as well as the Sacrum Profanum festival, were one of the few opportunities for those of us not employed by the mill to enter it.

This year’s festival headliner was Abel Korzeniowski’ a polish composer whose worked with Tom Ford on ‘A Single Man,’ Madonna on W.E.; for both soundtracks, he received a golden globe nomination for best soundtrack. Not only was Abel the guest of honor at the screenings but also led workshops on the subject of composeing. This year I managed to catch a Star Wars compilation as well as ‘A Neverending Story’.  The former was a composition of several Star Wars films edited in the worst possible way.  It was as if a 9-year-old boy edited the scenes together with an iPhone app.  A treat were the actors dressed in star wars character outfits re-enacting some scenes in the aisles.  Overall a satisfactory evening but the 20 piece choir did not match that of the original 90 strong.

‘The Neverending Story’ a film from my youth’s generation, was packed with children.  Children films are normally dubbed in Poland but this being from the 80s was not; nonetheless, the theater was packed with parents and their children; which resulted in the adults translating for their kids during the movie. Annoying for those of us that just want to watch the film.  The movie and especially the music were outstanding.  The 81 year old composer, Klaus Doldinger was in attendance and at the end blessed us with his presence on stage and played his saxophone to the closing credits.

Tonight you can an attend an outdoor screening of Top Gun next to the Vistula river, with its soundtrack composer Giorgio Moroder in the audience.

Juvenelia: student fest

May; the last month before exams is the last bout of freedom for the students in Krakow.  Juvenalia is a holiday for students and takes place every year for a week in May.  Across the city, on all five campuses, you can hear music from concerts, and smell the odor of hamburgers on the grill.

The festival culminates with the symbolic passing of the key to the city by the mayor to the students of Krakow. This, in turn, gives the students the freedom to break the law by means of drinking in public places.  And helps them raise their voices in song as they chant their alma matters hymns in the main square. Be careful when going into the square today as you can be accosted by young adults dressed in various costumes, intoxicated since the sun rose, screaming slogans in a language you may not know.