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.

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.

May 3rd Consitution

May 3rd, 1791 is the date of the 2nd oldest constitution in the world after the United States and the first modern constitution in Europe.  As a result, May 3rd is a holiday in today’s Polish Republic.  On this day the entire country flies the red and white colors of the Polish flag.  To the point where May 2nd has become known as flag day.  Poland is the only country I know of that constructs its buildings with the foresight of May 3rd.  As most buildings have a flag pole installed on them.  Even Krakow’s 15,328 seated Tauron arena will be covered in red and white LED bulbs.  On this day we remember Polish soldiers that fell for the country.  In Krakow, after holding a mass at the Wawel cathedral a military parade walks through the old town to the tomb of the unknown soldier on Plac Matejki, one of the first stops on our city bike tour.  It is there that high-ranking government and military officials speak to the people about the importance of this day in Polish history. At 5:00 PM in the main square songs of a patriotic nature will be sang and taught. Alongside all these events a patriotic tram will be decorated in Poland’s colors and rolling around the city full of singers of more patriotic songs.  Even if you’re not polish you will find the energy in the country will be a little elevated on this day, as we are proud to be Polish.