Monday, January 5, 2009

Wroclaw, Prague and the Rapid Recovery Required

Whoa, I’m tired kids. I’m back in Scotland. We arrived last night. What a crazy Christmas break! We saw so much and I learned a ton in a mere two weeks. It was fantastic but I am glad to be home. I have one week to recover and rest and then next Monday we are off to London for a month! Oy vey! But I didn’t travel half way across the world to sit on my rump, now did I?

So what happened in my last week on the continent you ask? Well last Monday evening we jumped on a bus and traveled three hours to Wroclaw, Poland. Mind you this is after we arrived back at Remi’s house from Vienna at about 1am that morning! But off we went to Wroclaw. We crashed at Remi’s cousin’s house on Monday night. His cousin David was working three hours away at his newly established restaurant in a skiing village so we didn’t get to visit with him but his wife Magda was there and extended the warmest hospitality to us, the weary travelers. Also on hand were David and Magda’s young children, Paulina and Kuba. Paulina was a barrel of fun. She is a high energy, cute as a button, four year old. We quickly discovered we didn’t need a common language to communicate and have a great time. And Kuba is an adorable little man. He’s only a few months old so we didn’t talk too much. He needed his beauty sleep. On Tuesday, after Magda fed all four of us a grand breakfast, Remi and I were off to the big city. Wroclaw is the fourth largest city in Poland. Once in town we met up with more of Remi’s family. Remi’s cousin Gosia and her daughter Magda (yes another Magda and they’ll be a third before the day’s end) were incredibly generous and agreed to be our tour guides for the day. Wroclaw has some marvelous sights and one really needs a good week to take everything in but we only had a day so we did what we could; and let me tell you, that was a heck of a lot! First up, City Hall. Construction on this amazing structure started in the 13th century and lasted over 250 years ending in the 16th century! Does the Union know about this? Because those guys are due some serious overtime! Next up was Hansel and Gretel. That’s the name for two tenement houses joined together by an arch. Behind Hansel and Gretel is St. Elizabeth’s Church. Afterwards we stopped by Jatki. Jatki was a medieval meat market. Today the stalls that once belonged to the various butchers now house the works of local artists. The animals sacrificed here many moons ago are remembered in the form of life size bronze statues of a pig, piglet, goat, goose, duck, rooster and rabbit. Next we passed the colorful tenement houses of Market Square on our way to St. Mary Magdalene’s Church. Here we climbed up into the church’s tower and out onto a bridge that links to another tower. Up above the whole town we had the most magnificent views of the city. After our “stair master” routine we decided to break for lunch. We went to a nearby restaurant called Pyramid. It had exotic Egyptian décor but nothing Egyptian on the menu. I had pizza. After lunch we were off again, this time we passed The University. This institution of higher education was built between 1728 and 1741 and dons the Baroque fashion. Almost simultaneously we passed Market Hall. Market Hall is a giant indoor market that was built in the early 1900s and is still in business with its tenants renting stalls and selling various types produce and foliage. It was built on the remains of the former Arsenal and cannonballs are still lodged in the walls. We then crossed over Tumski Bridge; one of the 112 bridges Wroclaw has to claim; and onto the peninsula of Ostrow Tumski. This part of Wroclaw is home to several churches, seminaries, monasteries and convents. The star attraction here is The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. This Gothic masterpiece boasts two spires reaching up to the heavens, numerous sculptures, paintings and stained glass windows. It is something to behold! On our way to the next site we popped into the elaborate University Church. This was one of the few Baroque style churches I saw on my trip. It is just as ornamental as the Gothic ones we saw but it has a different feel and is lighter in color but equally amazing. Our final stop on the tour was the Panorama of the Battle of Raclawice. This is a monumental painting by J. Styka, W. Kossak and L. Boller that is housed in a rotunda built in 1967. The painting however was completed in Lvov in 1894 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Kosciuszko Uprising. For those of you lacking in Polish history (that includes me) Wikipedia explains: “The Kościuszko Uprising was an uprising led by Tadeusz Kościuszko in Poland and Lithuania in 1794. It was a failed attempt to liberate Poland and Lithuania of Russian influence after the Second Partition of Poland (1793) and the creation of the Confederation of Targowica.” Got it? There will be a test. So this panorama is a big painting in the round. I’d never seen anything like it before. So that concluded our tour. We parted ways with Gosia and Magda and went to a café off of Salt Square. You guessed it, back in the day they sold salt and salted fish in that square. Now a few florists occupy the space. At the café we rested up and had some refreshments. Remi’s school chums, Ada and Magda (yes, the aforementioned third Magda of the day) met up with us for awhile. Then it was time to travel the three hours back to Remi’s home in Kudowa, so on the bus we went.

Wednesday was New Year’s Eve. Remi and I were pretty knackered after so much touring so we took it easy for the celebrations. We stayed home. New Year’s Eve, as it turns out, is also my Name Day. Again let me refer to Wikipedia: “A Name Day is a tradition in many countries in Europe and Latin America of celebrating on a particular day of the year associated with the one's given name. The custom originated with the Catholic and Orthodox calendar of saints, where believers, named after a particular saint, would celebrate that saint's feast day. In many countries, however, there is no longer any explicit connection to Christianity.” So this is similar to a Birthday. People sing to you and give you presents. In the morning on Wednesday I was fooling around on the computer when the doorbell rang. The next thing I knew there was a chorus or four people singing to me in Polish. I had met all of these charming individuals before during my stay and here they were singing to me and presenting me with a gift. I was overwhelmed! How sweet is that! They gave me a figurine of an angel wrapped in cellophane and decorated with fresh flowers. It was lovely! Later that night Remi, his mother and his mother’s friend, Ella (who was over to count down and celebrate with us) sang to me again and bestowed more gifts on to my undeserving self! This time I received a beautiful silver and amber charm (amber is a big thing in Poland). The tradition of name day is such a delight and made my New Year’s Eve even more special. We watched the Polish version of the Dick Clark special, did the count down, made some toasts and viewed the fireworks out of the window. I only lasted another hour and then I had to go to bed. It was a very warm and comfortable way to ring in the New Year. I don’t know that I could have handled anything too wild and crazy!

The remaining two days were pretty low key. We stayed in town and rested up for more traveling on Saturday. Saturday took us to Prague. We didn’t have too long in this magnificent city because we had to catch a plane back to London but we did spend some time at Prague Castle. This is the current seat of the President of the Czech Republic. We arrived just in time to witness the changing of the guard at the main gate. This, of course, was a formal display but I did catch a few snickers from the guys in uniform as they were going through their choreography. I’m sure it’s old hat for them and the tourists can be amusing at times. Inside we passed through the First and Second Courtyards where we saw the Chapel of the Holy Cross, the Renaissance Well and the Baroque Kohl Fountain. The Third Courtyard brought us our fist view of St. Vitus Cathedral. This Gothic beauty is the heart of the castle. St. Vitus hosts the Crown Jewels of the Bohemian Kings, The semi-precious stone adorned walls of St. Wenceslas Chapel, the Royal Crypt, a glorious mosaic over The Golden Gate and some of the richest stain glass windows on which I’ve ever laid eyes. It is breathtaking. Next up was Golden Lane; this is a quaint little strip of medieval architecture that has a ton of little shops selling their goods to the tourists. Also in this section is the entry point for some of the displays available for viewing in this section of the castle. Just walking up the steep, narrow, dark, spiraling stone stairs transports you back in time. Above the shops I walked down the dim and chilly halls and examined the displays of medieval weaponry and armor. Let me tell you, I would not want to meet my end at the blow of some of those very scary looking instruments. Wow. Also on display was some of the courtly dress of the time. That was a little less intimidating but some of those dresses did look complicated. No wonder the ladies needed so many servants to help them! I, in my easy sportswear, climbed down out of the tower and made my way back to Remi whom I had left relaxing in a nearby chair. It was almost time to make our way to the airport but first a quick look at Loreta. Loreta is a lovely Baroque church that dominates Hradcany Square. Loreta is famous for its unique chimes that play every hour. Next stop Prague Airport. There is a ton more to see in Prague. One could spend weeks in that city but alas, we had to go. I was in Prague in ’98 on a quick tour so this was a nice refresher. One day I would like to get back to that ancient center of Bohemia and investigate it in greater depth. But for now I have to prepare for The Globe!

We arrived in London on Saturday night and stayed with Remi’s friends Claire and Ben. Remi knows some of the most gracious and hospitable people on the planet! We were absolutely blessed on our journey! Sunday morning we jumped on a train to Glasgow and arrived yesterday evening. I have spent today resting and running a few errands. One must have a few groceries after all. AND we finally got our scene assignments for The Globe! I will be working on The Winter’s Tale. Hermione (that’s me) is accused by her husband, The King of Sicily, of being unfaithful and carrying the child of his best friend. She is sent to prison where she gives birth to a little girl who is taken away and left on a beach to die. As you can see, this is one of Shakespeare’s light and fluffy plays. There is hope though; the baby is found and raised by a shepherd. Will father and daughter be reunited? Will the insanely jealous king come to his senses? Will Hermione and her daughter need years of therapy to recover from all this? Tune in next week and find out more! Or you could just read the play yourself.

Let me end this tremendously long entry. I try to keep them reasonable, really I do, but when you cram so much of Europe into a couple a weeks it’s difficult to keep it brief! I still have to sort out the photos. As you can imagine, there are hundreds. I’ll try to get them posted soon!
Be safe my friends!!

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