Krakow’s Old Town – Stare Miasto

To be honest I wasn’t really looking forward to this trip as too much had happened in the lead up. However the minute I stepped into the old town of Krak√≥w, I felt that familiar amazement and wonder I feel when I travel. There were buskers (some playing really great music and posing as silver statues or knights as you do), stalls with flowers, plenty of snap happy tourists, little pretzel stalls, flower stalls, horse and carriages, waiters trying to lure you into their establishment, the waft of food coming from restaurants everywhere you turn and pigeons and people enjoying the afternoon sun as they walked around. All the things I have grown to love and expect.

Krakow’s town old town square is on the Unesco World Heritage List for being the biggest European town square. The edges of the square are rows of old houses and restaurants and the inside is filled with a range of fascinating buildings.

St Mary’s Church:
Firstly there’s St. Mary’s Church. The front section is reserved for prayer, so I went in and pretended to pray in a pew. You can buy a ticket to go into the front section (open from 11.35, zl) to see the famous altar piece by Veit Stoss but I decided to just strain my eyes from the back. This altar piece was one of the first things the Nazi’s took as they ransacked Krakow and when it was finally rediscovered after the war it was in pieces. It took Veit Stoss twelve years to build and four years from it to be restored to its originally glory after the war. After such an ordeal the government decided it was more of a monument now then religious item and were very reluctant to give it back, but finally after 18 years from when it was first stolen it was returned. What a turbulent life for an altarpiece!!!

You can also climb the tower … Need I say more. Anyone who knows me well will understand I have an obsession with climbing bell towers. Except … Day 1 it was raining and too dangerous, day 2 I was in Auschwitz, day 3 I was at the Salt Mines and day 4 was a Sunday and it was closed. I’m gutted.

Everyday on the hour from this tower a hejnal (kind of like a trumpet/bugle) is played. In 2004, when Poland joined the EU the ‘Ode to Joy,’ was also played from up here. They say half way through the song the player deviates from the melody to pay tribute to the original player who was shot when Mongals attacked the town. All I could think of was the Compare the Market/Meerkat ad where he talks about fighting the evil Mongals.

Sukiennice
Next up, the Renaissance Cloth Hall called. Now days it’s full of souvenir stalls which I quite like because it means it’s still buzzing with energy like it would of back in the day. It has all the crests of Poland’s towns painted on the roof which was a nice touch as well! Having sadly run out of room for any more snowglobes I have moved onto magnets and got my first one of the trip from here.

Underneath the is a fantastic exhibition called Ryneck Underground (10-8pm, 18 zl). Between 2005-2010 archeologists excavated the Main Square and had some pretty amazing finds! Also, the pictures of this huge square all dug up are pretty remarkable. This exhibition/museum portrays the old life and story of Krakow. You wander from the Trade Section (with maps and money) to the Blacksmith (with a little house, tools in cabinets, a video reenactment of him making some tools) etc etc. there’s a perfect balance of reenactments on the screens, finds from the dig in cabinets and touch screens where you can change the language and read the history and information about the section you are looking at. All the foundations of the building are on display and there’s also a section with 4 rooms showing brief documentaries tracing Krakow’s history. It’s a very well put together museum and being underground was a great shelter from the rain!

There’s also the town hall tower – the town hall itself was demolished in 1820.

The Adam Mickiewicz Monument:

This square was renamed Adolf Hitler Platz when Krakow was under German occupation.

I’ve spent so much of time in Krakow in this beautiful square watching the world go by.

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Hidden Finds In Krakow

Often the best things are the ones you are least expecting. On my second day in Krakow it was absolutely bucketing down with rain which put a halt to my plans. As I was running back from St Mary’s Church to my hostel I took cover under a little alcove. There were a lot of people gathered here and I quickly learnt why – from here you could see the side of a stage with folklore dancing. I had stumbled upon the ‘International Children and Youth Folk Festival.” I watched from my restricted view for quite a while and later that afternoon when there was a break in the weather I went back, perched myself on a stool and watched some more children and youth in gorgeous beaded costumes sing and twirl around. I love folklore. I’ve said for many years I want to learn Eastern European folklore dancing so if anyone knows any good classes in Melbourne, let me know!!!

That same afternoon when the weather Gods kindly decided to let this break in the weather last, I walked down to Wawel Castle. As I was trying to find the entrance, I heard more folk music and could smell bread and ale and wood and fire. Medieval sounds and smells. Sure enough I’d found a Medieval Festival. Could my day get any better? (Answer is yes, it could have STOPPED RAINING for longer and the SUN COULD HAVE SHONE because it’s meant to be summer for crying out loud!) There were little stalls made out of straw with freshly baked bread and bows and arrows and a little ale house. In the middle there were some ladies (in costume of course) teaching medieval dance. Happy days.

Stuttgart Ballet – A Streetcar Named Desire

After 2 flights, a train from Frankfurt to Stuttgart (which was much more expensive than I’d been planning on) and two trams (because I booked far too late to get accomodation in the centre) I made it to my hotel in Stuggart. I couldn’t get the key for my room to work & when I finally got in I lay down for 15 minutes before throwing on a pretty dress and some make up and headed out. I don’t know if it was because I was jetlagged or if I’m more directionally challenged than I thought, but whatever the case I got on the wrong tram and ended up horribly, horribly lost. It took a lot of backtracking, intensive studying of the tram map and another 3 trams but finally after a 45 minute journey, which should have taken 15, I arrived in the area I thought the ballet was in.

If I wasn’t so frazzled or jetlagged I probably really have enjoyed the centre of Stuggart. Schlossplatz is absolutely beautiful and all the fountains, gardens and little cafes full of people sipping beer and enjoying their dinner gave it that typical European evening buzz. I vaguely remembered the opera house being to the left of Schlossplatz and I was just about to stop and ask for confirmation when I saw something incredibly familiar: two elderly well dressed ladies. I have worked at the theatre long enough to know without a doubt they were going to the ballet. I followed them and sure enough they lead me right to the front door.

As I got there an overwhelming peace came over me. I was back in my comfort zone. It didn’t matter I was thousands of kilometers away from home in a country with a foreign language, I knew exactly what was going on. There were two cafes/bars with plenty of tables and chairs (take note Arts Centre Melbourne), a beautiful cloackropm with wooden hangers (only an usher will notice such fine details) and so many happy ballet goers reading programs, sipping wine and champagne, eating biscuits and catching up with friends. I sat down (because there were plenty of chairs in the foyer…) and took it all in. I’ve made a habit of going to the theatre the first night I arrive overseas. The familiarity of it and the joy live performance gives me seems to make all the rushing and waiting and panicking and confusion and disorientation and jetlag dissapear and puts me in the right frame of mind to begin my travels.

The bells chimed and I headed inside. My seat was in the second row from the front and the men next to me stunk of wine.

It was different from anything I’ve ever seen. For a start there was no orchestra pit and I was in the second row from the front. I’ve never been that close before and it was a eye opening experience to see all the details. Im not going to lie watching their shaking legs, desperate hops to stay up en pointe, some dancers centre of gravity being quite far back and one male consistently rocking backwards (I was certain he was going to break his ankle) gave me satisfaction. It makes me feel better about making all the same mistakes in class.

I didn’t like not having a live orchestra. The music was far too loud and didn’t always match the dancers rhythm. The choreography was mixture of contemporary, neoclassical and jazz and there were a lot of different focal points. In my opinion due to the interesting choreography there were simply too many dancers or groups of dancers doing different things.

The first act was predominately a flashback to Belle Reve. Blanche, Stella and the various men were often the focus point downstage whilst the corps danced slow and whimsical pas de deux’s in the background whilst Blanche and her dalliances frolicked around them.

The second act was a stark contrast, this time set in frantic New Orleans. Again, Blanche, Stella and the men were predominately downstage whilst the corps were mainly upstage – jumping and leaping and doing all sorts of things. The men were dressed in jeans and t-shirts and the ladies in all different bold 50’s dresses. It was a bit chaotic. However, the chaos did help convey the Blanches disarray.

Something I did like was how they used spoken language at certain points to convey the narrative. I haven’t seen much of this done before and I think in a smaller theatre this mixture of dance and drama was great combinations. I don’t think it would have worked in the opera house and was a good choice to put it in the more modern Schauspielhaus.

I kept nodding off and jerking awake in the second act as I was so jetlagged and the lady next to me kept giving me strange looks. I was well and truly awake by the end of the curtain call. It was the longest curtain call I have ever sat through, it kept going and going and by the end the principle girl who danced Blanche looked quite irritated but kept her smile plastered on her face which had turned into a sickly grimace. I’m not sure if this is a European thing or has just happened at the ballets and operas I’ve been to but I adore how they raise the house lights for curtain call. I remember doing a ballet class on the Melbourne State Theatre stage and one of the other students complained about how bright the lights were “It’s so sad you can’t see us cheering and clapping and standing up in awe in the curtain calls!” she said to the coryphee taking our class. She has a point. It was so nice to see the dancers being able to appreciate the reception of their audience.

Overall I had a mixed response. Technically they were impressive and the choreography was fascinating. But I didn’t love it. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m a traditional pointe and tutu and fairies and princess ballet girl or if I was so exhausted and jetlagged.

Whatever the case that’s another ballet company ticked off my endless list!

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