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 Kraków, 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.

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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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Uluru: The Heat

IMG_7724The heat almost bowls me over. I don’t know if it is because it is actually really hot or it’s simply a stark contrast from the air-conditioned aeroplane I’ve just emerged from. At least my arms are no longer covered in goosebumps.

As we walk from the aircraft, across the tarmac to the airport, a young girl says to a German backpacker “I hope you are okay. I live here, I should be used to this heat, but right now I am boiling!” She’s not the only European struggling. In front of me at the shuttle bus stop a delicate, pale English lady whispers to her husband, “I’ve never felt such heat. It warms you from the inside out and touches your soul.” I wasn’t expecting such eloquence in the middle of the Aussie outback. A girl in my dorm has just come from Cairns. It was hot there too but a different kind of heat. Humid. This is different. She can’t decide which is worse.

This is a dry heat. There is no wind. Everything stands still. All the sounds have been muted, like the heat has rendered everyone and everything too exhausted to make a sound. Consequently, it is so peaceful and calm standing outside. Even inside people don’t speak in order to conserve their energy. The loudest noise is the constant hum of the air-conditioning but you quickly become accustomed to it and it fades into the background.

The air feels heavy. It pushes on you like a weighted blanket. It wraps you up in its embrace. It fills all the holes and crevices outside and the gaps between your fingers and toes and strands of hair. It makes it hard to breathe; like it is when you are in a cubby house made of sheets.

Although it is uncomfortable at first, I come to like this heat. I like how it drains the energy from me so I am forced to slow down and not rush from place to place. I like just sitting still and observing my surroundings in my drowsy, peaceful stupor.

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Uluru: An Assault on the Senses

Before I went, a colleague described Uluru as ‘spiritual and magical.’ She couldn’t explain why or what exactly she meant by that.

“You’ll when what I mean when you get there. You will feel … something.”

People have asked me what it was like there and I am similarly lost for words. I haven’t really talked about it and I keep telling people I’ll blog about it instead because every attempt at describing it has fallen short. The spoken word often betrays me and I have always said ‘I write better than I talk,’ but for the first time in my life I can’t even convey my thoughts and feelings in writing.

It has been 6 weeks since I returned home and I am yet to write a single word. Well, that’s a slight lie. I have written a few bits and pieces but every attempt has ended up crumpled up and thrown in the bin.

I simply can’t describe the significance of the place. Or even worse, I make it sound corny. But I’m going to try. I want to share my experience so I can encourage others to go but mainly so I can relive my magical days there and have a record I can always re-read.

You can find prices of activities and reviews of the accommodation anywhere on the internet. I want to write about how I felt a sensory overload. I had only travelled three hours on a plane but I didn’t feel like I was in Australia anymore, at least not the Australia I had grown up in. It felt like an alien planet in so many ways. The sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings were overwhelming and in my four days there they never once lost their appeal or stopped completely and utterly fascinating me.

The Most Photographed Pub in New Zealand – Cardrona Hotel

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Dad had been telling us all about this awesome hotel & pub he had seen on the Internet when he’d been researching somewhere to stay between Te Anau or Queenstown and the Glaciers. The problem was he couldn’t remember the name or the town. Let’s hope we find it somewhere on the West Coast!

On our drive from Te Anau we got to the sign directing us to Wanaka either via Cromwell or via the Crown Ranges and Cardrona. Dad braked and shouted “Cardrona Pub! That’s the place!”

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The drive over the Crown Ranges is spectacular. Well, I thought it was. My brother thought they were just another set of mountains. Only thing worse than more mountains are more lakes in his opinion.

IMG_5488I can’t imagine what it must be like in Winter. There are about 6 chain bays, plenty of warning signs and a couple of sections where they can close the road. It is very steep and windy so don’t drive if you aren’t comfortable and I personally wouldn’t want to risk it in winter. But it’s definitely worth it for the views back into Queenstown.

Not long after you come down the mountain, you get to Cardrona. Cardrona was a gold rush town in 1860 but very little remains except this legendary pub and hotel.

Inside is very quaint. There’s a giant log fireplace and couches which would be so cosy in winter after a good ski. There’s a piano. There are shelves with custom made Cardrona ceramics. There are bras hung above the bar. Classy.

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IMG_5499Outside is a large grassy area, plenty of tables and chairs, a little stage, a playground (with a tyre swing that looks like a horse – can you want anything more in life) and an open fire place. If I had a dollar for every time I said “I’d love to come back in winter, I would have enough to book a flight tonight!”

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The food was even better. I stared for ages at the main menu. Then even longer on the snack menu. It was difficult. I eventually decided on my three options (if a menu doesn’t have a gluten free option, I choose three potentials and then cross my fingers). To my delight they could do the fush and chups gluten free! Everyone needs to have fish and chips at a pub.

IMG_5501They were delicious! So were Dad’s bangers and mash. Mum and my brother loved their burgers too!

IMG_5500The bar staff told us that the pub is quite famous across if not all of New Zealand, at least the South Island for quite a few reasons. Firstly it was involved in advertising for Speight’s beer. Secondly the old owner James Patterson had an unusual way of monitoring drink driving. If you were driving over those windy Crown Ranges, only one drink. If heading towards Wanaka on the easier road, you got two. Legendary! Thirdly, part of the pub got shipped to England and a competition was held for some people to go along with it and you guessed it drink in the pub the whole way.

IMG_5492Finally, it’s the most photographed pub in New Zealand. I can see why! It’s gorgeous, quaint, quirky and the food and drink adds the finishing touches. It was one of my highlights of New Zealand and that’s saying something!!!

Arrowtown – A Little Treasure of a Town

Or maybe I should have titled it a town full of treasure, as it’s an old gold mining village! We didn’t find any gold but we found plenty of other treasures in this historic and picturesque place.

It is so beautiful and so close to Queenstown and yet surprisingly when we went it wasn’t overrun with tourists. I feel bad blogging about it – I don’t want this hidden gem to become bustling like Queenstown but I’m sure my little blog won’t do much damage, so fear not readers, I will continue.

Being only an easy and scenic 20 minutes from Queenstown, it’s the perfect place for lunch, dinner, a full day trip and a respite after all the activities the area provides.

We’d been on the Shotover Jet (that’s a post for another time but until then all I can say is go do it!) and to Coronet’s Peak (again a post on that will come soon – in the meantime pictures on my Instagram, same name as here – passportandpaperplanes) and after our walk up to the peak we were famished. A friend had recommended I visit and I am so glad I took their advice.

Driving down the Main Street will leave you ohhing and ahhing and sighing over its cuteness. Modernity has not touched it yet and if someone walked down the street in period costume I wouldn’t be surprised – it feels like you’ve time travelled to the Gold Rush. There are old telephone booths, old lampposts, buildings with lettering such as ‘The Gold Nugget’ still looking good and the option to go down to the river and try your luck at panning for gold.

There’s heaps of cute little boutiques and plenty of pretty restaurants with yummy menus. I happily could have gotten fudge from ‘The Remarkable Sweet Shop,’ (also in Queenstown – if you are not lured by their huge variety of flavours, my personal favourite being the best selling creme brûlée or peppermint, you will be by their free tastings!), or icecream from Patagonia (again also in Queenstown and also heavenly) but I did the good girl thing and got a proper meal.

We went to the Postmasters, because it was adorable and its menu was divine. It’s an old house converted into a restaurant and has a cute picket fence and garden. All four of us got the fish of the day (maybe because we wanted to hear the waiter say fish n chips in a Kiwi accent) and wow was it good. They were generous portions too!! We were going to pass on dessert until our waiter told us they had gluten free choc-hazelnut brownie. I’m sorry but that brownie and its vanilla bean icecream and chocolate sauce was calling my name and it didn’t disappoint.

If you can’t tell I loved Arrowtown. I loved the history, the serenity, the break from tourists and the gorgeous buildings. We didn’t explore much at all but I’m hoping to stop in again tomorrow on the way to Wanaka.

I’m struggling to format on my phone and have dodgy wifi so please forgive me for not posting pictures. They will come soon I promise!