Tuesday, September 5, 2006. Krakow. We ate an early breakfast with Coenrad and Frana. They’ve only been married since December, and they’re pretty adorable. George left with them around 7:45 to catch a bus to UJ. At 8:30 I headed to the 24-hour internet cafe on the square to check e-mail and post a couple of livejournal entries. When I left there I crossed the plaza to the large indoor market and purchased some gifts. I returned to the hotel to deposit my purchase and struck out again in search of a belt, seeing as how my pants were falling off. (No, I’m not losing weight. They’re linen.) At a shop called Tatuum I found a versatile leather belt tooled with a western swirly pattern in chocolate brown and black. Central Krakow is full of both upscale and discount clothing stores–many of the same brands found in American malls: Diesel, Adidas, Sephora, Orsay, Max Mara, Lee, Wrangler, etc. There are others I don’t recognize but I assume are popular in Europe. Shop windows display bridal wear, furs, jewelry (especially amber and gold), and lots of hip styles–all for prices way below what you’d pay in America. It’s a good thing for our bank account that I brought only one small suitcase!
I put on my new belt and went in search of a museum. I must have walked right past the one marked on my map, and I was getting hungry, so I scouted lunch options. All over the city there are narrow little shops with windows opening on the street advertizing “kebabs”–a pita sandwich filled with all sorts of goodies, depending on what you select. I see people eating them as they walk along, and they look yummy, but when I tried to decipher one of the menus, I chickened out. Instead I bought a big, fat pretzel coated with sesame and other seeds. Pretzel vendors are located on almost every corner.
I sat on a bench on the square and munched while observing humanity as it pulsed around me. Patient pigeons bobbed at my feet. A man in traditional Polish costume played an accordian nearby accompanied by his wife on upright bass. Some distance behind me another man also played accordian but instead of folk songs he performed in mad-scientist-on-an-organ style. On the other side of the square a man played Ave Maria on the trumpet. Live musicians set up shop all over the square and up and down the streets, spacing themselves so that they provide a continual concert for pedestrians.
Interestingly there were no groups of uniformed school children out today. Perhaps it’s a Monday thing? I’ll have to ask. After I tossed the last bits of my pretzel to the enthusiastic avian crowd, I headed back down the street in search of the elusive museum. Still didn’t find it, but I did find a gelato stand! Mmmm.
The weather has been wonderful–mostly sunny and cool, but occasionally the wind gusts with enough force to topple the umbrellas at sidewalk cafes. In some ways the weather reminds me of the people–its mild appearance masking untamed passions and suppressed longings. Or maybe I’m just dramatic. heh.
I returned to the hotel for a short, delightful nap and then did what I should have done this morning: I asked the hotel desk clerk where the Nat’l Museum was located. Turns out the biggest, best one is just around the block! On my way there I peeked throught the window on a locked door of a cathedral and saw paintings and architecture to rival any in Venice. The color scheme, though, was more creams and pale blues. Very soothing, if an ornate, gilt, floor-to-ceiling visual feast can be described such. It’s a good thing the cathedral was closed, b/c I soon discovered the museum would be open only till 4:00 PM. I had just under an hour and a half to browse its many galleries.
One immediate impression was the intricate bejewelments on weaponry and equestrian tackle. Saddles and horse head-dresses were inlaid with turquoise, coral, and precious stones. Lots of rubies. These people really liked to adorn their ride!
The paintings spanned many centuries and, in my opinion, ranges of quality. A few from the 2nd half of the 15th century struck me as particularly bizarre. Two dealt with the death of the Virgin Mary. In one a miniature knight in armor knelt beside her death bed. He was in the foreground but proportionally much smaller than the other figures. Similarly, in the second two modern-looking nuns and another Catholic official occupied the foreground–not kneeling but proportionally tiny. I’m sure it’s symbolic, but it just looked odd.
Another painting depicted Mary nursing baby Jesus. We saw a couple of paintings with the same theme in Venice, but in this one a bored-looking Jesus has turned away from Mary’s exposed breast yet still holds it as though he’d just been nursing. He’s glancing back at a kneeling saint, who picked an inopportune time to worship if you ask me. At least that’s the message I got from Mary’s “do you mind?” expression. She doesn’t look embarrassed. Just a bit put out.
The museum had a da Vinci and a Rembrandt. It also had a small room devoted to Chopin where his piano is on display along with other memorabilia. Very cool.
One of my favorite wings displayed ancient art, including some Egyptian mummy cases along with the various objects buried with Egyptian nobility. There were also some stone coffins from ancient Rome with life-sized reclining statues of the deceased sculpted on their lids.
I left the museum, stopped at another sidewalk cafe, and ordered a cappucino which a cheerful young woman served in a blue-and-white porcelain cup on a matching saucer. Dappled sunlight danced on my table through the tree branches as I wrote in my journal. All around me I heard the muted sounds of friends engaged in Polish conversation over coffee or beer. The sun felt warm on my back against my black sweater but the breeze balanced it to perfection.
Wish you were here. ♥