There is a party going on in the hall just outside my room. These Polish, they are very smart. If you have a group of American tourists who’ve been riding, walking, and touring all day and just want to relax, but them all on the same floor in the small hotel. I believe there may be 8 rooms on this floor, and they are all occupied by our group. I earlier made a beer run for them, Chris had a bunch of his own, and I just saw missy who was going for a wine run. They are having a good time, a nice way to relax after a long day, for sure.
So let me start at the beginning because there were more amazing things that happened today. We started our day with an early breakfast and were on the bus and ready to go shortly after 8. Our first stop was Szaflary, as Marek (our tour guide) and Jeanne had an appointment with the priest. Jeanneis looking for the birth record for her grandmother, I believe. This priest was very helpful and looked through a number of old books and was about to give up when he found the record they were looking for. So Jeanne got her information as well as the promise of the priest that he would look further for other records for her, a very helpful priest.
The parish at Szaflary, by the way, is one of the oldest in the area, it is 660 years old this year. Yes, you heard me right, six hundred and sixty years old! The church building itself is not that old, invasion after invasion and war after war saw to that. But still very amazing to have something that old.
Our next two stops were dear to my heart. First we stopped at the city of Ludźmierz, at the Sanktarium Maryjne w Ludźmierzu. This city has a shrine at which Pope John Paul II prayed the rosary in 1997. It is a huge place with outdoor stations of the cross, gardens, and a huge church. In 2001 it was declared a basilica. The city of Ludźmierz, however, is notable for several other reasons, too. It is the oldest city in the Podhale, and is the city where my great-grandmother, Wyktorya Sopiarz, was born in the latter half of the 1800s. So it was a very emotional visit for me. I even lit a candle and prayed a bit for her and for my parents there.
But there is more, because after that we journeyed up the road a kilometer or so to the next town, Krauszow. This is the town from where my great-grandmother’s husband, Franciszek Szczęch, came to the US in the very late 1800s. It was wonderful just to see this town. But we stopped at a sklep, and it turned out that a man named Józef Szczęch was there! So we met and I had my picture taken with him, and I have his address. I am not sure if or how we are related, but he did say there are a bunch of different Szczęch families around. That was so very cool. I will publish the pictures and you can be the judge, but I thought I saw a resemblance to my grandfather Joseph Szczech. It could be so…
After that, it was back on the road again to head to Kraków. On the way, we saw a sight that brought me back to my much younger years and reminded me so very much of my grandfather, Joseph Szczech. We saw a farmer in a field cutting hay with a kosa, just like my grandfather used to do. But even more amazing, while we were watching, he stopped, checked the blade, decided it needed a bit more sharpening, and sharpened it right there with a few strokes. Who knows, maybe it really was my grandfather in that field, cutting that hay. He had everything grandpa had going for him except no bib overalls. It was an amazing sight! And we continued on to Kraków.
Kraków is a very old city and until the late 1700s was the capital of Poland. It escaped major destruction in World War II and so there are building in the old city that date back all the way to the 13th century. On the way into the center of town, we stopped at the mound that was built to honor Tadeusz Kościuszko, but did not have time to climb it, maybe on Sunday on our way out of town. After this we stopped at the hotel only long enough to get our rooms, throw our stuff in them, and use the bathrooms (when you have to pay for bathrooms all the time, this becomes very important!) Then we went to lunch.
We had a hurried lunch at a very nice place whose name escapes me right now. But it was very nice. We were seated in a room in the underground area, an area that in olden days probably was storage for a shop above. There we had an excellent vegetable soup. It has bits of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and rice in it, as well as a number of other things. It was delicious. And then we had our main course, and again, we had a wonderful meal. Our main course today was gołąbki! A meat and rice mixture was wrapped in cabbage leaves and served with a nice and acidic tomato-based sauce, along with a few bits of oven-baked potato wedges. This was very, very good and we all agreed on that. I ate every last bit of it. But, we were behind schedule, and so we postponed dessert and coffee until later, as our tour guide for a tour of Kraków was waiting.
The next few hours were filled with a wonderful tour of old town Kraków. We went up the hill to Wawel Cathedral and saw that church, inside and out. Words cannot begin to describe it, nor the feeling of being there. This is where the kings of Poland were crowned and buried. Even the last president of Poland, killed in the tragic plane crash 5 months ago today, is buried there. We saw the crypts and sarcophaguses of saints and kings. It is truly an amazing place. But on top of that, we say quite a few other churches and even a basilica (maybe two, I lost count). We saw other sights too, such as the Jagellonian University which gave rise to many famous people. It really was overwhelming, so hard to take it all in. The short time we are here is only a taste of all there is to see, but now I am hungry to see more, very hungry….
After our tour, we headed back to our restaurant for our missed dessert and coffee. Oh My God! The dessert was to die for. I have to find out the name, but it was two pastries with a filling of the most delicious crème or pudding. But it was not ordinary filling. This was to die for. It’s said that this was the favorite dessert of Pope John Paul II and I can see why—it is like eating a little bit of heaven.
Eventually, we were all done and we all split up to do whatever we wanted to. I was a glutton for punishment, but first I made my way to the hotel. The rest of my evening was a series of excursions around Kraków. First I went down a few blocks and found a street full of people, so I explored that. Then I went to the old cloth store area (I forget the Polish name but am counting on my friend Ewa to tell me, it’s based on the work bluszka) and looked at the vendors there. By this time it had begun to rain so I returned to my hotel for my umbrella.
Venturing out again I walked up a ways and found a small store where I bought several cans of beer—this is an important staple of my diet by now! LOL. So I got my beer and was returning it to the hotel when I stumbled upon my cousins (once removed) who were heading down the street our hotel is on, but away from it. I asked where they were going and they said “to the hotel.” I said “it’ll be a very long walk if you go that way!” Well, they had gotten a bit turned around but as luck would have it, I stumbled upon them. Or maybe it wasn’t luck, who knows? So I got them back to our hotel. And on the way met a few more who had gotten turned around. Imagine a town where the streets go at angles, and stop and start, and are all centered around a square (that is not really square) and was “laid out” 600 or more years ago. Yes, it is easy to get lost, I’m sure. So I got them back safely, and then after a bit of rest (and a piwo, yes!) I headed out again. But by this time some of our group was in the hallway about to play cards. The begged me to go on a beer run for them, so I did. Luckily I had my umbrella, but I went down a few blocks and bought them a bunch of beer, some cokes, and even some munchies.
Now finally, I was able to take another walk. Oh, by this time of day my knees are hurting, but no matter, I am going out, and so it did. I was looking for a bar I read about on the Internet, one that has more than 4 dozen beers on tap. I found it but did not go in. But instead I walked around some more and made several important purchases. I got a t-shirt from Hard Rock Kraków. How many of you can boast that. And a few other things. And also a small 100 ml bottle of Wódka Żołądkowa Gorzka which I am working on right now (to make sure I have no stomach problems in the morning, remember, this is preventative medicine!).
So, it has been a very long day, but also a wonderful day, most wonderful. I have visited a number of amazing places, but by far Kraków is my favorite. I feel the spirit of Poland here, I really do. Here I feel what it means to be Polish, and I feel something special inside of me, something that’s been speaking to me my whole life. I know I’m Polish, and now I understand what that means a whole lot more. What an amazing day this has been…but also, what an amazing tour this has been…..