So many churches

Krakow, Poland Today was our time to wrap up with visits to some of the key places we hadn’t seen earlier. Many of those sites involved churches.

Evidently no city besides Rome has more of them, and that’s not at all hard to believe. Add to that the fact that Pope (now Saint) John Paul II lived here for many years, and you have an understandable focus on religious history, past and present.

We started at the Basilica of St. Francis, which was St. John Paul II’s home church while he was archbishop in Krakow. Across the street is the residence in which he lived, and where he stayed when he made visits from Rome. He would stand in the window and talk for hours to the people who gathered below. When he died on April 2, 2005, 10,000 Krakovians packed this street. That anniversary has just passed and candles with other mementos still are left on the nearby wall.

Today we visited the church, which is in a style unlike any church we’ve ever seen. It was decorated following a fire in 1850 by two leaders of the Young Poland Art Nouveau movement. Stunning patterns and colors make this church unique – though the lighting did leave something to be desired. St. John Paul’s favorite pew is marked, and is accessible to all. There is also a replica of the Shroud of Turin, which was touched to the actual shroud, thus making it a holy relic.

And then there is the cathedral, which is part of the royal palace complex on Wawel Hill. No photography was allowed in the cathedral, Poland’s Westminster Abbey. The tombs in the crypt and the side altars in the main church honor Poles unknown to us, but worthy of great honor here. The cathedral is magnificent and Poland had expected to have John Paul buried here, but Rome decided otherwise. They are hoping to have him home some day.

We were able to see the inner courtyard of the castle, which has a Florentian design, done in the early 15th century.

Nearby is an ancient street in which many of the clergy lived, including St. John Paul II at one time. Stone hats denoting the residence of a cardinal dot the street.

There seemed to be bit of religious one-up-man-ship going on with another major church, St. Mary’s in the main market square. Today we had the opportunity to go inside and see the incredible Gothic altarpiece, along with finely crafted side altars and an awesome fan-vaulted star-studded ceiling. It is a truly lovely building.

These were just a few of the sights of the day, combined with the daily life on the streets. Good eating, though!

(We will be traveling on a long train ride tomorrow to our next Eastern European destination, so will have no news to report till we get settled.)

Don’s Food Corner

As things turned out, we were only able to fit in one real meal during our stay in Poland at what I hoped would be something authentically Polish. (Our stop at KFC doesn’t count.) I know absolutely nothing about Polish food. Therefore, I have nothing to assess our meal against.

However, we ended up in a guide-book recommended restaurant that was old-timey and elegant. Crispy ironed tablecloth and napkins. Professional, adult waiters.

I expect that we were served traditional, but refined Polish dishes. The menu offered things like venison and wild boar as well as curiously prepared dishes like boiled pork leg — whatever that meant.

We went for things that seemed vaguely familiar, but Polish-like at the same time. That means we started with pierogi, those Polish filled dumplings. We had a couple of traditional meat filled pierogi and a couple that were cheese-filled that were billed as Russian-style. All of them seemed rather gummy to me with highly peppered contents. But, again, I have nothing to compare them to. They came with a small amount of some type of also peppered onion sauce.

For our main course, Jo went with schnitzel (of course). Not veal, but pork. She thought it was very fine. It came with a couple of potato pancakes which were also very fine — fried to a nice crispy exterior with a moist interior.

I had a chicken filet, sautéed and served with a mild white wine sauce. The chicken was exceptionally moist and exceptionally white. I also got fried potatoes. They were whole, boiled potatoes that were then fried in butter and bacon fat. (That works.)

The side vegetables were fried cabbage with tons of dill on top and pureed beets with a dollop of sour cream. The beets were seasoned with some type of herb that I couldn’t identify, but I think it might have been marjoram. (Notice we cleaned our plates.)

I’m sorry that we leave Poland tomorrow without sampling offerings at more restaurants of this quality.

And, P.S., the cost of this fine meal — as well as the cost of about everything else in Krakow — is about one-third the cost of things in London (or New York). The meal, with tip, was under $50. A ride on a tram is 50 cents.

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