Cities / Towns Visited: 50
Countries Visited: 15
Steps Taken Today: 17,269
Steps Taken Around the World: 1,814,007
We had a train to catch in the afternoon, but we still had one last morning to bask in the beauty of Krakow, thus we checked out, stashed our bags and headed off towards Wawel Castle. Yes, that very same castle we admired the exterior of some days prior, but today we would be exploring its inner beauty. The weather was dreary, but we were not deterred and arrived swiftly enough. Purchasing tickets to the areas we wished to see the most, and reasoning that we could come back and buy extras should we have time, we scurried off to the inner courtyard to wander through the State Rooms at our assigned time slot.
We were disappointed to discover that photography is forbidden within the castle, so allow me to do my best at painting you a picture of the interior. The castle was greatly damaged and pilfered during the German occupation and World War II so the majority of the interiors of the walls and have been repaired and thus are simple plain whitewashed plaster. That is of course until you look up to the top section of most of the walls, which have a panel of around one metre in height still displaying the original relief paintings from the medieval interior. To say they are impressive would be an understatement. Each room has a different theme; one an extensive battle scene; one the life of Christ from birth, to crucifixion, to resurrection, and finally ascension; and one the Roman God representations of the planets in their own scenes, although of course not all of the planets are there as these artworks predate the discovery of the last few.
The furnishings and art dotted around the rooms are a combination of pieces from other castles, or donated pieces from wealthy Polish families, most notably one high born Polish lady who bequeathed her entire collection of old paintings, as well as some other antique pieces, in her will to the restoration of the castle. There are some truly beautiful pieces, but the most unique, and honestly mildly terrifying, feature of the staterooms is the wooden ceiling in the throne room, which is made up of a selection of square wooden panels. The creepy bit is that in the centre of a large portion of the centre panels there are hand carved and painted heads depicting many of the nobles from the town at the time of their creation all of those centuries ago. It looked like the room of faces from the House of Black and White in Game of Thrones (if you have no idea what that looks like, I would encourage you to look it up). With their cold wooden eyes watching over us I was more than happy to be leaving that room at the conclusion of the visit.
The end of the staterooms left us outside a special exhibition that we decided to slip into before our tour of the Royal Apartments. It was a fascinating display of pieces of medieval art which had been or were in the process of being restored. To see the completed pieces beside the photos of how they were prior makes it impossible not to be impressed with the talent of the restorers. There was even several delicate tapestries which have been repaired and colour matched so well that’s its basically impossible to see where the centuries old thread ends and the re-threaded part begins. The end product, coupled with the short video of how they achieve this impressive feat, left me in awe to say the least.
Finally it was time to scurry off to our second tour, where we met up with our English guide, as you are unable to visit the Royal Apartments independently. The first section of interiors was quite similar to the state rooms, with clean white walls and collections of donated furniture. However, as you continue you are taken through some of the rooms which were less damaged, and thus have a much more authentic feel, even if the stained glass in the little chapel is a replacement. There are also a few rooms which were in use not so long ago, including the bedroom once used by the former Polish President before the site became a national museum, which is furnished in a more modern style, and even includes a wired in telephone.
Being delivered back to the inner courtyard after the tour, we next headed in to view the royal treasury and armoury. The first part of this exhibition houses an extensive collection of royal jewels, and, well, treasures; inclusive of a large array of religious pieces, as like all old monarchies in Europe, this one was also strictly Christian. Having seen enough baubles, we headed on to the displays we were much more interested in; the medieval armour and weapons. From swords and halberds, to spears and daggers; from full suits of armour, to rows of cannons; it was any medieval warfare nut’s dream. It’s at moments like this that I realise that my knowledge of historical weapons is almost exclusively due to playing video games; that is both amusing, but also satisfying to discover that those games are pretty accurate for weapon information, even if you’re using them to slay mythical creatures.
At this point we had seen everything we had bought tickets for, but we still had time to spare so we sauntered back to the office to buy a couple more. First up, the Sandomierska Tower, which after a rather arduous amount of stairs delivered a stunning view over the castle complex and the old town of Krakow.
From here, our last destination was the Dragon’s Den; an old system of caves under the hill atop which the castle sits, which was said to house a dragon, possibly with medicinal powers, back in ancient times. Although I don’t believe dragons existed, after entering the caves I kind of wish they did. Standing in the natural beauty of these rocky pockets in the earth, it really didn’t seem too far fetched to expect to see one of these mythical beasts curled up on a pile of treasure off in one of the shadow shrouded corners.
The time had come to scuttle off to the train station and board our lengthy train back to Warsaw. We would be staying the night in an airport hotel, for we had a morning flight to make and that really didn’t line up with having to get a four hour train beforehand. After a relatively pain free journey, and a quick taxi ride, we were checking in and sprawling out on our king sized bed. Sometimes it really is nice to splurge and get a hotel room with a comfortable bed and a bath; and the best part is, if you plan ahead and book early, it really doesn’t end up being prohibitively expensive.
Too tired to venture out into the world to find food we decided to attain dinner from the swankier of the hotel’s two restaurants. Opting to do our usual swap and share, we ordered a delicious dish of braised rabbit, and an equally as good plate of confit goose leg. We washed them down with two ice cold shots of vodka we hadn’t tried before; one of which was surprisingly made from spelt. With food being relatively cheap, and us having managed Poland well under out upper budget threshold, we decided to treat ourselves with dessert to finish off the trip, ordering an interesting deconstructed apple pie which was quite nice; and a Polish cheesecake dessert made with quark, glazed with chocolate, and filled with a berry puree; the end result being amazing.
Before long I was soaking in the bath before we were tucked ourselves into bed. As I reviewed our adventure in Poland, all I could think was how much of an emotional roller-coaster it had been. From the rage and sadness of the concentration camp, to the pure joy of being reunited with my best friend; from the excitement of exploring more castles and fortresses, to the bliss of indulging in more delectable foods and drinks of this delicious planet we live on. All of these emotions have squeezed their way into my heart in this short time, and as a result I have continued my education induced growth. I am so grateful for the privilege of freedom to travel, and I will do my best not to take it for granted, as I know all too well that most people in this world will never travel as extensively as we will; it is a dream which will remain a dream for all too many.