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Posts tagged ‘Kraków’

Composition No. 10 – Cupolas of Kraków

Almost every town or city across the world will have some place of worship at the centre of its community. Very often, a church, a synagogue or a mosque will dominate the town, both in spiritual significance, but also in architectural superiority. In the average Spanish city for example, elaborate bell towers will loom large over the deferential terracotta roof tops of the town below, while even in the highly developed city of London, the globally recognised icon of St Paul’s Cathedral remains at the heart of London’s cityscape horizon. Yet in Kraków, the stunning Polish city with a sprawling, unspoilt historical old town at its heart, you are literally spoilt for choice, such is the array of spiritual icons bursting up all over the city.

While the breathtaking gold-tipped spires of the regal Mariacki church at the centre of the Rynek Główny square and the copper-sculpted embellishments of the Wawel Cathedral are obvious contenders as the city’s spiritual matriarchs, there are so many churches complete with their own flourish of architectural exuberance cropping up all over the city and in between, that the visitor feels almost overwhelmed, literally like a child in a sweet shop full of glistening boiled sweets and sugar-covered jellies. In fact with its turrets and towers, its copper cupolas and its wrought iron domes, Kraków takes decoration to new levels of baroque opulence. Its bell towers are so ornate as to be like multi-tiered wedding cakes iced up with sugar statues of saints, and finished with gold beading and sparkling with jewels; and the use of copper is so prominent in its oxidised green, that for as far as the eye can see, the skyline is splattered by turquoise aqua marines.

Composition No. 10 - Cupolas of Krakow (2013 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

Composition No. 10 – Cupolas of Krakow (2013 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

All of this just had to form the basis of the next painting in my “Compositions” series, having already decided that I must surely devote a piece to my time in Kraków. But as far as my gouache paintings go, this one is by far the most complicated. For not only did I want to pack into my Kraków skyline almost every cupola and rooftop which I had so admired in the city (and there are plenty), but I also wanted to follow the theme of my compositions by exploring overlapping objects and cubist interpretations. The result was a piece so complex that in terms of duration, I could probably have completed all 9 of my previous compositions in the time it took to do this one. But with a result so satisfyingly abundant with detail that it compares to the great city itself, I would surmise that the time, and the effort was worth it. Hope you like it!

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A weekend in Kraków | Photography Focus 2 – Architectural elegance

In my first post of this now concluding Kraków series, I described how the Kraków I first set eyes upon was like a gleaming jewellery box, so complete was its skyline with opulent, intricate architectural features, from bright green onion-shaped copper cupolas and elegantly curved wrought iron art nouveau domes, to neo classical pillars and extravagantly baroque church facades. In fact so abundant in architectural elegance is the old town of Kraków, that when I recently collected together sketches of every dome and cupola I had seen in the city into a single composition (a work which I am currently painting – I hope to finish the somewhat ambitious project this week), my Partner, who studied in Kraków for years, actually thought I must have invented a few, such was the proliferation of diverse architectural splendour assembled out of the Kraków skyline.

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Well, with this final post and my last set of Kraków photographs, you can start to see just a few of the dazzling features which characterise the city, filling its skyline with glittering details and ensuring that from every approach and angle, the city looks like a work of art – a masterpiece of historical wealth and architectural diversity. From stunning gold tiles, so complete in their sheen and opulence that you feel diminished before their glorious spectacle, to clocks and door knockers which render even a cracking door or ageing building facade a masterpiece of design; these are a set of photos which pretty much sum up Kraków , jewel-box city in a single set – beautiful, decadent, charming, unspoilt – a city to be seen; a spectacle intended to wow. So, with the stage set for a dazzling photographic gala, I’ll let my photos of Kraków  do the talking. Enjoy.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2013 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

A weekend in Kraków | Day 3 – Stars and studies in an enlightened city

The problem with long weekends is, they’re not actually all that long. True, they extend the usual concept of an all-too-short weekend by a day or two, but two nights spent away is just over too quickly. Such were my thoughts as I arose on this third and final day (more of a half day really) in the incredible city of Kraków, and dragged myself away, kicking and screaming from the sensational panorama over the Rynek Główny , a view which I had been enjoying from our hotel room with such a passion over the previous 48 hours.

But within that view and outwards into the city beyond, there remained much to see before we faced the inevitable flight home. First up was to head inside the centrepiece of the square which, up until now, I had only gazed at longingly from the outside. The Mariacka Basilica is a masterpiece from the outside; its gothic spire topped with majestic spiked crown completed with golden balls and glimmering details. But the majesty does not end there. The inside of the church is a thing of such splendour that it cannot fail to take your breath away. The gothic architecture, so often left austere, has been painted a rainbow panoply of colours – in between red and green striped ceiling ribs, the stone vaults sparkle with golden stars set within a midnight blue sky; on the walls and columns, every surface is painted with rich patterns and interlaced with more sparkling gold; and through the colourful stained glass, light gleams and glimmers in the space, bringing the multi-coloured abundance of colourful décor to life. The most annoying thing of all was the ban on photography – but as you can see, that went somewhat ignored, as I began photographing surreptitiously (hence the rather questionable quality of the shots!).

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Feeling, as a result of this daring contravention of the Mariacka rules, a little revolutionary, it seemed only appropriate that the next point of call was the café Cukiernia Noworolski, in the arched porticos of the Cloth Hall, where Stalin himself used to sit and sip a coffee while admiring the view which he is claimed to have saved from Communist destruction (we could otherwise have been looking at a panorama of decaying factories and cramped pre-fab residential blocks)…But after one coffee sat in the same spot, I could easily see why the once leader’s heart of iron was just a little melted by this view – a perfect vista of the Mariacki towers, and the best vantage point to see the windows open and the hejnalista poke his trumpet out on the tolling of each hour. But with those hours ticking onwards and our flight home uncomfortably close, we could not linger. For from the starry skies of the mariacki to the starry heights of Kraków’s enlightenment, we still had its university and its elegant theatrical quarter to explore.

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For Kraków is a city visibly proud of its rich cultural and educational heritage. In the centre of the Rynek Główny stands a statue of Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz, surrounded by some of the most famous characters from his tales, while just east of the square, the pleasant leafy district enclosed by the semi circular “planty” park, enveloping the city in its green embrace, also includes yet further examples of Kraków’s elegant artistic offerings – it’s stunning copper roofed Teatr im J Słowackiego, the beautiful gold plated grecian-styled Palace of Fine Arts, and then beyond the seat of enlightenment itself – the Jagiellonian University.

Mickiewicz, the theatre and the Palace of Fine Arts

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The university is one of the oldest in Europe and can lay claim to an impressive alumni: Nicolaus Copernicus and Wisława Szymborska (Nobel laureate prize winner) studied here, the former Pope John Paul II, and of course, most important of all, my partner studied there too. So with him as my guide, I was led into the heart of this ancient university, the tourist circuit centring in the oldest core – the Collegium Maius, with its old yet pristine gothic arches, open cloisters, and of course the touches of gold which, like the city around it, dazzle and sparkle upon the architecture.

The Collegium Maius

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So from my first view of the city to my last, Kraków was consistently a city of insuperable elegance, packed full of historical and architectural treasures which each of the innumerable visitors flooding into the city each year cannot help but admire. And admire I did, with photos aplenty of new art works inspired – Kraków will live long in my memory and surely require a return visit sometime very soon. But for now, in those last sweet moments before our departure home, there was just time for one last coffee alongside the Rynek Główny, perfectly poised to watch the hussle and bustle of the square; the horses and carts; the pigeons in flight, and the Majestic Mariacki stood over it all. The perfect ending to a perfect weekend.

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Check out my last batch of Kraków photos tomorrow. Until then…

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2013 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

A Weekend in Kraków | The traditions and innovations of Kraków’s food

Poland isn’t exactly known as one of the centres of European gastronomy. For years, that crown, once worn so complacently by the French has been shared intermittently between the likes of Spain, Denmark and the UK. The only Polish food I had really tried before my departure was a packet of shrivelled up long smoked sausages from our local tesco’s (catering for the not insignificant Polish population living down the road in Balham). So I didn’t exactly have high expectations for what I was going to find food-wise when I went to Kraków for the weekend. In fact, I didn’t really have any expectations at all.

But, as with so much about my weekend in the stunning little city of Kraków, I was pleasantly surprised by the array of high quality food on offer. First off, there was the traditional fare –  I say that I went along to Poland without any expectations in respect of food, but that’s something of a lie. Because I was pretty determined to try at least a sausage in its native Polish environment, and of course it was only reasonable that such sausage (of which I found plenty in the bustling markets in and around the Rynek Główny) should be washed down with another export of the country – a glass of ice-cold Polish beer. Both objectives were achieved (the best sausages being the preserve of our hotel breakfast, while an ice cold beer proved to be the perfect accompaniment to watching the world go by in the Rynek Główny).

Oscypek cheese

Oscypek cheese

Pierogi dumplings

Pierogi dumplings

However, my explorations of Polish traditional cuisine went further. Only minutes into the trip, and I was already sampling another of the local specialities (spurred on by my Polish partner I should add). The first was oscypek, a super-salty waxy cheese from the nearby Tatra mountains – it reminded me of greek halloumi, albeit much smokier in flavour; the very taste of the flames licking the sides of the cheese dominating. The second – pierogi – are a kind of traditional dumpling. Rather like ravioli in appearance, they taste more doughy in flavour, and every bit as juicy and flavoursome as a dumpling should be. I’m not sure you’d necessary sample them looking quite so trendy as these all over Poland, but sitting by the side of the Rynek Główny in the café “Vintage”, we were served only food which was consistently well presented and full of flavour – a real surprise for a restaurant located so close to the tourist heart of the town.

But for all its traditions, Kraków is a city which remains young at heart (its large student population keeps it so); a city embracing innovation and cultural dynamism, and so it is perhaps unsurprising that Kraków’s food offerings are both extensive as they are varied, with numerous restaurants presenting food which is both modern in flavour and in presentation. Pretty much all of the food we had was of a consistently high standard (although a rather demented looking piano player supplying diners with “mood-music” somewhat put us off our food experience on the first night). But of all the places we visited, two really stood out.

Studio Qulinarne

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The first of the two is Studio Qulinarne, located in a rather grotty backstreet of the Kazimierz (Jewish district) (I assumed my Partner had got us lost) but which, inside, is the height of sophistication, draped in flowing white sheets, complete with loaded bookshelves and a grand piano (happily being played by a less-demented looking pianist on this occasion). Being that the day was fine when we visited for lunch, we opted to sit outside on their back patio, which reflected the industrial mood of the area, but was made chic and cosy through low sofa seating and an abundance of plants.

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The real star of the show at Studio Qulinarne however was the food. Dominik opted for a crayfish consommé which was as delicious as it was presentationally excellent. I had fettuccine ribbons with chanterelle mushrooms which were very much in season at that time (and consequently featuring on the specials menu of many a Krakóvian eatery). The pasta was perfectly cooked, the mushrooms earthy and salty, and that edible flower added just the class of touch that makes me swoon over my food. As for dessert, well we had a bit of a quandary there – unable to choose between a white chocolate semi-freddo, a lavender crème brûlée and an earl grey and mint panna cotta, we felt compelled to try them all (when I say “try” I naturally mean wolf down unapologetically…oh well).

Wentzl Restauracja

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Second of our restaurant favourites has to be Magda Gessler’s impressively quirky Wentzl restaurant; an elegant high-end affair situated directly above the Rynek Główny (and happily for us, also in our hotel). I have already raved about the richly embroidered, elegantly presented versaille-come-hunting-lodge look of this wonderfully lavish restaurant, since our hotel rather graciously serves its breakfast in the same place. But when I saw those brilliantly eccentric pheasant chandeliers and the completely over the top silk curtains, I just knew that we had to try this place by night. If breakfast had wowed, then dinner was like a firework display of superlatives. Perfect service and our already extolled elegant surroundings accompanied what was a night of consistently delicious food. It was my turn to opt for crayfish this time, which I did by way of a creamy Masurian crayfish stew with cognac, while Dominik opted for his favourite of fish: herring done two ways.

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For mains, I had a smoked duck breast salad with raspberries and orange – the duck was cooked to perfection, and happily the orange based accompaniment in no way resembled the duck a l’orange disaster which was so popularly served up at dinner tables in the 70s and beyond (I know this from the beyond – I wasn’t around in the 70s myself). Dominik in the meantime went for a very Christmasy goose leg with cranberry “bow” – well, we may as well start getting into the spirit of things.  Finally, for dessert I enjoyed a Delicacy of white chocolate with pear mousse favoured with rose – the white chocolate taste was altogether a little too delicate for me, but it was certainly a fragrant and pleasing end to the night which, for Dominik, concluded in a fruit of the forest jelly.

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So the restaurants were ticked, some fine wine drunk (though warning for all visitors: wine is not cheap in Kraków – expect to pay at least £40 for a bottle), traditional fare sampled, and both a polish beer and vodka polished off. There was only one thing still to do in this hip arty town: why, head down into one of the dank little cellars for a live jazz show of course. We headed to the U Muniaka jazz club which was small, atmospheric and everything a jazz club should be, and there sat mesmerised by the inherent skill of those jazz musicians long into the night. Kraków, I love you.

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A weekend in Kraków | Photography Focus 1 – Urban details

As regulars of The Daily Norm will know, when I visit a new country, and all the more so when I visit a city, my eyes are alive taking in all of the brilliant details which so often cluster abundantly, ripe for the picking, before me. I love photographing the places I visit, and not just the postcard views or the tourist hot-points where visitors gather for poses. Rather, in my photographic contemplation of a newly discovered urban space, my eye looks for all of the little details; often the ones which many a superficial glance may miss, or dismiss as ugly or unimportant. As my adventures in Lisbon demonstrated last Autumn, I love nothing more than a city which exudes character not through glossy renovations, but rather through tired dilapidation, through cracking walls which ooze history; through the empty bottle telling a half tale of the drinker who abandoned it on a windowsill; through the electricity wires which hang haphazardly across a street, feeding electric life into the many households around them.

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For sure, Kraków simply dazzled with its array of picture-perfect charm-filled streets, with its gleaming gold domes and impressively baroque copper cupolas – and my many photos exploring those gems are still to come. But there’s another half of Kraków too, away from the tourist heart; the city which tells of its residents and its more recent past, which exudes something of the hard-edged spirit of a city which has fought through invasion and suppression to remain a centre of enlightenment and education, and which simply charms through the sheer character of its dilapidation.

These are my photos which focus on those urban details which can so often be missed. I hope you enjoy them.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2013 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

A weekend in Kraków | Day 2 – Kings, Communists and the Kazimierz Ghetto

Having awoken to the sweet serenade of the hejnalista to the accompaniment of the most glorious of peachy pink sunrises (see my post yesterday) I thought I could barely be reawoken to anything more beautiful. Yet when, having gone back to bed at 6am, I arose two hours later to the now sundrenched view of the Rynek Główny, I soon realised that in the beauty stakes, Kraków is the city that just keeps on giving. And not just the city – in our hotel,  the Hotel Wentzl we started our day in the lap of luxury: an espresso machine installed in the room pumping out coffee-rich espressos with which to enjoy the unbeatable view, and breakfast in Polish TV personality Magda Gessler’s Wentzl restaurant, conveniently located in our hotel, serving up the perfect of Polish continental breakfasts in the opulent surroundings of her lavishly and quirky interior decors. I particularly loved the pastoral quality to the design – the huge pheasant chandeliers and heavily embroidered bucolic curtains being particular favourites.

Our view by morning

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Pondering the quirky interiors of Magda Gessler’s restaurant…

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So after a doubly-good beginning to our second day in Kraków, we were well slept, well fed and full of energy to explore all the city had to offer. And just as well. For the city’s old town in itself takes some exploring, and as we made our way to the Wawel Hill, upon which sits the city’s former royal residence as well as its stunning main cathedral, we soon found that other tourists too had discovered the attraction, resulting in an hour’s queue for tickets. The length of the queue was perhaps augmented by a particular attraction which is currently in residence at the museum: Leonardo Da Vinci’s sensational Lady with an Ermine, with whom I became acquainted when she was on display in London’s superb Da Vinci exhibition, but who usually hangs in Kraków’s Princes Czartoryski museum, currently closed for major renovations.

While a visit to see Da Vinci’s masterpiece was undoubtedly a must of my Kraków experience, the ticket queues certainly took the sparkle out of this reconnaissance, although happily for me, my self-sacrificing partner took on much of the sting of the queue, waiting in line for the full hour while releasing me to look around the vast Wawel complex. And how glad I was to have time to experience the palatial compound to the full, starting with the lavish Wawel Cathedral, whose outside is covered with so many complex cupolas in devastatingly extravagant gold and elegantly crafted copper, that upon my first sight of the building, I literally had to gasp for air. Owing to the ban on inside photography, I cannot demonstrate to you the interior ravishment which more than matched the splendour of the outside, but rest assured, this Cathedral is awe-inspiring on the inside and out.

Wawel Cathedral

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Rejoined by my partner, we made our way to see Da Vinci’s portait of Cecilia Gallerani, tranquil as ever caught in the midsts of a far off gaze, the perfection of her skin remarkable considering the age of the painting. Then, sadly finding no further works from the Czartoryski museum to enjoy, we headed off to Sandomierska Tower, one of various towers built into the Wawel’s vast ramparts, and which reminded me of an oversized Moomin House. From up there we had the benefit of unbeatable views across the Vistula River and the whole of the Wawel complex, while descending back to ground level, we made our way deeper into the Wawel Hill, where a series of creepy caves are said to have once housed the legendary Wawel Dragon.

Wawel Castle

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Back out into the sunlight, we wandered off in search of lunch and a rest, out to the East of the City where the Jewish district (the Kazimierz) now stands. It’s strange to think of the district as being truly Jewish, being as the city lays claim to only a paltry Jewish population compared to what it once contained in the decades before the horrors of the holocaust, although the evidence of both Jewish culture, and the scars of the former Jewish Ghetto which stood on the site are still prominent today. But rather than dwelling in the horrors of the past, Kraków actively celebrates its Jewish heritage, playing host to a Jewish Cultural Festival every year, and in the Kazimierz area offering rich pickings of Jewish culture, from Jewish restaurants and interminable book shops, to ancient synagogues and both an old and new Jewish cemetery.

The Kazimierz

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We visited the oldest of the two, being struck as we did so by the distinct differences between this and the typical Catholic cemetery for example, filled not with angels, elaborate crosses and flowers aplenty, but a more austere selection of headstones, each covered with what appeared to be a little hat upon which families of the dead have placed stones, said to symbolise the permanence of memory.

The Jewish Cemetery

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From the Ghetto and its connotations of war-torn Poland, to the next phase of Poland’s traumatic recent history – Communism. Marking this stretch of Poland’s occupational history, we visited a Communist Propaganda Bar – something of a send up on the Communist world which once controlled Poland with such an iron fist – a dirty den of a place, covered from floor to ceiling with old adverts plastered with Communist slogans and platitudes. It was here that, getting into the spirit of the old harsh realities of iron-curtain Poland, we knocked back a shot of Polish vodka – a drink so harsh that I felt my throat enflame like an inferno, and my mind haze over.

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The haze was not so strong as to preclude our continued adventures through Kraków however, and we ended our day with a stroll around the beautiful Planty greenbelt – an arch of parks and playgrounds which was once the moat of the old fortressed city and which today makes for the most pleasant of strolls around the outskirts of the city.

And so there, watching the sun sparkle across ponds and through fountains, we sat and watched and mused over the day – a day in which we had sampled Kraków through the ages – from the splendour of its days of monarchy, to the horrors of the German occupation, and the desolation of the communist regime which followed, suppressing all joy and life out of the city. It was a period which stained so much of the Poland which exists today – concrete tower blocks and dour grey industrial suburbs pepper so much of the country, but Kraków, mercifully, was preserved in all its medieval glory. Why? Well , apparently Stalin himself so enjoyed the view of the Rynek Główny when he sipped his coffee at the Cloth Hall which extends across the square’s centre that he decided to keep the city preserved for that very purpose. A vain monster he may have been, but he had good taste when it came to cities. And you have to give thanks for small mercies.

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2013 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

A Weekend in Kraków | Mariacki Sunrise

Going to sleep in a hotel bedroom when you have a stunning view outside the window to enjoy is always difficult – shutting your eyes in sleep seems somehow treacherous and wasteful, when such an awe-inspiring sight is all yours, unprecluded, to be enjoyed for a series of days. And this was no more of a problem than at our hotel room in the Wentzl Hotel in Kraków, which afforded us such an incredible panorama over the full 200m width of the majestic Rynek Główny, that I never wanted to drag myself away from the window, even when sleep was beckoning. And all of this, as well as the sheer excitement of being in a completely new place, must have made me sleep uneasily. For every so often I would wake up and open my eyes – unable to resist the temptation to take another peek at that view, just to make sure it was still there.

While a few such glimpses were met with dark skies, when I awoke at around 6am, I was greeted with a view so beautiful that I find myself compelled to devote an entire post to it –  Kraków at 6am, the dark silhouette of the iconic Mariacka Basilica against a lightening pink sky – a view  in transition that just took my breath away, and had me jumping straight out of bed to take in every detail. For the exquisite details of Kraków’s architecture were not lost despite the early hour. Even in this low light, the architectural spectacle of the Mariacka’s elaborate spires were captured against the light sky; the delicate shapes, the balls and the flags becoming even more noticeable when seen in this flattened one dimensional silhouette.

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What made the view, and my experience of it at this time even more special was first of all seeing the city, otherwise a bustling centre of tourism and a magnet for international students (who attend the famous Jagiellonian University) so quiet and tranquil, with just a few street sweepers already setting up the square for the influx of visitors due that morning, but also for my being able to hear, so clearly through the crisp morning air, the sound of the Hejnalista trumpet player ring out across the square.

The Hejnalista is a trumpet player who, every hour, 24/7 (yes, even through the night), plays the “Hejnal” – a short tune which is played on a single trumpet from the windows of the Mariacki Church lookout tower, once in each direction, north south east and west across the city. The tradition, which is one of Kraków’s most unique and defining customs, recognises the 13th century attempted invasion of the city by the Tartars. The watchman who was on duty that night had noticed a group of Tartars approaching the city ready to invade, prompting him to blow a loud, clear warning on his trumpet to alert the inhabitants of Kraków. Just at that moment, and wanting to stop him from scuppering their invasion, the Tartars shot the watchman in the throat. While the city was saved, the watchman died from his wound. The Hejnal tune which is played today finishes abruptly at the end of the melody, marking the moment in which the watchman was struck by the arrow in mid-play. It’s a touching legend, and a charming tradition, which really added magic to my awakening that morning, as I watched Kraków slowly lighten against the rosy pink sky.

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I leave you with my photos of that beautiful morning – undoubtedly some of my favourite shots of the city.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2013 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

A weekend in Kraków | Day 1 – Jewellery box city

Being as my Partner Dominik is originally from Poland, it never seemed right that I wasn’t able to list Poland as being a place I had visited, and still less the beautiful city of Kraków which is located in the central South of the country. So in an attempt to rectify this failing, and in order to see out the summer with a bang, Dominik and I recently seized on the opportunity a long weekend presented, and flew out to Kraków.

The moment we walked out of Kraków’s gleaming station-come-shopping centre straight into the heart of the city, it felt like opening a jewellery box full of glinting treasures. The skyline was literally sparkling with a plethora of cupolas and domes – elaborately shaped bell towers and church roofs; turquoise coppers and elegant iron, adorned with dazzling gold details – while underneath, the streets which shape this largest of Europe’s unspoilt old towns were awash with exquisite palaces and townhouses, from baroque to art nouveau, often with an exotic twist of Eastern European decadence.

First views

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Having walked through the Florian Gate – the old entrance to the city once framed within Kraków’s ancient fortress walls, and strolled along the bustling Florianska street, the breathtaking expanse of the Rynek Główny, Kraków’s vast central square, opened up before us – the stunning Mariacka Basilica reaching up to the sky crowned with twin towers adorned with the most spectacularly ornate spires; while standing across the square, the equally elaborate Cloth Hall – a long arcade of shops and cafes spilling out onto a terrace decorated with more classical statues, urns and gold-trimmed columns.

Not only was I spellbound by this utterly unspoilt, brilliantly bustling open space, with its many cafes, fountains, statues and markets, I was then equally overcome to learn that the hotel which we would make our home for the weekend benefited from a panoramic view of the entire square from each of its individually designed bedrooms. The rooms at the Wentzl Hotel gave new meaning to the adage “a room with a view”, and once i took a first glimpse out of our window onto the majestic Rynek Główny, I felt as though I could have stayed there the entire trip.

The Rynek Główny

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…and our room with a view

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But drag myself away I did, for many other tempting pleasures lay in wait in this charming old town which felt as though it had been suspended in time. Back down in the square, the first requisite activity was to enjoy a glass of child wine on the front line of a café terrace, so that through the great pleasure of people watching, it became possible to take in more and more of the incredible details of the square, while listening to the clip-clop of the smartly adorned horses and carts, with their head-dresses of ostentatious feathers, and old fashioned carriages similarly lavishly provided. From there, a stroll through the markets all around the square brought us face to face with some of the specialities of traditional Poland – Oscypek cheese – strong and salty like greek Halloumi, made in the nearby Tatra mountains; the sweet smokey miasma of a suckling pig cooking on a spit; small red chickens carved out of wood, and religious iconography aplenty (for as was soon to become obvious, Kraków is a very Catholic town, a spirituality significantly augmented by the fact that the former Pope John Paul II was bishop and then archbishop of Kraków before his ascendency to the papacy).

The Church of Saints Peter and Paul

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In this vein, we wondered around the old town, taking in more churches (check out the stunning Italianate baroque masterpiece of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, above), more spires and more characterful cobbled streets, before eventually winding down to the Vistula river, from where, in the dying sunshine of the afternoon, we had a picture-perfect view of the Wawek Hill – the centrepiece of Kraków’s historic core, where the old palace of Poland’s kings (Kraków used to be the capital of Poland before the monarchy and government relocated to Warsaw for want of a more central location) and the equally stupendous beauty of the gold-domed copper-topped Wawel Cathedral stand so majestically, poised high over the city for everyone to see.

The Wawel Hill

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But we couldn’t stay away from our room with a view for long, and back by the window, gazing over the Rynek Główny I continued to be mesmerised by the beauty of this city – a little box of jewels, ripe to be discovered over the following weekend, a place glinting still in the fading light, as the sunshine sunk away and the floodlights and cafe candles brought even more of a sparkle to this undeniably stunning city.

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