My 5: Krakow, Poland.

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1. Rynek Główny Square, April 2003. It’s almost painful to realize that it’s been fifteen years since my one and only trip to Poland! I was teaching English in Slovakia that year, so a bunch of friends and I took a train over from Bratislava. Checking into our hostel, we wasted no time in getting settled in at Krakow’s gorgeous main square. A great spot for lunch, beers and people watching.

2. St. Mary’s Basilica, April 2003. Adjacent to the main square stands this impressive brick church, a major Krakow landmark thanks to its twin towers. Dating back to the 1220s, it would have been criminal not to peek inside, with its Art Nouveau stained glass windows and a magnificent high altar once described by Pablo Picasso as “the eighth wonder of the world”. The towers can be climbed for a small fee and there are hourly bugle performances that can be heard all around the square.

3. Wawel Dragon Statue, April 2003. A trip to Krakow wouldn’t be complete without a bit of dragon tomfoolery. So get yourself over to Wawel Hill, a fortified complex set around a limestone outcrop overlooking The Vistula River. According to Polish mythology, a dragon once lived at the foot of the hill, a nasty old thing that was fond of eating the local women. Eventually the king decreed that anyone who could slay the dragon would get to marry his foxy daughter Wanda. After many attempts from numerous hopefuls, a resourceful cobbler called Skuda managed to kill the beast by feeding it a lamb stuffed with sulphur. Genius! This photo was taken with the dragon monument at the foot of the hill. You can also take the spiral staircase down to the so-called Dragon Cave.

4. Wawel Chakra, April 2003. Feeling a bit dragoned-out, we made our way up the hill to the Royal Castle grounds and ended up resting a while in the picturesque Renaissance Courtyard. Legend has it there’s something extra special about its northwest corner, said to be a unique chakra point. What is a chakra? Well…  it’s a “natural energy point or centre of consciousness found in every living being”, as believed in the spiritual traditions of India, China and pretentious Western hippies. According to chakra doctrine, there are many chakra points in the human body. Apparently seven of them correspond with the seven sacred stones that the Hindu deity Shiva flung across the earth as a gift to mankind. Six of those stones landed in locations as far-flung as Rome, Mecca, Delhi, Jerusalem, Delphi and Velehrad. And the seventh? Yup… Krakow, Poland.

5. Where’s Rich? Rynek Główny Square, April 2003. At the end of our trip we lost Rich, the group’s resident Californian. A similar thing happened in Prague where he’d failed to board the train back to Bratislava after an incident with a pickpocket. Or so the story went. In Krakow he’d wandered off during a city walk and for a while our imaginations were running wild with what kind of tale he’d come back with this time. Sadly the whole thing was an anti-climax, he’d just wanted some quiet time exploring alone. Nevertheless we had great fun speculating on his fate, which led to this silly “Where’s Rich?” shot.

For more on my travels in the region, check out My 5s on Bratislava, Prague, Vienna and Budapest.

You can also delve into my short story series The Slovak Files.

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