Thursday, June 2, 2016

Tarnow and Arrival in Krakow

percentage of Romany in
European countries
In the morning, we left Rzeszow and headed east for Tarnow. Tarnow is a charming city with a market square and Eastern European architecture.  Instead of focusing on the Poles of Tarnow, we visited the Gypsy Museum.   According to one of the museum displays, for some people the term “Romany” is preferable and the term “Gypsy” is regarded as quite offensive, but this is not always the case.  There are multiple sub-divisions of the Gypsy people, in multiple lands, and not all of them regard the term as an insult.

In the museum we learned about the history of the Romany peoples and the lands where they roam and settle.   Part of the exhibit is devoted to Romany martyrdom during the Holocaust.  We also saw photographs by Jozefa Kolarchik as well as objects such as baskets as well as the carriages and a gypsy tent in the yard in the back.  It was raining outside, and so we imagined what it might be like to have shelter only in a tent or a carriage.  The Romany carriages are short and squat, yet they
cozy inside?
carried the group’s entire possessions.  When they would camp for the night or for a few days, the Romany group would arrange the carriages in a circle around a fire pit.  These made the encampment more secure, and it was a windbreak for the fire.  We saw six carriages.  They were all decorated colorfully, and each had a fantastic animal decoration under the corner roof eaves.  

Although the sky was wet and grey the entire time we were in Tarnow, the Gypsy Museum brought color into the day.  It is amazing how they lived their lives on the road and adapted to multiple environments.

a stark reminder
Before leaving Tarnow, we stopped at the remains of the Jewish area and learned about the town’s Jews.  By 1445 there were already Jews living in Tarnow because the local prince granted them his protection.  By the end of the 1700s some 200 Jews lived on “the Jewish Street,” and at that point they built a large synagogue.  By 1785 the Jews comprised 75% of the town’s population, and a few years later the Hapsburg Monarchy of Austria took the area under its control, and these Jews experienced less discrimination than the Polish Jews who were put under Russian control.  Some of Tarnow’s Jews were influenced by Zionism, and among the first European settlers in 19th century Palestine were from Tarnow.  Of course, the Jews who stayed in Tarnow suffered much during World War II.  We were a bit startled by the sight of the synagogue ruin in the midst of the Jewish area.  It was just the bimah (the synagogue’s interior prayer platform) standing in the center of an empty courtyard.  It was overwhelming to realize that in the past there was a large synagogue in that precise location, before it was destroyed by the German army.

We were so excited when our motor coach entered the Kazimierz neighborhood of Krakow.  After unloading our luggage into our rooms in Hotel Kazimierz and the Annex, we met our tour guide Kristina and walked through the drizzle across city streets until we approached Wawel Castle.

The castle is huge, colorful, and a relic from the past.  The first part of the castle was built in the 12th century!   Outside, it is surrounded by green grass, trees, and cobblestones.

The castle complex includes an incredibly beautiful cathedral containing gold and silver ornaments and coffins of some of Poland’s most important rulers.  It was astonishing to think that kings and queens walked around in the cathedral and the other parts of the building.  Inside, we saw the rooms in which they held meetings and royal parties.  Off the balconies, they
gazing out the tower window
 could see a whole panorama of Krakow and the Vistula River next to it.  Peeking out the windows of the tower, we saw gorgeous vistas as modern buildings, such as the museum housing a large collection of Japanese art.  Our tour included some of the castles’ interior rooms.  The walls could be quite colorful, and some appeared to be covered by either paper or painted and etched leather – the guards would not let us touch or photograph.  Ceilings and floors were also mesmerizing for their intricately patterned stones and tiles.    One of the ceilings was composed of hard wooden or sculpted heads with eyes gazing upon the people below, as if they were eavesdropping on peoples’ conversations.  Perhaps the message was “the king knows all!”
Jimmy and the bell 
Inside one of the castle towers was a huge bell which, according to Polish legend, will give back luck to anyone who touches it with their right hand but grant the wish of anyone who touches it with their left hand.  We all did that.  There has been a persistent rumor that Jimmy touched it with his right hand, and unfortunately this photo does not confirm or disprove that.

on a sunny day
Kristina walked us from Wawel Castle into Old Town, stopping at a sandwich place so we could stave off our hunger.  Walking up the streets toward the center of town, we were mesmerized by all the stores.   There were thousands of people in the streets, which were free of all vehicles except horse-drawn carriages.  Up at the top of the town, Kristina took us to one of the Jagiellonian University buildings.
wet Krakow Old Town streets

The campus is integrated into the Old Town and newer parts of Krakow, and there are 150,000 students total!  Finally, she brought us to the center of the rynek, just in time to hear the trumpeter blow his horn from the window high in the tower of St. Mary’s Cathedral.

We had free time the rest of the day and evening, and most of us spent it enjoying the exciting sights and sounds of Krakow.

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