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Free Walking SPECIAL: Krakow - Centre of the World

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

My dear hearts,

How glad I am to see you all gathered here today! Remember the Free Walking Tour Krakow team, that I have told you several times before? Remember about their yummy Foods of Kraków, or about their thrilling Macabre Tour, maybe even about the Special Walking Tour for the Women's Day. Today I will share with you some information about the Special Walking Tour that took place in the last Saturday of November month: "Kraków - The Center of the World".
My dearest travellers, as you may (or may not) know, the existence of the Free Walking Tours comes mainly from donations - usually made by the people who have enjoyed the histories told by the tour guides. The Free Walking Tour Krakow team is a team of professional people and I watched them grow more and more in their knowledge and they way they treat the customer, though out these 4 (or more) years that I have lived in Kraków. At first I went to their tours to know a bit more about the city, then - as my friends started visiting me - I had to learn even more and I liked to be able to guide them to the best places they could see in this magical town.
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There is simply no better way to know a town than walking it though and talking with a local person - and that is exactly what the Free Walking Tour Krakow team provides. I have been in over a dozen of their tours, on different subjects/topics and with different guides, yet I have never been dissapointed by them. They are always on time and with a smile upon their face. They always answer the questions and love to help the tourists with tips and tricks. You can see that they like what they are doing and that they are a team - when more than one tour starts at the same time (and the meeting point is always the same, no matter the tour: Mariacki Kosciol) they make sure that you are on the right tour that you wanted to join :)
There is always an extra 5 minutes spent at the meeting point, in case someone is running late, and the usual talk in the first moments is spent around what locations the tourists are from and how The Free Walking Tour Krakow was founded. Then the tour guide introduces himself/herself - in our case today, his name was Tomasz (short: Tomek) - and the fun begins... Walk on! :)
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The first remarcable man that Tomek presented us was none-other than Poland's beloved son: Adam Mickiewicz. If ever you were in Poland or you had a Polish friend, you must have read or heard about him. Or seen his statue in the Main Market Square in Krakow ;) that's right! the main statue in the Rynek depicts Adam and his muses. He is a principal figure in Polish Romanticism, and counted as one of Poland's "Three Bards" ("Trzej Wieszcze"). He is widely regarded as Poland's greatest poet. He is known chiefly for the poetic drama Dziady (Forefathers' Eve) and the national epic poem Pan Tadeusz. Wyka writes that he was a "singer and epic poet of the Polish people, and a pilgrim for the freedom of nations."Walking further on from one side of the Main Market Square (from in front of the Mariacki Kosciol), we cross to the other side, on the corner where one would go either to the Plac Szcepanski or the Slawkowska street. We take a break on the corner for 3 short stories on 3 interesting topics: Goethe (and his Faust), Lenin & Stalin and the typical Krakowian pretzel/bagel called obwarzanek. The obwarzanek was first mentioned in Kraków, Poland, in 1394 - daily sight in Kraków for over 600 years... Kraków bakers produce up to 200.000 daily!
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When Lenin was exiled from Russia at the start of World War I he ended up in Krakow and held court at the Noworolski Coffee House (and also at the Cafe Europejska, according to our guide, Tomasz) plotting the Bolshevik Revolution. Lenin received couriers from Russia who received instructions how to proceed with the revolution. One of the couriers was none other than young Stalin then known as Josip Vissarionovich.
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Tomasz also told us about Goethe and his Journey in Poland, to the Lower and Upper Silesia, in 1790. Accompanying the Prince Charles Augustus in September 1790. Goethe held an eight-day journey through Tarnowski Mountains, Krakow, Wieliczka and Czestochowa, then to Wroclaw, where he was not happy with the stay, which stems from his letters written there 11 and 12 September 1790. In connection with the stay of Goethe on the wall of the building Joseph Bartsch (corner of Market Square and Sławkowska), a plaque was set. But that does not mean, in any way, that Goethe really loved Krakow (and at that time I truly believe it was no sight for sore eyes...). But if there is one thing that Goethe took as positive and as an inspiration for his famous play Faust, was the life of a magician (with the very same name) that lived in Krakow at that time ;) 
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"The Faust story was based on a real magician and alchemist known as Dr. Johann Georg Faust who was active in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries and seems to have originated in northern Germany. According to Leo Ruickbie and others, “Faust(us)” was an assumed name. [...] In Polish folklore there is a tale of a Pan Twardowski who lived in Kraków. Pan Twardowski sold his soul to the Devil for magical powers, and raised the ghost of the wife of the King. He was carried off by the Devil, but dropped on the moon, where he lives to this day. According to Melanchthon, an associate of Martin Luther, who claimed to have known the real Faustus, the historic Faustus had studied in Kraków, suggesting a common root for the two tales. "(source)
The next stop brings us close to the University quarters, where more stories await for us :) In case you did not know, in 1883, Zygmunt Wrobelski and Karol Olszewski were the first in the world to liquefy oxigen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in a stable state!  And in 1884, in his Kraków laboratory, Olszewski was the first to liquefy hidrogen in a dinamic state, achieving a record low temperature of -225 Celsius degrees. In 1895 he liquefied argon!
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Olszewski's only failure was his inability to liquefy helium - back then newly discovered! In 1888, while studying the physical properties of the hydrogen, Wrobelski had an accident with a kerosene lamp and was severely burned. He died at a Kraków hospital - not long after the accident. But you have these 2 fine courageous men to thank for the aerosol products that you use nowdays - like your daily deodorant ;)
Further on we hear about the amazing Marie Sklodowska - better knows as Marie Curie :) She was born in Warsaw and if ever in that nice and crazy city, you can visit her memorial house. Her father lectured in maths and physics - probably that si where she got her love for the subjects mentioned :) She applied for a place in the Kraków University but she was rejected because she was a female... yes... it was those times! :/
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However she did not give up so she took her studies in Paris, University of Paris (the well known La Sorbonne). Later, there she became the universities first female professor! You probably know about Marie, and if you don't - you should read about her, but the main idea about her, that I wish to leave with you, is the fact that Marie was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize and the first person to receive 2 of them! (The Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903 and the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1911).
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Also,  Tomek presented us the greatest citizen of Kraków, that resided in Vatican City from 1978 to 2005 - that's right: Pope John Paul the 2nd (Karol Wojtyla). The Pope lived in Kraków for 4 decades - his entire life as an  adult, until he became The Pope. He was born in Wadowice, 30 miles S-W of Kraków, and The Free Walking Tour Krakow also has a special tour about places related to the Pope's stay in Kraków - I heard from several people it is very good so I am waiting for it, it's on my "To Do List" ;)
Chopin does not have much to do with Kraków, as Tomek kindly reminds us, but he was definitely not forgot by the cultural capital of Poland. Almost every night you can find a place where you can hear recitals dedicated to him - try Pod Baranami, Bonerowski Palace or one of Kraków's amazing churches! Great acoustics ;) In the Kraków Planty we make a stop to admire a sculpture that looks even better in summer, when there is water flowing... - Tomek asks us what we think it is, and I quickly answer it is a piano... "That's the fastest guess I have seen during my tours!" - yep, that's me, loving Kraków's stories ;)
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We are still in Planty, the closest point to the Wawel Castle, when we stop next to a simple bench - like any dozen we passed in the last 5 minutes... on the bench there is a small piece of metal inscribed with a name: Stefan Banach. Who was he? I have never heard about him before that day... to my shame, as his story was the most interesting (for me) :) Stefan was a Polish mathematician (1892-1945) who is generally considered one of the world's most important and influential 20th century mathematicians! He was one of the founders or modern functional analysis. He did the first monograph on the general theory of functional analysis!
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Stefan was a bastard child, knowing his mother only and taking her family name.  He wants much of a fan of studies of topics he did not like - he loved maths but failed Greek during his first semester at the gymnasium. He did obtain his maturation though, at the age of 18 in 1910, and he moved with friends to Lwow. In 1916, in the Planty area, Hugo Steinhaus (renowned mathematician at the time) overheard Stefan talking about integrals on a bench in the park... and he was amazed how someone could talk freely about a subject like that. Later on he said his greatest discovery was finding Stefan Banach :) Steinhaus was the one who introduced Stefan in the academical circles and made him his assistant. He also tricked Stefan into writing his own doctoral thesis, helping him sustain it and get the name of "Doctor in Maths" :) no that is what a good friend does!
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Oscar Schindler - you know this name very well, of you are into the stories about the Second World War and if you like very good movies (in this case, "The Schindlers List"). He was born in Hungary and he was an ethnic German member of the Nazi Party! Yet he saved lives of numerous Jews... Tomasz takes us to the foot of the Wawel Castle, to one of the buildings on the Straszewskiego street (number 7, to be more precise) and tells us that Oscar lived here. I am thinking how wonderful it must be to wake up each morning to a view like that... of the grand Wawel Castle... listening the bells of the Cathedral...
Last, but not least, we walk quickly (as the sun is already setting and the winter chill bites harder) towards the Blonia Park - the vast meadow with over 48 hectares of grass, next to the Kraków stadium and overlooking 2 of Kraków's mounds: Pilsudski and Kosciuszko Mound ;) The Kosciuszko Mound was raised by the people of Kraków in commemoration of the national leader Tadeusz Kosciuszko and it is an artificial mound that was modeled after the prehistoric mounds Krak and Wanda. It is approximately 326 meters above sea level and gives you a panoramic view of Kraków with the Vistula river ;) this mound inspired count Paul Strzelecki - Polish patriot and Australian explorer - to name the highest mountain in Australia: Mount Kosciuszko! He thought they looked the same... 
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The Pilsudski mound is also known as the Independence Mound or the Freedom Mound.  It is also an artifical mound, constructed between 1934 and 1937. It is located in the Western part of Kraków and it is the newest and largest of Kraków's 4 mounds. It was created due to the fact that the Polish legionists proposed building a monument commemorating the re-establishment of Poland's independence.

Full stop on this lovely tour hosted by The Free Walking Tour Krakow team. At the end of the 2 hours and a bit of walking though the city, waking though the cold winter weather, you still feel like that was the best thing you could do in those 2 hours. The things you learn as you walk,  from the locals that care about the city enough to dig for its secrets... for me that always puts a smile on my face and makes me pay for the tour. So be kind and help them fill the little Red bag. Take a map and a programme at the end and make sure you join again their tours. I know I will. Always :)

#FreeWalkingTourKrakow hosts the best walking tours in town, so check out their offer:
  • FreeWalkingTourKrakow - StreetArt - FreeWalkingTourKrakow provides city tours in Polish, English & Spanish. You can find them on Facebook or on their website or you can just call them at +48 513 875 814. I joined them in a StreetArt Tour and it was amazing!
  • FreeWalkingTourKrakow - Macabre Krakow - stories about ghost and real vampires... methods of torture, bodies under the Main Market Square with their hands and legs tied, stories of impailing living people... dark and twisted and perfect for a rainy Saturday evening :)
  • FreeWalkingTourKrakow - Her Story - there is a saying that if the men is considered to be the head of the family, than the heart belongs to the woman.
  • FreeWalkingTourKrakow - Pagan Krakow - do you wish to know about the old beliefs of Polish people but also about interesting facts like: "Did you know that General Hans Frank along with other members of the Nazi party celebrated the Yule holiday when they were living inside the Wawel Castle?" - join this tour once you see it up and running ;) (Beginning of March) 
  • FreeWalkingTourKrakow - Foods Of Krakow - traditional foods and drinks from Krakow. Lasts around 2 to 3 hours and takes one around Old Town and Kazimierz (a lovely Sunday afternoon in August 2015)
** This post was made out of love for Free Walking Tours. I was not repayed in any way and all the opinions are my very own, straight from the heart! **

Yours truly,
A LadyBug That Loves The Free Walking Tour Krakow Team & their awesome tours :)