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Thoughts Upon World Youth Day Krakow 2016

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Dearest hearts,

You may remember one of my latest posts about How To Survive World Youth Day Kraków 2016. Before it began everyone was scared and/or frustrated over how Kraków will be and how it will change and how one should run away as far and as fast as one possibly can. Just think about it, there was a forecast of over 2 million tourists/pilgrims coming in from around the world - something Kraków has never yet faced! And all at once, in one week! Of course there was also the security threat raised - the possible threats that could come with that amount of population running free and wild on the street, not to mention the fact that it was a Catholic Church gathering in an all Catholic country... one would have reason to be afraid, even a bit, with all the stuff happening recently in France and Germany... People, like myself, were skeptical and that's why most locals and expats living in Kraków cleared out during this week.
We were not able to get out of town, even if Marek had the whole week off, due to my due date being so close and the LadyBug Baby could come any minute now... the safest thing was to stay put inside the house. Of course we did the main grocery shopping for the whole week and said we won't even try to get to the Main Market Square as that would be madness... but hey! We eventually crossed that line and we did! We have 2 friends staying over for the World Youth Day Kraków 2016 and we went out with them on Wednesday, when their schedule was more free. Also on Wednesday, at 4 pm at the Balice Airport, The Pope landed! It is Pope Francis first visit in Poland, first visit in Kraków and first appearance at the Papal Window - speaking freely to the audience that came from all over the World to hear his wise words.
But let me get back on Wednesday afternoon... I was a bit scared with all the comotion and the huge crowds... we all know that people in huge crowds usually behave like cattle and you can even have a stampede if you are not careful. In my stage, being 9 months pregnant and soon due, I was scared how the trip to the main square would go. There are dedicated tram and bus lines especially for the youths that came for the World Youth Day Kraków 2016 and the trams we usually take from our home to the main square intersect - they are the same lines. During this week I have travelled with groups from Germany and Canada - that are hosted most probably in the schools nearby our home.
Of course the trams get overcrowded and some don't have AC, so it's a bit tougher to bear than the usual trip... but I have seen the youngsters sitting down on the chairs inside the trams only if all the elderly have a place to sit down. They are young and noisy and exuberant and colorful yet in the public transport I have never seen them behave not properly. They usually hang around the doors, but they pull apart when people want to to go in. They always have a smile upon their faces and sometimes they burst into singing fits. It's nice to see faith in people and the way they react... it's harder though when they get into open spaces. I can see them getting more free and careless, not 100% focused on the environment and what is around them.
I had a couple of moments, in the Main Market Square,  when I felt the need to raise up my arms in front to shield my belly - youngsters can get distracted and they can focus on their cell phones / the maps they are holding / the helicopters circling the sky rather than what is in front of them. Better to be safe than sorry and be careful yourself as well ;) I know they mean no harm but I know the focus can be shifted to a thousand directions, especially if you are in a foreign country and you visit places for the first time. It is true, getting to the Main Market Square might be hard if you are dead set on taking specific routes like the overcrowded and over touristy Florianska street... take an alternative route like Slawkowska! You'll be able to breathe and walk at you very own pace, without bumping at every step into groups of tourists/pilgrims. They stop and they start singing randomly so you never can tell what their next step will be - probably they don't know themselves as well!
A thing you can rely upon, though, is the fact that this week Kraków has become colorful and alive and more happy than I have seen it ever! Not even with the European Football teams taking over the city, nor the during New Year Eve, not even during the traditional Wianki have I seen anything like it. Maybe during national holidays I can see the Main Market Square being taken over by Polish people with hundred of Polish flags, in traditional Polish clothing... but this was totally different: I have seen dozen upon dozen of flags from around the world - some I could recognise and some I needed help with... - I have seen people smile and shake hands and take pictures and exchange souvenirs.... I have seen them making friends no matter the race or color of skin. I have seen girls smile wide, fearless, dancing on the rhythm of the African choir... dancing like nobody was watching... it made think of how David danced in front of God :)
The Main Market Square had a different vibe this week and all the glory goes to God and the fact that they choose Kraków as the place where World Youth Day 2016 would happen. I think it was both a threat and an opportunity for the city to show what they could do. I heard a lot of stories about the organisation of the event and I have seen a lot of flaws while I was walking around this week, but I believe overall the pilgrims had a good time. I am sorry though for the tourists that booked their holidays in Kraków during this week... they had no idea what they got themselves into... and they got: overcrowded places - no chance to take a decent picture anywhere without having a World Youth Days participant in it... filled accommodation spaces, crowded public transport, no museum tickets or closed museums for the general entrance - for example Auschwitz was open this week ONLY for the World Youth Day participants with valid IDs ;) so tough luck if you wanted to visit it...
Throughout the week you could see the Main Market Square being taken over by groups from around the world. Some dancing and singing along with the people performing on the stage build in front of the Ratusz Tower, some just hanging around - searching for some shade - and updating their social media accounts, some socialising face to face with people from different countries - even playing chess!, some shopping for typical Polish things, some just having a small nap until the next point on their programme... A typical thing to do was signing eachothers flags and exchanging souvenirs :) as I said... sharing is caring! And the World Youth Day is about God but also about how people could come together as one, under one belief. The groups that I have seen were enthusiastic and all were glad to be there, in Kraków, experiencing this celebration. I have never seen so any people around the world with smiles upon their faces! It made me smile wide as well and be a bit euphoric :) and not just me... everyone around as well!
Even with all the noise and the crowd and me stressing out that my belly should and would be protected, even with me taking dozen upon dozen of pictures and roaming through the crowd, I must admit I had a great time! Better than expected, even with the hot and humid weather! I have seen on the expat groups from Krakow a lot of hate going forward this day and I have seen locals going away and saying how awful it is... it is true the city is more crowded and noisy and there is a lot more garbage than the usual... but it's not worse than what I have seen after a New Year's Eve! And the vibes in the city are amazing - so much positive energy! So nice seeing all the cultures coming together as one... Even if it's just for a few days... of course there are pluses and minuses to the World Youth Day Kraków 2016 but then again... every celebration has its pros ans cons. In this case I choose to let my feelings guide me and my feelings say I had an amazing Wednesday afternoon! If asked, I would go through the crowded tram and the noisy streets and the hear again, only to experience the joy I felt :)
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I even bumped into a Romanian group from Oradea (the city at the border). They told me there are about 800 people that came in from my country, and their trip took them around 12 hours to get to Kraków - the sacrifices we do for celebrations like this ;) it was lovely seeing the Romanian flag in front of the St. Mary Church... I love the way that they bonded and shared stories and they were open. This is what WYD is all about, is it not?! So when you think about it, don't jump into judging and pointing fingers... go out and experience WYD as well, as I did, and then let me know if you changed your mind. Almost all people who stayed - be it local or expats - say it was not such a bad thing and it was not as bad as they thought it would be. People are open and friendly and the atmosphere created is unique. Everyone taking pictures was excited and said it's a one of a kind opportunity - I agree to that! So get out of the house and experience the WYD! :)

Yours sincerly,
Twisted Red LadyBug - from my heart to yours