Warsaw – What to See in Holy Week
Holy Week coincides with the onset of spring, a season associated with milder temperatures. Although you should still pack some warm clothes – jerseys, jacket, raincoat, gloves, cap and scarf – it’s unlikely to snow in Warsaw, unless you’re in the higher mountain areas. And, by early April, the days are quite long and sunny. Unlike in other European countries, during Holy Week in Poland both the Thursday and Friday are working days and most of the museums and shops are open to the public. Visiting hours at churches may be different, however, as in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, where the largest Good Friday procession of all Poland is held.
As in other areas where the Catholic festivities are traditionally observed, Palm Sunday is celebrated here in style. Like in Spain, in Poland the faithful carry palms, but here they are far more elaborate. Dried flowers and paper flowers go into their careful making by hand. They are so popular here that many towns and villages organise palm contests. We recommend taking the two-and-a-half-hour drive to Łyse, in the region of Masovia, where you can find palms of up to 6 metres high.
Cultural activity also revolves around Easter. The keynote event is the Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival. Held in Warsaw, as well as in Krakow and Gdansk, it attracts classical music virtuosos from all over to perform a number of works based on Holy Week themes. The festival alone makes it well worth visiting the city. Over the festive period churches host classical music concerts. The programme features religious works, pride of place going to the staging of the Lord's Sepulchre. This is undoubtedly a good reason for visiting the holy precincts of Poland’s capital city. Even under the Communist regime the uncensored sepulchres stood for the most important political events of the time.
Another high moment of the holy celebration is the blessing of the food. Starting on Easter Saturday morning, crowds of people congregate at the churches bearing adorned baskets containing, in addition to the classical hand-painted Easter eggs, bread, salt, pepper, sausage and an endless assortment of Easter pastries to have them blessed. Once the ritual has been completed, they may then eat meat. In bygone days the baskets’ contents were indicative of the purchasing power of the various families – the greater the amount and variety of food, the high their economic status.
Easter eggs are decorated in different ways and this is often the favourite activity of the younger members of the household. Once boiled, the easiest thing is to colour them with polychromed powders dissolved in water. These colours are sold in small sachets at this time of year. A more natural technique is to boil the eggs in a pot with onion skins, giving the eggshells a dark tinge and, the more onion skin you use, the darker the colour. After the eggshell has dried out, it can be drawn on or incised using a sharp needle.
Easter Monday is noticeably more playful in character and closely linked to rural traditions. In Polish it is known as Lany poniedzialek – “Water Monday” – as Slavic tradition has it that throwing water over the girls is believed to ensure their health and fertility. So, make sure you keep your eyes skinned because even today you can have a bucket of cold water thrown over you.
Cuisine is important in Poland at Easter and tables are decked out with Easter eggs, symbols of a new life. Confectionery also plays a major role, particularly mazurek, a cake based on butter and very thick cream, eggs, sugar and flour. It is also stuffed with nuts, chocolate and fruit (orange or lemon). Another cake typically made during this festive season is kaimak. Although similar to mazurek, the dough contains liquid toffee.
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Text by ISABELYLUIS Comunicación
Images by Polish National Tourist Officemore info
Cracovia. Pasado y presente.
Krakow is the most touristic and historic city in Poland. In fact, the historic centre was declared UNESCO World Heritage Site because even the city was destroyed by the German army during the World War II, since the reconstruction of the historic quarter -known as Stare Miaso – started in 1950, trying to reconstruct it as close as possible to what it was originally.
The hearth of the city is Rynek Glówny, one of the biggest squares in Europe, always cheerful because of the street musicians and the tourists. By night, the gas lamps still light this place, projecting shadows on the walls of the buildings surrounding the square, from 14th and 15th century, giving this location an atmosphere both gloomy and romantic.
Nowadays, Krakow is a great destination for tourists but still remains all its past in order to have a promising future.
The old Jewish ghetto
It was not located in the current Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, but a bit further, in the Podgórze district. From the original, only parts of the wall remain, some of the streets and a memorial square to the heroes of the ghetto (Plac Bohaterów Getta) with big metal chairs that represent their stolen belongings when they arrived to the ghetto.
Krakow’s ghetto was founded in 1941 and as the Nazi genocide intensified, it began to be overpopulated and people died of hunger or diseases or, even worst, they were killed in the streets.
Nevertheless, stores were allowed to remain operative. Tadeusz Pankiewicz, the owner of the pharmacy Aquila (Apteka pod Orlem), had a significant role for the Jewish. The pharmacy was a valuable meeting point to smuggle with food, medicines and other valuable objects.
Because of that, Tadeusz Pankiewicz received a honourable mention from the state of Israel. In 2004, Roman Polanski and Steven Spielberg managed the restoration of the pharmacy, which is now part of the city History Museum, showing the murder of Jewish in the ghetto and what an important role the pharmacy had. Polanski, who escaped from the ghetto when he was a child, dedicated his Oscar award for The Pianist to Pankiewicz.
Another awarded movie made a factory near the ghetto very famous. The history of Oscar Schindler’s factory – which is now also a museum – appeared in the known movie by Steven Spielberg.
The exhibition at this factory, titled “Nazi occupation (1939-1945)” includes an exhibition, reconstructions, images, objects from that period and sounds that make the visit a vivid experience, experiencing what Polish experienced during the Nazi occupation.
Krakow Jewish neighbourhood
The Jewish neighbourhood Kazimierz, formed by one of the biggest Jewish communities in Europe before the World War II, is nowadays a charming and bohemian neighbourhood, with cheerful streets, odd stores and craft workshops, also with a great variety of restaurants serving Hebrew cuisine.
Here you can visit the Old Synagogue (the oldest in Poland), the Remuh Synagogue, next to the Jewish cemetery, or the spectacular Catholic churches of Saint Catherine or the c he Crypt at Skałka. As a curiosity, you should know that this is the place where Spielberg filmed his movie Schindler's List.
About 60 kilometres away of Krakow there is the sadly famous concentration camps Auschwitz I – first to be built - and Auschwitz II (or Birkenau), built after as an extermination camp.
You can get here easily by train or bus, leaving from the central station for trains and buses at Kraków Główny, it takes about one hour and a half to get there.
The shameful significance of this place is because it is the largest concentration camp built during the Nazi regime and the largest extermination in history, over one million people where killed here. Nowadays, it remains as a memorial to prevent this atrocities to happen again and to not forget the atrocities that took place here.
Cracovia by FotoCavallo | Auschwitz by Gigatel Cyf Ltd. | Fábrica de Schindler by Noa Cafri | Barrio judio de Cracovia by Jakub Hałun
A place well worth discovering! Check out our flights here.
Wieliczka – Journey to the Bowels of the Earth
Have you ever wondered where such a common condiment as salt comes from? A visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mine could be the perfect opportunity to learn how this coveted commodity is mined. You would also discover a stunning underground precinct. Located in the Kraków metropolitan area, some 15 kilometres from the city, the mine has been in continuous operation since the 13th century and up until our times. This is the second oldest salt mine in the world, after the Bochnia Mine, also in Poland. In 1978 it was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO – yet one more pretext to visit it.
But, what makes the Wieliczka Mine so special? To start with, you have to banish any preconceived ideas of darkness and claustrophobia usually associated with the word “mine”. After descending the long, initial access staircase leading down into the depths, comprising around 350 steps, you come face to face with a statue sculpted by Nicolaus Copernicus which greets visitors on the first level. But, this is not the only salt statue you will see on your visit – there is a wealth of these artefacts, carved by the miners themselves. Themes range from historical figures to work scenes in the mine and even religious subjects. To be sure, there’s even a salt relief reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”. I bet you’re surprised!
But, that’s not all. The realm’s jewel in the crown is the Chapel of Saint Kinga, a huge cavity measuring 54 metres deep, by 17m wide and 11m high, all carved in the rock, ornamented with lanterns which – naturally – are also made of rock salt. It is the largest underground church in the world and is well worth visiting, even if just for its sheer size. The work attests to the miners’ devotion to Saint Kinga, who legend has it brought salt to Poland.
The tour ends at a depth of 135 metres, after taking you past some brine lakes, where a sound-and-light performance is laid on to a theme by Chopin. This may sound a bit kitsch, but it is quite something to hear it in a cavern of this kind! Ah! And, don’t worry – the ascent to the surface is made in a lift.
Experiences in the Underground
The Wieliczka mine has been perfectly adapted for sightseers and several options are open to visitors: the “tourist route” is the conventional option, but you can go beyond that if you’re eager to have a more intense experience, in which case you choose the “miner’s route”.This involves experiencing the tour like a miner and learning all the ins-and-outs of salt-mining processes. There is also a “pilgrim’s route” for the more religious-minded, which focuses on the spiritual parts of the mine, notably the Chapels of St Kinga and St John Paul II.
The mine has a healthy microclimate, featuring pollution-free areas where calm prevails. Moreover, the dry atmosphere generated by the salt, and the constant temperature, help to create the perfect environment for those suffering from respiratory ailments. The amenities also include a spa station offering a number of different treatments. And, for those of you who have time on your hand and avidly seek out strong emotions, the complex includes accommodation for the night, set at two levels – 125 metres down, and another at 135 metres. Do you dare?
Preparing Your Visit
Here are a few pointers to consider before visiting the mine:
- There is a bus service from Kraków every 20 minutes.
- You don’t need to book beforehand. All visits are guided, and guides are available in a large number of languages. Here are the timetables.
- The average duration of a guided tour is about three hours.
- The temperature inside the mine is from 14 to 16 degrees, so remember to bring a jacket or some warm clothing if you don’t want to get cold.
- There are a lot of steps to go down – around 800 in all – so make sure you put on comfortable footwear.
- Be careful! If you want to make your friends jealous of the great photos you take, bear in mind you need to pay an extra fee for photographing or filming in the mine.
Don’t pass up the chance to visit this spectacular complex – check out our flights here.
Text by ISABELYLUIS Comunicaciónmore info