In my haste to finish yesterday’s blog, I forgot to mention that, in the evening, we were taken for a meal at a hotel in the Jewish Quarter, accompanied by some music from a Klezmer trio.
The meal was indifferent, to be honest, and the music, although excellent technically for the most part, could be heard from folk groups anywhere in the world. It was also very hot in there.
I’d opted for red wine, which was a mistake. Jean’s white wine was a lot better.
Apart from all that, it was great….. The Americans loved it, me not so much. However, it lightened the atmosphere after a heavy morning.
And now to today.
Glorious sunny weather, if chilly, and a much more civilised start, so we were on our way in this super-comfortable coach by 8 a.m. with a 350 km drive in prospect.
Nothing much happened until we got to the town of Częstochowa, a scheduled stop.
We had been told that there was a monastery and shrine here, but I had no idea that this was seen by some Catholics as the centre of their world in Poland. Officially, around 90% of Poles are Catholic, in stark contrast to the resolutely atheist or agnostic Czechs. In truth, the number that visit the church every Sunday is nearer 30%.
I was simply not prepared for what we saw here.
The main church was extraordinary. Lavish designs, gold everywhere, religious artefacts, etc., etc. There has been a church here since the early 14th century. I wandered around in a daze, taking lots of pictures.
It was at this point that we met Martin, our guide for the next hour or so, who works on the site and has an astonishing knowledge of the history of this place.
He took us into the adjoining Chapel, which houses the sacred Black Madonna, a painting of uncertain provenance but of huge significance in this place.
We then visited the Treasury, which contained, er, treasures. We weren’t allowed to take pictures in here, but it showed off a fascinating collection of religious artefacts and gifts from pilgrims over the centuries. Amazing.
We then went back into the Black Madonna Chapel to witness the closing ceremony, which happens at midday, accompanied by stirring music. It invites pilgrims to move away from the Chapel for a period of silence and prayer. The Black Madonna reopens at 1.30 p.m.
Hopefully this video makes the process clearer.
After this solemn, but fascinating, insight into Catholic symbolism, time for lunch.
Marius, bless him, led us down the main drag to point out the best places. We fetched up in a very decent place, ate a very decent meal with some very decent wine in accompaniment for a very decent price. A very decent result.
One more comfort stop on the way, and then we were in the outskirts of Warsaw. Traffic not great – par for the course, apparently.
We disembarked the bus, and Andreja handed us our room keys. We had time to relax for a bit in this very nice room, then it was out for an orientation walk.
At first glance, Warsaw is mightily impressive.
Back to the hotel for a club sandwich and nightcap in the bar, then bed.
Tomorrow we have a combined bus and walking tour of Warsaw. Looking forward to that – Poland has had a very interesting and turbulent history – so I’ll try and report on that later.