Day 15 – Cracow to Warsaw (9/5/23)

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.

Pipe organ with 105 stops
This is a place of pilgrimage. These children were part of a party making that pilgrimage.

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.

Black Madonna
Children awaiting mass at 11 a.m., totally unfazed by these tourists walking around the edge. It was pretty crowded. Unsurprisingly, it gets totally rammed on Sundays.

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.

This is known as the Champs Elysées of Częstochowa for obvious reasons

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.

Inexpertly shot, but hopefully you can see the screen coming down over the Black Madonna icon
Incredibly ornate ceiling

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.

Walk back to the coach with this view

One more comfort stop on the way, and then we were in the outskirts of Warsaw. Traffic not great – par for the course, apparently.

Enormous Communist building
Me neither
Foundations – see later in the blog
Huge square, right outside our hotel

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.

Royal Road
First shot of the Old Town
Royal Palace
King Sigismund III (I think). He moved the Polish capital from Cracow to Warsaw in 1596.
Stadium built for the European football championships when jointly hosted by Poland and Ukraine in 2012. England lost to Italy on penalties in the quarter finals 😪

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.

3 responses to “Day 15 – Cracow to Warsaw (9/5/23)”

  1. what jewish food did you have in the restarant?
    the church looks amazing

  2. The Częstochowa Church is extraordinary! Also, your portrayal of Warsaw makes it look better than my memories, which are of a dour, unimpressive place but with a decent old town area. We clearly missed a lot. Your weather was much better, too!

    1. Yes, the whole Częstochowa thing was truly impressive. There is a fair amount of old communist stuff – Warsaw is nothing if not full of contrasts – but they’ve done a fantastic job of renovating and restoring it. Lucky indeed with the weather, but we were due a bit of luck there. One of the coldest springs on record in the area, I believe.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: