Thursday, 16 February 2012

Frostbite and Johnny Wine...

So, we got back from our Polish city break last Thursday but it's taken me a week to sort out the photos and get myself back into work mode.  It seems like ages since I last blogged and I've missed being part of Paint Party Friday so, in order to be able to participate this week, even though this isn't exactly a work in progress but rather one I did a year or so ago, here is a watercolour painting of Trojey Square taken from a photo from our first trip and below that is a photo of me standing in said Square on this trip!!

Trojey Square - watercolour and pen and ink

Trojey Square - me, freezing!
This is a pretty long post so feel free to just browse the bits that catch your eye or ignore the text that I spent ages and ages writing up and just look at the photographs!

Krakow is such a beautiful city.  The architecture in the old town is intricate and lovely with lots of gorgeous details that are so lacking in modern buildings. The old town is surrounded by walls and inside are lots of meandering narrow streets full of quirky buildings, the beautiful Wawel Castle overlooking the river, and a fabulous main square with an indoor/outdoor market selling amber jewellery and lovely wooden boxes and sculptures and loads of other bits and bobs.

We first went to Krakow in January 2010 for S's 40th birthday and, on that trip, we visited Auschwitz which was a truly humbling experience and one that I believe everyone should make in their lifetime, if only to put their own superficial worries into perspective. I don't think I'll ever forget the rooms with the suitcases and belongings of so many holocaust victims so we didn't feel we needed to go back there a second time.

Krakow is full of quirky wee streets and gorgeous buildings

Credit: S

Me being all arty and pretentious!
Credit: S

At Wawel Castle
Credit: S

Credit: S
Credit: S

Credit: S

Me trying and failing to get the blurry twinkly lights background, grr.

We went back to Zgody Square which is full of statues of large chairs.  This is where all the Jewish families were forced out of their homes with whatever worldly possessions and furniture they could carry, hence the chair memorial.

I loved how the old buildings were reflected in the mirror glass front of the new building opposite
Credit: S
Credit: S
A pinch of Salt
So this time we decided to visit the Wieliczka Salt Mines which are about 30 minutes drive away from Krakow city.  These mines were created in the 13th century and they only stopped mining there in 1996 although they continued to produce table salt until 2007.  We walked down 800 steps stopping at three different levels, the deepest of which was 135 metres under the ground.  We saw 20 different chambers over about 2.5kms and, to put into perspetive how big the mines are, that was only a fraction as there are over 2000 manmade chambers down there!  Nowadays they have a special air regulation system which keeps the mines at a steady temperature of 15 degrees which was weird as it was -15 above ground that day!  Thankfully S had read the blurb on this before we went so we left the thermal undies off for that trip as it was pretty warm all that way underground!

A lot of the miners were religious so many of the chambers and carvings were of saints and biblical scenes. The fact that they were carved out of salt by the miners themselves is pretty awesome. The only part I didn't like was the fact that horses were used to turn much of the heavy mining equipment and because it was so difficult to get them down there in the first place they actually brought them down as foals and the poor creatures spent their whole lives underground never once coming up for daylight.

Actual salt on top of the wooden supports in the mine (yes I licked my finger and dabbed at it for a taste!)

Even the chandeliers were carved out of salt
The only photo of the two of us together the whole trip!

Add your own caption!
Whilst we didn't have to climb 800 steps to get back to the surface I wasn't that relieved to hear we'd be taking a lift instead.  A tiny little thing which 9 of us had to squeeze into (I made a point of hanging back so we could squeeze in last and be beside the door although it turned out that wasn't the door that opened to let us out) and the lift itself was a sort of cage with tiny little holes to look out of.  There were a stack of 3 lifts so ours had to travel up beyond the point of exit to let both the lifts below our disembark first while we hovered above in the darkness before coming back down and being disgorged (awkqardly as the door opened inwards) into the relief of the fresh air. 

As S will tell you, I am extremely claustrophobic but not because of enclosed spaces as such (being over 100 metres underground didn't phase me as the chambers and passages were wide and airy). It's people stealing my air and my space that freaks me out which is why I have to have an aisle seat on the plane (so poor S always gets stuck in the middle seat) and why I rushed S through the souvenir shop at the end of the trip to get back to the minibus first so we could get the same seats closest to the sliding door and not end up at the back of the bus with lots of other people hemming me in.  My dad and sister are exactly the same so if ever we went on a family trip we'd all be sitting in aisle seats!
The Vegan Abroad
I have to say a massive thanks to S.  He isn't a vegan.  He isn't even a vegetarian.  But, he plotted out all the veg-friendly restaurants and cafes that Happy Cow Guide advised were in Krakow.  All 6 of them (count 'em Belfast, you have a long way to go!)

We went to all of them over the course of our trip.  The Green Way was my favourite - their mexican tofu stew was out of this world and we went there three times for lunch during our 5 day stay and even S said how amazing the food was.  Also incredibly cheap, as they all were, a massive plate of food and a drink came to approximately £3.50!! You couldn't even buy a sandwich for that in most eateries in Britain or Ireland.

The ice was on the inside!
I loved Cafe Mlynek for its quirky design - our table was an old sewing table and there were old antique relics dotted all over the place. They also offered to 'veganise' any meal that had egg or dairy in it.

Me trying and failing to be all arty with my herbal tea!!
(That's a fur coat hanging on the coat stand btw - in a veggie restaurant!!)

After lunch in Cafe Mlynek one day, we went straight on to Momo purely because they were both in Kaziemierz (the old Jewish ghetto area) and we wouldn't be back that way again.  Momo was a real hippie hangout.  Basic and simple but they did vegan cake! I had the chocolate and S had the apple pie (which I ate half of - so much for the healthy vegan diet!!)  While we were there we met this adorable little dog who came over to our table and, completely unbidden, sat up on her hind legs and begged! So adorable (and I'm guessing other folk didn't mind as it was, after all, a vegetarian, pet-friendly establishment.

A whole lot of cute!

We went to Vega for dinner one evening - this time I had vegan goulash while S had a typical Polish dish of Pierogies - stuffed dumplings.

Cafe Karma was an organic coffee house which also offered vegan cake - we went there for soy lattes and banana cake one evening - lovely!

Finally, we went to Glonojad - this is the name of a type of fish that eats algae in case you wondered why there was a picture of a fish on a veggie restaurant sign!! It was lovely there too.  We didn't have a bad meal the whole time we were in Krakow.

The only thing I couldn't quite get my head around was the people (usually ladies of a certain age) who came into the veggie restaurants wearing real fur coats.  They were everywhere in Krakow maybe the different culture or generation means that the ethics and cruelty involved doesn't register with older women for whom fur is both functional in such a cold climate and also for whom it perhaps still has that misguided appearance of wealth.  Even S couldn't believe how prevalent it was.  But to wear fur while abstaining from eating meat just seemed beyond strange to me.
Water off a duck's back
The temperature was between -9 and -19 while we were there and we were very glad we'd packed the thermal undies, I can tell you. The river was frozen over with only a small area left unfrozen and this is where all the swans, ducks, seagulls and other birdy wildlife congregated in a great noisy, feathery, mass of feathers and beaks by the banks while kind folk came along with bags of bread. I think it was what they call a feeding frenzy!

Credit: S - how amazingly clear is this shot!
A couple of swans find time for a bit of courting during the feeding frenzy!
No point getting his feet wet when he can hitch a lift on a swan's back!
Back at the main square there were stone seats all around the square and at two of them there were vents that hot air blew out of. All the poor pigeons were huddled round these vents trying to keep warm.

A very cold pigeon
I think this is my favourite photo that S took - poor wee things trying to keep warm.

Photography and frost bite
Because it was so cold and despite, I might add, the expensive 'wind proof' gloves that S bought me before we went, I was only able to use my camera for a couple of minutes at a time (with my gloves on) before my fingers felt like they were going to fall off! The cold also drained the batteries in a similarly brief length of time so I constantly had to change them and warm them back up in my pocket to use them again later. 

This made it very difficult to mess about with the settings to try to get the professional shots we'd been shown at the photography workshop.  Mind you,  even indoors I still couldn't manage to get the wonderfully artistic compositions that I had in my mind to make the leap to my camera.  So, for the most part I stayed on auto point and press after all.

S however is made of sterner stuff; his fingers managed to rebuff the cold for longer and he obviously paid more attention in photo class as he knew what settings to use and got some really fabulous shots, some of which I have borrowed for illustrative purposes and have credited him for so you can see how much better his photos were than mine!

We came across a bridge with hundreds of padlocks attached to it.  I'd heard of this before - they're called 'love locks' and couple inscribe them with their names and lock them to the bridge and throw away the key.  Apparently it's been happening on bridges all over Europe since about 2000.  Would you believe the best photo I managed to take all trip was of these padlocks and a snowball!!

Love Locks
I did the blurry thing!!

Johnny Wine
There's a restaurant/bar in the main square called Sioux.  We spent a lot of time there on our first trip and nearly as much time there on this trip, I even had their veggie fajitas twice.  The main reason for our frequent visits this time though was for their hot mulled wine.  S asked them how to say it in Polish (it's Grzani) and the closest approximation we could get was Johnny Wine and so, that's what it became known as.

Our regular Johnny Wine haunt
S enjoying the Johnny Wine in Dobrey Kumpel underground bar
If you look closely you can see my reflection in the glass as I gaze lovingly at the Johnny Wine!

We ended up with four of these mugs

It's probably a gazillion calories a mug because it was so sweet but it was the perfect thing for warming us up from the inside out and thawing our frozen fingers cupped round the gorgeous wee clay mugs they were served in.

In fact, we loved the wee clay mugs so much that, after searching every shop for them to no avail, we asked our waitress if we could buy some from them - we ended up with four!

My only other successful blurry background shot - of a snowball!
Thursday was my birthday and the day we flew home.  We had a last breakfast (which was really quite good if you eat meat and eggs). However I was really glad I brought my vegan margarine with me although I'm not sure what the folk at other tables thought as I lifted it out of my bag along with my fruit tea bags and vegan parmesan sprinkles every morning!

It snowed a lot that last day so we went out into the square for some final photos before being super efficient and allowing lots of time to get to the airport.  We were there 50 minutes before the check in desk opened.  Then when it opened the cold kept making the conveyor belt break down.  We then had to get on a bus to travel to the plane even though it was close enough to the terminal to hit with a snowball!

Once on, the doors were left wide open while they refuelled. Bear in mind it was -16 outside so we all sat chittering and shaking with our hats, coats, scarves and gloves still on. Then they discovered that the mechanism to lock the back door for take off had frozen so they turned the heating on full blast and got a blow heater directed at the door to thaw it out!!  After an hour of being first freeze-dried and then parboiled on the runway they finally got it sorted and we were able to take off.

So that was our second trip to Krakow and it was every bit as lovely as the first time we were there.  We both agreed that somehow the cold weather adds to the wonder of it.  That's not to say it wouldn't still be a lovely city in the summer but there's something a little bit magical about Krakow in the snow.


  1. What a fantastic post, it makes such a change to read something truly interesting in blogs. Great images, love the reflective houses (so arty) and the sweet dog, bless his heart. I did wonder how you would find being a veggie over there, but it seems no worries :) Looks a stunning place. The padlocks on the bridge ~ really unusual. You both look really happy, so glad you had a good time :) xxx

    1. Thank you so much, what a lovely compliment!

  2. That was fun! Feel like I was there!! What a charming couple you guys make, awe.....LOVE LOVE all your pictures. Really artsy, even with your frozen hands. :) Thanks for sharing xoxo

  3. Wow! Now I want to go! And the photos are all great, very inspirational.

  4. Beautiful photos, and your painting of the square is stunning!
    Awesome work!

    // - T.W -

  5. Sounds and looks like you had a great time in Poland! The photos are wonderful and the water colour painting is fantastic! I always wanted to go places and make sketches into my sketchbook rather than only taking photos. Still working on that though... I'll come back later to read through your post when I have more time. Poland's a place I've always wanted to visit but haven't had the chance yet. Btw, I'm just writing a little article for a journal about ghosts and dragons etc., including the story about the foundation of Krakow, how they had to get rid of the fierc dragon living in the Wawel hill first in order to be able to build the city. There's even a lovely woodcut in the 16th book to go with the story. Happy PPF!

  6. Loving your beautiful painting. Thank you for showing all those wonderful photographs and stories. Happy PPF and enjoy the weekend, Annette x

  7. You two look so adorable! :) Was this a birthday trip? Looks like you had loads of fun even though it was frezing. :) And I can't believe you found so many vegan places. Thanks for sharing the photos with us and your painting is absolutly fantastic. It looks like a vintage postcard. :)

  8. Your painting is soooooo well done ~ Awesome! ~ Photos are excellent and looks like a wonderful trip ~ thanks for sharing this ~ namaste, carol (A Creative Harbor) Happy PPF ^_^

  9. What a wonderful trip, and the PHOTOS are gorgeous! I could see many paintings throughout this must start doing your twisty towns again! And the painting you started the post with was wonderful too!
    PPF hugs,
    P.S. Happy Birthday too!

  10. What a fabulous trip! I loved all the images but you MUST paint the buildings reflected in the mirrors!!! And that lion in the snow!
    Happy PPF!
    Sheri Cook
    Happy Horse Studio

  11. fantastic photos, thanks for sharing! your watercolor is gorgeous and i love the swan pics so much...happy ppf!

  12. Well what an EPIC post! But I can see why! This place looks so full of inspiration! I have never been myself - never actually thought about going either, but it really does look like an Artists dream! I love your watercolour and enjoyed the photo's too. I can see lots of them that would make lovely paintings - particularly the street scenes :0)

  13. What an amazing trip! The padlock bridge is just captivating!!! I take a million photos (according to my family) on trips and I usually only get a few with the look I thought it would have- especially that blurry background effect. I think you have loads of wonderful photos from your trip-the birds, the reflection in the tea - so many!!!

  14. It looks like you had an excellent adventure. What great photos! THanks for your comments on my blog as well. I look forward to your next post.
    I loved the spelling of "vegetarian" on the sign, and all the snow!!

    Mimi Torchia Boothby Watercolors

  15. Thanks for sharing your trip, I had fun, I even got cold just to see so much snow!

  16. What a huge post!! :))
    I've never been in Poland, but it must be a place to visit. Loved viewing all your photos!!

  17. What a wonderful post!! I will for sure come back and read through it all when I have a little more time. I love all the architectural details on the buildings and the windy cobblestone streets. Maybe someday I will be fortunate enough to visit there. The buildings in the mirrors reminds me of your Twisty Towns that you painted awhile back. Happy PPF. Glad you are back. :-)

  18. Your post is like a scrapbook of your adventures in Poland. You should put it on CD or in a book. Great photos. Loved the salt place. Very fascinating. I am most impressed at your painting of the square. You got all the details in it. Very beautiful work.

  19. What a fabulous trip you had! The photos are amazing, and I especially like the mirrored reflection of the old buildings. You have a good eye!
    Happy PPF!

  20. I agree...this is an EPIC post!
    Glad you posted all of these photos and didn't leave anything out! :)
    Of course, I especially love the photo of the adorable begging dog and the padlocks!
    I saw walls of padlocks like these in Cinque Terre. :)
    Happy PPF!!
    Mixed-Media Map Art

  21. What an amazing I desperately want to go to Krakow in the winter. I think your photos are great, especially considering the cold. Oh, and your watercolor of the square is wonderful.

    On a personal note, you and the hubby are too cute together, and you look so much like one of my cousins that it is spooky.

  22. That was awesome... I have just been on a snowy holiday.... I love going to places out of season cause then you get to see them properly and some of your shots are just freaky good... can't even pick a favourite... okay maybe the tea one is my favourite.... but I love some of the others too... thanks for putting together this epic post so we could all be part of it...xx

  23. FIrst off, you're a vegan? How did I not know this!!! And is your husband too? I am blown aways by these shots and you're so freaking cute! I have to come back later to read all the writing. I am a sleepy kid in my lap.

  24. can't say enough about the gorgeous sketch - what a charming wonderful place Eastern Europe is - now I feel as if I've been here. A lot to take in ---I will have to come back and digest it all.

  25. Krakow is always mentioned in relation to Jews during WWII so it's nice to see pictures of the place. Not depressing at all. I love the picture of the huge head and the swans and ducks. And the padlocks. You didn't tell the story of the padlocks or did I miss it? Patsy from

  26. You look so radiantly happy! Gorgeous.
    Amzing photography and very in depth descriptions. Thanks for the tour!

  27. Thanks for sharing the pictures and story. I have a lot of memories of trips to Poland, some happy, some sad. The padlocks on bridges are also a phenomenon here in Germany. They showed a bridge on the news lately which has so many padlocks that they have had to cut them off, as they were affecting the stability of the bridge! Valerie

  28. Wow, what a fantastic tour!!! All the photos are wonderful especially the one of the buildings reflected in the glass!!! Your painting is awesome!

  29. How wonderfully generous of you to share your trip with us. I will probably never get to Krakow so it was great fun to see all the pictures and read your commentary. Your watercolor sketch at the beginning is so good! I admire your talent.

  30. VERY cool post and trip! It sounds like you had so much fun. I love your artistic photos too - especially the snowball and the padlocks (loved that story, btw). It sounds like you had a wonderful time - and happy belated birthday! xoxo

  31. And dugh. Your art! Very beautiful. I am really impressed ;) xoxo

  32. Thank you so much for the wonderful trip to Poland. I so enjoyed your narrative and the photos. And your drawing was great. Loved your hat, too!

  33. What a trip! So great to see Krakow through your eyes.

    Your painting of the square is beautiful!

  34. What a wonderful trip! Thank you for sharing the pics - I am jealous :). Love the painting!

  35. Lovely, lovely post and that doggie was just precious. I luv the old buildings reflected in the mirror, reminds me of my painting "Halloween Twilight" ......luv the wavy windows, doors and of course shape of buildings.

    Your painting of the squared turned out beautiful. Thanks for sharing your holiday with us, enjoyed it very much.

  36. Wow, I love this post. I enjoyed looking at all the photos. It's funny, in a few photos there I swear I could feel the bitter-sweet cold, wooo. Great photos. Those small winding streets really captivate me every time... (especially because you don't see that here at all). I want to be there. :)
    BTw, your drawing in this post is really wonderful. It's one of my faves...really enjoyed it. I'm glad you guys had an awesome trip.


Your comments always colour me happy! Thank you for popping by.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...