Sunday December 3rd – Day 4, Krakow
Sunday was the day we aimed to see the most famous painting in Krakow, Leonardo da Vinci‘s “Lady with an Ermine“, or as we had it “Lady with a Ferret”! She used to be on show at Wawel Castle, but is now securely lodged in the National Museum’s Main Building, where you can see her for free if you have invested in a Krakow Card (which we had), or you can pay 12 zloty (around £3.00 sterling at the time we were there).
On heading out of the door we found the snow was still coming down, and while it made everything lovely and white and very pretty, it also made it bloody cold, and a bit slippy underfoot! We decided it was time to get the tram again, and having figure out which tram it needed to be, we hopped on at Glowny again and were soon outside the wonderfully Brutalist building that houses the museum. There was quite a queue for the Lady and other temporary exhibitions, so we checked out coats in at the cloakroom, then tacked on the end of one of the two ticket office queues.
We expected that there would also be a queue to see the painting, but not so. We walked straight in and spent a happy half hour reading all about the painting before standing right in front of it for 10 minutes or so. Because they only let 20 people in at a time, there is no pushing or shoving and we could take our time with an unobstructed view of a fascinating masterpiece. Outside there is a replica – you cannot of course take pictures of the original work – and several props where you can, if you want, take selfies and generally mess about! It’s a fun approach to museum visiting and clearly appeals to children and adults equally.
After we aimlessly headed for one of the galleries, having taken advice and accepted that we’d not get round the entire gallery in an afternoon, no matter how hard we tried. We settled for the Gallery of Decorative Arts, which is brilliant if you are interested in clothing, furniture and the ways in which people have lived at home over the centuries. It’s utterly absorbing, and we spent ages working our way through from Art Nouveau backwards to early medieval items, and side stepping into the Judaic room, which I didn’t take photos in – somehow it didn’t feel respectful to do so. On that basis, here’s a wonderfully elegant piece of Art Nouveau furniture!
From there we decided we’d move to the military display which covered everything from uniforms to weaponry and banners. In addition there was a room devoted to paintings and drawings done by soldiers. It was very interesting, with some of the works being particularly scathing about the idea of military leadership and “heroism”.
We considered attempting another gallery or two but decided enough was enough. We thought instead we’d try and get to the Matejko House but a mis-reading of the map on my part meant we failed to find it. Instead we retreated into one of the Rynek-side “tents” that the restaurants use to ensure people can sit “outside” but not freeze to death in the Krakow winter weather.
They’re well-heated and blankets are supplied with each seat so you really can just settle in and watch the world go by. A gluhwein was called for and as we hadn’t had lunch, a snack seemed a not unreasonable thing. The cafe we had opted for, a branch of Dobra Kaszanasza, had some specialities of its own in the shape of fried cheese from the Tatra moutains.
In texture terms it was somewhat reminiscent of Finnish “squeaky” cheese and was very welcome on what was proving to be an extremely cold day. They also did a millet pancake (or groats as they have in on the menu), which was delicious with garlic sour cream and cucumber!
A restorative gluhwein added to the pleasure before we set off to try and find the Szolaysky House, which sounded interesting. We arrived there to find it was having a wonderfully strange exhibition, of Wisława Szymborska, Szymborska’s Drawer, which sets out a large number of odds and ends that used to belong to Nobel Prize winning poet Wisława Szymborska. There were some very odd items on show, many of them whimsical or just plain daft, including this splendid sculpture of the poet herself, in the style of the medieval ceiling in one of the rooms at Wawel Castle!
It’s not a big exhibition so we were soon back out in the cold and headed back to Rynek for another hot drink, a small amount of Christmas present shopping in the Christmas Market and the surrounding shops, and a very self-indulgent carriage ride in one of the many horse-drawn carriages that line the square, waiting for tourists.
A half hour later and we were almost done for the day, bags of shopping to take back to the apartment slowing us down somewhat. We decided that we would have pre-dinner drinks before going back to the apartment, and so stopped off at Czeczotka bar for cocktails, having been there for a glass of gluhwein the day before. Once we managed to get a table, and shook the snow off our coats, and out of our hair, it was time for an espresso martini.
Or or course a whisky sour.
From there we headed back out into the cold again, making one more stop to buy some chocolates to give to our work colleagues. By now the snow ploughs were busy around the square and we were glad to get back to the warmth and comfort of the apartment. We were also glad that Sunday night’s restaurant was just on the next street, so we wouldn’t transform into yeti or something similarly snow-covered.
A quick change, a pair of heavy-duty boots, and a five-minute walk and we were at Jarema, a very traditional sort of restaurant, delightfully old-fashioned in its way, as if you had stepped into a well-to-do family farm about 120 years ago.
We ordered kirs, and studied the menu but it was never really in doubt that we’d opt for some of the winter game dishes. I started with pelmeni (meat dumplings), which were lighter than I expected (a relief really).
Lynne had the really traditional option of the zur soup, a rye-flour based soup that I love dearly. However, I’ve had it quite a few times before, which was why I felt I needed a change.
This was quite a refined version. It’s not unknown for it to be served in a hollowed out loaf. A bottle of Polish wine was slipping down a treat, and the mains proved a great success too. A duck breast with apples was one of the mains, and we had potato dumplings with it (of course we did – how could we not?).
The other was venison haunch with ceps, in a creamy sauce, the meat stuffed with more ceps. We did try for some healthy options with vegetables, but the beetroot was served smothered in sour cream and so was the spinach. Oh well, you can’t say we didn’t try I guess.
We had now reached the point where a dessert was simply not an option. It couldn’t be done – I’d have needed to go for a 10k run first I think… We took a glass of Krupnik each and paid the bill, while we tried to gain any enthusiasm for stepping back out into the snow.
Eventually it had to be done. The restaurant had emptied out and we really didn’t feel it was fair to the prettily-dressed waitresses to keep them there any longer. When we got outside we were slightly surprised by just how much more snow there had been in the handful of hours we’d been inside.
We were also slightly surprised by the presence of a Tesco delivery van, but not perhaps as much as we should have been. Anyway, we trudged round the corner, made our way to the fourth floor of the apartment building, and fell into bed nursing food babies!