Category Archives: Monday Travel Posts

Beauty, darkness and hope: or today would be a good day to be in Kraków

I love living in the city and I have loved travelling to numerous cities around the world. There is great beauty in the history, the architecture, the art, the culture, found in the compactness of an old city. Side by side, layer by layer, the joys and accomplishments, alongside the sorrows and horrors. The best and worst of humanity can often be seen. Beauty just across from darkness, and somewhere somehow in the midst, hope.

Kraków is Poland’s (and one of Europe’s) oldest continuously inhabited city. While one of my main goals is visiting this part of the world was to spend a significant, but certainly not ‘good’, day at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Kraków was an unexpected delight. It is a gorgeous city, but it also has its own historic horror, and I found myself looking for both beauty and hope.

What did I love about Kraków?

Kraków’s entire medieval Old Town is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The town square is a gathering place of art, food, performance and music.

At one edge sits St Mary’s Basilica.

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Inside is its famous Gothic altarpiece,

and its stunning painted ceilings and walls.

Every hour a trumpeter appears from the highest tower to play a traditional anthem.

Down the city’s narrow streets are hidden gems of buildings …

… and gardens  …

… and courtyards.

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Overlooking Old Town is the fortified castle hill of Wawel,

with its Cathedral consisting of a conglomeration of chapels and domes of varying styles and periods.

The Jewish history of the city is seen in Kazimierz and its own market square, Wolnica.

Here, the beautiful Three Musicians sculpture and its adjacent tree caught my eye.

From there it is a short walk to the Vistula river

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with its modern bridges joining different parts of the city easily and accessibly.

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What did I learn from Kraków?

It is on the other side of the river that some of the darker parts of this beautiful city’s history became more apparent.

Here in Podgórze the Kraków Ghetto was established in 1941.

It was ‘liquidated’ (far too sterile a term) in 1943.

A simple memorial in the square is confronting in its starkness.

Each of the 70 chairs represents 1000 lives.

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One glimpse of hope is the Schindler Factory, best known from the 1993 film, which is today a museum about this dark chapter in world history.

But for the people of this city, perhaps the best glimpse of hope is found in their favourite son, a man named Karol Józef Wojtyła, who lived here during this horrific period in history. After losing his family, he turned not away from but toward God and entered the priesthood.

Some forty years later he was elected Pope, taking the name John Paul II and becoming a beloved figure known for his commitment to peace and reconciliation. Hope out of darkness indeed.

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Dumplings and diversity … or today would be a good day to be in Shanghai

This weekend I noticed that my favourite local dumpling place, just around the corner, has closed down. There are plenty of other dumplings available nearby (I do live two blocks from Chinatown after all), but it’s not just the taste I will miss, but the staff I have come to know from being a ‘regular’ at my ‘local’.  It was one of the first places I discovered which helped me articulate a real sense of neighbourhood in the midst of the city.

It was my enjoyment of travelling to various cities around the world that prompted me to move into the city in my hometown. I love city living – the vibe and the variety, the hustle and bustle, the joy of walking and watching. But mostly, I love the diversity of people and the sense of neighbourhood community that I’m discovering can be found in the city.  So today I’m thinking it would be interesting to revisit one of the world’s most populous cities, Shanghai. With just over 24 million people, this city has around the same population as the nation of Australia in an area about twice the size of Adelaide.

What did I love about Shanghai?

The sheer size of the city is a sight to behold,  best appreciated by visiting the scale model found at the Urban Planning Exhibition Centre.

Within this huge footprint is a huge diversity of neighbourhoods. From the Old Town artisans …

… to the Beaux Arts buildings lining the Bund …

… to the modern skyline of the financial district.

As well as one of the largest populations in the world,

the city boasts the world’s fastest passenger train, reaching 431 km/h,

Asia’s largest train station, at 1.3 million square kilometres,

and China’s first world-class museum,

celebrating the nation’s art and history.

It is also home to perhaps the most surreal tourist attraction I have ever visited in the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel, which despite its name is a tunnel under the river with psychedelic lights, trippy music, and bizarrely poetic random phrases read throughout the journey.

And when it comes to dumplings, I’d stand by the claim of those I had in YuYuan to be up there with the best in the world.

What did I learn from Shanghai?

With all these ‘best’ and ‘biggest’ things to see and do, what I appreciated most about Shanghai was the interactions with people. Walking along the Bund is perfectly suited for ‘people watching’, but it was also while there that I met and interacted with people from six or seven different countries, with locals as well as visitors.

I don’t know whether it is the closer proximity of city dwelling,  the fact that they are by nature less homogenous than other locations, or the fear of getting lost in the crowd, but I find that in the city there is often a greater willingness of people to at least smile, if not engage, and seek out some sense of community and connection.

As I seek to connect with my neighbourhood community in the city where I live, as I try to overcome the temptation to be anonymous and instead choose the simple, deliberate gestures of eye contact and a smile, perhaps leading to a friendly word or willingness to engage, I’m challenged by how I can play my own small part in making city life the best it can be not just for me, but for those around me.

Today would be a good day to be (slowing down) in the Cinque Terre

A new year has started and I don’t know about you, but it hasn’t taken long for my diary to start to fill up and the pace of life to start to get hectic again. I hear so often (and try to stop myself from saying) the answer “busy” to the question “how are you?”

So today, I’m thinking back to a place I was just over a year ago where life felt much slower, and I was just basking in the beauty of village life and of the magnificent creation. Five fishing villages along the Italian Riveria, carefully built on terraces all the way down the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. I’d love to get back there again today.

What did I love about the Cinque Terre?

It was the week before Christmas, and so some travel experts had actually advised not to bother visiting as much would be closed for the winter. I’m so glad I ignored their advice!

Yes, many of the boats were pulled in for the winter, and some of the restaurants were closed.

But the tourists were fewer …

… and the locals were just enjoying their everyday lives.

And the beauty remained.

So.

Many.

Stunning.

Views.

I think perhaps this is one of the most picturesque places in the world.

Certainly it boasts some of the most scenically located train stations.

Walking between the villages there are moments when you feel like you are at the end of the world.

And life just seems to be going at a more relaxed pace.

What did I learn from the Cinque Terre?

I think the main lesson from these villages for me was just about slowing down. Even the sunset felt like it lasted for hours.

And the combination of slowing down and appreciating the beauty of the creation around me leads me to worship.

I’m not the only one … it was a delight to stumble upon some of the places of worship scattered throughout these villages …

… and to join with all those who have come before in pausing in this place to acknowledge my Creator and King.

This is perhaps most obviously seen at Christmas time at Manarola, where a man named Mario Andreoli has for over 30 years been sharing the story of the incarnation in lights on the hillside, forming the world’s largest nativity scene.

It is another moment to just stop, slow down, be still, and say wow! My iPhone photos really don’t do it justice,* but they remind me and inspire me to seek to find moments to slow down and to worship in my own, too-often-too-busy, life.

 

 

 

 

 

*For a much more impressive view of the Manarola nativity … check out this one by Christian Leone from villeinitalia.com