The respect and love felt for “hometown hero” Pope John Paul II is evident throughout Krakow. The 1st anniversary of his death fell during the Easter season in 2006, inspiring an additional layer of reverence and special tributes throughout the city. Despite threatening clouds and intermittent rain, an outdoor photo montage of his life was displayed along the planty that circles Old Town. Inside St. Francis Basilica church (where he served as archbishop before becoming Pope) there were additional memorials in his honor and a chance to kneel in the pew where he used to pray. (The church is worth a visit to see Stanislaw Wyspianski’s famous stained-glass windows.)
A friend and I fell under the trance of the somber mood that seemed to hang over the city. In between rain showers, we climbed up Wawel Hill, walked along the banks of the Vistula and strolled through Cloth Hall examining the plethora of chess sets and amber offerings; but the lousy weather kept us seeking cover most of the week, which turned into a tour of Krakow churches. We attended services a few times, continually stunned at the huge turnouts, the long kneeling sessions and the great lengths to which some worshipers would go to make sure they had a seat — on several occasions we stood near folks sitting on their own small folding chairs!
A popular Holy Saturday tradition in Poland is to bless the Easter baskets, filled with the food that will be eaten on Sunday morning. The baskets themselves are often used as decoration for a centerpiece during brunch. As my friend and I explored damp and dreary Krakow in the days leading up to Easter, we decided that we would prep a basket to be blessed as well. We bought one and filled it with bread, flowers and a traditional poppy seed cake called makowiec. Other items usually included are salt, hard-boiled eggs, sausage and cheese, but we were staying in a hostel with limited space in the communal fridge. Our improvised creation worked fine for Easter brunch, and later that day we treated ourselves to yummy Polish lody (ice cream) for dessert.
As we headed out to catch a train early Monday morning, we were on high alert — another tradition in Poland is for young boys to to wake girls on Easter Monday morning by pouring a bucket of water on their head. Thankfully the only water to dampen our morning was the rain that continued to fall from above. We were pleased that we had been able to participate in several of Poland’s Easter traditions, but were quite happy to escape without being subjected to Wet Monday mischief.