Monday, August 14, 2017

Post 8: Of Knights and Dragons!

Kraków used to be the capital of Poland, and it is where the royal court lived, ruled and died. Even today, the church at Wawel Castle there on the banks of the Vistula River is the final resting place for Poland's kings. Poland today has no kings, queens or other royalty, but a thousand years ago, King Krakus--the founder of Kraków--and ruled over Poland.

Wawel Castle, the former royal residence.

But he had a problem. There was a terrible dragon who, each day, would beat a path of destruction across the landscape. The Wawel dragon would kill the villagers, pillage their homes, and eat their livestock. Allegedly, his favorite snack were young maidens because, really, why not? So young, plump and delicious, right? The dragon could only be appeased if the villagers left a young girl in front of his cave each month.

The king sent all of his best knights to defeat the dragon, but they failed, dying in the dragon's fiery breath.

Until their was just one young girl left in the village: the king's daughter. Desperate, the king offered his daughter's hand in marriage and half his kingdom--if only that person could defeat the dragon.

That inspired great warriors from near and far to battle the dragon, but again they failed. It seemed that the dragon was invincible. Until a poor cobbler's apprentice named Skuba took up the challenge.

Rather than attacking the dragon directly, he had another idea. He stuffed a lamb with sulpher and set it outside of the dragon's lair. The dragon ate it, as dragons are wont to do when they find a plump little lamb outside their cave, and became incredibly thirsty.

To quench his thirst, the dragon turned to the Vistula River and drank and drank. It seemed like no matter how much he drank, however, it wasn't enough, and eventually he drank up half the water in the Vistula River--until he exploded.

Having conquered the dragon, the young shoemaker's apprentice married the king's daughter as promised and they lived happily ever after.

This, I have no doubt, is a 100% true and accurate story, because you'll see dragons everywhere in Kraków. It's the symbol of the city, and they take great pride in their little village having conquered the terrible dragon. *nodding* =) It's also the reason I know a couple of seemingly odd Polish words such as "smok" (dragon) and "siarka" (sulpher).

The dragon's lair was located at the base of Wawel Hill, and there's a fire-breathing dragon statue there in his honor. On the hill itself is Wawel Castle, the former royal residence and how an essential tourist trap of Kraków. It's the Eiffel Tower of Kraków.

And so, with that, I'll show you some of the photos I took in and around Wawel Castle. =) On a side note, Kraków was largely spared from devastation in the aftermath of WWII. Wawel Castle certainly was quite run down at one point from lack of care and maintenance--a problem long since rectified--but it never suffered the kinds of damage like Malbork Castle had. The Germans, apparently, only had time to blow up things like bridges and other infrastructure directly related to the war effort.

If you ever make it out to Kraków, definitely visit Wawel Castle. The grounds are open and free to visit, but the interior areas--the royal chambers, and cathedral and such required tickets. I toured some of the places, but photos weren't allowed in the interiors (at least not the areas I was in) so you won't see any interior photos here. Even if you don't choose to go to any of the paid exhibits, the grounds and views from the castle on Wawel Hill are wonderful and well worth a visit.

View of the Vistula River from Wawel Castle.
Wawel Castle, as seen from the other side of the Vistula River.

The same view (mostly) of Wawel Castle--at night! There was some sort of dragon festival going on during my visit when I was told about a fireworks show near the castle, so I had to go and check it out. That hillside in front of the castle is filled with thousands and thousands of people--not that it's particularly obvious in this photo.
There were fireworks, indeed! But it turned out to be so much more! They had guys who put on a show choreographed to music on jetpacks in the water, a laser light show, giant balloon dragons dragged up and down the river on boats and the entire show lasted for a good hour or so.
Back in Old Town the next day, the dragon festival continued with the parade of dragons! (These were the same giant dragons that had been dragged up and down from boats the night before during the fireworks show, but my photos of them did not turn out at all in the darkness.)

"Wielka Parada Smoków" is Polish for "Great Parade of Dragons."
Not sure if this was related to the dragon parade, but there was a tent set up here with a bunch of people playing bridge and they laid out all these cards to.... I guess, get people's attention. Otherwise, who would notice a bunch of people playing bridge? =)

Some of the videos I took included scenes from the Dragon Parade, the fireworks and a few other miscellaneous happens in Kraków which I've merged into this one video. It starts with the fire-breathing dragon at the base of the castle! He really does exist! =)

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