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Friday, 30 March 2018

7 Odd Easter Traditions in Poland

Dearest hearts,

Easter is just knocking at our door, is it not?! Depending on your faith, you may be celebrating Easter tomorrow - 1st of April (and that ain't no lie!) - If you are Catholic, or next week if you are Orthodox. Sometimes Easter falls at the same day for those of both Catholic and Orthodox faith, but not this year. Poland is a country of unique traditions that are still being kept alive, especially when it comes to the big holidays - like Christmas and Easter. Easter though is considered a bigger holiday than Christmas. 
Krakow Easter Market
So let's try and get a bit more familiar with this holiday. Well... you might (or might not) know that the week before Easter is named Holy Week and that during that week a lot of things tend to happen ;) but before we get into details, you need to know that the main celebration is called "Niedziela Wielkanocna" (Easter Sunday). The main dish that everyone has is eggs (boiled and pretty decorated, if possible hand painted) - they are called "pisanki". They are usually eaten with plenty of horseradish. The main decoration is the "Baranek Wielkanocny" (Easter Lamb) - which can be a baked cake or make out of white sugar. A borrowed tradition is the Easter bunny ("Zajaczek Wielkanocny") that brings presents / sweets to the little ones. 
Colorful Easter Market in Krakow's Main Market Square 
But without any further ado, let me tell you about some odd Easter Traditions in Poland:
1. Spring cleaning - everyone does it nowdays, cleaning each quarter the house - completely, is a must - so that things don't clutter up. But the Polish people see this as a Easter preparation and it usually starts at the beginning of Lent. Maybe it is also done as a way to self repent on the dirtiness and the clusters building in our house... Maybe it's a way in which one would have time to rethink their life and get a more minimalistic view over things. We are just passing through life, we should not accumulate so many things!
2. Ash Wednesay - the first day of Lent. The Catholic people go to church this day to have their foreheads marked in ash. It is a holy day of prayer and fasting. It comes from "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19). This custom dates from the 18th century.
Easter Market Krakow - Niedziela Palmowa 
3. Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the Holy Week and it is one of the most colorful and popular events. In Polish it is called "Niedziela Palmowa" and it symbolises Jesus triumphal entry on a donkey to Jerusalem, where people on his way put Palm leaves and their clothes on the ground in order to make a rug on which Jesus might walk. Of course there are no Palms in Poland due to the weather but people are inventive! They make them out of willow or bus is branches decorates with dry flowers and colorful ribbons. The highest of them reach even 12+ stories tall! There are huge contests organised in the big cities but the best are in the town of Lyse and Lipnica Murowana.
4. The Easter Basket - usually gets taken by the children in the household to be blessed at church. They put in goods that will be eaten on the Easter breakfast: bread, eggs, ham, lamb shaped cake, sausages, salt, horseradish and especially for the kids, some chocolate. The priest blesses the baskets with a little brush dipped in holy water. The tradition dates back to 7th century! And you will also find this is Romanian culture ;)
Wooden "pisanki" at the local Easter Market in Poland
5. Easter Eggs - Pisanki - there are plenty of ways in which one can decorate them, according to the region. Also depending on that the eggs will have different patterns. The most used version are the "kraszanki" - boiling eggs in coloured water. "Oklejanki" - pasting dried flowers, cloth or coloured paper to the eggs. For example, boiling eggs with beetroot will make them red. There are plenty of other ways, including some where you make small holes and take the inside out, making the shell as a delicate lace... if only one could have so much patience. 
6. Egg cracking contest - we do have the same tradition in Romania and I love It! You take the egg and your family member takes another one and tries to crack yours. In Poland, whomever has the most cracked egg is considered the most unlucky. In Romania, whomever cracks someone else's egg can take it away as a prize. 
Wikipedia representation of Smingus-Dyngus
7. Smingus-Dyngus aka "Lany Poniedzialek" aka Wet Monday - Easter Monday in Poland and Ukraine. This day boys throw water over girls (gentleman use perfume) and spank them with willow branches. Also the boys can use this moment to make verse declaration and they love to do door to door processions. It dates from pagan times (before 1000 AD). This can also happen inside the city, not only in the country side! So please be careful next Monday, girls! Better be safe then wet ;)))
Do you ladies and gentlemen know any other odd Easter Traditions in Poland? Would love to hear your voice on this topic. In the meanwhile I wish you a very Happy Easter next to the ones you love! 

Yours very much truly,
The Twisted Red Ladybug That Loves Easter 
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Monday, 26 March 2018

Famous Polish People: Pope John Paul II

Dearest sweethearts,

#DidYouKnow that today, on the 26th of March, back in 1985, the Pope John Paul II proclaimed the very first ever World Youth Day? I don't know if you ever witnessed or been a part or a World Youth Day, but almost 2 years ago - summer of 2016, Krakow hosted the World Youth Day. Over 2 million extra tourists/pilgrims flocked over to come see the where The Pope preached and where he did service. The current Pope came as well and he addressed the crowds, just as Pope John Paul 2nd did, from the window in his room, next to the Dominican Church. 
Pope John Paul 2nd in Poland
But why is Pope John Paul 2nd a Famous Polish Person? He was the 264th Pope - his birth name was Karol Jozef Wojtyla. He was the 2nd longest serving pope and the very first non Italian for over 450 years! He held the office from 1978 to 2005 (his death). He loved to travel and meet people of all faiths, around the world - he visited no less than 129 countries. He firmly believed in orthodox ideals such as sexuality and abortion. He was also the one that was very open minded about accepting people of other faith - thus improving greatly relations with other faiths. 
The Pope and The Queen :)
He was quite an extraordinary man:
  • He was the first Pope to visit the White House. 
  • He was the first modern pope to visit a synagogue.
  • He is, even to this day, the most widely traveled Pope in history 
  • He re-established diplomatic relations with Great Britain after a 450 year break! 
  • His predecessor Pope John Paul I said this: "My name is John Paul the first. I will be here only a short time. The second is coming".
  • He had an audience of 300000 people who could not stop applauding for 14 minutes! During his trip back to Poland, as Pope in June 1979, he celebrated Pentecost Mass in the Victory Square to a crowd of 300000 people. At a certain point the frenetic applause lasted for more than 14 minutes! 
  • He has the honour of being the one human who has gathered the most humans together in one spot. In 1995 at the World Youth Day in Philippines, there was an estimate of 5 million people that attended the Holy Mass that he celebrated. It is considered as the largest human gathering from the creation of mankind.
But before being an amazing Pope he was an one-of-a-kind human being:
  • He was a key figure in the Polish struggle against the Nazis and he was officially placed in their "Black List" in 1944.
  • He did together and he saved the shows (most of the times) due to his fantastic memory - he had a passion for drama and literature and would memorize every line of every play (as a understudy). 
  • The communist party wanted him to become the archbishop of Krakow - is it not awkward that the person that they picked would end up bringing down communism?!
  • He went skiing until he was 73 - isn't that amazing! Sport does wonders for the body and mind - we should all take a lesson!
  • He was known as the "Daredevil of the Tatras" - a name he earned for his skiing skills in taking on the slopes of Poland's Tatra Mountains where he spent 2 weeks each winter. 
  • He skied for the last time at the Italian resort of Terminillo, 20 miles north of Rome. 
Have you ever met the Pope? Do you know any interesting stories or facts about him? I would love to know :)

Yours very much truly,
The Twisted Red Ladybug That Admires Famous Polish People 
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Friday, 23 March 2018

Easter Markets in Krakow

Dearest hearts,

The Easter Markets in Krakow are one of the most colorful events that you can join. Of course the Christmas Markets are special and colorful and touching but on a different level. Easter Markets bring the Spring along, the smell of flowers blooming, the sound of birds chirping - singing about the revival of the Earth. Easter in Poland is also colorful through its traditions: painting eggs ("pisanki") & the Palm Sunday ("Niedziela Palmowa"). Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the Holy Week - known as Kwietna or Wierzbna. It is a Catholic faith tradition, around the world, to bring palms to the church to be blessed. Palm trees are not common in Poland but people are inventive ;) so what they do is they bring greenery found in the fields. Usually they bring pussy willow with its buds just blooming. It's also a tradition to create "Palma Wielkanocna" - little palms made out of branches of wood, adorned with artificial made flowers (tissue or crepe paper). Sometimes, if they prepare well, they put also dried flowers (as fresh ones have not yet bloomed). To make it even more pretty and eye appealing, they put on colorful ribbons of all shapes and sizes and colors. The palms creates can be small (as small as your hand) but they can reach up to a 12 story building! There are contests in each parish whom will do the prettiest and tallest one - they are usually displayed inside the church.
The Easter Market in Krakow's Main Market Square - 2016
The Rynek Glowny (Krakow Main Market Square) is transformed into a busy market and the Sukiennice is completely surrounded by stalls that sell everything from homemade sausage or highlander cheese ("oscypek") to hand painted eggs ("pisanki") to lamb shaped sweets perfect for the traditional Easter basket. The choice is quite large and I am willing to bet you can find something for everyone at the market. The Easter Market usually runs through the Easter break into late April. It starts 10-14 days prior to Easter Sunday, lasts through Holy Week, ending on Easter Monday night (or even longer sometimes...). In 2018, the Krakow Easter Market in Krakow's Main Market Square will take place between 23rd of March and 2nd April. As usual, the fair is organises by the Urzad Miasta Krakowa and the congregation Kupiecka "Artim" SP. Z O O. you can find the most up to date info, in Polish language only, on their presentation site. For your pleasure, here are some of the highlights:
  • 24th March, Saturday - the true opening of the fair will take place at 12:00. At 11:30 there will be dances performed by the "Krakowiacy"; at 12:30 by the dancing group "Male Slowianki" and at 13:00 by Ludowego Miedzyszkolnego Zespolu Piesni I Tanca "Krakowiak"
  • 25th March, Sunday - The Showing of the Easter Palms - the contest for the prettiest Easter Palm will start at 10:00 am. The march / procession from under the Barbakan - 11:15. Dedication of the Palma in front of the church of St. Wojciech - 11:45. The presentation of the regional teams - 12:00. The final decision for the competition for the most beautiful Palm - 13:30. 
  • 26th March, Monday - between 14:00 and 18:00 - Easter plastic workshop for children: flowers from tissue paper & decorating Easter baskets - organised by the Krakow branch of the Stowarzyszwnie Tworcow Ludowych
  • 27th March, Tuesday - between 14:00 and 18:00 - Easter plastic workshop for children: decorating polystyrene eggs with colorful sequins - organised by the Krakow branch of the Stowarzyszwnie Tworcow Ludowych
  • 28th March, Wednesday - between 14:00 and 18:00 - Easter plastic workshop for children: painting wooden eggs and Easter hangers - organised by the Krakow branch of the Stowarzyszwnie Tworcow Ludowych
  • 31st March, Saturday - at 10:00 am - Easter table presentation of Easter regional baskets
  • 2nd April, Monday - Traditions and Easter Rites - "Siuda Baba" - Folklore Association "Teatr Regionalny" and "Teatr Po Latach" - 14:00 hours. Jurajska Kapela Folklorystyczna - 16:20. 
Throughout the duration of the Easter Market, there will be demonstrations of folk art and craft organised by the Krakow branch of the Stowarzyszenie Tworcow. Don't miss out on it! The Krakow Easter Market in the Main Market Square is a treat for all ages and a great opportunity for photographers in love with StreetPhoto or Portraits - plenty of people flocking by! Don't miss out on the Palm parade as well - it's so colorful and one of a kind! It's an open Market, no entrance fee so do take your time and enjoy it - it will also give you a taste on how Christmas Markets are in Poland and maybe it will make you want to come again ;) as usual... if you have any questions please feel free to contact me.

Yours very much truly in love with Krakow,
The Twisted Red Ladybug
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Monday, 19 March 2018

What do you know about Podgorze, Krakow?

Dearest hearts,

Most people that come to visit Krakow would rarely move outside the Old Town or Kazimierz (Jewish District). Few know much of the Podgorze area, except maybe the fact that it was a quiet suburb; most of you might know it due to the fact that it is the place where Nazis built the Jewish Ghetto during the Second World War and it is also the place where one can find Schindlers Factory / Schindlers Museum (on Lipowa 4). The renewal of historical interest and the large number of visitors created the start of the revival of this area. Spielberg's movie did the trick by starting a stream of people coming to see where the movie was filmed + the grounds of Auschwitz and Birkenau. Word of mouth spread like wildfire and more and more people come now to witness Krakow's beauty but also it's sad historical background. The World Youth Day in Krakow (2016) increased greatly the number of people flocking in to see with their own eyes the "remains of pain". Thus the Podgorze area started to bloom, to come to life, adding museums to the National Museum of Krakow list & making sure restaurants and cafes were in place for the tired travellers. 
St. Joseph's Church in Podgorze
But Podgorze was not "born yesterday"; it has been around for hundreds of years and it even was an independent city in the 19th Century (just as Kazimierz district used to be a separate city). During the Second World War, the Nazi party appropriated a huge part of the area to build a ghetto (walled in) and an area for forced labour camp. The Jews of Krakow had to leave their homes in the Kazimierz Jewish District and move there, over the Vistula river. Their homes were taken over by the German citizen. After the war, Podgorze area fell to a different kind of depression, being transformed into an industrial zone. In the Podgorze area, I believe the most important building is the former enamel works factory owned by Oskar Schindler during the Second World War. It is the same that Spielberg brought to the wide screen through "Schindlers List" and Thomas Keneally through his touching book "Schindlers Ark". He saved the lives of more than 1000 Jewish workers whom would have otherwise most likely died during the Holocaust. The museum can be found at Lipowa 4 and had his gates first opened in 2011. It is rather not a typical museum, something you would think would relate completely to Schindler. No! It is a museum dedicated to Krakow's occupation during World War II.
Inside Schindlers Museum / Factory - Krakow, Lipowa 4
Right next to the Schindlers Museum you can find MOCAK - Museum Of Contemporary Art. You can buy a ticket for the both of them at a smaller price and both of them are really worth visiting. I would recommend at least half a day for the both of them. First time I went to the Schindlers Museum it took me around 4 hours to get out... there is so much to see and read and listen and take in! When you think only of the gruesome fact that during the war the Nazis deported 16000 Jews to the over-crowded ghetto and that each person had maybe less than 2 square meters for their own usage... these things may sound hard to believe but they are true! The location that is marked out right now, and was once the centre of the ghetto, is known locally as Plac Bohaterow Getta (The Heroes of the Ghetto Square). It was a point where people were brought in and selected to go to the extermination camps. At this moment the square is filled with 70 oversized chairs - the memorial was designed by the architects Piotr Lewicki & Kazimierz Latak.  They wanted to represent in this way the remnants discarded by the people deported, that were not allowed to take with them any personal items. 
Just on the corner of Plac Bohaterow Gotta, on the South side, you will find the Pharmacy Under the Eagle (Apteka Pod Orlem). During the Second World War it was run by Tadeusz Pankiewicz. He was Polish, not Jewish, and he refused to go away when they started errectibg the Podgorze Ghetto. He wanted to stay and try to help the souls trapped in. He was allowed to exit the Ghetto and this way he was able to carry messages outside from the people within. Tadeusz also helped provide medicine and other items that were hard to get inside the Ghetto. The museum now holds a small exhibition on the history of the ghetto. It is also part of the National Museum of Krakow. Few places that show the Ghetto actually remain, but there is still a small fragment of the wall at ulica Lwowska 25-29, just South of the Plac Bohaterow Getta, with a plaque marking the location. Also worth visiting is the Plaszow Labour Camp, a forced labour and extermination camp built by the Nazis to help facilitate the liquidation of the Podgorze Ghetto. In 1943-44, at maximum capacity, the camp held 25000 people. There is not much one can see now, except plaques and memorial statues, but there is a plan to build a National Museum branch there. 
Kopiec Krakus can be visited also with the help of Free Walking Tour Krakow team 
If you do manage to get this far in Podgroze then the Krakus Mound is just a stone throw away. Polish people name it Kopiec Krakusa, Krak Mound,  and it is supposed to be the final resting place of Krakow's mythical founder: king Krakus. Together with Wanda Mound it is one of Krakow's 2 prehistoric mounds, and the oldest man made structure in Krakow. There have been always religious purposes associated to the Mound, dating from pagan times. There is a hypothesis that says the mound is of Celtic origin and dates form 2nd - 1st century BCE. Another hypothesis states that it was built having astronomy in mind: if you would stand on top of the mound and look towards Wanda Mound at sunrise on the morning of Beltane (2nd largest Celtic feast day), one would see the sun rise directly over Wanda Mound. Until the mid 1830s there was an annual food festival held on the first Tuesday after Easter. It was revived in the 2000s and it's being held again: Rekawka Festival. It has roots in pagan rites or spring. Don't miss it as it's extremely entertaining. This year it's gonna be on the 3rd of April - celebration between 12:00 and 17:30; pagan rite of "Marzanna Drowning" at around 13:00; funeral of King Krak at 17:15. Don't miss out on it or you'll have to wait till next year! 

Yours very much truly,
The Twisted Red Ladybug That Loves Podgorze 
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Friday, 16 March 2018

5 Off The Beaten Track Krakow Stops

Dearest sweethearts,

Every tourist that comes to visit Krakow has certain expectations and points on their list, places to go and things to see. The regular ones, like the Main Market Square in Krakow that is the biggest in Europe, the amazing Mariacki Church with its sky filled with stars ceiling and it's one of a kind altar, the beautiful Wawel Castle and Cathedral, the old and quirky Kazimierz and Podgorze district, the Schindler's Factory Museum - they are the ones people never miss. But if you plan to stay longer and if you consider having a look at beauties off the beaten track, you should also consider these 5 stops:
Liban Quarry tombstones - picture taken from the web
1. Liban Quarry - this one goes to all the movie lovers and history buffs out there. When "Schindler's List" was filmed by Steven Spielberg in Krakow, a replica of the Nazis Plaszow Labour Camp was errected (1992). Using the original blueprints of the camp and erected in a quarry just a few hundred feet off from the historical location, the Liban Quarry also serves a true reminder: inmates of Plaszow Labour Camp actually worked on that site, in the limestone quarry (many being even murdered there). There is a road made out of Jewish tombstones through the centre of the quarry - the headstones are movie props but the people whom were in the real Plaszow Labour Camp actually walked over real tombtones (of people whom they knew, whom they met or even family). Most people visit Auschwitz and Birkenau or the Jewish ghetto and they forget about this place, but it's so close to the city that it's a shame if you miss it. The quarry is S-W of Kopiec Krakusa and the Podgorze Nowy cemetery - about 25 min walk from the Krakow Jewish district. 
Nowa Huta air view - picture taken from Magiczny Krakow
2. Nowa Huta - a major stop in all Communist tours, it was supposed to be the symbol of the perfect Communist city. Right now it's the most eastern district of Krakow. It has over 200000 inhabitants and it's one of the crowded areas. Nowa Huta is one of only two planned socialist realist settlements or districts ever built and "one of the most renowned examples of deliberate social engineering" in the entire world. It was built as an utopian ideal city - layout oddly resembling from time to time with Paris and London. It is also the greenest corner of Krakow, with a lot of parks and green areas. Few might know that Nowa Huta's central "Avenue of Roses" had a statue of Lenin (28 April 1973) that was taken down in 1989 by the city. Also there are interesting pieces of architecture like the Arka Pana (Lord's Ark) Church, that was made to resemble Noah's ark - design influenced by Le Corbusier's Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp. 
Air view over Kosciuszko Mound - Magiczny Krakow 
3. Kosziusko Mound - Now this one deserves some time... Krakow has 4 mounds (man made) but this one is the most important one! Plus it offers the best view you can get of Krakow (in all its glory). Throughout the year you can enter the mound from 9 am till sunset (the times are updated daily online on their own site). The mound was created and raised by the people of Krakow in order to commemorate the national Polish leader: Tadeusz Koszciusko. It has 1070 ft above the sea level and offers a panoramic view of the Vistula river and the city of Krakow. The construction was financed by Polish people living in all territories of Poland under occupation - starting 1820. At the base of the mound, the Founding Act was deposited in a glass and marble case; at the top, a granite boulder, brought from the Tatra Mountains, was placed, having the inscription "Kosciuszce" (To Koszciusko). Inside the mound, urns were buried with soil from the Polish and American battlefields where Kosciusko fought. Just so you know, Kosciuszko was a very close friend to Thomas Jefferson & in 1798 he wrote a will dedicating his American assets to the education and freedom of US slaves. 
Inner courtyard of Collegium Maius, Krakow, Poland
4. Collegium Maius - located in the Old Town, just a stone throw away from the Main Market Square, the Collegium is the Jagiellonian University's oldest building (14th century). Actually the whole area of the Jagiellonian University in the Old Town actually was the Jewish District. There was even a great synagogue close to where Collegium is now... But everyone knows Kazimerz as the Jewish District. Rightly so, as there was a great fire and the whole Jewish community was moved to the city of Kazimierz (it was a separate city back then, not part of Krakow, not a district as it is now). Back then they were considering where to build the university and the closeness to the old town won the contest. Thus, in the 14th century, the king Wladyslaw II Jagiello purchased the grounds as an educational grant with funds from his late wife, Queen Jadwiga. You might be interested to know Nicolaus Copernicus studied here and that Marie Curie was refused (as women were not yet allowed to have higher education). The building courtyard is wonderful and you should not miss the show of the courtyard clock that plays Gaudeamus Igitur and has wooden figures that appear and parade to music from the mid 16th century. The clock sings every 2 hours between 9 am at 5 pm. Also you should stay on the lookout for the Proffesors Garden, just next door - there is also a very lovely passageway (wonderfully painted) that is open from April till October.
Tyniec monastery
5. The Benedictine Abbey: Tyniec - Tyniec is a historic village on the Vistula river, now part of the district called Debniki in Krakow. There are multiple means of transport: a long walk, a trip with the boat (water taxi) from Krakow, bike trails, bus options or car. Tyniec is very notable due to its Benedictine Abbey founded by King Casimir the Restorer in 1044. #DidYouKnow that the name of the village comes from the word in Celtic language "tyn" - wall or fence. It's a crowded location by the locals, once the sun comes out and cold runs away to far away lands. The monks are visible and social and very interactive! You should not feel surprised if you will find a monk of two sitting beside you in the brewery or the diner. They do have a fine microbrewery so if you are a beer fan you should totally give it a go!

Yours very much truly,
The Twisted Red Ladybug That Loves Krakow 
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Monday, 12 March 2018

World Day Against Cyber Censorship

Dearest hearts,

Today, and everyday if it were up to me, I'm doing a big shout out to free speech. Free speech (be it online or not) should be a freedom all people throughout the globe wpuld posess. I doubt though that any country has 100% Free speech. Today, 12th of March, we celebrate the World Day Against Cyber Censorship.  Usually it takes form as an online event held each year on this very day, to rally support for a single, unrestricted internet that is accessible to one and all. It also wants to draw attention to ways that governments around the world are deterring and censoring free speech online. The first time it was celebrated was on the 12th of March 2008 at the request of Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International. 
In conjunction with World Day Against Cyber Censorship, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) updates it's "Enemies of the Internet" list (and "Countries under Surveillance"). This list started to be published by RWB in 2006. The countries on the list are the countries that "mark themselves out not just for their capacity to censor news and information online but also for their almost systematic repression of internet users". In 2007 the "Under Surveillance" list was also added. Some of the oldest countries on the "Current Enemies of the Internet" list are: Cuba, Iran, North Coreea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam - on the list since 2006 (when it was created) to the present day. Some of the "newer" ones include USA and UK since 2014 to the present day.
What boggles me is that one of the oldest enemy countries, Saudi Arabia, actually was open enough to other acts: in October 2017, the robot (social humanoid robot) Sophia became a Saudi Arabian citizen. The first robot to receive citizenship of any country! What surprises me even further is that Romania is not on the "Countries Under Surveillance" list - no newspaper or media channel broadcasts the real news and information about what is happening in the country. Oddly enough, Romania is listed by RWB as 42nd in its Worldwide Press Freedom I need from 2013. Freedom.House ranked it as "partially free" in 2014 but I think now it's completely under the claw of the leading party. For example, law week, everyday there were protests in the capital and the big cities in Romania. It had no coverage over the news and there was a request to block the related news from social media. Is it wrong to assume that leading parties just want to keep everyone disinformed? A dumb audience is way easier to rule...

P.S. Info taken from Wikipedia and Reporters Without Borders site.

Yours very much truly,
The Twisted Red Ladybug That Loves Freedom
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Friday, 9 March 2018

The 40 Martyrs in Romanian Tradition

Dearest sweethearts,

In Romania we start the celebration of Spring from the 1st of March. Actually between the 1st of March and 9th or March we skip from one celebration to another. Starting the first day of March people wear the lovely white & red string called "Martisor"; that leads up to the 8th of March that is Women's Day and Mother's Day all in one. Some countries try to make it up to men and celebrate Men's Day on the 9th but in Romania we have the "40 de Mucenici" ("40 Martyrs Day"). Also during the first 9 days of March we celebrate "Babele" ("The Old Ladies") - everyone picks a day between the 1st and 9th of March and depending on how the weather faires that day, that's how your whole year round will be. Usually you can pick that by adding the digits to your birthday: I'm born on the 26th so my date should be 2+6=8th of March, Women's Day ;) but I always get tricky so if 8th of March doesn't have a nice weather I always switch to the 9th as a backup. Anyway... back to the "40 de Mucenici" story.
The "40 de Mucenici" (or "44 Mucenici" in some areas of the country) is a celebrated day by almost all Romanian people. It is a Christian Orthodox based celebration, when women bake 40+ small eight-shaped small dough breads. They are dipped in a sauce made out of water, honey and vanilla scent or rum. After they are dipped they are immersed or sprinkled (as per everyone's taste) into walnut dust. They taste heavenly! Especially paired up with fresh milk or cold yoghurt. In some regions also women back human shaped cakes for the family + the additional extra ones that they took to church, to give to the poor. Another tradition, for the men, is that one must drink that day 40 (or 44, depending on the region) glasses of wine. The belief is that the wine will turn into fresh blood and power you up for the next working year. When you think of the quantity, even if you take a shot glass - the smallest glass in the house, you will still realise that this day is quite a hell of a party!
When it comes to the legend behind this holiday, it always differs from one region to another. What we do know is that the "Mucenici" is a traditional holiday with deep religious background. Represented in the Orthodox calendar, this day remembers us the 40 saints of the city Sevastia that have been burned alive. Once there were soldiers serving the Roman emperor Licinius. 3 of them: Chirion, Candid and Domnos were very knowledgeable in terms of the Scripture. In 320 they refused to bow to idols and were imprisoned for 8 days by Agricolae - governor of Armenia. He was also the one that sentenced the 40 Martyrs to death by throwing them in the cold waters of Lake Sevastia. Miracles do happen so that night the lakes water warmed up, ice melted and 40 crowns came shining down on the martyrs. They were taken out alive but their bodies were burned .
Another legend (Geto-Dacian) says that in fact there were not 40 but 45 martyrs, just like the days from March 9th to April 23rd when we celebrate Saint Martyr George. One legend that I remember from my childhood was that the martyrs were caged in a big oven/furnace (makes me somehow think of Auschwitz in the means of mass torture...). 4 out of the 44 wanted to renounce their fate and die swiftly by the sword, rather then by being burned alive. That is when 4 others from outside, that saw the martyrs conduct, said they would replace them in the furnace. The story says that all 40+4 martyrs were singing songs and praising God, with crowns upon their head, without feeling the flicker of the flames. Of course superstitions also spring out around this day: if the water freezes on March 9th, will freeze 40 days in a row, but if it's sunny that means we will have fair weather ahead! So be on the lookout for the days of sun! 

Yours very much truly,
The Twisted Red Ladybug That Loves Stories and Legends and Myths 
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Monday, 5 March 2018

5 Things You Should Know About Krakow

Dearest sweethearts,

Hope you had a great weekend, even though the weather might have frightened you a bit and made you stay indoors. Here in Krakow, during the weekend we had temperatures around -10 degrees Celsius and even though there was plenty of sun it was still freezing cold. You know... the kind of cold that when you get outside from your house you get instant nostril freeze. The cold creeps Up on you and shards of ice seem to penetrate every open skin pore. In Romanian tradition on the 1st of March we celebrate spring coming back. In Poland on the 1st of March they celebrate the great Nicholaus Copernicus. Everyone celebrates something! And on the 8th of March we will celebrate the international Women Day! But now that we have a hint of the weather clearing up, and we already have bigger days with more light, maybe it's time to plan for a holiday or at least a mini vacation, a city break. I've said this before, but Krakow is a magical city that can be visited at any time in the year - you will always find events to join, museums to visit, cafe's/bars/restaurants to test. So without any further ado, let me tell you 5 Things You Should Know About Krakow:
1. Poland's currency is not Euro, it's zloty! Even though Poland is part of the EU they keep their own currency strong. Zloty (with the small denomination of groszy) can be used to buy products in Poland or you can just use the credit card. If you are looking for exchange houses, they are named Kantor - I suggest you don't go in the Market Square to find one as they will have bad rates. The one in the Galeria Krakowska, top floor, though is always decent. They also speak English there ;) unlike in Romania, you will not be asked to present an ID/passport to change the money.
Tram on display next to the Tram Museum in Krakow 
2. Public transport (or walking) is the way to go! Everything important is within walking distance so it would be a shame not to walk down the cobbled stone paths and enjoy the local vibes. Public transport is highly developed and highly recommended - especially the trams! The tickets can be bought according to the time spend in transit + the zone in which you are going (strefa I and II or I +II). For example if you take a bus to Wieliczka Salt Mine from the station next to Galeria Krakowska, you would have to buy a strefa I+II ticket valid for 60 min (a 40 min one might not be enough).
Breakfast option at "Marchewka z Groszkiem" in Kazimierz, Krakow
3. Polish breakfasts are a must! There are so many nice places in the Old Town or Kazimierz or Podgorze region, places where you can have a nice and quiet breakfast. You just need to pick and choose: from the English breakfast that everyone praises at Milkbar Tomasza, to the French option in Charlotte (plac Szcepanski) to the typical polish breakfast with bread & butter + jam or ham or cheese or tomatoes or pickles... or all at the same time!
4. Krakow Free Walking Tour - if you really wanna get under Krakow's skin, I really recommend you taking an hour with a local or someone who lived in Krakow for a long while and loves this magical city. All you need to do is follow the yellow umbrellas of the Free Walking Tour Krakow team - I absolutely love them! They put so much passion and knowledge and fun in what they are doing... they are contagious and even after one tour with them you will love them!
#FreeWalkingTourKrakow offers the best walking tours in town, so check out their offer:
  • FreeWalkingTourKrakow - StreetArt - FreeWalkingTourKrakow provides city tours in Polish, English & Spanish. You can find them on Facebook or on their website or you can just call them at +48 513 875 814. I joined them in a StreetArt Tour and it was amazing!
  • FreeWalkingTourKrakow - Macabre Krakow - stories about ghost and real vampires... methods of torture, bodies under the Main Market Square with their hands and legs tied, stories of impailing living people... dark and twisted and perfect for a rainy Saturday evening :)
  • FreeWalkingTourKrakow - Her Story - there is a saying that if the men is considered to be the head of the family, than the heart belongs to the woman.
  • FreeWalkingTourKrakow - Pagan Krakow - do you wish to know about the old beliefs of Polish people but also about interesting facts like: "Did you know that General Hans Frank along with other members of the Nazi party celebrated the Yule holiday when they were living inside the Wawel Castle?" - join this tour once you see it up and running ;) (Beginning of March) 
  • FreeWalkingTourKrakow - Foods Of Krakow - traditional foods and drinks from Krakow. Lasts around 2 to 3 hours and takes one around Old Town and Kazimierz (a lovely Sunday afternoon in August 2015) 
  • FreeWalkingTourKrakow - Centre of the World - learn why Krakow can compete with other grand(er) cities, for being the possible center of the world (28th of November 2015 - around 2 hours (and a bit))
Innocent pleasures at Babcia Malina: pierogi (dumplings)
5. Authentic homemade food at any bar mleczny - the bar mleczny are a reminiscence of the communist times. They are basically places where local food is cooked in large amounts, that can be bought at a really low price. It's a "push the tray" environment, very unpretentious. They are still somehow funded by the state, and can be found in every city in Poland. You will hear the local radio playing, sit with a stranger on the same table, sharing salt and pepper... and at the end taking your tray back to the special racks - no service, no waiter, no fuss. Don't you dare miss out on the traditional pierogi - be it fried or boiled - or some homemade serniczek (cheesecake). 

Yours very much truly,
The Twisted Red Ladybug That Loves Krakow 
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Thursday, 1 March 2018

March in Krakow

Dearly beloved,

Happy 1st of March, lovely people!

To tell you the truth, any month is a good month to visit Krakow. No matter the day, no matter the time, there is always something up, something cooking in Krakow. March comes with variable weather so you need to be prepared for indoor and outdoor activities alike! The average temperature is about 7 degrees Celsius - with a high of 11 degrees and a low of 3 - so keep this in mind when packing for your trip to Krakow, Poland. You will want a (winter) coat that will keep the cold and wind away + a scarf and a hat, to make sure sure you don't get a red runny nose like Rudolph. 
Easter can fall in March or April - The Catholic Easter falls this year on the 1st of April, and that ain't no joke! So at the end of March you might even catch the Krakow Easter Markets - in the main market square and next to the entrance to Galeria Krakowska.  Easter in Krakow is magical to witness as the Easter celebration is very important in the Catholic church and many events and traditions, celebrations, are connected to it. 
If you are in Krakow between the 26th of March and 2nd of April, if you enjoy Renaissance and Baroque music, you must attend the annual festival: The Misteria Paschalia. It is a trademark of Krakow as a city of early music and it is one of Europe's most important events that focuses on this particular type of music. The music presented is linked to the Holy Week and Easter and is being performed by masters and outstanding interpreters of early music. This classical event takes place in churches throughout Krakow and the Krakow Philarmonic or the ICE Krakow Arena. "The Drowning of Marzanna" - a way that Poles say farewell to Winter. It usually takes place on the 4th Sunday of Lent. Marzanna is the incarnation of the old Slavic goddess of Winter, plague and death. In medieval times the people wpuld construct a human figure made out of straw, wrap it in lined and made it pretty with ribbons and beads (it had to have a feminine value). On the afternoon of 21st of March, young children would play (or torture, depends how you look at it...) with the idol, parading it around the village and putting her into water, wherever they would find a bucket or a puddle or... water in general! At dusk the villagers would gather at the riverbank or any area with a lot of water, setting Marzanna on fire and throwing it into the water. The custom surives and many kindergardens and primary schools do contests on creating the best Marzanna - taking from small puppets to life sized dummies. Of course under adult supervision, the doll is taken to the nearest water. They set it on fire and throw her down in the water - quite barbaric, one would say, but rather a funny event for the kids!
Krakow does have also quite a rich pagan background and there are certain rituals and celebrations that are kept even up to this day - of my enough, coming from a country that is declared almost in entirety as of Catholic faith. One such celebration is

Krakow has many things to offer, from magical places you can't forget, to museums filled with one of a kind wonders, to outdoor activities for all ages and events that would satiety anyone! So you better come down here this March, until the tourists don't go barging in ;) summer is too hot and crowded! 

The Twisted Red Ladybug That Loves Krakow
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