2: Corpus Christi
Margaret, June 10, 2004
The next day was Thursday. It was also Corpus Christi, an
important holiday in both heavily Catholic Bavaria and in heavily Catholic
Silesia. So we were not particularly surprised when we arose the next morning
and found everything closed and the streets almost devoid of people at 9:00am.
The only place open for breakfast was a pastry café on the Rynek where
we were able to get some nourishment.
We then headed off to Wroclaw’s best-known attraction, the Raclawice
Panorama. A giant painting depicting the Battle of Raclawice, near Krakow, in
1794, it’s wrapped around the inside of a huge cylinder and viewed from inside.
The battle shown is a famous one in Polish history wherein Polish peasants
successfully fought for their independence against Russian forces. (Won the
battle, that is. Lost the war.) I was particularly impressed with the way the
curators had set up the ground within the cylinder to make it appear that it
continued out from the painting, using, for example, fences, rocks, and
We decided to head back to the center of town via the
islands to the north on which are situated the cathedral and at least six other
churches. As we neared the cathedral itself, we heard faint music and plethora
of people started streaming into the square where we stood. We took up spots
near the stream and waited to see what would come along. It was, not
surprisingly, a Catholic procession, replete with nuns, priests, alter boys,
and girls dressed in the confirmation whites. They alternately sang and listed
to words broadcast over mobile loud speakers. Towards the back processed the
local head spiritual leader – the bishop, perhaps. He and the other important
men with him walked into the center of the square where a decorative pulpit had
been set up before a large stone monument. He then gave a sermon to the
gathered crowd, of which I occasionally caught words that sounded like the
Polish equivalents of “Poland”, “Catholic”, and “National”. The congregation
responded to the call and response sections, bowed, kneeled, and prayed at the
requisite times, and at the end rushed the pulpit to each rip off a branch of
the young trees that had been cut for the occasion. I’m still not sure of the
significance of the tree branches. The group then moved down a block into the
Cathedral, and Ben and I continued along the island.
We had lunch back in the Rynek, deciding to have our
big meal mid-day as is customary, and eat something lighter for dinner. As we
ate out on a terrace, the sky opened up. It poured. We continued to sit and
eat, under a mostly waterproof awning, still getting splashed when the wind
picked up. We smiled and watched the tourists scatter, take refuge in
buildings, and raise umbrellas against the downpour.
When it had cleared to a drizzle, we headed out ourselves to
the western end of the city to secure new lodgings; the hostel we had been at
had spaces for only our first two nights. With a mixture of Polish, English,
and German we were able to explain our wishes to a couple of friendly
receptionists. Then we headed out again toward the train station. Five minutes
later, the clouds became that know shade of gray and torrents of water fell
from the sky once again. We sought shelter under a little aluminum overhang and
waited. Soon the rain turned to hail. Faces appeared in the windows of the
building opposite, presumably to see what the noise was about. They looked at
us as if we were crazy to be standing outside in a hailstorm. We grinned back.
We made our way to the train station finally, walking when
the rain was light, dashing into phone booths or under awnings when the sky
darkened. Once there, we gave ourselves the task of procuring train tickets to
Jelenia Góra for Saturday. We figured out the arrivals and departures board,
but that didn’t help us too much. No paper schedules or routes were in sight.
We’d have to ask. Ben strode up to the ticket counter and asked “angielsku?”
English? The woman shook her head. “Germansku?” German? Another shake. But the
woman was wonderfully friendly and determined to help. We had a Polish
phrasebook and found words such as “Saturday” (sobota), used pantomime
to express round-trip, and the helpful woman got out a time-table took and
looked up all the trains that we could take both there and back. After ten
minutes or so we had our tickets and knew the times for trains to Jelenia Góra.
The rest of the day we hung out, had dinner, and
relaxed. After all, we were on vacation.