Day 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 branches.

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. Success!

The rest of the day we hung out, had dinner, and relaxed. After all, we were on vacation.