Day 21: Wawel Castle and Dragon Parade

One of the inflatable advertisements for the Dragon Parade with St. Mary’s church in the background.

It’s funny how plans change when a national holiday shuts down the city. Jessi and I had planned out a route for today which included the Wawel Castle and several smaller museums which offer free admission on Sundays. That was until we learned that today is a holiday which only occurs on odd years known as the Dragon Parade. This two day festival features an evening river pageant the first night complete with lasers, fireworks, and dragon floats followed by a Parade through the square the next morning. We just happened to find ourselves in the middle of the parade today but I will get to that later in the post.

Wawel Castle Cathedral

With the knowledge that the attractions we were interested in were most likely closed Jessi, Tristan, and I set out for the castle at least hoping to walk around the walls. When we stopped at the archaeological museum our fears were confirmed: closed. We jumped into a mass of people heading toward the castle and I was overly enthusiastic to see a line forming ahead. It was indeed open even if no other museums were. While the main part of the castle grounds can be explored without a ticket, you have to buy tickets to particular areas of the inside of the castle. These tickets are also limited to a certain number of guests per day so the line forms early. We were among the last three to buy tickets for the private royal apartments. We also snagged three tickets to see the dragon’s cave on site for less than a dollar.

One of the floats in the Dragon Parade

Since our tour wasn’t until a few hours later, we made our way back to the square to find some cheap lunch at the E. Wedel chocolatier restaurant (don’t worry Mom, we ate sandwiches not chocolate). There was already a crowd forming for the parade when we came out. The Dragon Parade is based on the Dragon of Wawel (Smok Wawelski) legend which tells of a Dragon which once inhabited a cave on the side of Wawel Hill. Although there are many versions of the legendary tale, most say that the Dragon would prey on livestock and people so the king sought someone to kill it. It was eventually killed by placing poison (or in some versions fire fuel) inside a sheepskin. The parade itself was composed of mostly groups of children and dragons of various shapes, sizes, decorations, and themes. The overall theme of the festival this year was about Poland’s neighboring countries which is why many of the dragon’s were based on other countries’ characteristics. The detail and creativity that went into each of the parade’s dragons was an impressive display of local culture and tradition. As we tried to make our way back the castle we found that the only way to move through the crowd was to walk down the street. It would be safe to say that we not only watched, but participated in the parade today.

Two of the street performers dressed in traditional Polish attire

Playing the damsel in distress.

When the crowd finally thinned, we came back to the castle where two street performers were stationed. The first was a man dressed in a full (fake) suit of armor who Tristan wanted to take a picture with. He dressed him up as a knight and me and Jessi in turn up as princesses or fair maidens whom the two men were fighting over. The second was two gentlemen playing instruments dressed in traditional Polish attire. Both men were very cheerful and entertaining to watch and their music made the long walk up the way to the castle feel more fun. They even took a moment to serenade Jessi.

Wawel Dragon Cave

Before our tour of the private apartments started we spent a while walking around the castle grounds and looking for the Dragon’s Cave. We went through a small doorway along with the other ticket holders and descended what felt like an endless amount of steps down a winding staircase until we finally reached what the locals believe is the Wawel Dragon’s Cave. I have limited experience with dragon’s myself but if I had to imagine a cave in which a dragon might have lived, this was definitely the one. It was well worth the 90ish cents we paid to go down in it. The cave lets you out at the famous dragon statue which breathes fire every so often.

Standing in the royal courtyard of Wawel Castle

Wawel Castle was built over the 13th and 14th centuries and features an array of architectural styles including Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Early Baroque elements. The castle served as the residence of the royal families of Poland for centuries. We had purchased tickets to see the private royal apartments in which no pictures were allowed. The castle highly values its vast art and tapestry collection and that is mainly what we heard about and saw on our tour. One interesting story, which we could only vaguely make out through our guide’s thick accent, was of a king who wished to find something which would allow him to turn any metal into gold. He was told that what he needed was a unicorn’s horn so he had spent much time trying to find one but then he found out that what he actually needed was a narwhal’s horn. Don’t you just hate when that happens?

Waiting for our tour of the private apartments to start in the royal courtyard.

After touring the castle we headed back to the dorm to shower and get ready for dinner. We went to Hard Rock Cafe for some American food (even if it is expensive American food) and admired the square as rain poured down on it. It was a great day of enjoying and learning more about Poland and Krakow’s traditions.

This entry was posted in Globilization 2017. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.