Visiting Poland, The Czech Republic and Austria
October 12 to 22, 2005
A diary of the Eastern Europe Pilgrimage:
Day 1 - October 12, 2005 Wednesday
Sixteen of us took the shuttle vans from St. Victor to the San Francisco International airport without much incident. British Airways flight 284 took off at 4:50 p.m. Everything went smoothly until we were close to Europe continent when the 747 shook so violently that some thought the worst would happen to us. At a certain point, the pilot flew above the air turbulence to avoid the rocking motion of the plane.
Day 2 - October 13, 2005 Thursday - Heathrow airport,
We landed at Heathrow International airport in London on October 13th at about 11:00 a.m, perhaps due to heavy traffic. Two huge buses picked up the passengers from our plane that parked some distance from the terminal. Later flight BA850 took us from London to Warsaw at about 2:00 pm. Kris, our tour manager, met us at the arrival area of the Warsaw terminal after we arrived, put us on the bus and brought us to the Hotel Mercure. We had a good meal and a well-deserved rest after the long flight.
Day 3 - October 14, 2005 Friday - Warsaw.
We had a hearty breakfast at 7:00 a.m. and we were on the bus at 8:00 a.m. The first stop was Stanislaus Kostka church where the late Jersey Papieluzko worked as an assistant priest. He was also chaplain to the Solidarity Union. His preaching on peaceful resistance attracted many people so many people that he became a threat to the communist party. Secret police killed the popular chaplain of the Solidarity movement in 1984. He is buried outside the parish church. Kris took us to the museum dedicated to the heroic man who preached peace and love.
The bus took us to the old town square, very reminiscent of the square in Brussels, Belgium. Since Warsaw was completely leveled by Hitler all the buildings have been rebuilt after the war. We passed by churches, castle and the homes of Madame Curie and Chopin.
Day 4 - October 15, 2005 Saturday
Wake up call was at 6:00 am today and after breakfast we were on the bus at 7:30 a.m. for a long day trip to Krakow. Our first stop was the city of Immaculata Niepokalanow, a shrine dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Franciscan monastery founded by St. Maximilian Kolbe, a martyr of the Nazi regime. Kris led us first to the museum depicting the significant events in the life of St. Maximilian. The original chapel, located then in the middle of a huge field, is a sanctuary today. On the grounds are the car that the late Pope John Paul II used when he was the archbishop of Krakow and a Pope’s mobile. The basilica is a place of prayer and quiet contemplation.
The next stop was the famous shrine of Our Lady of Black Madonna in the city of Czestochowa. The shrine has been the principal center of devotion in Poland for the last 600 years. Legend has it that St. Luke painted the Black Madonna on a cypress tabletop from the house of the Holy Family. According to an ancient document found in the monastery of Jasna Gora the painting traveled from Jerusalem via Constantinople and reached Czestochowa in August 1392. The Black Madonna is credited with miraculously saving the monastery of Jasna Gora from the Swedish 17th century invasion. King Kazimierz crowned the Black Madonna as the Queen protector of Poland on April 1, 1656.
The shrine of the Black Madonna was full of pilgrims from all over Poland. It is a well-organized shrine. Before venerating the statue of the Black Madonna we stop at the cafeteria to have lunch. It was quite a task to order food without knowing a Polish word.
A young man guided us through the main areas of the shrine. He first brought us to the museum of liturgical relics and then he took us to see a copy of the Black Madonna since we would not be able to see at length real copy. After briefly passing by the Gothic chapel where the Black Madonna is hung we proceeded to celebrate the liturgy in the chapel of the Sacred Heart.
We then proceeded to go to the hotel Novotel in Krakow the city where the late Pope John Paul II ruled as the archbishop before being chosen as the pope. It was a long day but the hotel provided us with nutritious food and comfortable bed.
Day 5 - October 16, 2005 Sunday - Krakow
Today we visited the brand new basilica of the sanctuary. The tower of the basilica stands majestically above the landscape of the grounds of the convent where St. Faustina lived. We celebrated Mass at the chapel of St. Faustina and we had a chance to see the Miners’ band while waiting to see the relics of the saint. Ella was our guide for Krakow. After Mass she took us to the Royal Castle grounds where the ancient cathedral of Krakow is located. Since it was Sunday there were thousands of people who thronged to historic cathedral. The climb to the historic sites was somewhat steep, but all the effort was well worth it.
Then it was time to drive to the old town. We stopped by St Mary’s church and the ancient market place. It showered while we were waiting for the trumpet player to announce. It took a while to look for the restaurant that served mushroom soup on thick cup of sourdough bread. After the light meal a number went to look at the public market where one can find gifts to bring back home.
The final visit of the day was the ancient salt mine of Wieliczka. Mined since the 13th century, the Wieliczka-Bochnia rock salt deposit spreads over nine levels. It has miles of galleries with work of art, altars and statues sculpted in salt. It is a fascinating visit to the ancient salt mine museum.
Day 6 - October 17, 2005 Monday - Krakow
We took off this morning for Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, a replica of the Holy Land, built in the 16th century. This sanctuary was an attempt to give people an experience of the Holy Land since pilgrimage to the sites sacred to Christians were closed to pilgrims. The Turks then occupied the Holy Sites. The Kalwaria Zebrzydowska was a popular pilgrimage site of Pope John Paul II. The Franciscans take care of the popular pilgrimage site. There was only time to celebrate the liturgy in the Sacred Heart chapel and after that to do some shopping at the bookstore of the shrine. It will require an overnight stay to follow the Stations of the Cross.
Fourteen kilometers (about 7 miles) from Kalvaria is Widowice, the hometown of Pope John Paul II. He grew up in an apartment right next to the parish church. Today, the whole building has been turned into a museum containing the memorabilia of the late pope. Unfortunately we arrived in Widowice on a Monday when the museum is closed. However, we had time to visit the parish church and to take photos for posterity in and outside the church.
Before the end of the day we visited the infamous death camp of Auschwitz where the Nazis slaughtered more than one million Jews and other political prisoners. We were able to visit the room where Maximilian Kolbe was imprisoned before he was put to death. Auschwitz has become a symbol of terror, genocide and the Holocaust. It is a horrendous indictment against humans who are capable of committing unspeakable atrocities against their fellow men, women and children. The death camp gives one the awful feeling of helplessness, but it also reminds all that the world has not learned the lesson of Auschwitz.
Day 7 - October 18, 2005 Tuesday - Krakow / Prague
We left Krakow at about 8:15 a.m. fifteen minutes past the intended departure time. Our first stop was to celebrate the liturgy at the church of St. Stanislaus in the martyr the district of Kazimierz Nearby is a seminary. As we walked back to the bus we could not be read the banner hanging on the seminary front entrance, “Subito Santo!” This refers to the cry for immediate canonization of John Paul II.
We drove from Poland to the Czech Republic admiring and enjoying the beautiful scenes along the way. We stopped at a McDonald’s restaurant (yes, they are all over Europe) for lunch. Kris advised us to use the Polish money since the Czech shops and restaurants would not accept it. Some of us decided to try eating the local food, but the language problem drove most of the group to McDonald. A couple of us tried the Polish soup called Supa Galwaga, a vegetable and meat soup.
We took off after the short stop and arrived in Prague at about 7:30 p.m. At supper we had the biggest shock of the trip when we found out the hotel Movenpick charged the most expensive glass of water - about $5.00 per glass. Attempts to ask management to serve tap water went unheeded.
Day 8 - October 19, 2005 Wednesday - Prague
Today’s schedule involved lots of walking in the beautiful city of Prague. Roman, our bus driver dropped us off near the Loreto shrine. We toured the house that has the replica of the house of Loreto in Italy. The liturgical museum contains some of the most precious Mass vestments and chalices in the world. The pilgrimage site has been returned to the Capuchin Fathers who run the monastery. After the tour of the site we slowly walked to the Church of Our Lady of Victory where the statue of Holy Child Jesus is venerated. It was a joyful occasion to celebrate Mass there since a good number of the pilgrims have personal devotion to the Infant Jesus of Prague.
After the usual shopping at the tiny church shop it was time to walk to the old town. We stopped by the presidential palace and saw the changing of the guards. We visited the cathedral of St. Vitus, walked all the way to Our Lady of Victory church where we celebrated Mass. After the Mass we walked to the center of the city. Prague ranks as one of the most beautifully preserved cities of Europe. We passed by the Charles’ bridge where hundreds of people traversed the famous bridge, built in 1400.
Day 9 - October 20, 2005 Thursday - Prague / Vienna
We woke up rather early this morning (6:00 a.m.) to leave for Vienna at 7:30 a.m. However, we did not leave until 8:45 am because we had to wait for the medication of one of the pilgrims. All went well until we stopped for lunch in restaurant some place before the border of the Czech Republic and Austria. The restaurant could not serve the food on time and this caused another 45 minutes delay on out trip.
Arrival at Melk for the tour and the Mass was about 3:30 pm. We were scheduled to celebrate Mass at 12:00 noon, but fortunately, there were not that many tourists in the monastery that day. which made it possible for us to celebrate Mass four hours later than our appointed time. The presentation of the tour of the monastery was much better than the previous years. The artifacts were organized systematically and you could actually go on your own because there were signs written in English and German.
The rest of the trip to Vienna was uneventful. Tired and hungry we arrived at the Arcotel hotel at about 7:30 pm. A delicious dinner was ready for us after our arrival.
Day 10 - October 21, 2005 Friday - Vienna
Wake up call was 6:00 am since we had a long day today. After breakfast we were on the way to St. Stephen’s cathedral for Mass. This historical church was the site of coronation of kings and queens in the past. After Mass our guide showed us the Imperial Palace, the chapel where royal families were married and then the Franciscan Church where 145 of the Hapsburgs are buried in the basement of the church. Then it was time to get some food and do some shopping. It was a rainy day, but the bus took us on a tour of Ringstrasse with its magnificent buildings such as the state opera house, the City Hall and the Parliament. Since about 4 people did not want to tour the Schloss Schoenbrunn, Kris took them back to the hotel. It was such a pleasure to tour the palace of Maria Theresa who ruled Austria for forty years. We were about the only group in that tour. While we were waiting for the bus to pick us up a number of us went to get chocolate drinks in the shop. An Austrian gentleman asked us where we came from and we told him we were from California. He thought we were Koreans.
Tonight we enjoyed a farewell dinner at local restaurant. About 8 people went with Kris to see an opera.
Day 11 - October 22, 2005 Saturday - Vienna / SFO / Home