Czech Republic, Poland
So now I am in another airport, Chania, back to England, and then onto Prague tomorrow. This time I'm going without lap-top so may be incommunicado for a while. We're going to the Tatras and some other wild remote spots (with a few sites and jazz clubs in Prague thrown in), and apparently there are still bears and wolves in the mountains, and heaven knows what else? So my next report may be of vampires and werewolves... god help them if they run into the 2 of us. Now I'm back in Shrewsbury and off to pick up some Kafka and Kundera.
From the fields of Bali to the fields of Birkenau, not quite sure how that happened. I originally envisioned leaving Bali for the green hills of Kerry and County Cork, but it didn't happen. What it means is that I am now more convinced than ever that the journey takes us rather than the other way around. I am now back in lovely Shrewsbury after 2 and a half weeks in Eastern Europe. It was an amazing time, but definitely the more complex leg of this trip, in every way imaginable. I think it is going to take me a very long time to really absorb and process it all. For my astro-buds, Saturn is transiting my 8th house and grand crossing my cardinal T-square rather intensely, an understatement from someone not known for making them!!
The quick jumps I have made from Indonesia, to the UK, to Greece and then to the Czech Republic and Poland have been so culturally extreme that I have had to really slow down (some of you will laugh at that notion) and carefully watch my own judgments and responses - mentally, physically and emotionally. I was really blessed to have Melanie with me on this leg, she is one of the best-natured, adaptable, bright, interesting, and interested people imaginable... and so fun. We've come back even better friends than we were before, a major feat as those of you who travel know. My only complaint would be that she is an even worse map-reader than me... I lost count of how many times we said..'weren't we just here?’
Prague is the most beautiful city I have ever seen, it is beyond astonishing. Every corner you turn there is some other building to take your breath away. I had no idea such a place existed, it is the city of fairy-tales. And far more than that even... we spent a day at the art gallery seeing the most incredible jaw-dropping work of people neither of us had ever heard of, and we are both art history buffs. Plus we have heard some live music that is likewise astounding. The city positively oozes with creative brilliance. But, and this is a tough one for me to even say (lest I sound like a xenophobe), Prague was at the same time really challenging because many of the people were surly and snappy. Of course not everyone, but enough to really take us aback. Their history has been so hard, invasions, oppression etc, etc., so of course who are we to judge? They were under communism until 1989, which in historical terms is barely 5 minutes ago. And the consensus we got from Czechs (of course there are very friendly ones, and we tracked them down), and foreigners living there, is that the general populous can lean towards having no interest or patience around dealing with other people's problems, and if they don't like you (or what you represent) then they have no qualms whatsoever about letting you know. Which is fair enough, and a lot better/more honest than insincere niceties. And obviously they are a deeply creative, talented people; everywhere you look there is evidence of that. I was reading a lot of their literature while there, and there is a broodiness and seething passion in the writing that is reflected in just being there. It's like you could see Rapunzel leaning over any ledge and she wouldn't be out of place, and there a lot of (admittedly appealing) dark and poetic, rather anguished looking types (moon in scorpio gone slightly awry is the feeling). You're not sure whether it is more appropriate to lean out of turret windows in floaty dresses, or sit around in cafes in black turtle-necks and jeans broodily reading poetry. We ended up doing neither, instead wearing tennies and anoraks and traipsing about 10 miles a day, clutching an extremely ragged map. I have to admit both Mel and I were rather disappointed that our 'supposed' charms got us absolutely nowhere, in fact the more we tried to turn it on the more we seemed to irritate people! I developed my own (completely trite) theory about why the Czech temperament tended towards such edginess. Beer is (truly) cheaper than water, and it is a fact that they drink more of it than any country in the world, it is very common to see people drinking beer for breakfast. And the food is incredibly rich and heavy, eg. pig knuckles with mustard sauce, cabbage and dumplings, (I thought that while in Prague... I would do as the Czechs to some degree… but the result was the word indigestion has a whole new meaning). So I think that hangovers and chronic indigestion could perhaps contribute to some people's shortened fuses. Thank god for Chinese restaurants, we could now write our own Prague guide to them, it was our nightly quest to discover new ones.
So what happens?? 'Little Miss always positive and never gets ill (moi)'s back goes out and she spends an entire day head under covers hiding from the world after one too many people snarled at her. My 'inner wimp' decided to have it's s(d)ay. Life and it's humbling moments! We did get to Southern Bohemia, a beautiful town called Cesky Krumlov, and took a great hike. After my gripes about the deforestation of Crete, it was a delight to discover that Bohemia is covered in beautiful old forests, it was like gulping down the richest oxygen possible. Interestingly this very town was also having a convention for the wheel-chair bound, there were about a 100 there, that very quickly put paid to my whining about my back!
While on a bus to some other small town we had a rapid-fire change of plans (Mel's a double Aries and I too have my fair share of fire), and before we know it we were on the night-train to Krakow. It was all rather dramatic, being woken at 3 am by very loud knocking, the border control, and then again at 5am by our porter yelling and gesticulating, it seems he forgot to wake us so he practically shoved off the train in our jammies!
Prague might be the most stunningly gorgeous city I have ever seen, but Krakow is now my favourite city. Not so dramatic in it's beauty but it has an almost tangible soul, despite it's past/recent history being such an agonising one also. Our experience of the Poles was that they are gentler and in general more outwardly warm and friendly. And of course we went to Auschwitz and Birkenau. What can possibly be said? The Poles have made it into a Memorial/Museum with enormous respect and without any exploitation. We chose to go independently and not to take a tour, and it was better to do it that way. The tours are about 3 hours, and we spend 7 hours walking by ourselves and only just covered both places. Auschwitz had a lot more tourists, many of them groups of ashen-faced extremely young Germans. All the buildings are still standing, many of them containing exhibits to honour the individual groups and countries that suffered such unfathomable losses. If anything Birkenau was more wrenching, it is vast and almost exactly as it was when the Nazi's left it, we walked there from Auschwitz (about 2km), along the railroad tracks. The Nazi's dynamited the crematoriums and nothing has been moved, the rubble remains. Almost nobody else was there and it was an experience I will never forget, and I sincerely hope I'm right about that because since going something inside me feels changed, and my wish is always for deeper awareness. It actually felt as though an enormous amount of healing had taken place there, so the experience itself wasn't overwhelmingly harsh per se. We all 'know' what happened but standing on those train tracks and walking the same path as those millions of souls was indescribable.
Since I'm telling-all, I confess that the day after Auschwitz I had a fainting spell (on an unyielding tile floor). Split open my lip and chin, so spent the rest of the trip looking as though I'd been in a punch-up! I am absolutely fine, I believe it was a little sensory over-load and I just don't do well with the diet there. Take me back to Bali! Poland also has certain associations for me, Louis's family was from Krakow and I saw his features everywhere. Plus my own father (who most of you know I haven't seen since I was 13) was shot down over Poland when he was 19 and spent 2 years in a POW camp there, and the only thing I own of his is his log-book from that time. All very interesting. The old Jewish Quarter in Krakow is fascinating and quite beautiful. Then we took ourselves off the tourist trail and went to the ghetto on the other side of the river where the Nazi's housed the Jews before the transports to Auschwitz. These homes cannot have changed since that time, no new paint, nothing. We walked into hallways and courtyards and it could have easily been 60 years ago... and they are all occupied... but not by Jewish families. There are now less than 150 Jews in Krakow (there were 65,000 at the commencement of WW11.) Outside of the tourist areas both the Czech Republic and Poland are still extremely poor, and we were told the standard of living has barely changed since communism. Also went down a 600 year old working salt-mine in Poland that had a whole cathedral and many chapels carved into it, absolutely amazing. Of course had to then buy a kilo of salt from it, which I have been lugging around ever since. Plus the false economy of library books... there isn't the luxury of unloading them when read... my Scottish blood (?venus in cap? saturn transit?,) what is a girl to do? None of it does this (temporarily) dodgy back much good.
Spent our last 5 days back in Prague staying in a place called the Art Prison. It was originally a convent, and then became an interrogation centre during communism, and is now a hostel. We spent the 1st night in the room Vaclav Havel was held in, but it was so bleak and dank that we asked to be moved. They have painted the whole place in primary colours and wild murals. Way to do Saturn in the 8th... every night we went back to our cell. We were both having pretty wild dreams there. On the plane back to England I met a 38 year-old Iraqi (scorpio) physicist, who originally went to Prague University in the '8o's as it was the only place he could get a scholarship. He still has friends in Prague and goes back regularly, so he was able to fill me in on much of the history and the changes he's seen there, and of course on Iraq from an insiders perspective. Fascinating and sobering... and reassuring to meet someone with such a complex background and such an open heart and mind. He'd never been to the US but was very familiar with Krishnamurti and David Baum. I do love never knowing who you'll meet next.
Have to share this additional piece that struck me as one of those synchronous 'gems' the Universe throws down to keep our attention. When I was in Crete I visited the Diktaleon (Psychro) Cave, the supposed birthplace of Zeus (Jupiter.) Well I get to Krakow and visit this vast fairytale castle called Wawel... and I discovered what is written below (copied straight from a guide book.)
“Once upon a time Lord Shiva threw 7 magic stones towards 7 parts of the world, and one of those landed in Krakow. The place's that had been hit began to radiate the god's energy. That's what legend says, but according to Hindu esoteric thinkers, these 7 sites are indeed centres of supernatural energy, which is reputed to give exceptional spiritual strengths. The centres, known as chakras, are related to 7 celestial bodies and include Dehli(Moon), Delphi(Venus), Jerusalem(Sun), Krakow(Jupiter!!!!), Mecca(Mercury), Rome(Mars) and Velehrad(Saturn). The 7 earth chakras have their 7 equivalent spiritual centres of power in the human body.
Krakow's chakra resides in Wawel, in the north-western corner of the Royal Castle's courtyard. It's believed to be centred in the chancel of St. Gereon's, considered Wawel's 1st cathedral, founded in 1020. The holy stone, which as the legend has it, lies here is said not only to produce energy that revives life-giving forces, but also protects the city from misfortunes(as it did by saving it from destruction in WWII.. Warsaw was flattened, but not Krakow)
The history of the Wawel chakra is as esoteric as the chakra itself. It's not known whether the king's had any idea about what they were living on- at least there are no historic records about it.. In the 19th century Wawel was becoming a legendary place, often compared to the Acropolis or Zion, but it was more due to its significance as a spiritual symbol of Poland in a time when the country didn't formally exist, rather than as a source of supernatural energy.
The Pandora's box of controversy was probably opened by a Hindu traveller who visited Krakow in the early 1920's and, for some reason, expressed particular interest in the remains of St. Gereon's church. The following years witnessed a number of other Hindu visitors, all of whom came specifically to the ruined church where they meditated for hours in deep silence, to increasing astonishment of the Wawel management.. The management was perhaps in for a bigger shock when the Indian government delegation led by Prime Minister Nehru kindly asked if they could include the ruin into their official Wawel tour and be left alone inside.
The chakra has drawn in all sorts of dowsers who came with divining rods and wands. According to their measurements, Wawel radiates stronger energy than any other site known in Poland. They also confirmed that the main source of radiation lies underneath the chancel of St. Gereon's Church. The studies published by them after a complex research of Wawel are full of diagrams, figures, and comments, all of which seem to confirm the uniqueness of the place and it's supernatural properties.
Predictably, the Wawel chakra has been drawing people in. They flock to this particular corner of the courtyard and stand immobile for minutes or hours, attracting curiousity of passers-by and some ironic smiles from those who don't believe in such things.”
Well... you can guess who was seen lurking in that particular courtyard, which is enormous and stunning. And once more I was lucky enough to find myself completely alone there for a time. It really was scalp-tingling stuff. Jupiter is my ruling planet (and there are those who'd argue I have a little too much of it… look at the length of this letter,) and appears to have been very close to me on this journey. I'd go so far as to say it felt like one of the reasons I was (unknowingly) so drawn to Krakow. I don't know why, but there is nonetheless something deeply comforting about it.