Virgins, dragons and a dish called Wanda

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With Poland now settled within the European Union, the beauties of a fascinating but former alien land suddenly seem accessible to Western visitors. Having escaped the divisions imposed by the Great Power conflicts of the post-war era, this too-long neglected country is coming to be recognised for what it has always been: at the very heart of the European historical and cultural experience.
 
 
No Polish city is more European than Krakow (often Cracow to the British), the ancient capital of a buffeted nation that has had to struggle so often to declare its identity. Its rich heritage, gloriously displayed in a unique blend of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and baroque architecture, embellishes a contemporary tourist venue that has facilities and attractions comparable now to those you will find in any historic city of the continent.
 
 
Strolling through the old centre, among the pigeons and the flower stalls that decorate the Rynek, the market square - the largest in central Europe - you can imagine yourself in St Mark's Square, Venice. When you sit in a basket chair on one of the cafe terraces at the fringe, you feel you could be taking a refreshment in any capital city in the West. And, wandering through the narrow medieval streets behind, past the bars and bistros that pepper your way, is reminiscent of exploring the busy alleys that flank the Boulevard St Michel in the Latin Quarter of Paris.
 
 
And yet, with all this, Krakow is profoundly, and proudly, Polish. Never more so than on the hour every day when a bugler appears at a window at the top of St Mary's Basilica. The ceremonial tune (played daily at midday on Polish national radio) recalls the event at this spot in 1241, when a bugler reputedly sounded the alarm to warn burghers of the impending arrival of a hostile Tatar army. A Tatar arrow pierced the bugler's throat, truncating his tune; today, the bugler's message is likewise cut off abruptly every hour, in recollection of a dramatic moment that seared the Polish psyche.
 
 
 
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Source: the Observer
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