Gaja Grzegorzewska's Kraków

17 November 2021

Urban Tourism

I sometimes like to feel like a tourist in my own city, which is handy right now when travel to foreign parts is severely limited. In any case, how long does such a break last for? A mere week after getting back from a “real” holiday I was ready for another one. 

Gaja Grzegorzewska

And since that’s impossible, and the holiday season is now behind us, before I surrender to torpor and routine I am saved by urban tourism. By rediscovering familiar places and finding new ones, and by finding new worlds in my neighbourhood. After a spot of shopping at Kleparz market, I stop to sip prosecco and nibble at a prawn sandwich and I feel like I’m chilling in Berlin, and when I’m strolling along the Zakrzówek reservoir, I could be on the stunning Croatian or Albanian coast.
I’ve been exploring my city almost exclusively by bike for years. I feel totally free, mobile – and fast! I love my bicycle and sometimes I get the impression that it has its own soul, battered and free. Sometimes I tell it to stand still as I’m trying to put it in a rack, but it defies me by swaying under the weight of its basket, like a tipsy friend you’re trying to sit down on the sofa. I ride it come rain or shine – I don’t even let snow stop me, only hail is a step too far. It lets me fulfil my whims, fancies and ideas. It’s the perfect mode of transport and a loyal friend whenever I feel like exploring the city solo or with friends.

A trip to my roots

I split my trip to the Podgórze Museum into three parts, and I absolutely recommend this to anyone who is similarly neurotic about seeing and reading every single thing. The exhibition In the Shadow of Krak’s Mound recalls the history of the Podgórze district since ancient times to the present day. For me it’s interesting in a personal way: my family is from Podgórze, and my grandparents met because they lived at the same tenement house at Dembowskiego Avenue.

Exhibition In the Shadow of Krak’s Mound, photo courtesy of Museum of Krakow, press materials

The exhibition is set in just four rooms, but the space is used to the max – it takes a good five hours to properly explore the entire collection and all the multimedia content. And since five hours on your feet is rather tiring, it’s worth visiting a couple of times. It would be a real shame to get a proper look at some exhibits and just glance at the rest – everything is equally fascinating, really well prepared and organised, and beautifully displayed. I left the Podgórze Museum with a head full of information, images and titbits, and I’m sure I’ll be going back!

A trip to the near future

I went to the Podgórze Museum for the third time to visit the temporary exhibition Co-Existence, dedicated to the pandemic. It provides a fascinating insight, although at the end I wondered if it isn’t too soon to be drawing conclusions. Perhaps it’s because history museums tend to provide a certain distance in time from the objects on display? Here there’s no such distance: the exhibition tells us about events we all participated in just moments ago, and which are still going on. If the pandemic has brought you trauma or tragedy, some of the elements will likely open those wounds, so it’s not an exhibition for everyone. On the other hand, visitors are invited to co-create the exhibition and tell their own stories, which could well be cathartic.

Exhibition Co-Existence, photo courtesy of Museum of Krakow, press materials

Art as perception

My route exploring Kraków took me to the right bank of the Vistula four times – on the fourth visit, I turned towards Zabłocie and MOCAK.
When I first see a piece of contemporary art, I respond very emotionally, and only after a while I start approaching it more intellectually, in different contexts and with different meanings. But the most important thing is what I remember the most clearly. So what has really stuck in my memory this time? Works by the Muntean/Rosenblum duo. Their combinations of massive paintings recalling old masters, labelled with enigmatic, seemingly unrelated inscriptions, glued me to the spot and made me consider the stories they tell and seek potential interpretations.
As you’re looking around, make time for a break – pop into MOCAK’s other buildings, which you might otherwise overlook (make sure you pick up a map when you get your tickets!), and that would be a real shame. The exhibition Architecture as Symbol, Text and Backdrop at Re Gallery really spoke to me: it’s small, fascinating, and – unusually for me – I immediately loved it all.

Exhibition Architecture as Symbol, Text and Backdrop, Wojciech Wilczyk, Bonarka Chemical Plant, Kraków, from the series Post-Industrial, 2004, MOCAK Collection, photo courtesy of MOCAK, press materials

I collect maps, programmes and postcards from all museums and galleries I visit. I usually just throw them in a drawer, and every now and again I take them out to reminisce on the visit and how I felt about the pictured artworks. I picked up two from my recent trips: Wojciech Weiss’s Urban Winter Landscape from the Podgórze Museum, and a painting by Tymek Borowski you can see at MOCAK.

If and when

Zośka Papużanka is a Cracovian theatre scholar, Polish language teacher and author nominated for numerous awards including the Nike – one of the most prestigious literary prizes in Poland. Her fourth novel Kąkol has been receiving high critical praise. Her books have only been published in Polish so far, but if and when they are translated, make sure you pick up a copy!

Gaja Grzegorzewska
Film scholar, writer, author of a cycle of crime novels about the private detective Julia Dobrowolska and a series of urban fantasy thrillers with Kraków in the starring role. Together with Irek Grin and Marcin Świetlicki, she has co-written a pastiche crime novel. She has been published in Portal Kryminalny, “Polityka”, “Wprost”, “Gazeta Wyborcza” and “Men’s Health”.

The column was published in the 3/2021 issue of the “Kraków Culture” quarterly.

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