Take Home a Piece of Art

The pleasure of being in the company of craftsmen is what Kraków offers to newcomers searching for both the harmony of the Renaissance and Secession atmosphere in the alluring live art on any corner, and in a multitude of markets, galleries, cafés and bars.

Although typical artistic culture is presented in a number of public and private galleries, a visitor can spot works of art in almost every other café and bar. Artists, artisans, café owners and any tiny exhibition room are in constant rivalry for the best works and souvenirs. We arranged meetings with a few craftsmen in their studios and workshops to learn about the latest artistic trends in Kraków.

Leszek Dutka welcomes us in his old attic, an incubator and a shelter for various artistic works. He is over 80, yet still searches for unique forms such as the ones in his latest exhibition dedicated to September 11. “I am spontaneous and my art is figurative,” explains Mr. Dutka while showing a couple of metaphoric canvases. They are colourful and depict soft, vibrating and shapeless subjects. The same abstractionism of birds, masks and devils is also engraved in ceramic sculptures. Both paintings and figures of applied art are exhibited at the Dominik Rostowski Gallery and Bunker of Arts.

Very close to the amusing and grotesque experiments on canvases are the cartoons by Andrzej Mleczko, who has a gallery-shop in his studio at 14 Jasna. “It was a brief experiment, but curiously, it is now visited by thousands of people,” says Mleczko. His time is often taken by customers queuing at the counter for his autograph. He promoted the art of caricature and turned it into a business when all cartoonists in Kraków refused to work with the media in the 1980s. For those who have more fantasy, Mleczko’s pillows, mats, aprons, T-shirts and bed sheets with cartoon illustrations are not just tips for a gift but also a friendly, although shocking experience, of art in everyday life. When looking at the myriad of caricatures, I am impressed by his dominant art, which is an attempt at addressing all facets of daily life, from a morning cup of coffee to a couple’s bedroom.

No less fascinating are the amber and silver collections made by Eugeniusz Salwierz, who finds different aspects of his creative nature while listening to jazz in a spacious and awe-inspiring studio. He searches initially for unique forms and variants of the fossil resins at the markets in Gdañsk, the home of Polish amber, focusing on the degree of translucency and colour, which range from pale hues and yellow through white, blues, greens, beige and brown shades.

Amber engenders abstract ideas and provokes my fantasy while I cut it, polish and at last embed it in silver necklaces and bracelets,” explains Eugeniusz while showing photos depicting unique amber pieces on the naked body and tender skin of a woman. His items are on sale in Skarbiec Gallery on Grodzka st. and in the Cloth Hall on Market Square, which is full of artists.

Visitors can find a myriad of artists and artisans in the streets of the Old Town. Each has their own interesting product, technique and style to talk about. Many tourists head for the fortress wall near Floriañska Gate, where a series of colourful portraits hang to form the background for wedding pictures; and it is also a popular place for couples to meet.

While taking a break and sipping a cup of coffee in the basements or upper rooms of huge, gabled houses in the Old Town and Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter, tourists learn that the influence of art on cafés and bars is so strong that these venues greatly rival the galleries. For more than 20 years Kazimierz in particular has been a breeding ground for artists’ projects. One vibrant venue, where both jazz concerts and exhibitions by painters and photographers take place, is the Pod Jaszczurami club on Market Square.

Now we are going to visit the small workshop of Krystina. It is a tiny office, but it seems to be a Pandora’s box of gadgets and gifts. I like the idea of blue glasses for wine and champagne bearing motifs of fairytale Kraków architecture. Krystina combines warm colours with antique gold to give a historical touch to her gifts, which are exhibited in the Cloth Hall. Following fashion trends, Krystina also cuts and decorates hats for women and shows me how pictures of Kraków can be impregnated and glued on to glass souvenirs.

Krystina’s technique using scissors and brushes combined with her fantasy seems to be very simple in comparison with the handmade glass-blown Christmas decorations from the M.Geyer factory. From glass tubes to sparkling ornaments hung on a tree – the glass-blowers’ work has a long and creative tradition.

The Master turns glass into silver with the help of ammonia and sugar, then painters draw winter scenes, frolicking clowns and a family of bears from American animations, these are then finished with a touch of spray, a coat of glitter and our Christmas ball is ready.

Once again about Christmas! This time Frantishek shows us how he turns the soft core of a lime-tree into a “human being”. His carved souvenirs depict elements of rural life, such as a hunchbacked woman carrying buckets of water, but he also does angels. They are all on sale in the Cloth Hall.

Once you finish your tour of Kraków’s artistic highlights, make sure you take home a piece of art. It will prompt you to return to make even more new discoveries in this thrilling Mecca of creativity.

Hit the Hungarian countryside & Enjoy a Holiday on a Farm

Are you keen on trying a peasant holiday? Sky Europe’s Budapest flights are your easiest way to delight in a few-days experience with enchanting horses, grey cattle and other ethno-cultural attractions of puszta or the Hungarian Great Southern Plain.

While the shimmering hot air of the pastoral fields that we pass on the way creates mirages, the crossroad city of Kecskemét, the gateway to puszta, surprises us with Art Nouveau architecture and the top-rated Hungarian panacea apricot brandy or barackpálinka in the old Zwack distillery.

But let’s hit Bugacpuszta nearby Kecskemét first! The attractions are typically Hungarian: delicious food with live cymbal and violin music and equestrian presentations such as a riding school, theatrical performances of studs, donkeys and oxen. To top that, the World Four-in-Hand Driving Championship held in August attracts dozens of skilful riders to the Bugac area showing their craft while driving a carriage pulled by four horses.

Getting to the heart of the Bugacpuszta, which is the most visited part of the Kiskunság National Park, we discover rustic houses scattered on sandy plains and randomly appearing vine-yards and apricot orchards. One could find a signboard with the name of a farmhouse rather than of a village or city here.

Bugaci Karikás Csárda is an ideal place for renting a holiday peasant house with a thatched-roof and an open-air fire for cooking goulash, a traditional shepherd’s soup with meat and potatoes. Besides baked specialities, you can try also a refreshing cold soup of raspberries, apples and apricots served by a waiter dressed in the clothes of Sándor, the Hungarian Robin Hood, who used to rob carriages.

One excellent party with friends can be made in the guesthouse, once visited by Queen Elizabeth II, where the manager himself, Zsolt Tóth, can prepare some palatable meals upon request. As he says, amateurs can learn to ride a horse in 2 weeks and then explore the plains from the saddle, while others prefer a trekking tour and watching pheasants and falcons. A top attraction is the horse show and open-air cattle-shed.

An exclusive farm party/show worthy to be booked in advance is the one in Tanyacsárda (near Lajosmizse), where the innkeeper welcomes with a shot of apricot brandy. At first, dozens of galloping studs leave you with the taste of dusty soil whirling in the air. Then a performance of artistic horse-riding lifts everyone’s expectation for amusements including overturning of a bottle by a whip, or an outstanding ride of Puszta Five, the show of an equestrian riding 5 horses.

While delighting in goose liver and grilled/fried vegetables, you are whirled to the rhythm of folklore songs, music and dances of cheerful girls, who a man can kiss under a scarf. The nourishing dinner ends with a flat cake made from milk and eggs covered with apricot marmalade and brandy and served a la flambé.

Some 10 kilometres of the farm, you can get accommodation in the Gerébi Kúria mansion tucked in a grove of the plain, where you can experience also horse-trekking and panorama tours with carriages and join numerous horse shows. The calm environment is an excellent venue for conferences and weddings.

Looking for both accommodation and horse-riding entertainments, also hit the road to Varga-Tanya Pension (on the way to Lajosmizse) – simply there is a countless choice of venues, and it is only up to you how your ethno-cultural weekend or holiday will look like.

While returning from the puszta weekend tour, we stop in Kecskemét, named after goats gifted by bishops to the new Christians – Hungarians – many centuries ago.

It is a place for exploring splendid Art Nouveau buildings with folklore motives and artisan craftsmen products. See also various sacred places such as the former synagogue, the Big Church and the Franciscan Church.

As our tour goes through a row of colourful and bright buildings, we enter the tile-roofed town hall, with floral decorations and relax in the courtyard, the stage for classical concerts in summer. The New College of Calvinists, recognizable by its high spire and Transylvanian motives, as well as Cifrapalota with charming folk and majolica ornaments and curves, are one of the top attractions in Kecskemét.

If you visit the town on August 24-29, see the presentation of traditional products and peasant cuisine represented by salty, flat home bread or langos, baked in a stove of clay and straw and served with garlic sauce or sour cream. September is devoted to folk musicians and during non-rainy weekends the promenade is full of stalls selling handmade craftsman products.

An inside look into Hungarian rural life would miss a spark without learning how the tasty and aromatic sunshine distillate of Fütyülos barackpálinka or “whistling” apricot brandy is made. A tour of the old distillery from the beginning of the previous century and the plant’s latest production lines acquaint you with the history of the Zwack family, producing brandy as well as other spirits such as the well-know Unicum. Of course, the end of your tour will be product tasting and potentially a purchase of a small souvenir bottle, or even a bigger one.

When you make your way to the plains around Kecskemét, there is no doubt that hosts of farmsteads will welcome you with their traditional hospitality and show you the Hungary from the past centuries. Furthermore, autumn is the best period to experience peasant life amongst friendly horses.

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