Last Days in Krakow

Trip Start Apr 04, 2007
Trip End Oct 22, 2007

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Over the last few days we've been hanging out with Susan and Garren in Krakow, exploring the markets and the Jewish Quarter. Yesterday we went out to the Salt Mines and found our way out there pretty easily with mini buses . Susan and Garren weren't keen so we went our separate ways for the day. We arrived there to massive lines that just weren't moving. After half an hour and several steps forward we decided to flag and go early the next morning. We wanted to be back in enough time to see Susan and Garren off, so waiting in line wasn't an option, but Gabrielle managed to score some cheap amber chips from the stalls outside the mines, so the trip out wasn't a total waste.

We looked around town for a while, and checked out the huge cathedral in the middle of the Market Square in the Old Town. Strangely enough, Jesus didn't really feature in the many glitzy paintings and carvings. The church was dedicated to Mary, and she was definitely the star of the show. Jesus did get a side mention, but mostly he was strangely absent. Taking the Christ out of Christianity!!! We met up with Susan and Garren in enough time for a last drink together before they had to hit the road to the airport. It was good to see them, even if just for a few days. We took it pretty easy in the evening and just walked a bit of the city before calling it a night, as we planned a second trip out to the Salt Mines early the next morning.

We woke up at the crack of dawn and caught a Mini bus out to the Salt Mines for shortly after the 7:30 opening time. We managed to make it on to the first English tour of the day at 8:30 am, and to our delight, we only had nine people in our group. Apparently the mine has about 7000 visitors a day and groups can range up to 50 people at a time, so our early morning venture paid off. The mine was filled with carvings made out of salt, dioramas depicting how work was done in the mine, as well as antique mining equipment and displays on how it worked. The guide was very informative and kindly kept reminding Dan to mind his head every two minutes. Evidently miners seven hundred years ago were shorter than today.

We past several large rooms containing carvings and displays, our favorite being the 'happy happy room' - a carving of several gnome figures who are supposed to be good luck for miners. The display was lit up by colourful flashing lights and cheery children's music. All of the carvings were done by former miners, as is law with the mine being protected by UNESCO. We past a small chapel that was put in for the miners, and then proceeded on to a much larger one. This chapel was carved entirely out of the salt. There were huge chandeliers made of salt crystals, salt statues and salt carved reliefs in the walls. The floor looked like tiles, but was carved straight out of the salt, so floor to ceiling the chapel was entirely made of salt. It was also more than 100 meters underground. The chapel is currently used for special services, weddings, and concerts. The walls contained depictions of the slaying of the innocents, Jesus teaching at the chapel, Jesus' birth, and the most amazing one being a salt copy of Leonardo Da Vinci's 'Last Supper' carved right into the wall. There was also a life size salt statue of Pope John Paul II at the back of the chapel, wearing his big pope hat. Unfortunately we were prohibited from licking the statues, but we could lick the walls.

We continued on to several more chambers, each containing fantastic displays on mine life and production. At the end of the tour we reached almost 140 meters underground (This was only the 1st floor, there were 3 floors in total) and landed in a big underground restaurant that they had set up at the end of the tour. We poked around the underground gift shops and displays before lining up for the elevator out. Fortunately we were at the front of the line, because a surprisingly huge crowd of people were led together to the lifts to take us to the surface. We were led for quite a ways, passing through several doors and wondering when we would reach what was apparently going to be a giant lift to take us all outside.

We rounded our last corner to two tiny lifts at the end of a small hallway. We were crammed into one of the lifts with seven other people, totaling 9 people in a space that wouldn't have comfortably stood four. We, in fact, recalled the standing cells at Auschwitz which were very similar to the lifts in size and were made for prisoners to stand in for hours. The lift operator actually pushed the last gentleman inside the elevator so he could close the door. We ascended rapidly, rising almost 150 meters in a matter of seconds in the pitch black and arrived at the top, only to pop out of the elevator like pressurized sardines. Our quick arrival at the top was fortunate because the shorter people in the elevator quickly began to feel claustrophobic in the tiny space. We headed outside for the fresh air and the sun on our faces, reoriented ourselves and made our way back to town.

We finished the tour earlier than expected and caught the midday train to Warsaw. It was one of the most miserable train rides we had had yet. Upon boarding the train, we made our way down the narrow isle towards our seat, only to come face to face with a large, hairy, presumably Polish, man who was shoving forcibly down the isle the opposite direction. He had a 'Canadian, Eh?' tee-shirt on, but obviously didn't speak any English, and a Polish hat and was pushing his large suit case ahead of him, and pushing anyone else out of his way. Everyone ahead of us had moved into the other cabins, standing room only, so we could not move out of this gentleman's way. He was also standing directly in front of our cabin, and had room to move backward, whereas we did not. Instead of moving backwards and allowing us to get out of his way, he began to shout at Dan. Dan tried to explain with a suprisingly calm voice and some hand gestures that he didn't speak Polish and that we needed to get into the cabin the man was standing in front of. The man shouted louder and began grabbing at Dan and pushing him. Calmly repeating 'just relax' and firmly moving the man backwards while taking the man's hand off of Dan, we were able to squeeze into the cabin without any fights breaking out. Our seats were assigned, which thus far had been a rarity. Our cabin was absolutely full of 8 people and there was almost no room for our bags. Dan had to put his backpack on top of another gentleman's bag and Gabrielle's small bag fit under the seat, but we were forced to carry Gabrielle's large backpack and Dan's day pack on our laps for the entire trip. There was also one particularly unhappy lady in our car who insisted that all of the windows be shut... inside our cabin and out. It didn't matter that the windows in the hallway didn't actually effect the cabin, they had to be shut. This turned the whole car, and the cabin in particular, into a sauna. Strangely, no one else complained despite their profuse sweating. We eventually arrived in Warsaw three hours later, hot, sweaty and tired. We trudged our way to our hostel and collapsed for the evening, unable to summon the energy to go out.

It's been an up and down last few days, but we're hoping Warsaw has some interesting sights to pick us up. Hope you're all doing well wherever you are in the world.

All our best from Poland

Dan and Gabrielle
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