I "Freeze the Arse Off" in Krakow

Trip Start Jun 12, 2011
Trip End Jun 16, 2012

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Where I stayed
Soul Hostel

Flag of Poland  , Southern Poland,
Saturday, January 28, 2012

I should probably begin this entry by explaining the title. On our Overland Journey in Ethiopia we had a passenger from Poland. Now, to say that Marek was a bit "unique" was probably an understatement, but I don't really know how exactly to best describe him. He was extremely intelligent and could quote random facts and statistics that most of us had barely heard of, but this came with a good portion of eccentricity. Previously a real estate agent, he now travels the world absorbing even more random information. He also spends his money by putting several Colombian chicas through university. This act of kindness is repaid by...ahem...you can probably imagine... Anyway, when Marek wasn't showing us revealing photos of his chicas, he would entertain us with his personal sayings. He had a scale to rank unpleasant things which began with "sh!t", and degraded through "sh!t+1" and "sh!t+2", eventually ending with "totally f#cked up". More relevantly, he described being cold as "freezing the arse off" (in a broad polish accent).
Now I had arrived in Poland, only to be welcomed by a Siberian cold snap. The maximum ambient temperature topped out at about -11 degrees and wind chill knocked it down to -29 degrees. So here I was "freezing the arse off" in Krakow.

I was really glad to see Krakow, and we probably all should be. At the beginning of WWII, Nazi Germany assigned Krakow as the Capital of it's General Government. This turn of fortune helped to save it from the fate which befell many other European cities, including the ill-fated Warsaw which Hitler ordered to be "razed to the ground". Krakow has several claims to fame, including being on the very first inscription of the UNESCO World Heritage List and also their favourite son Karol Wojtyła, AKA Pope John Paul II.

Another local attraction that made it onto that same list was the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Located within the Krakow city limits, this place is the only open mining facility in the world operating continually since the middle ages. This is more of a technicality now, though. In 1996 the miners hit a seam of sandstone and water started to flood into the lower levels of the mine. This flooding continued for years before it was finally stopped, and now commercial mining has ceased. But the floodwater is being pumped out, and this brine is processed to make small volumes of salt, so technically it is still "operating". While it's age is certainly impressive, I think the interior design is the attraction for the 1.2 million visitors annually. Over the centuries miners and artists have carved statues, bas-reliefs and entire chapels from the salt.

Also, for anyone who is curious, this is what UNESCO inscribed onto that original World Heritage List in 1978:
*Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
*City of Quito, Ecuador
*Aachen Cathedral, Germany
*L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site, Canada
*Simien National Park, Ethiopia
*Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia
*Nahanni National Park, Canada
*Island of Goree, Senegal
*Mesa Verde National Park, USA
*Yellowstone National Park, USA
*Krakow's Historic Centre, Poland
*Wieliczka Salt Mine, Poland

I stayed at a place called Soul Hostel and managed to score a dorm to myself again. It was run by a pair of young Polish guys and it was good to get their take on life in modern Poland. Despite continuing problems of low wages, high unemployment and corruption, they were remarkably upbeat. Krakow was a really nice place, but I think I'll wait until summer if I decide to come back again.
While in town I also made a day trip to Auschwitz to pay my respects to the victims of humanities darkest hour. It is a bit depressing, so gets its own entry. Read it if you wish.

[230 days on the road]
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