Krakow Taken with a Grain of Salt

Trip Start Mar 09, 2012
Trip End Mar 01, 2013

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Where I stayed

Flag of Poland  , Southern Poland,
Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I traveled by bus for 6 hours from Budapest to Krakow for only 4900 Hungarian forints, which is about 18 euros. The varying landscape through Northern Hungary, Slovakia and into Poland was beautiful. Housing was a mix of quaint homes and large block apartment buildings (I assume from the communist era). 

Aside from being less than a block from the main square, I was pretty dismayed by Mama's Hostel where I stayed for 3 nights. I thought the receptionists were unfriendly, someone stole my shampoo and conditioner, and there were only 4 bathrooms for 70-100 people. The worst part was the constant noise, both from the street level below and the hostel itself. My room was adjacent to the kitchen and had a window on to our balcony, places where there were people drinking and talking at every single hour of the night. I like to party, but I also like to sleep!

Krakow Attractions

I think every Krakow tourist visits the giant main square with its gorgeous old buildings, restaurants, street performers and horse carriages. Wawel Hill with its castle and cathedral are probably next up. However, these were my favourite sites and they are right beside each other. 

A permanent exhibition, Krakow Under Nazi Occupation 1930-1945, at Schindler's Enamel Factory: The exhibit covers not only the factory, but also the history of the city during those years. Before this exhibit, I wasn't fully comprehending the extermination of educated persons like university professors and writers. The Nazis recognized that these people would be the most likely to lead and initiate opposing regimes.

Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow featuring exhibits like Sport in Art: Although I'm not a major sports-fan outside of the Olympics, I was taken with eight statuettes of young swimmers standing on starting blocks before a race; they reminded me of my own competitive swimming days as a child and teenager.

Food & Drink

My two favourite meals were at a Polish milk bar (bar mleczny) slightly away from the main square. These cafeteria style eateries are throw-backs to the communist days and offer quality traditional food at incredibly cheap prices. Following that, I really enjoyed my plate of fried mushrooms and sauerkraut stew from a vendor in a market square with crafts-stalls and live music. I couldn't eat the large quantity, but it didn't go to waste as a homeless person saved me from throwing it into the waste-bin. The only proper restaurant I went to was zbojcy w palacu, one of many in the main market square. I had pierogies with a variety of fillings - fun to try, but I still prefer the simple cheese & potato version.

Wieliczka Salt Mine

On my birthday, I did a worthwhile daytrip to the Wieliczka Salt Mine is a UNESCO world heritage site, which is only half an hour away from the Krakow city centre by bus. There are nine levels ranging from 64 to 327 metres deep, but only subsections of the first three levels are accessible to tourists. A guide always accompanies tourists, as it is easy to get lost in the maze of tunnels. During the tour there are chambers showing the mining processes and devices, chapels with salt sculptures and chandeliers, and brine lakes. After the main tour, there is a gift shop and non-overpriced cafeteria. It is worth doing the optional 1 hour museum tour through additional chambers with exhibits showing extreme salt formations, mining tools and more.

The mine started operating in the Middle Ages, when salt was extremely valuable and a major form of currency. In fact, the word salary comes from salt. I was also surprised to learn that horses used in the mining labour were descended to a particular level where they stayed for life since the vertical descent/ascent was stressful enough for them to cause a heart attack.

An especially illustrative museum exhibit showed men sitting in slings attached to a main rope that transported them vertically in and out of the mine. Apparently, it was such a dangerous act that they sang a funeral song during transit. But I think that the poor men responsible for eliminating carbon monoxide endured greater danger; they crawled along the mine shafts with a long torch to burn off the carbon monoxide collecting at the ceilings.

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