July 21, Krakow and Wieliczka (Salt Mines)
Well staying right in the Krakow town square at the hostel has advantages and disadvantages. It is good that you are in the middle of all the action without having to go anywhere, the bad is that the action keeps going almost all hours. I was awoken a few times during the night by the younger, party crowd out in the square and in the hostel halls. We had a bit of a sleep-in day today then after breakfast we did a load of laundry. We moseyed around the square for an hour then hung our laundry. Next we were off to catch the bus (yes we validated our tickets this time) to go see the Wieliczka Salt Mine which was built in the 13th century where they mined table salt. Commercial mining was discontinued in 1996 due to low salt prices and a flood in the mine. At one time, salt was worth more than silver back when salt was heavily used for food storage. The salt deposit is a dark grey which is about 95% salt and 5% impurities. They currently employ 300 miners and 500 tour guides! It is believed to be the 14th oldest company in the world. There are many large chambers, statues, some lakes, and even a Chapel carved into the salt by the miners. The mine goes down to 327m (1073 ft) and has over 300 km of tunnels. To start, we descended a wooden staircase with 378 steps down to the 64m (210 ft) level and as you continue through the mine you eventually end up 135m (443 ft) below ground after walking 3 km. As mentioned, there is a large chapel that they use for services and even some weddings. It has several reliefs of stories from The Bible such as the Last Supper carved into the salt. There is even a carving of Pope John Paul II who visited the mine on a couple of occasions before becoming The Pope. There have been concerts, dinner balls, even underground bungee jumps and a hot air balloon flight in some of the chambers. The largest is 36m tall. On the way in we had almost no wait at all, however, you take an elevator to get back to the surface and the wait for that wasted almost 1 hour!! It would have been quicker to take the steps but I don't think they give you the option. We caught a bus back to the town square where we then went to an authentic Polish restaurant with home cooking. Brenna had a Kielbasa meal with onions and potatoes, I had an XL Polish pork cutlet, and we ordered an extra side of potato pancakes which are like hash browns. We paid our whopping bill of $34 Zloty ($10 CAD) and left with our bellies full!! We walked through to the other side of the square where I had a coffee and we each ordered a fancy cake desert for a total $8 CAD. We made a pit stop at the hostel then decided to take a walk and see if we could find Oskar Schindler's factory. Oskar was a German industrialist who used Jewish labourers in his factory during WWII, saving 1100 from the death camps. After a several km walk, we found it but there really isn't anything to see from the street, it is all inside a museum building and it was closing in 10 minutes. If we have time tomorrow we may go back when it is open. From there, we went to the river's edge and strolled another 4km on the river walk to the Wawel Castel. There was some kind of Polish rock concert going on so we stopped to listen but left after a little bit because all the lyrics were in Polish. Finally, we made our way back to the square where we watched an older gentleman and his granddaughter singing and wandered around watching other people. Oh, and by the way, I think I figured out why we haven't seen much sun on the trip. It would appear that a shark came, put it in a shopping cart and stole our sunshine!! You will have to see the picture if you don't believe me. Tomorrow we plan on going to Auschwitz.