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Entries about krakow

WIELICZKA SALT MINE

AND A FEW THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT POLAND

rain 12 °C

The Wieliczka Salt Mine is located in the town of Wieliczka about 20 minutes outside of Krakow. It operated in the 13th century and produced table salt continuously until 2007, At that time it was one of the world's oldest salt mines in operation. The mine’s attractions include dozens of salt carved statues and a number of chapels.

It was fortunate I had planned this 4-hour tour for today because the weather was crap. It rained on and off most of the day. Of course, I knew nothing of that in the 2.5 hours that I was underground. The tour takes you to 135 meters underground (appx 440 ft). Normally, you descend into the mine by stairs, 480 steps followed by another 320 however because of the back log of guests our giant tour group had to take the mine shaft which is normally only used for the ascent. Personally, I would have rather done the stairs even before I saw the elevator. At no point does anyone ask you if you are claustrophobic or explain that you may stop midway, only that it will be a quick 14 seconds to the base of the 480 steps. I have never been so close to 8 other strangers. You are literally jammed in, they push on your arms and legs to close the little doors. It was way more than 14 secs and when we stopped completely in the dark, I had a quick moment where I wondered if I would panic. We all sort of figured that the 3-layer elevator might have to let people out in steps and we were right. It was definitely longer than 14 seconds. We did walk the last 320 steps which were on nice staircases and an easy walk so I am not sure what all fuss is about. On the way up they told us it would take 45 seconds but that went really quick and we lucked into only having 8 people so I only had to touch my neighbors not cuddle up. I have to wonder how many people who walk down panic when they see the elevator up. It is crazy so there has to be some who just can't do it. It was well worth the visit despite the bit of disorganization. It was really interesting when light was put behind these grey salt figures and they became translucent. Here’s what we saw below.

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They had one room where a machine took your picture and emailed to you. This is mine. I think it looks like I was using the toilet and was suddenly surprised someone was taking my picture.

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On the return, I got dropped off at the main square where I had some lunch, some mulled wine and planned my afternoon.

I visited St. Mary’s Basilica which was lovely but I am not one to loiter in such places. Did you know that Poland is a deeply religious country with 92% of the population being Roman Catholic?

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I also visited the Cloth Market. A beautiful building filled with shops. Most sell amber, the native gemstone of Poland but I bought none.

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I then made my way to the music academy where I planned to have coffee on the rooftop café but it was closed. I was very disappointed. At this point it was pouring hard so I decide to give in and make my way back to the hotel.

Here is the indication for a unisex bathroom in Poland? I am told that there are lots of these and locals say that many a romance begins in the queue for the toilet. Sometimes, if the bathroom is not unisex, the symbols are split. Would you know where to go?

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Tomorrow I fly to Dublin for a week of meetings. I have enjoyed Krakow way more than I expected. I could easily spend more time here. I didn’t make it to the castle or any museums. The city is very clean, people are friendly and most speak some English. Most of the tourists I met were from the UK and I have several servers tell me I was their first Canadian. I am certain I am not the only Canadian to visit but surprised that we are not up there since Canadians enjoy Europe. I was asked more than once if I was afraid of Donald Trump being so close. It is very cheap for a European country. I could have a large meal with wine and water for $10. A little more in the main square. The two drives outside the city looked lovely and I feel like Poland deserves a proper visit. I’ll be back.

Oh...and of course I am the circle. I didn't need any more reminders that I am round.

Posted by curlygirl 13:03 Archived in Poland Tagged mines salt krakow Comments (2)

KRAKOW BY DAY

A DAY IN PHOTOS

overcast 9 °C

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Taken from a rooftop cafe.

Let me start by saying that Krakow has quickly become one of my new favorites. What an incredible city, that while filled with a very dark history, has been left almost completely intact. It has a “softnesss” about it that makes it feel warm and welcoming. Soft is an odd word to describe a city but it keeps popping to mind perhaps because of the language, spoken quietly, amazingly empty streets, softly painted walls and whisking willows. With its 10 universities and thousands of students it has a real bohemian feel, I love it here.

I spent the good part of my day with a local photographer, David who originally hails from the UK but who followed his heart, and now wife to Krakow. This is a fairly new habit for me, finding a photographer to show me the sites, not so much for the instruction but for the experience of seeing a city through someone who also enjoys seeing it through a lens and, more importantly, has the patience and understanding that non-photographers often don’t, to wait while you have the shots you want. David did not disappoint. He holds a wealth of information about the city, knows where to get the best shots and can point you to the best restaurants and cafes. We enjoyed a few coffees in unique cafes along the way from the tops of tall buildings to an old Jewish home. It was great and he was quick to offer advice and answer questions on anything photography. It wasn’t until after we parted, me, with even more things on my “to do” list that I realized just how late in the day it was.

Here’s the link to David’s site in case you have the opportunity.

CLICK HERE

We covered quite a bit of ground. Starting in the Old Town and making our way back through the Jewish Area including a visit to see part of the remaining ghetto wall. Here are some highlights from our time together.

The main square.

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Exploring courtyards and a church with amazing stain glass windows

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More sites, including the Krakow dragon that refused to blow fire for us

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The place to get the very popular polish pizza, Kapiekanka

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A café in an old Jewish home

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More from the Jewish area

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I liked this rooftop

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The bridge by day

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One of the few buildings with bullet holes

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The chair memorial by day. It is hard to find much information on this site but David believes the chairs that sit back on represented those that turned their backs on those living in the grotto. And what a classroom. Many students sat and listened quietly to their history lesson.

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The old ghetto wall which was cruelly made to look like Jewish headstones

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David also suggest that I visit the “new” (starting in 1800) Jewish cemetery so as soon as I left him, I went directly there. I did not expect to have such an emotional response. Maybe having just seen the grotto wall made it hit home. It was beautiful but sad. One of the workers there explained in broken English how the Germans destroyed the cemetery using headstones as mortar for roads to the camps. Today, only partially rebuilt (and in need of serious repair), some of the headstones that could not be linked to their gravesides are imbedded in the new walls surrounding the graveyard. I think what struck me most was how huge it was, and this was not the only Jewish cemetery and yet, there are less than 200 remaining in the city today.

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From there I wandered around, sat in a café where I had pierogi and hot raspberry beer. Both local, delicious and cheap. I think it cost about $5. I was just about settled on going back to my room for the evening when I realized that my time here was short so rest was not an option. Instead, I headed back to the old town and took in a classical concert in the old St Paul and Peter Cathedral. It was well worth it even though the church was freezing.

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We even got a performance outside

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On the walk home, after reaching 30,000 steps on a very full day, I figured I would add one more Polish tradition to my day, and grabbed a sausage for the walk home.

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Posted by curlygirl 15:31 Archived in Poland Tagged jewish krakow ghetto Comments (4)

KRAKOW - KAZIMIERZ DISTRICT

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

sunny 12 °C

I arrived in Krakow right on schedule despite the Canadian snowstorm that threaten to complicate the travel. I was pleasantly surprised not to need a coat at all here until the sun started to go down when it got quite chilly.

I was completely beat so was delighted to learn my room was ready. North Americans are not often so lucky when arriving early into Europe. Some suggest it is better to stay awake but I find I am useless without a little sleep. Still, I had to force myself to get up after a 2 hour snooze.

I elected to take a 2.5 hour walking tour of the area I am staying in called the Kazmierz District which was once the center of Jewish life in Krakow before being destroyed during World War 2. Thanks to Steven Spielberg, who filmed Schindler’s List in the area, it has since been revitalized. Although of the 60,000 Jews who lived here before the war there are only 160 remaining. We learned that many of the Jewish restaurants are owned and run by the Polish and are not Kosher. And of the 7 synagogues that were in the area, only 2 are still used for worship.

Here are the highlights of the evening with some text robbed from the internet.

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This is the  Jan Karski bench - Karski was a member of the Polish underground army, known to the history books as the "man who tried to stop the Holocaust." During World War II, Karski smuggled himself into the Warsaw Ghetto and Nazi concentration camps with the express intent of witnessing and recording the horror being perpetrated against the Jews, in order to report it to the West

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The Isaac Synagogue, built in the early Judaic-Baroque style, was opened in 1644, and was a gift to the city from a wealthy Jew, Izaak Jakubowicz

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These stairs were used in the filming of Schindler's List, to represent the ghetto which is too modernized now.

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We walked over this amazing bridge on our way to Schindler's Factory and the Jewish Ghetto.

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The Jewish Ghetto was occupied from 1941-1943 before residents were killed or shipped to concentration camps. Near where the Ghetto once stood, is a large square containing the "Empty Chairs Memorial". The chairs scattered across the square face the concentration camps and each chair is said to represent 1000 Jews killed. Some say the chairs represent the belongings of those moved to the ghetto, and chairs because they were often carried by the children. There are a few chairs with their backs to the ghetto, these are said to represent those that did not accept what was happening to these people. One of the those people was Dr. Tadeusz Pankiewicz. He was the only non Jewish person to live inside the ghetto. He convinced the Nazis that he should keep his pharmacy there to help prevent illness form spreading to the city. He saved many lives.

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We wandered on to Oscar Schindler's factory where he saved 1200 Jews. This is now a museum and the faces of those he saved peer through the window panes. we did learn of some inaccuracies in the movie and that Schindler was no saint but also that he and others risked their lives to save many who would have been otherwise lost. As always in difficult times, the great humanities can be found.

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It was a short day but I covered quite a bit. The city has a voice that speaks clearly of its history. I heard it and felt it immediately but there is also a warmth that has me looking very forward to the next 3 days.

Posted by curlygirl 14:15 Archived in Poland Tagged krakow Comments (3)

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