Alright, so, I’m gonna start this one off with a disclaimer. I feel like everyone on this tour has had at least one day where they just weren’t feeling it. This day was that day for me. I had crashed. Hard. So I’m not going to hold anything against Krakow. It was a perfectly nice little city. But because of my exhaustion, I was a little numb to it. Also, it would be hard for anywhere to feel lovely after the magic of Budapest, so there’s that as well. Alright, well, here we go.
Our first activity of the day was a tour of the famous Krakow Salt Mines. We had to leave the hotel at 7:30 to get there on time, so we were all in a bit of a daze. These mines had been active since the 1600s, and deposits there had been excavated since the Neolithic era. Salt was always super important in history, considering its use to preserve meat, flavor food, and even in certain circumstances, act as a medicine. So this mine was a big deal.
Disclaimer: I took all of my mine photos with my GoPro camera and found out that it’s pretty useless in low light. So yeah. My photos for this portion are pretty much all terrible. I’ll throw a few in for effect, but just know, they’re bad.
We started our tour by walking down this incredibly long staircase. I swear to got at some point we were going to hit the core of the earth. Luckily it was broken up into little sections of six-ish stairs each level, considering I slipped and fell at one point to the base of that flight. That was actually the second time I’ve done that on this trip, I did the same exact thing at the House of Terror in Budapest, I forgot to mention. Yes, Mom, I know you’re shocked. My bruise count is already at like 5.
The actual tunnels themselves were really cool. The walls, floors, and ceiling were all carved out of salt. Most of it looked a gray, smoky color, which reminded me of the granite deposits in New Hampshire, however, according to our guide, the rock was composed of 90% pure salt. We were allowed to lick the walls if we wanted to. I didn’t touch my tongue to the walls per se, but I did lick my finger, run it against the wall, and taste it. I can confirm. The walls were indeed made of salt.
Some tunnels were purely mine shafts, but others were vast halls carved right out of the salt. There was a chapel, a restaurant, a concert hall, all kinds of rooms that were decorated with murals and chandeliers and all kinds of décor that was also made of salt. Brodie said she’s going to get married in the salt chapel. “Screw St. Stephen’s in Budapest, is it made out of salt? NO.” It was a really cool tour. I bought some bath salt at the gift shop before we headed back up to the surface in the scariest tin can of an elevator I’ve ever ridden. We started singing our day song to distract us from the creaking.
We left the mines around 11 and headed back towards the hotel. By then I was completely exhausted and decided to lay down before we explored the city a bit. I laid down for like 20 minutes in my hotel, which gave me the energy to at least stand back up. We then walked into the city center, which was beautiful. Lots of areas of Krakow are really modern-looking, but the square has that old world feel that so many of our other destinations have as well. It was really pretty.
On our walk, we decided to sample lody, which is Polish ice cream. Brodie would like me to remind everyone that lody rhymes with her name, which is very exciting, because nothing rhymes with Brodie. Aside from its name, lody was also very exciting because it tasted delicious. Emma let us know that Italy was obviously more famous for gelato, but that lody was the ice cream secret of Europe. Definitely a hidden treasure. Very creamy. I got a flavor called “cookies.” How could you go wrong with that?
A few of us decided to go to the mall to get some shopping done and grab some lunch. We went to a walk-up buffet restaurant to sample as much Polish food as we could. You could load up your plates with anything you wanted, then weigh it at the end to pay. We kind of overdid it and had an accidental Polish feast. It was a good way to sample a bunch of different foods in one sitting. I had so many varieties of potatoes. None disappointed.
I knew I wanted to try and find some jewelry, taking advantage of Poland’s ridiculously reasonable prices. My companions split off to go look for clothes while I investigated the jewelers. I passed by a shop that had a really gorgeous blue and gold pendant and decided to go inside to take a closer look. The shop girl didn’t have great English skills but she was really nice. Utilizing both of our pantomiming skills, we were able to converse pretty well. Turns out the original pendant I’d fallen in love with was a bit out of my price range, but there was another one in the same collection that was a lot smaller, but in a cool drop-necklace style. So I bought that. It’s very pretty. It’ll definitely be a “classy occasion” piece.
After taking a half an hour to sit in the food court to try and regain some energy, it was time for our city tour. We returned to the Main Square, where Ros and I each bought a flower crown to make ourselves feel pretty and Polish. We then rejoined our tour group and our tour guide, Ewa (pronounced Eva, cuz Poland). Oh my god Ewa. What a doll. Ewa wins the award for best tour guide. What a storyteller. Every story she told, her eyes would go wide and she’d use her hands like she was speaking to a group of kindergarteners. She was amazing. It didn’t feel like a boring walking tour, we were there for storytime.
She started with the bell tower in St. Mary’s Basilica. There’s a man who plays the bugle from the top of the bell tower every day, every 50 minutes on the hour. Apparently in the 13th century, there was also someone with this same job, but more for the purpose of alerting the people of invaders or other important news. One man alerted the city that the Mongols were invading. His trumpet alerted the Krakowian army, which was able to mobilize and defeat the invading troops. Unfortunately, the only person to die was the trumpeter, who had been shot by an arrow. So today, there remains a trumpeter who continues the tradition. He stops abruptly whenever he plays, to symbolize the heroic death of his 13th century counterpart, but then sticks his head out the window and waves down to the people of the city to say he’s okay. Then he just hangs out up there until he has to play again, reading books and chilling out. Like, dream job anyone?
From there we continued out into the Main Square, which is huge and beautiful. The square is incredibly old, and used to house the public markets. It was also a place for entertainment, such as plays, performances, as well as public executions. What fun! Today, to preserve its beauty, the only sales allowed there are those of flowers, both fake and real, to add a touch of color to the courtyard, and other souvenirs.
We carried on along the tour and visited the site of the church where Pope John Paul II once served as bishop. This whole city loves good ole JP2. They’ve got pictures and memorials to him everywhere. Religious or not, everyone respected him as a great Pope and a really remarkable guy. Yay for JP2.
We also came to a grand building, once part of the University of Krakow that housed a significant historic event. When the Nazis invaded in September of 1939, they invited many highly-recognized professors from the University to join the Nazi party at this building. Scared to refuse, many of those intellectuals attended the event. It was there that they were locked in, and the building burned down. The Nazis recognized that members of the intelligencia were some of the most influential and therefore most dangerous people in the community, so therefore they needed to be destroyed. Smart people are important, guys.
The castle itself was pretty cool, but the coolest thing about it was the myth of the dragon. Apparently there was legend of a dragon that once lived in tunnels below the castle. The dragon apparently had a craving for young women, so he was eating all the girls in the town. The king was upset that all the women of his kingdom were getting murdered, so he said that whoever killed the dragon would get to marry his daughter. Many tried to slay the dragon, but they all failed. And died.
Then came along a shoemaker. He decided to trick the dragon. He took sheepskin, filled it with sulfur, disguised it like a living sheep, then put it in front of the dragon’s tunnels. The dragon found it, was like, “Sweet, free sheep dinner,” and ate it. Well, the sulfur burned his throat, so he ran over to the river to try to stop the burning, but it didn’t stop. So he drank and drank until he exploded. Go shoe guy! Then he got to marry the princess. The end. Gotta love a good ole’ fashioned dragon story.
After freshening up a bit, it was time for our pirogue dinner. Now, I’ve had pirogues before, and I had them for lunch, but I was excited to go to this dinner, because this restaurant was famous for them. First we got a demonstration about how to make them, once again from Ewa and one of the kitchen chefs. Then we actually got to try to make our own. Mine didn’t come out too shabby if I do say so myself. He looked like a lil hedgehog, just like Ewa said.
Next we actually got to eat the food. This was one of the better dinners we’d had on the trip. We got to each have five pirogues for an appetizer, a couple potato and onion, a couple mince meat, and a couple cheese and…something else. I dunno. I was too busy inhaling them to actually taste each ingredient. The entrée was a family style platter of various meats, some potatoes, and a salad with honey mustard dressing. It was all amazing. Finally dessert was some strawberry pirogues. That was a little odd. The strawberries were a bit tart. And also, it’s like having strawberry ravioli. Like, that’s an odd texture to go with fruit. Also they came around with a weird egg custard as like a second dessert. That was really weird. It was like sugary egg with berries at the bottom. This probably would have been our hands-down best dinner if dessert was better.
After a walk through the city square, we were back home at our hotel. Krakow, you were lovely. I wish I was a bit more awake to experience more of you. I didn’t even have the energy to buy a postcard. If nothing, I loved the history and the colorful buildings. Oh, and dragons. Much like Denaerys Targaryan, I can’t say no to some dragon lore every now and again.