I had a truly lousy night’s sleep, because of this bloody cold and the room being too warm, despite the aircon being turned to its coldest setting. We’re not particularly impressed with the hotel – it’s a bit shabby and unloved, unlike the hotels in Berlin and Prague. I opted to stay in bed a bit longer and skip breakfast, and Jean went to get a bite to eat.
I took up the issue of the non-functioning aircon with the front desk. Apparently, they don’t enable it until the summer months and they can’t activate it manually. Yet another black mark.
The schedule for today was for the coach to take us to the Jewish Quarter in Cracow for a short walk round with guide Tomek, then back to the hotel for a comfort break before a much longer walk round Cracow Old Town.
The Jewish Quarter was quite interesting, as Tomek gave a very detailed account of the customs of the population here. There were at one point around 65,000 Jews in a city of population 750,000. They were, of course, targeted by the Nazis during the late 1930s, and those that were left were forced into a ghetto on the other side of the river.
We stopped by the area of the Jewish ghetto without getting off the bus.
In the picture below, the house with the balcony was owned by a Jewish pharmacist whose name, once again, I did not catch. However, he was responsible for helping Jews to escape from this living hell.
The chairs you see are a symbol of the furniture that accumulated in this courtyard when the Jews were once again forced to move out to accommodate wealthy Germans. There are a total of 68 chairs, one representing 1,000 Cracow Jews murdered by the Nazis.
It was bloody cold. Once the coach got back to the hotel after this, many people, including us, dashed back to our room to get additional clothing.
Tomek then took us on a tour of Cracow, stating with the enormous castle on top of Vavel Hill, which dominates the city. Once again, his descriptions were very detailed, but, once again, information overload.
It was at this point we left the castle and started to walk into the Old Town.
All in all, very impressed with Cracow. Nice place, shame about the weather.
As the world-famous salt mines at Wielicska were not on the schedule, and a neighbour of ours had strongly urged us to visit, I’d booked tickets online yesterday afternoon. We chanced a Uber to get there, and 25 minutes later, we were dropped off outside the entrance. Thank God we arrived early, because the queue grew very quickly and it was a very large group that we ended up in, including two very noisy kids.
This proved to be absolutely fascinating. The mine ceased work in 1996, but it’s been preserved as a monument to the generations of workers who almost made this their home. Salt was extremely valuable back in the day; in fact, people used to be paid in salt, which is where the word salary comes from.
The salt here is known as grey salt, as it is tinged with clay and other minerals to make it a darkish colour. It is around 85% sodium chloride.
We descended three levels in all, culminating (if that’s the right word) at a depth of around 170 metres below the surface. Lots and lots of steps, fortunately quite shallow ones. Around 800 in all.
Our guide was a Pole, and was a little self-important with a very strong accent, but he knew his stuff.
Some of the chambers left by over 500 years of mining were absolutely enormous.
After well over two hours, it was time to go.
This was not as easy as it should have been. Queued for about 25 minutes, then led into an ante-room with about 50 others, then down some stairs, another ante-room, up some stairs, then a good 10 minute walk to the truly antiquated lifts. Then waited some more. Finally got into a very small cage with many others – if you were claustrophobic, you would really have suffered – then finally into the fresh air.
Despite this tortuous exit, a truly amazing experience. Pictures just don’t do it justice.
Emboldened by our Uber success on the way out, we chanced our arm again. Took about 10 minutes this time, but worked perfectly for a very good price.
What a day. Nothing for it but to get our heads down, particularly as we have an early start tomorrow for Auschwitz. I’ll try and keep that post short, although it’s a long day.