Day 13 – Cracow (7/5/23)

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.

A high-ranking Jewish diplomat who reported on the Nazi atrocities and tried to get justice for the Jews. Didn’t catch his name.
Orthodox Jews from outside of Cracow entering this synagogue
Oldest working synagogue in Europe
Memorial to the Cracow Jews murdered in World War II
House where Helena Rubinstein, the cosmetics queen, was brought up. From humble beginnings, which she was ashamed of, she built a huge business
A strictly kosher 4-star hotel. Apparently you must not mix meat and milk when you eat. It is a remarkably prescribed way of life
An even older synagogue, no longer working

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.

This building had to be restored after it was used as a barracks
This wall had to be sponsored. If you gave a sum equal to a day’s work, you got a plaque
Some Polish hero or other
Looking back down the hill
Pope John Paul II
Royal Palace courtyard
Perfectly preserved frescoes

It was at this point we left the castle and started to walk into the Old Town.

Hotel named after Nicholas Copernicus. Probably best known for his astronomer status, he was also a mathematician, scientist and economist. He was probably the first to define inflation.
You will never guess what this was. No? Well, it was a torch extinguisher!
Residences in certain areas didn’t have numbers, but were identified by additions such as an elephant….
…and a rhino
Remains of the Old City Hall in the town square
You might just be able to make out the outline of the end of a trumpet in the window on the left. A trumpeter appears every hour just after the hour at this window, plays a short blast, waves and disappears. Nobody really seems to know why.

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.

The salt was removed in these big cylinders
Wood was used extensively in the mine infrastructure
Tribute to Copernicus, who visited these mines
So-called cauliflower salt, a purer form
Primitive version of the miners’ safety lamp. Methane was a potential danger
Ponies were used extensively underground, but they had a relatively good life
One of the carts used to transport the salt
Can’t remember who this king was, but an impressive salt carving
There was a very strong religious theme throughout the mine
Chandelier made with pure salt crystals
The pièce de resistance. An enormous underground chapel
Poor picture of where a choir would, and does, sit
Salt crystal chandelier
Pope John Paul II
One of three underground lakes
Tallest chamber in the mine – 36 metres high
Café, souvenir shop, natch
Crystalline exhibits
Underground café – nice cup of tea here
Picture on the wall showing the chspel
Underground conference room

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.

4 responses to “Day 13 – Cracow (7/5/23)”

  1. I didn’t know about the salt mine – very interesting-looking place.

    Bet you were glad to get back to your nice warm hotel room? 😉

    1. It was fascinating. Our neighbour at No. 8 couldn’t recommend it highly enough, and he was right.

      The temperature underground was a very pleasant 17 degrees. It never varies. The wind generally in Cracow, however, was usually piercing!

  2. As you know Chris on my mothers side of the family they are jewish and yes i have often been to my cousin s house who were strict orthodox jews so never did we mix meat and dairy also they had kept all the chopping boards etc separate including cutlery etc and of course we ate kosher food which is very tasty i was raised on salt beef and fish balls as a child and still love jewish food i have been to several jewish weddings and a few funerals with the rabbi all my family are buried at golders green
    Tomorrow is going to be a very tough day i dont think i could cope with it
    Hope you are feeling better have a large brandy that should help purely medicinal of couurse!

    1. It was a tough day, Adele – blog post upcoming. Don’t read it if you don’t want to. I’ve tried to keep it relatively unemotional.

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