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Monday, January 2, 2017

Kraków, Part 2: Getting sentenced to the salt mines

Supplicating to the gods of salt

Our second full day in Kraków began with a solo exploration of Old Town while the girls stayed behind in our room at Wielopole, absorbed in their respective electronic devices (my only New Year's resolution is to wean my daughter off of things with screens - an impossible task to be sure):

The Church of SS Peter & Paul (Kościół Św Piotra i Pawła) was the first Baroque structure in Kraków, erected by the Jesuits in 1583. Outside stand the 12 Apostles on columns in front of the church:

Next door is the Church of St. Andrew (Kościół Św Andrzeja), in a building that has stood on the same spot since the late 11th century. On the outside all is austere...:

...but the inside is a completely different world, thanks to a radical 18th-century Baroque remodeling:

The Florian Gate (Brama Floriańska) is the only survivor of the eight entrance gates that once encircled Old Town. The lower portion of the gate dates from around 1300:

Briefly outside the confines of Old Town, looking toward a monument celebrating the Battle of Grunwald, with St. Florian's Church in the background:

The Barbican medieval fortification. Between the bastion and the Florian Gate were several tour groups, all gathered around guides giving explanations in English, French, Italian and Spanish (and identified by the flag they were carrying). I would later pass by a Croatian tour group on my back to Wielopole:

From in front of our hotel, Amber, Shu-E and I boarded a van to take us to the Wieliczka Salt Mine (Kopalina Soli). A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978, the ultra-deep salt mine has been in operation for over 700 years, with its deepest tunnel situated 327 meters underground. We were able to explore three levels of the mine between 64 and 135 meters below the ground as part of a mandatory English-language guided tour. Having our own vehicle, we should've been able to drive out to the mine ourselves, but the next available tour openings weren't until Friday, the following day when we were scheduled to return to Warsaw. So we joined an outing organized through our hotel, a more expensive option but still worth the expense as the mine is a definite must-see for visitors to Kraków:

Mannequins demonstrate various salt-excavating operations:

Spaghetti-like salt strings and accumulations of salt shaped like cauliflowers:

Salt was carved out of the rocks by hand and rolled into large blocks:

The undeniable highlight of a visit to the mine is the Chapel of St. Kinga (Kaplica Św Kingi), an actual underground church measuring 54 meters by 18 meters, and 12 meters in height. Everything from the altarpieces to the chandeliers is made of salt; it took more than thirty years to complete the chapel:

The Eram Barącz Chamber contains a man-made salt lake, with a density of 320 grams of salt per liter. Like the Dead Sea, you would float and not sink:

The final stop in the mine before taking the elevator back to the surface is the 36 meter-high Stanislaw Staszic Chamber:

Wooden boards in the mine were often painted white for greater visibility in the dark tunnels:

The mine logo on the floor of the gift shop as we headed back to the van. I thought it would look pretty cool on a soccer jersey:

The van dropped us back off at Wielopole, where we had lunch (vegetable curry for me) at the hotel's excellent vegetarian restaurant:

On our last evening in Kraków we entered the Rynek Underground exhibition, located beneath the market square in Old Town. It's a fascinating underground tour of medieval chambers and market stalls, enhanced by modern-day audio-visual wizardry:

The exhibits on medieval burials were appropriately eerie:

Back at ground level and checking out the stalls selling souvenirs inside the Cloth Hall:

Shu-E toasts the end of an interesting day at a German-style beer hall. The three nights we stayed in Kraków certainly weren't enough. With more time, I would've liked to explore more of Wawel Castle, as well as visiting Oskar Schindler's factory. Speaking of World War II, the notorious Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps are an easy day trip from the city, but I know my daughter would not have wanted to visit (having already been to Dachau). The communist-era architecture of Nowa Huta also sounds interesting, but at least I would get to see a stunning example of Socialist realism the following day in Warsaw:

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