Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Krakow, part 2

Our first full day in Krakow, we met Anna in our hotel lobby for a private tour I arranged.  I located her in the Rick Steves Eastern Europe guidebook and she was a steal at €120 for the entire day.

We kicked it off with a stroll between our hotel and Wawel Hill, passing by the the Hotel Copernicus.  And Copernicus did indeed lodge here whenever he was visiting the city.   

On the same side street, diagonal from the hotel, was one of the residences where Karol Wojtyla (aka Pope John Paul II) lived while in Krakow.  I made the husband stop in front for a quick pic.

We huffed and puffed our way up historic Wawel Hill to see the royal castle, cathedral and view of the river.

The statue above depicts Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a national hero in Poland who ALSO happened to serve as a colonel in the continental army during the American Revolution.  He became a naturalized citizen of the newly formed USA and was even given a land grant as well as military pay.

Anna took us through the buildings and it was really interesting.

Upon exiting the structures, we found ourselves slogging around in rain for the rest of the day.

Above is a pic of the younger daughter in front of the dragon statue.  There is a cave, of sorts, under part of Wawel Hill and the Polish legend is that the dragon lived here along the banks of the Vistula River.  

And in a funny aside, the west entrance to the cathedral has some "dragon" bones suspended from chains that have been there for a couple centuries.  The story goes that if the bones fall, then the world will end.  In reality, the bones uncovered in this area are of an ancient mammoth, whale and rhino... not a dragon.  Darn our modern science and carbon dating for ruining a really cool story about the remains of the Wawel dragon.

After lunch at a Luby's-like cafeteria right off the old market square, we headed to the Wieliczka salt mines.  Discovered in the 13th century, it has become a popular tourist attraction. You descend over 1000 ft into the ground to get a glimpse of the life of the miners in addition to the artwork they created in their spare time.

Above you see the chapel carved into the mine (available for weddings) and the rock salt chandeliers, below, providing light to the space. 

We were told that the ride to the surface in this rickety, OSHA nightmare of an elevator would be about a 20 minute wait once the tour ended.  And don't you know that wait stretched into a full hour, especially with some folks who felt it their right to "cut" in front of us.  There was a bit of a verbal altercation between a Polish grandpa with his wife, daughter and young grandkids (who were very antsy) and three rude, line cutting Russians that looked to be about 20-yrs-old.  They were swigging bear and stealthily brushing past folks to make their way closer to the front of the line.  As luck would have it, we got jammed into the 10 person "elevator" with them. I swear that thing was powered by a couple old donkeys on the surface working some sort of simple pulley system.  And as if that wasn't hair raising enough, the Russians broke out their camera phone to create this nauseating strobe effect of flashes as we made the ascent.  Rude eurotrash, no doubt.

That evening, we dined at Pizzeria Cyklop, where the husband enjoyed a pie with three kinds of pork (oink, oink) and pickles atop the melted cheese.  For dessert, we visited a cute little tearoom where the cakes were really more attractive than tasty.  The chocolate cherry and hazelnut chocolate cakes were forgettable, but my coconut cake was really good.

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