Trip log: Kraków, Poland, 10/23–10/25

Kraków, Poland was our next destination. It's described as meny to be the “Next Prague” as far as tourism is concerned. Oddly enough, we had already been to the “Next, Next Prague”s, Budapest and Dubrovnik.

More photos are on the Kraków page.

The way from Budapest to Kraków was a night train. Instead of a cabin, we had the bottom bunks of a 4-bed couchette. It seemed that the majority of the car was Americans.

We pulled into Kraków at about 6:30am, so we got our bearings, found an ATM to get local currency, then set about finding the bus which would take us close to where we were staying. As it ends up, we walked further than we needed to, since there's another tram we could have used which was a lot closer at each end.

We checked in and noticed there was a heated towel rack. The first thing a traveler thinks about when seeing one of these is “Laundry!”, which is what we did. When we poked our heads back out into the real world, there was a bit of rain, but as you can see it did clear up later in the day.

We started at the north of Old Town and worked our way down to the Main Market Square. the Cloth Hall in the middle is undergoing rennovations, but we still got to take a peek inside. This square is huge; you can see less than a quarter of it in this picture.

 Church foundation

Church foundation

There used to be a church here, and you can still see the foundation. It burned in 1855 and was never replaced. The statue you don't see at the top of the pillar won Kraków's “ugliest statue” award in 2002. You're welcome for cutting it out of the photo.

We then grabbed some lunch from a milk bar, cafeterias you see all around. Food was subsidized at milk bars during the communist era, and that subsidy continues today. It was easy for us to get full meals for about $3 or $4 each.

We went up Wawel Hill in the afternoon, and joined the many tourists there (it's the most visited sight in Poland). There's a huge cathedral there which has many different styles of chapels, and Poland's highest dignitaries are buried there.

For a large part of the next day we took a tour of the Wieliczka Salt Mine, which is still operational (at least in terms of being actively maintianed; salt hasn't been mined from it in the past few years). The tour takes you through many rooms with carvings done by the miners, including this relief rendition of The Last Supper. This relief is in a huge chapel, all carved into salt.

After checking out and stashing our luggage, we started our last day in Kraków in Kazimierz, the city's Jewish Quarter. We read that hours of museums and other attractions in the city are fluid, but we were having trouble finding anything at all which was open, even if the signs said they should be. Ends up that even though we had it on our calendar, we forgot that Daylight Savings Time had ended that morning, explanining why things weren't open yet. While we were waiting we went to the New Cemetary, which has many walls which contain mosaics of headstone fragments recovered after being ruined and moved elsewhere by the Nazis.

That afternoon we went to the Polish Folk Museum, which had, among other things, a collection of several hundred painted eggs.

 Pope John Paul II's favorite place to pray

Pope John Paul II's favorite place to pray

All over Kraków you see items related to Pope John Paul II, who was Archbishop of Kraków. This silver plate in St. Francis' Basilica marks the Pope's favorite place to pray when he lived in the Archbishop's Palace.

 Archbishop's Palace

Archbishop's Palace

This is part of the Archbishop's Palace, which remained his second home when he wasn't in Rome. After a long day of formal Mass, he'd stand in the window (where his likeness is at the left of the photo) and chat with people who assembled below. He'd talk about not only religion, but also sports, current events, and anything else people brought up. When the Pope died in 2005, ten thousand people were in the street under the window listening to a Mass broadcast over loudspeakers.

Even in the salt mine you can find this statue of the Pope. In addition to his likeness being all over the city, you can even take tours centerd around his life and the places he stayed and attended.

The place where we were staying said it had free wireless internet, so we got the passwords and tried to connect. Melody had great success, but I couldn't get a signal. I was able to find one in the courtyard outside our room, but that's about it. Being a bit chilly, I decided to just stay inside and wait until we got to Eger, Hungary (since that place also was supposed to have free wireless). I was, however, able to load more podcasts onto my phone, so it wasn't a total loss.

That night we ate dinner, trying to use up as much local currency as we could. We ended up with 2 złoty, about $0.65. The vending machines at the train station had 1.5 zł candy bars, but we decided we were close enough.