Our Our 2011 Eastern Europe Tour

Part 1 - Page 7

We returned to Krakow in the early afternoon. GCT had scheduled an "optional tour" of the Wieliczka Salt Mine in the small town of Wieliczka outside of Krakow. Claire Tuttle, our small groups resident curmudgeon, said that GCT was charging too much and she could arrange a cheaper tour through the hotel concierge. The group voted and we all agreed to let Claire set it up.

It turned out to be an OK good deal!!

This is the main building for the Wieliczka mine tours. It houses the elevetor. We saw the GCT people go in and learned later that they went down on this elevator.

The Wieliczka salt mine reaches a depth of over 1100 feet and is over 186 miles long. It features a 2.1 mile touring route for visitors (less than 1% of the length of the mine's passages) that includes historic statues and mythical figures. The oldest sculptures were carved out of rock salt by miners; more recent figures have been fashioned by contemporary artists.

Even the crystals of the chandeliers are made from rock salt that has been dissolved and reconstituted to achieve a clear, glass-like appearance. The rock salt is naturally gray in various shades, so that the carvings resemble unpolished granite rather than the white or crystalline look that many visitors expect.

The mine continuously produced table salt from the 13th century until 2007 as one of the world's oldest operating salt mines. It is believed to be the world's 14th-oldest company still in operation. Eight of the older companies are located in Japan. Who'da thunkit?

This is a plan of the tourist route. Our group got shunted to a door which led to a stairway. There were 53 flights of stairs to get to where the tour started. That's shown on the plan as a dotted line coming down from the top.

Here's what it looked like going down.

Here's a typical passage. That's Claire, Heidi, and Mike up ahead.

Here's Heidi and Copernicus.

Here is life-size statue of a Queen(?) and her subject.

Here is the St Kingas Chapel. It is a huge man made cavern complete with altars, chandliers, bas-reliefs of the The Last Supper and The Nativity, a statue of John Paul II, as well as many other carvings, all made of salt.

Here is Claire being stuffed (along with me and 7 others) into a 5 by 5 foot evevator. Thankfully, it was a speedy ride to the top and the Gift Shop where you could buy what? Salt carvings.

Here is Heidi, Mike Mary Ann, me, Lucille, and Claire all together at "The Rocking Horse" restaurant back in Krakow. It turned out to be an OK place to eat. I had Bigos (Pork and cabbage). Mary Ann had Rye Soup in a bread bowl.

This is where Claire told our waiter "...to go back and figure out everyones bills separately and don't come back 'til you get it right!!". He did, rather sheepishly.

Instead of going on another "optional tour" to Zacopane (a Polish resort town at the foot of the Tatra Mountains.), Mary Ann and I took off on our own. Our first stop was the Wawel Castle.

The Wawel Castle and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Stanislaw and St. Waclawis is an architectural complex erected over many centuries atop a limestone outcrop on the left bank of the Vistula River. It is a place of great significance to the Polish people. The Royal Castle with an armoury and the Cathedral are situated on the hill. Polish Royalty and many distinguished Poles are interred in the Wawel Cathedral. Royal coronations took place there also. and

Here the courtyard of the Wawel Castle. It was early in the morning on a Saturday and the crowds and tour groups were gathering.

Mary Ann found her "Knight in Shining Armor" in the Castle. Well, maybe it wasn't armor and maybe it wasn't shining, but he certantly was chivalrous.

This is a statue of the dragon that lived under the Wawel hill on the banks of the Vistula River. long ago he was woken up by some boys and he proceeded to kill sheep and virgins until a man named Krakus fed him some poisoned sheep.

The dragon went to the river and drank until he exploded.

Krakus was made king and Krakow was named for him, or so the story goes...

This is probably a brand new tradition - at least in Poland. Couples hang padlocks here with their names engraved. Keys are thrown to the Vistula river which flows under the bridge. This is supposed to be a symbol of unbreakable love. The "love padlocks" are placed along the whole length of the footbridge and some are even hung on the other side.

To zdjecie mówi samo za siebie.

This is a 2006 pre "Schinler's List" picture of his factory across the Vistula from downtown Krakow in Krakow's Old Town historical center. The building was cleaned up a bit and used in the movie. It became such a popular tourist destination that it was converted into the City of Krakow Historical Museum. The permanent exhibition of the museum is entitled ‘Krakow under Nazi Occupation 1939-1945’ which correctly summarizes its contents.

Here is the real Oskar Schindler. Below him is Liam Neeson (Schindler), Ben Kingsley (Itzhak Stern, the Accountant) and Steven Spielberg (the director of "Schindler's List").

Here are Schindler's desk and office stairs that were used in the movie. Another character in the movie is Ralph Fiennes who played Amon Goeth the Commandant of the Plaszów concentration camp. The Plaszów site is now a memorial, the movie version of the concentration camp was shot at a quarry near Plaszów .

Later in the day, we had dinner with Kelly and Diane (our table mates at the "Home Hosted" dinner. We went to a restaurant called "Miod Malina" which means Raspberry Honey in English. The had super food and a charming decor .

The next 4 pictures are street scenes in Krakow. I took these on our wayback to the hotel from dinner.

The next three pictures are of the Polish countryside and the quaint village of Chocholow going south from Krakow to the border of Slovakia,

Well patient viewers, this is the end of our days in Poland. We now move on to Budapest, Hungary; Bratislava, Slovakia; and finally Prague, Czech Republic.

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