This morning I woke up from my slumber in my, oh so glorious, empty dorm room bright and early as I had a train to catch.
Goodbye Warsaw. Hello Krakow!
The train ride was just over 3 hours and I arrived in Krakow just after 11am.
I had forgotten to write down the directions to the hostel but I did have it marked on my map so I just used GPS to guide me the right way.
The hostel is actually only a couple minutes walk from the train station and, in fact, everything is kind of close by as the old town is just another couple of minutes away from there.
When I checked in I also booked a couple of tours for today and tomorrow – one to the Wieliczka salt mine and the other to Auschwitz.
Now, normally I don’t book tours and I just figure out how to do it on my own using local transit but I’m at the point in this trip where I want somebody else to do all the thinking for me.
So, I booked the tours – normally 130PLN ($45) each but since I booked both they were only 110PLN ($38).
Plus I got a voucher for two free lunches at the restaurant attached to the hostels’ sister hostel.
While I was waiting for my room to be ready I decided to go checkout that free lunch.
They have a special little menu that has a choice of three dishes. Today it was chicken, waldorf salad or ribs.
Anyone who truly knows me knows what I chose…
My favorite meal of all time!
I also ordered a bowl of pumpkin-ginger soup for 5PLN ($1.25).
After lunch I headed back to the hostel and got settled in as I had a couple of hours until my tour to the Wieliczka Salt Mine left at 3:30pm.
Wieliczka is a town about 45 minutes away and we arrived there around 5pm.
There were about 30 people on our bus but my tour group was actually smaller as we separated into three groups (Spanish, Italian, English) when we arrived.
Our group was 12 people which is way less than the usual 60 people in a group our guide Sebastian said there normally was.
In fact, he said in the busy season people wait 3-4 hours to enter the mine and even up to 7 hours over the May Day labour long weekend.
For us, today, on a overcast day in October – there was no wait at all and we just headed straight inside.
The salt mine is actually one of the original 12 UNESCO world heritage sites that were listed in 1978.
The mine was built in the 13th century and is so big that it would take months to see every part of it.
Today we only saw 1% of the mine and that was a 2.5km walk over 3 hours time.
The most glaring thing that strikes you when you’re in the mine is that, aside from some wooden structures, the entire mine is made of salt.
There are sculptures and works or art carved in the salt plus staircases and tiled floors.
Back in the day to be a salt miner was a very rewarding experience as, along with your pay, you were also allowed to take a bag of salt home with you each shift.
It’s worth noting that back then salt was actually more valuable than silver and it was very sought after to preserve meats among other things.
So, yeah, the miners were rich.
Of course, each year 10% of the workforce died but, still, they died rich!
Interesting tidbit is that the word “salary” actually comes from the root “sal” or salt because that was how people were paid.
Also interesting is that universal gesture of wanting to pay – the rubbing of your thumb and finger together – is from the inverted motion of putting salt on a dish.
Anyway, there were a few other cool facts brought up and all in all it was a very informative tour.
Thank God there was an elevator to take us to the top whizzing up at 4 ft/sec.
By 8pm we had arrived back in Krakow and a couple minutes later I was back at my hostel ready for the free communal dinner they do every night at that time.
They actually spread out a pretty good buffet of pizzas, meats, salad, and pastas.
Now, was it true Polish food? No. But I wasn’t complaining.
They even had a sign in the dining room that labels it a no laptop/no phone area so people actually socialize.
After sitting around chatting for awhile after dinner I finally headed to bed around 11pm.
Good introduction to Krakow but we all know the real reason for coming here is the tour tomorrow to Auschwitz.