Wiekliczka Salt

My plan for sleeping didn’t work out quite like I’d hoped, but the train was a fine experience overall. It was much more comfortable than I had expected. The other girls in my cabin all seemed to be about my age and were really nice. Mine was the top bunk of 3, with no ladder, so I had to climb up via the other bunks. It was about a foot and a half away from the ceiling, and a person any taller wouldn’t have been able to lie down straight–but it was perfect for me.

We arrived in Krakow just before 7. I found the hostel fine, but did have an embarrassing experience on the tram. First, I missed my stop I thought we were just at a red light when I was supposed to be getting off. The next stop, I couldn’t figure out how to get the doors open. Nobody said a word to me, nobody helped me, and then the tram moved on. I figured it out by the next stop, so I just had to take another one back the way I had come.

They’re really nice at this hostel. It comes with free breakfast, and they even allowed me to eat there this morning. It’s really just toast with jams or cream cheeses and coffee or tea, but it’ll do.

I decided to go to the salt mine today and auschwitz tomorrow. Aushcwitz is free before 10:00 and after 2:00, but it’s actually pretty hard to get there before 10:00. I wouldn’t mind paying, but what you pay for are tour guides. You’re not allowed to go through without one during peak hours. I’ve been studying WWII and the Holocaust extensively in university, and tours are generally basic enough I didn’t think I’d be getting new information. I’d rather go early, when it’s less crowded, and see things on my own. To do so, I’ll be catching a 5:40 train tomorrow.

To get to the salt mines today, I took a bus. I wandered around krakow for a bit beforehand, and it seems like a really nice place. It’s very pretty, there is a lot going on, and it’s nice to be out of the really big cities. The bus is the quickest and easiest way to get to Wiekiclzka, so it was pretty crowded. I was standing. I dropped my empty smoothie cup and met another couple travelers who picked it up for me.

The two guys are Isaac and Stanley. They’re ariel photographers, so basically they fly planes around fitted to take photos and measurements of the ground. Cartographers and other people then take this data and use it for research. Isaac is an American and Stanley is Polish, but they both live and work primarily out of Chicago. Their work with the polish government brings them here a few times a year. They live in Warsaw, but came down to Krakow for a few days.

We went through all the salt mines together. I licked almost all the walls. I don’t understand why only cows and seers get salt licks. It’s so delicious. The mining operation is really impressive. The entire thing is hand cut, there were no natural caves there. Now, its about 327 meters deep. The caves themselves are beautiful and impressive, but the miners took it to the next level.

As they hollowed out more and more space, they would turn the caverns into chapels. Their work was dangerous, so they wanted to bring god into the ground with them. The spaces they made are amazing. Almost every one seems to have a chandeleir made of salt crystals.

Then, there’s an entire underground cathedral. You can go to mass there at 7:30 AM on Sundays, which unfortunately I couldn’t have gotten to on time. The whole thing is carved, again, from the salt. Impressively, it’s all part of the original cave. All of the decorations, the altar, the statues are part of and fixed to the cave. Space was just carved out around them. Is amazing. The only piece of non original salt is the saint on the main altar, who is made of a more pure (and therefore lighter) salt stone.

Getting out of the salt mines took almost as long as the tour itself, and the three of us were starving by the time we got back to Krakow. I asked Stanley what Polish food was, and he told me pierogies. Well, I love pierogies. I just somewhow hadn’t realized they were polish! We were determined to have some for lunch, and Stanley said he knew the best place.

The place was full, even though it was 3 in the afternoon. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait long. I don’t think I could have made it. I had a mix of all different kinds of traditional pierogies, and they were all delicious. Isaac and I were still hungry afterwards, so we split a plate of his favorite: apple pierogies. I am such a big fan. I will definitely be going back there this trip, if I can find it.

Their friend Magda, who lives in Krakow, met us after lunch. We moved on to get coffee in the main market square. Magda is a really beautiful and funny girl. Since she lives here, she was able to show us around. We walked around the castle.

Stanley told us the story of the church in the square: there are two towers of different heights. Apparently, they were built by rivals. The one to build the biggest tower was meant to have some kind of prize. When one man realized he had made a mistake and was going to lose, he stabbed the other… Which is why the tower with the wider base is shorter. Across the square, there is a knife hanging from a building. It’s supposed to be the murder weapon.

I left them pretty early. My hostel is nice and seems clean. The roommates are all really nice and we spent a while chatting tonight. There is a French guy and some girls from different parts of Asia. If my strategy for making myself tired yesterday didn’t work out then, it will surely pay off now. I’m going to be before 9:00. That train to Auschwitz leaves early.

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