Thursday, April 15, 2010

Krakow, Poland: Rain, Rain, Mud and More Rain!

By Claire
It’s not just Poland; we’ve had it nonstop through Hungary, Slovakia and now Poland. The mud is almost worse than the wet. Now I see what we missed during the winter.

Yesterday was a trying day—perhaps our worst yet. We left at 8:15 feeling good about our early departure but, as usual, the drive took far longer than the 5 hours and 45 minutes Susannah said it would. At 6 pm, we heard the fatal words, “You have arrived at your destination.” Great, except we were miles outside of Krakow and next to an empty field. We really weren’t sure what to do next. Chuck pulled over and I started up the computer to find another campground from my list. The original campground’s address wouldn’t even work with Susannah. A GPS is just like a computer, you can’t argue with it.

Entering the new data we took off, repeating our stop and wait experience with some construction going on, allowing only one lane. We were told to “turn left, you have reached your destination,” once again only to find a dead end road. In frustration, we turned around and started looking for street names. We found the correct road, Kamedulska 18, but it had a “no entry” sign. Chuck backed up to turn around and crashed into a fence. I got out to check and to walk up the road to see if I could find the campground. The damage is bad. The bikes survived but the bike rack is bent in and there is damage to the back of the camper wall. Driving this thing is like driving a large box with no rear view. If we had taken the time to think, I would have jumped out to help him maneuver. Unfortunately, he thought he had enough room. To make matters worse, we were both very tired and I am dealing with a cold. I felt like I needed to pry Chuck’s fingers from the steering wheel.

We did eventually find the campground but it was an ordeal. How all the other people already here found it we’ll never know. Camping Smok is nice even with all the mud (75 Złoty, €19.53). The bathrooms are great and the owners are nice. I am using the WiFi in their Reception which is right off their living room. She had to move the refrigerator so I could plug in and the chairs at the table are the kind you sink into so the computer is high above you. Whatever they were watching on TV sounded very dark, with a deep cello and violin score. Then the loud talking/arguing began. It was a little odd but I mostly ignored it. Maybe they’re both hard of hearing and it just sounds like arguing.

The next morning we were up and ready to go into town. Still raining, we decided to do an indoor event so we took the bus and then a tram into the city center, found the Tourist Information and figured out how to get to the Kiplnia Soli Wieliczka, The Wieliczka Salt Mines. I had read about it in another blog a year ago or so and wanted to see it. Rick Steves also talks about it.

The mining facility is the only one in the world to be working continuously since the Middle Ages. It consists of a complex of 3,000 chambers totaling a length of 300 km at levels from 64 to 327 meters deep. We walked down and down and down into the mine. The big attraction is the carvings made by the miners—simple, uneducated men who had untold talent.

Stairs down

Salt statue

It’s a long tour, over 2 hours but with stops at souvenir shops and a place to buy the right to take photos. The biggest attraction was the Chapel of St. Kinga, carved over three decades in the early 20th century. The carving of the Last Supper is amazing in its 3-D effect. It’s really only six inches deep. Everything in the room is made of salt: the walls, the carvings, the chandeliers, even the floor.

Salt Church

We decided to try a traditional Polish lunch in their underground restaurant. We were even given a discount card from our tour guide, Jolanda, who spoke excellent English—she told us she learned it in high school and she did the homework and listened to the radio.

We ordered Pierogi, a ravioli-like dumpling with minced meat and vegetables. Interesting to try, but I wouldn’t want to make a steady diet of it. The lunch came with a free bowl of soup and we tried the mushroom. It was delicious, as was the salad, which was a little heavy on the creamy dressing. In fact, all of it was a bit heavy but definitely hearty.

We made our way out, led by another guide—you are not allowed to wander on your own—directly into yet another souvenir shop. We then had to wait patiently for the miners’ elevator, packed in like sardines, to whisk us up to the top. We decided to wander around this small town of Wieliczka.

Rapunzel’s Tower?

We managed to figure out which bus stop would get us on the right bus back, then found the tram and then another bus. It’s daunting how many systems we have to learn as we travel from country to country, not to mention the different currencies now. We are using the Polish Złoty which is 3.86 to the Euro.

Chuck emailed a repair place this morning and when we returned we found that they had left a message with the campground owner telling her they would come to us between 6 and 7 tonight to look at the camper. We are amazed! Apparently, there is a lot of road work going on and they wanted to spare us. How nice!

But the best thing? The sun came out!

All times are good when old. ~ Polish Proverb


Karin said...

The Salt Mines is fantastic! I didn't know about them at all! Thanks for sharing and the pics....AMAZING stuff down there! That is a LOT of steps going down, at first I thought, "Oh My God, they will never make it back up! You'll be forever in the salt mines!" Ha! Ha!

The food does look heavy, but it also looks good. (Of course I am writing this just before making our dinner, so....maybe that is why)!

Sorry about your cold, maybe you will feel better tomorrow. I am sure it is the weather changes....(from lovely Med weather to ...... rain and cold and mud)!

If you want to see something unique in Prague, go to the Strohav Monastery to the little Museum there called Miniature Museum. Usually I don't go for these things, but this was fantastic! If it rains, this is a good of Strohav, don't bother. But the views are good and it isn't so far from the Castle.

Sleep well!
Karin on Paros

Paul Takushi said...

The news here is all about the cancellled airline flights throughout Europe. Obama is trying to get to that big funeral in Prague for the president (on Sunday?). Be glad you are not flying around from place to place.

Chuck and Claire said...

Prague, Poland, whichever!

Kim, Kacey and Adam Quennell said...

We also went to the Salt Mine there, it was fascinating. On our tour was a young dutch guy wearing clogs - funny, and yes he slipped on those stairs down..down..Keep up the good work,