It really was an adventure. We very literally ran around the train station looking for our platform and made it with only 4 minutes to spare. Upon arrival by high-speed Pendolino train in about 6 hours from Gdansk, we tried to buy tickets for our return, but there were no available seats on any train on the day of departure. We could have added some days in a nearby resort town, but there was no hotel availability. We could have taken a flight, but there were no seats open. We were forced into our first Polish road trip. More on that later. For now, let me tell you about the beautiful city of Kraków.
The age of the city and it’s buildings is just breathtaking. Virtually all streets in the Old Town are cobblestone, leaving our untrained feet racking up the “trip-counter” as the girls liked to record. Jade holds the record of 5 stumbles in a single day. Now normally, I wouldn’t rate cobblestone as a dangerous thing, but when it is on a narrow walking path leading up the side of a small mountain called Kościuszko Mound, the stumbles were important to avoid. Baby steps required.
Once at the top, it did give us a great view of the city.
Yes, there is a reason it’s only Jade in the photos here, and that’s because she was only one who wasn’t scared to take her eyes off of the ground.
Kościuszko Mound was one of only 2 Kraków attractions we had to drive to . Everything else was within easy walking distance, including beautiful Wawel Castle.
Although impressive to Ben and I, the best part for the girls was the Dragon’s Den at the end. Kraków is a city of great tales, and legend has it that the Wawel Dragon was killed by Prince Krakus who founded the city and built his castle over the slain dragon’s lair.
We spent a good amount of time exploring our surroundings on foot. Our apartment was in the Jewish Quarter (called “Kazimierz”) and this area was filled with history. Most of the movie “Schindler’s List” was filmed here and there seemed to be a story at every turn.
The wall shown below is one of the last remaining parts of the wall that enclosed the “Jewish Housing District” where thousands of Jews were forced to move before their final journey to the death camps.
Auschwitz is within about an hour’s drive from Kraków, but we chose not to tour it this time. Although deeply moving, we felt the seriousness and sadness would be too overwhelming for the girls, and probably for us too.
We did however, take a tour to the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Well, I should really say we took 3/4 of a tour of the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Our tour guide left us behind (I’m sure it was accidental – or maybe not?) as the rest of our group exited. We followed another group that went up an alternate elevator shaft unfamiliar to us. We did find our way out and a minor crisis was averted, but we still like to say that we escaped abandonment in a Salt Mine in Poland.
The mine opened in the 13th century and produced table salt consistently until the early 2000’s. I found it fascinating that the miners used ONLY small hand tools to excavate every inch of the 300km mine.
We toured 20 of the hundreds of chambers inside, and the one below was my favourite.
Half the ceiling started caving in some time ago, and each of those white wooden beams had to be cut, brought down and erected to stabilize the chamber. The miners clearly worked hard and still chose to use their free time to carve beautiful things out of the rock salt they were surrounded by, including this chandelier.
The miners were also a deeply religious group, praying each day for their safety. They constructed several chapels within the mine.
Abandonment aside, the Salt Mine is a must-do when in Kraków.
As for other recommendations, I would say avoiding driving from Kraków to Gdansk is on the list. After our train and plane fails, we had no other option for our return. We are used to road trips, we said. We might enjoy the freedom of driving again, we said. And while those things are true, we underestimated the possibility of the inefficient roads we were about to encounter. Even though we stuck to motorways, the first 100 km’s out of Kraków were filled with traffic lights every 5 minutes as we came into a town. Add to that 2 lengthy construction zones withing 15 minutes of each other, and those 100 km’s took us 4 hours to cover. Just as Polish motorways were about to break us, they suddenly became a model of productive driving as we approached the city of Lodz. Just like that, the speed limit was 140 km/h and we didn’t stop for the next 500 km until we were home in Gdansk.
It’s not home-home, but it’s home for now, and it felt great.