First Week: Kraków and Wieliczka Salt Mine
August 29, 2009
We, meaning my family and my aunt’s family, took an express train from Częstochowa to Kraków (3 hrs, 15 min) to tour the city and visit and the Wieliczka (vye-leech-ka) Salt Mine. Dating back to the 13th century and measuring 300 km/186 miles long, 327 meters/1073 feet deep, it’s the only operating salt mine of its kind in the world. It is on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. Apparently, Mikołaj Kopernik (aka Nicolas Copernicus) was its first tourist. Very cool. To get down into the mine, we had to walk down about 40 flights of wooden stairs. So fun… especially with a 15 year old cousin. The tour—all 3 hours of it—was amazing; it took you through the history of salt mining, including the different tools and emerging technology throughout the centuries. There were also displays everywhere with creepy figures holding pickaxes and torches, showing how the work was done back in the day. However, the most memorable and beautiful part of the mine was the Chapel of Saint Kinga (kaplica św. Kingi). It is one of the 18 chapels found throughout the mine. Everything was carved out of salt—the floors, the altar, the benches, the chandeliers, the Last Supper replica on the wall, the statue of Pope John Paul II—everything! It was truly incredible.
For more information, you can visit the mine’s website: www.kopalnia.pl (The site can be viewed in English).
After visiting the salt mine, we took a bus back to Kraków and toured its gorgeous historic center, also on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. Actually, Kraków was placed on UNESCO’s list the same year (1978) that Karol Wojtyła, archbishop of Kraków, was elevated to the papacy as John Paul II. We walked around the town square, saw St. Mary’s Basilica (Kościół Mariacki),
the Sukiennice (“Cloth Hall” a 15th century international center of trade, also where my grandma once bought me a traditional folk costume vest in the regional style of Kraków), and the Barbakan. We all had some oscypek (os-tzih-pek) – grilled, smoked goat cheese served with cranberry sauce (żurawina).
After walking around a bit more, we took the train back to Częstochowa, falling asleep along the way…
Sidenote: my older cousin, Rafał, is going to be studying in Kraków, so I’ll definitely be visiting this beautiful city again…