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Erasmus Shenanigans "Not all those who wander are lost"

Weekend away in Krakow

POLAND | Monday, 3 April 2017 | Views [939] | Comments [2]

Krakow (4th-5th March 2017) 


The Auschwitz tour left us in dire need of coffees. We found a chain café on the other side of the street that the tour bus had dropped us off on. I cheerfully asked the barista which of the several mouth-watering desserts in the display case were traditional in Poland. She suggested a cinnamon apple tart and a vanilla pastry. That vanilla pastry was something special indeed. My dad promptly wrote a glowing review of the café on Trip Advisor, his current obsession. We dropped our bag of snacks, a typically Indian thing to bring on a day trip, in our hotel room and left to seek out the Jewish Quarter. The free paper map we'd been given at our hotel showed that it was a 5 minute walk down the same road. After my long Christmas trip, I'd become quite the intrepid explorer and I'd developed a sixth sense; an intuitive sense of direction. Therefore, I was ready to turn into what I knew was the Jewish Quarter when my dad kept walking down the road to 'check if there was something interesting we'd miss'. Then he claimed he thought we'd walked too far and reached the river. Frustrated, I told him to just follow me (he later complained to my mum that I made him walk a lot).  

I was intent on seeing a synagogue. This was to be much harder than I originally thought. However, the first religious building we came across was a massive church. This left us confused, but we kept walking deeper down the dark streets. We came across a small outdoor seating area surrounded by fast food stalls. All the young people of Krakow were buzzing around the Belgian frites stand, understandably so. More were found sitting outdoors sipping beers within the vicinity of a huge hall broadcasting the current football match. It was a Saturday evening after all! We found ourselves in a square with a map displaying possible walking routes around the Jewish Quarter. Bingo! We were in the right area after all. But before I spotted the first synagogue, we found ourselves on a street with plenty of restaurants boasting traditional Polish food. This was on our list of things to do, so we kept it in mind for later. The street led into a square that made us gasp. A circular building stood in the middle, with bars and Belgian frites being sold from the windows around it. In front of it, a man strummed a guitar and sang English classics while his bandmates provided background music. A souvenir stall profited from the magnet I bought for my mum. But the sight that excited my dad the most, was the grill. Tender meat stood drenched in oil and fatty juices and he stood there drooling. I couldn't let him have it after eating ribs and steaks in Brno for the past two days. He tried arguing but I pulled him inside one of the restaurants serving Polish food.  

We ordered ewe's cheese croquettes served with cranberry sauce and beef dumplings. Of course, vodka was on our list because you know, Poland. Vodka. Polish vodka. I ordered a cocktail with a Wisniowa cherry vodka base which resembled cough syrup. However, I was thirsty after walking for almost 30 minutes so it went down easily. My dad ordered something sweet too, and somehow waiters always mix up our drinks, thinking the lady would order the sweeter drink. We enjoyed many a laugh over that. We hit the streets again and finally found a group of signposts pointing to synagogues in different directions. We saw three just a minute away from the square! My dad warned me that synagogues aren't as fancy as I thought and it was true, the one looming down on me was white-washed and plain. However, the histories behind them were more interesting. 

I had booked a tour to The Wieliczka Salt Mine on Sunday. This UNESCO site had popped up on 'Get My Guide' and it looked like a unique attraction. Headsets were handed out but they proved unnecessary. I guess being in a cave helped the guide's voice be heard. The first leg of the tour was descending 400 steps underground until we were 65 metres below the surface. The temperature was the same as on ground level – 16 degrees. Everybody had wrapped up warm thinking it would be colder, including me. The tour took us through a series of large openings, from oldest to newest. The first area to be mined was ready in the 1600's. The guide told us it was completely fine to lick the walls because there was barely any bacteria down here. I dug my fingernail into the cauliflower-like deposits of crystalized salt and split the powder between our fingertips. We had just tasted salt at its freshest! It was certainly an interesting tour and at the end you are standing more than 160 m below the ground. You could buy salt products made from the salt harvested from this mine. I bought a couple of sachets of garlic salt, but there were also salt bath crystals and salt jewellery! 

The tour bus dropped us off in the same place that we had been dropped off after the Auschwitz tour, but this time we headed in the opposite direction; towards the city centre. Krakow had a lovely medieval vibe to it because of well-preserved stone wall surrounding the historic buildings in the centre. The wall was lined with a park where several people cycled, roller-skated and skate-boarded. This city liked to travel on wheels! After nearly getting knocked down by a group of segways, we stood below a towering monument. Our first priority was lunch and we found a decent restaurant in the heart of the city. The food shocked us. Our starter was Polish herring with dill and garlic ice cream. Garlic ice cream! It sounds terrible, but it was so delicious and refreshing and we were blown away. For mains, I had duck pancakes and my dad had pork steak. It was one of those meals you never forget. We burned off the calories by walked down to Wawel Hill where Wawel castle proudly looked down over the Vistula River. It was picturesque, ferries chugged on one side of you and people lay on the rolling slopes of the hill on the other. We had arrived when the sun had just begun to set and the sky was pink and blue. Sometimes it’s better to stay outside rather than paying for tickets to see a museum or a treasury, such as those in the castle. On the contrary, we didn’t have that much time to spare. We made a U-turn around the castle and walked west towards the Old Town.      

The Main Square in Old Town contained the Town Hall Tower and more interestingly, the Krakow Cloth Hall, or Sukiennice. The Sukiennice looked quite out of place for it was a low building with several archways. Inside we found stalls lining both sides of the passageway selling every touristy item you could think of. It reminded me of the market place at the entrance of Red Fort in New Delhi. I bought a pair of amber earrings, since amber jewellery was sold everywhere in this city. My dad made a deep connection with a beautifully carved walking stick, with a ram’s head as the handle. He pondered over it for a good 20 minutes because of suitcase restrictions, but ended up taking it from Poland, to Czech Republic, to London and finally back to India with him. The amount of travelling the walking stick did was in complete contrast to the actual purpose of the walking stick. We watched the street performers for a while, ate gelato and walked towards to the far north of the city. We reached the Barbican, the gateway leading to the Old Town. By now, it was getting dark so we headed back to the hotel and slept for an hour. We woke up just to eat dinner and then went back and slept again. The reason was because our 11 pm coach would only reach Brno at 4 am in the morning. Overall, we had a great, inexpensive weekend in Krakow, even if the walking got a little too much for my dad! 


Main Square in the Old Town

Main Square in the Old Town

Tags: krakow, salt mine, walking




got your garlic salt !

  poongothai Apr 4, 2017 8:52 PM


Another well written account of your travels. I can clearly relive my time in Krakow again!!👍 Nice writing style too...

  Senthil Kumar S Apr 5, 2017 2:32 AM

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