While in Krakow we took several day trips. One was to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, which has been operating since the 13th century and is now an UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are 200 miles of underground tunnels that go down nine levels. Commercial mining of salt ended in 1996 due to low salt deposits, but today there are about 500 miners maintaining the tunnels and galleries. We toured 1% (2 miles) of the tunnels and viewed galleries with sculptures in salt created by the miners.
Unlike coal mines, the air in the salt mine is very healthy. The tunnels are re-enforced with wood that hardens over the years and does not rot or decay. The wood is painted white to better reflect light.
The salt sculptures below depict a Polish legend about Princess Kinga who became the Patron Saint of Salt Miners.
There is even an underground cathedral carved out of salt. It took 67 years to complete and was accomplished by only 2 miners. Hanging form the chandeliers are salt crystals.
We also visited Auschwitz Birkenau. It was sobering. In the smaller camp of Aushwitz, men and women were housed in former military brick barracks where they slept on the floor so crowded together they had to sleep on their sides. They were selected to work, but due to disease, starvation, and brutal treatment, they only lived for about 3 months. Then new workers were brought in.
The brick barracks have been turned into a museum with displays of documents, photographs, and personal items that were confiscated. It was horrific to view.
At Birkenau, the larger camp, they built wooden quarters that were just as crowded.
This is the train track that entered the camp. Of the more than 6,000,000 Jews who were put to death, half of them where Poles.
Another day trip that we took was to Zakopane, a popular vacation area at the base of the Tatra Mountains, part of the Carpathian range in the south of Poland near the border with Slovakia. The town is characterized by a unique style of wooden architecture that has a stone foundation and three upper floors with steep roofs. Many of these homes are B&B’s for skiers and hikers. The town is located adjacent to a national park that has many trails and ski areas and ski jumps. The shops carry many local handcraft items as well as woolen clothes made from the wool of local sheep – which are in abundance. As we ascended, temperatures dropped and we went from rain to snow!
We stopped at a small church, popular for weddings year round.
Then we stopped for lunch at this charming restaurant.
This is a smoked cheese made from sheep’s milk that is made in the region.
We were served some of the cheese for lunch, sliced and heated so the center was gooey. Current relish on the side. Yummy!
The food has been great everywhere we’ve been and we’ve been served the local specialties: stuffed cabbage, perogies, lots of pork, sausages, soups with beets or sour rye or mushrooms. Below is mushroom soup in a bread bowl.
Now I’m off to Prague.