Last Trip to Krakow

The FSO had a business trip to Krakow this week, and so I tagged along. We were happy to have a reason to get out of Warsaw for Easter: I am sure the holiday is very nice if you are Polish and/or Catholic, but for the rest of us, it’s honestly kind of a bummer. Most shops and restaurants are closed, some for the entire three-day weekend. Krakow, being a tourist town, remains mostly open.

I’ve seen most of the sights in Krakow, but the Wieliczka Salt Mines remained on the bucket list, simply because we hadn’t been able to get tickets on the previous visit. And on Easter Sunday, we decided to visit the Kosciuszcko Mound, just because it was the only other thing I hadn’t seen, and it was at least partially open!

The short-timing gods were thinking of us on this trip, providing late-April freezing rain and sleet to remind us that we really are OK with leaving Poland this summer! But, we have been at least somewhat acclimatized by now, and so didn’t let the weather keep us from walking down the Vistula from Old Town during a break in the rain to climb up to this very odd landmark.

The Mound is about 112 feet tall, but it is at the top of a big hill overlooking Krakow.

The Mound is an artificial replica of a prehistoric monument constructed by volunteers in the 1820s. It honors General Tadeusz Kosciuszko, who, among his many and varied activities, was a good friend of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and fought in the American Revolutionary War.

As an accomplished architect, I am not sure what Kosciuszko would have thought of his eponymous Mound. But, as there was no tower in the vicinity, we were of course obligated to climb it. There was a great view, but just as we reached the top, freezing rain rolled in on a gust of strong wind. We scurried back down, hopped a bus back to town, and tried to get warm and dry in the hotel before dinner!

A quick shot before the clouds and rain on the left rolled in.

As it turned out, being underground for most of the next day was a good plan, given the weather.

 I kept flashing back to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.

The Wieliczka Salt Mines are a UNESCO World Heritage site. This is partly because they are over 700 years old, but mostly due to the salt miners’ hobby of carving statues, friezes, chandeliers, and even a cathedral out of the translucent rock salt. The site is a huge, but well-managed tourist attraction with over a million visitors per year.

Statues portraying a legend about Princess Kinga, patron saint of miners.
The mine was in use until 1996. Various pieces of equipment from different eras of its operation are on display.
We were invited to lick the walls to test for salt. I passed on that offer, but sampled this spring water. Saltiest thing I have ever tasted. Gak!
Of course there were gnomes!
Creepy mannequin demonstrates a medieval mechanism for raising salty spring water for evaporation.

The primary attraction of the mines, a huge cathedral, really is remarkable. All the friezes and statues were carved by miners, with the exception of one statue of John Paul II (of course).

Even the floor has been carved out of rock salt. 
I liked these soldiers on the wall.
Really nice frieze of the flight into Egypt.
The Last Supper.
The rock salt glows when illuminated from behind or inside. 
Rock salt chandeliers!

The rock salt is found in pockets in the surrounding limestone. Because the chambers are so large, and the limestone is relatively soft, all the passages and chambers are reinforced with hundreds of log columns and palisade-type walls. A whole forest’s worth!

In some chambers the scaffolding has been painted white for a very cool effect.
Gnomes in the underground gift shop reminded me again of Mammoth Cave.


Scary rock salt bunnies for Easter.
These rock salt lamps were super cheap so I couldn’t resist buying one. Then found out it weighed about as much as a bowling ball! The FSO was most accommodating about carrying it home for me. 

We finished up our visit with a lovely dinner in one of my favorite Polish restaurants, Kogel Mogel. Weather aside, it was nice to get a chance to say a proper goodbye to Krakow. Do widzenia!


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