We woke to a very cold but sunny morning. With breakfast Polished off I got reception to confirm our transfer to the airport late tomorrow night.
The mini-bus arrived to take us to the Wielizka Salt Mine on time (9am), there was already a couple of others on board and by the time we had left the city we had picked up four more (all British). The journey took only around half an hour and after a quick distribution of tour tags we were handed over to our female guide for the duration.
We soon discovered that she had a lovely sense of humour, but more importantly, a clear non-accented voice, thus making her easy to understand. Not so some of our fellow tourists, one couple from Manchester and another pair from Scotland.
We made our descent into the mine via 380 tightly corkscrewed wooden steps to the first level. There were 800 steps throughout our journey to our final and 3rd level. There are 9 levels in all. Thankfully we took a lift back to the surface, but that was an experience in itself and I feel sure that the cage used was the one employed in rescuing the Chilean miners around a decade ago.
Above, we had arrived to a frosty scene of snow-covered roofs and fir trees, as we descended the heat gradually built up ensuring that gloves, hats and jackets were eventually discarded by all.
The mine is no longer mined for salt, just tourists. We were down in the bowls of the earth for 3.5 hours and covered just 1% of the tunnels, shafts and chambers in our 3km journey. There is 300km in all. There are three churches down there, the largest being not only huge but containing some of the most exquisite religious salt sculptures you can possibly hope to see. The ‘Last Supper’ being a highlight. We came across two lakes, one of which was used to entertain us with a light show to the music of Chopin, quite beautiful. Of course there were several Malls within the massive chambers containing gift shops and restaurants to divest visitors of their hard-earned cash. After all, the word salary does come from the word salt.
The amount of wood used in support of the infrastructure of the mine is quite boggling and I would say is a definite must for the ‘bucket list’ of any carpenter, particularly if they prefer salt on their chips!
Returning to Krakow and the Rezydent we first warmed ourselves with hot drinks before setting off to Wawel Royal Castle. Our hotel is central to the Old Town, so none of the main attractions are much more that a 15 minute stroll away.
We attempted to hire a guide, but a rather large American couple had booked the English-speaking one moments before. He did offer to let us accompany them, but we declined as they had obvious problems with walking and I am sure the slowness would have been annoying, plus the guides heavy accent may have been too much for our failing hearing.
We opted for an entrance ticket with headphone and recorded commentary instead. For the next two hours we discovered every part of the castle cathedral and listened to its enthralling past. Anyone visiting the castle and cathedral I recommend you take the headphones, it is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the history of the place.
We had no such option for the castle itself, other than a very few information boards and so after a brief and very cold wander about we followed the signs for the cave that contained the dragon that King Wenceslas had killed (of course he did). We found the cave, the dragon was standing outside his layer and regularly spouting flames. Honest, we took photos!
As it was starting to get dark and even more chillier we headed back towards our hotel, diverting to the Cloth Hall market for Sue to buy a bauble for the Christmas tree. We sat in a warm room catching up with BBC 24hr and watching the shoppers and tourists milling around on the cobbled street below wrapped in their furs and fleeces.
Checking on Facebook we discovered that the Rothwell’s had landed safely in KL and had checked into their hotel. Annoyingly one of their cases had been broken into, but luckily they thought nothing had been taken.
Tonight, for once we chose the same dish for our evening meal, two potato pancakes with pork goulash. I asked for three pancakes and the waitress advised against it, she was right, it was enough. Especially with the obligatory banana sized gherkins with bread and dips that precede most meals.
To help the digestion we took a lengthy stroll through and around the Old Town, first visiting the very impressive medieval fortifications at Florian’s Gate and returning by way of the narrow forested parkway that circumnavigates the town. Though rain had been forecast, it did seem warmer than this afternoon and we caught glimpses of the moon through the gaps between buildings that hopefully indicated the weatherman had got it wrong, again.
Returning to our room I settled down to watch the England v Spain friendly on my tablet.