Monday 1st May – Auschwitz & Wieliczka – Poland
Woke up to a glorious sun filled day – not a single cloud in the sky. We parked directly opposite the gates to Auschwitz. Decided on a really early start because we were sure that given it was a long weekend it would be packed. Arrived at the ticket office at 7:30 am and joined the long queue. The gates opened at 7.30 and already there were a dozen coaches parked and people piling in from every direction.
We had tried to purchase tickets the evening before but were told we could only buy them on the day of visitation – so much for trying to avoid queues.
I would have thought Auschwitz could have handled ticket sales and crowd control better, given they have been running this Museum for around 65 years but they have no idea on this and the signage is appalling – still we are visitors to this country so just have to take it as it is.
We had been to Dachau near Munich Germany on a previous visit to Europe and thought we knew what to expect – wrong – again we walked around in silence from block to block and again were utterly shocked at the stories and vivid pictures displayed here. Can really understand why my parents, my Dad in particular, having been in a Nazi prison work labour camp, would not talk about those years.
We only lasted a couple of hours before we both decided we just didn’t want to see anymore. Didn’t take any pictures whilst inside – just didn’t have the heart and wanted to show a little respect.
Packed up Ziggy and headed for Wieliczka near Kraków only 90 minutes away.
Found a great spot only 100 metres from the entrance to the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Again a spot with mixed parking so by the time we arrived late afternoon, there were very few spots left but we managed to just squeeze Ziggy in.
We went to the ticket office to buy tickets for the next day but once again were told we could only buy tickets on the day of visitation.
The tour through this amazing place which is one of Poland’s National Monuments (and a UNESCO listed site) takes three hours to complete and goes down, down, down with around 400 steps to the bottom. A bit like a spiral staircase to begin with and then about two thirds of the way down it opens up to numerous miner’s passages and caves where statues are formed out of rock salt.
Four massive cathedrals with magnificent statues have been carved out of the rock salt and at special times of the year (Easter and Xmas) they hold mass down there. You can even hire the main cathedral for your wedding – around AUD$2000.
Gratefully the way up is much easier via lift. Definitely put this on your list to see. They provide an English speaking guide and cost is around $AUD30. When we returned to Ziggy it was going on dusk and we found the car park empty- all alone again with the whole place to ourselves.
Tuesday 2nd May – Kraków, Poland
Didn’t want to stay in the Wieliczka Salt Mine carapark another night and found another place closer to Kraków that sounded much safer and secure. Caravanning Elcamp Is a motorhome dealership and service centre (closed today because of May Day holiday) with a high fence and fully locked security gates. There is a security guard here who is absolutely delightful – doesn’t speak English but again with sign language and a little help from Mr Google he was able to give us enough information about bus timetables. Buses leave directly from across the road every 20 minutes.
We hailed the bus and showed him our piece of paper with Kraków Old Town written (in Polish of course) on it. He nodded and then later told us when to get off as we needed to link up with a tram from there to the centre of Old Town.
We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. We were stunned as we stood in the square. Words couldn’t describe it. A fairytale square lined with beautiful old churches, buildings and towers. Restaurant after restaurant set along the boundary, each with colourful flower boxes acting as borders and huge colourful umbrellas. Heaters under the umbrellas to keep you warm. Hundreds and hundreds of people enjoying a holiday day in the square which is 200 metres by 200 metres.
Entertainers in colourful costumes were trying to lure you into shops or to take guided tours of the square. Beautiful horses adorned with plumes and braids and wearing colourful outfits of gold and silver took tourists around the square in fairytale white carriages.
There was so much more to see even in the streets outside the square that we decided we would come back in the morning. We sat in one of the many restaurants in the square to enjoy a late lunch/early dinner and just watch the crowds go by. Really looking forward to tomorrow as Kraków has so many things to see.
Took a taxi home as it was beginning to rain and then settled in for a quiet but safe night. Three motor homes had come in while we were away so for a change we have some most welcome company tonight.
Wednesday 3rd May – Kraków, Poland
Today is Commemoration Day. All Polish flags are flying and from the web we discover that all attractions are closed today. We decided to catch up on some Web home work and then set off for a big walk. Had read on the blog sites there was a great bar/restaurant called Czarci Grill nearby so tried to find it.
A couple of hours later we came back with no Czarci Grill in sight. We headed past our camping spot and in the opposite direction and only a hundred or so metres we found it. The building looked like the witches house in Hansel & Gretel – a small wooden cottage with a doorway that only a dwarf could fit through. It was past lunchtime so decided to treat ourselves to a lunch/dinner so ventured inside.
All I can say is wow, wow!!!! Inside it was just as impressive with a log fire burning, low ceilings, dim lights and the smell of delicious food cooking. They have a parrot inside in a huge cage and it wolf whistles the girls when they come in and sings and talks all day – even makes sounds like coughing and a phone ringing. We spent a couple of hours there and after the best family size pizza we have had in yonks and three beers (cost less than $20) we headed home with a doggy bag of leftovers for breakfast next morning.
Thursday 4th May – Kraków Poland
It rained quite heavily all night but woke up to an overcast day (no rain) so headed into Old Town by bus and then tram. There was nowhere near the number of people in Old Town as Tuesday so the atmosphere was not as great. We booked our tickets for the Kraków Underground and then headed up the hill to Wawel Castle. The Underground can be booked in advance and usually requires booking several days in advance but we were lucky to get a cancellation on the day we were there.
The Krakow Underground (Rynek Underground) is not a rail network but is an underground museum covering 4000square metres with interactive displays of the history of Krakow dating back to the 14th century. So the square is really 200 metres by 200 metres above ground plus the 4000 square metres underground.
Wawel Castle is an unbelievable castle set around its own huge square. Tall cathedral spires, turrets and domes of gold were only a part of the structures within the castle walls. From inside the walls, there were spectacular views of Kraków and the river it stands on.
Just as we were leaving the castle, the rain came bucketing down. We took shelter in a little old pub and after a few vodka shots (vodka, raspberry juice and Tabasco) braved the rain and headed back to Old Town square for a 2 o’clock booking to see Kraków Underground.
Really interesting tour showing that under Old Town Square, they discovered in 2006 an old city that was built underground. They carefully excavated the whole square and turned it into a tourist attraction keeping the original walls and sculptures of the old city in tact.
We took a taxi home and then had another delightful dinner at Czaci Grill.