Dave the motorhome is spending his third night in the Wieliczka salt mine car park. We explained to the car park attendant this morning as we gave him another 20 zloty how perfect this place is for us (safe, cheaper than a campsite) and frequent buses into Krakow.
Last night we decided to go and join in the fun at the free concert across the way. We just missed the folks in traditional dress doing a turn, so grabbed a snack each (the options mainly of the deep-fried or processed meat variety) while we waited for the band to get ready. Once up and rocking, the grey-haired lead singer did a bit of cool Dad dancing and played up to his audience who were a mix of young things with bottles of ‘pop’ and old dears with walking sticks; the whole town was out. Surprisingly we saw very few drunk people, but with beer being 5 zloty a pint (£1) to the locals it was probably expensive (the were no other options for drinks: lager, or lager with strawberry). Strangely the only folks who looked drunk were the ones dancing a little jig to themselves and wearing a hat; not sure if these things are related, but I might apply for a grant to conduct some scientific research into whether wearing a hat gets you drunk quicker!
After a couple of pints for Jay (with no hat) and a twirlie deep fried potato for me, the full moon rose above the local church and it was time for us old timers to head back to Dave, we were outlasted by nearly all of the town’s pensioners, but then they could understand what the band were saying! Fortunately there were no fireworks to scare Charlie and the concert ended around 10pm; the fun fair fell silent around 11.30pm and we slept well.
I was woken this morning by Jay playing me Elvis Presley’s song ‘In The Ghetto’, so I would know what he was on about when he hummed it almost non-stop today. After a quick dog walk and breakfast we headed off to catch the bus into Krakow, we’d barely skimmed the surface yesterday on our Sunday stroll and this time Charlie wasn’t with us so we could go in stuff! We stopped by an art installation in Wieliczka town square which we’d spotted the other day but the sun was in the wrong place to see it properly – this morning we had it to ourselves and played around for a while before catching the bus.
We got off the bus when we spotted the Zamek Krolewski (Wawel Castle) standing by the banks of the river. It was a nice stroll up to the entrance, and as most things were closed today (being a Monday) we were more than happy to just wander around the free parts.
We ventured into the cathedral, having to shift a tour-headset-wearing nun and duck past a tour-guide-priest in the process, and the place was heaving. It seems this is the place to visit when the rest of the exhibitions are shut – oh and it’s free! The current building was consecrated in 1364 and built on the orders of Poland’s first King to be crowned at Wawel, Wladyslaw the Short (aka Wladyslaw the elbow-high!). We wandered around some of the 18 ostentatious chapels, nipped underground into a crypt which housed the remains of the composer Chopin, and nudged our way through to see the marble sarcophagi of past kings – all lying with their feet resting on a dog or lion. If you had the right guide you could spend hours in there.
Exiting into the bright sunshine we headed back towards the river and along it into Kazimierz, the district which housed Krakow’s Jewish community for over 500 years. By 1910 the Jewish population of Krakow stood at 32,000 and had almost doubled by the inter-war years. On 21 March 1941 the entire Jewish population residing in Kazimierz were marched across a bridge over the river and crammed into what was to become known as Podgorze Ghetto. To alleviate the unbearably cramped conditions and distress the Nazi authorities announced they would begin deportations, and on 29 May 1942 the ghetto was surrounded by Nazi troops and people’s papers were checked – those who could not produce proper permits were assembled and loaded into cattle cars in groups of 120 which took them to Belzec death camp. Over the next few months the numbers of people and the physical size of the ghetto were reduced until it was ‘liquidated’ on 13 March 1943 – thousands were sent on cattle carts to the gas chambers at Auschwitz, those that wouldn’t go were shot in the streets. Only 3000 – 4000 Jews survived, many saved by people such as Oskar Schindler and Tadeusz Pankiewicz who ran the local pharmacy store and asked for it to remain open once the ghetto was closed off to the outside world.
Walking around Kazimirez you really could have no idea of the atrocities which took place here, the area now has a bohemian feel to it, with cafes and art galleries lining the streets. Our guide book told us that ‘visiting Krakow without eating a Plac Nowy zapiekanka would be like visiting Dublin without having a Guinness’. We found Plac Nowy, the main square for Kazimierz and found the stalls selling zapiekanka and ordered one each, although we still had no idea what they were. Turns out it’s sort of Polish pizza – a toasted baguette, covered in mushrooms and cheese and any other topping you want – I opted for ketchup, Jay was a tad more adventurous. And so we sat in the sunshine and ate our massive snacks watching the world go by, thinking about what was to come next.
We had two things we wanted to see in the afternoon, Schindler’s factory and The Human Body exhibition – which seems to be following us around, we’ve seen it advertised in so many cities but never been for fear that Charlie would try and eat the exhibits. But we were already starting to flag – sightseeing is a tiring business. So we headed to Schindler’s factory, as if we could only manage one place this was the one that wouldn’t be coming to a city near us any time soon. We reached the factory, which was easy to spot as it was on a run down industrial estate and the only building with a tour bus and several sightseeing golf carts parked outside it, and in we went.
Being Monday it was free to go in, a sign on the ticket desk said ‘No Tickets’, to us that means free – to the staff that means, the free tickets have run out and they’d all gone by 11.30am. We weren’t the only ones caught out, several people milled in the reception area wondering what to do, a few tried to sneak in with the Japanese tour group, but were spotted due to the fact that they were about a foot taller than their fellow travellers. We looked around at the still of Liam (I have a particular set of skills) Neeson taken from the film and decided it was time to go and see some skinless bodies instead.
The Human Body exhibition wasn’t exactly what I though it would be, it was better. After seeing all the press about it I was expecting loads of plasticised skinless bodies in various poses and sure there were a few, but they were there to demonstrate various systems of the body – nervous, cardio vascular, skeletal etc. Around the rooms were glass cases filled with various organs and pieces of anatomy which we had to often resort to reading the information cards to have a clue what they were. The full sized bodies were like strangely beautiful pieces of art and so hard to imagine them as a living, breathing person (pretty much everything in the exhibition was once part of a real human being; only their eyes were faked). The information provided was perfect and made you realise just how wonderful a machine our bodies are, and how we should all take much better care of them. I think every school child studying biology should go and see this exhibition, it brings the textbooks to life.
After an hour or so learning more about our inner selves we were shattered. We nipped to the train station to see what time the next train was back to Wieliczka but it was half an hour away, so we opted for the long walk back to the bus. It was a lot longer than we’d thought and took us about an hour, but finally the lovely yellow 304 bus pulled in and we hopped on board.
Krakow is a wonderful city and I’ve not done it justice, it is steeped in ancient and recent history and full of things to see and do. If you can get a flight out here I would really recommend a long weekend, or maybe more – we’ve been here for three days and there is still so much more to see. Tomorrow we head to Auschwitz, I’m expecting tears and an emotional day but we need to pay our respects.
Back in Dave I spent a couple of hours trying to get some insurance quotes for Dave – travelling like we do seems to be somewhat alien to many companies (can’t quote because Dave was imported, can’t quote because we’re not sat at home in the UK – the list went on!). So I’ve only managed to find one company who will quote us and it’s still over a grand, even though we’ll only be on the road for a month before we come back and get proper jobs. I’ve got a few people calling me back, so fingers crossed one of them will see reason and offer us a reasonable price – it’s not like we’re boy racing around the place, it’s taken us 21 months to get this far!!