Krakow, Poland was the first leg of our trip where the sun came out. After days of gray skies and rain throughoutGermany the sun started shining halfway through our walking tour of Oldtown Krakow, and we arrived in the courtyard of Wawel Castle right around golden-hour.
Our tour guide, Jacek, was wonderful, he seemed exactly what the old world, education oriented, yet artsy city would produce. Clad in a leather jacket he wore his hair in a short ponytail and had a booming voice. Krakow, known for the education of Pope John Paul II, is pretty obsessed with the Pontiff, so many vendors sold their wares with his face on them, not to mention the numerous paintings and murals, and of course in the Wieliczka Salt Mine stands a sculpture of the Pope made from salt, in a chapel also made from salt.
Our excursion to the salt mine was far more amazing than I anticipated. I thought “ok this will be a mine of salt.” What it really was, was an industry that became aGIANT art project for the miners. Salt mining made the area wealthy in the 13th century and the mine is so big that tourists can only visit 2% of its depths.The UNESCO world heritage site reaches a depth of 327 meters and boasts a labyrinth of routes and rooms including MULTIPLE chapels, statues, and displays. Our salt mine guide noted, early in the tour, “this is usually where I would tell my guests to lick the walls of the mine if they choose to see that this is all truly salt…but now since Covid (shrugged shoulders)” I chose to lick the wall anyway, 700 years of salt mining, I figured I probably wouldn’t die from licking the wall.
Legends like the trumpet call of St. Mary’s and the Wawel dragon are brought to life in Oldtown, by storytellers, artists, and musicians. In touring Oldtown you can follow history from what is left of the city walls (Florian’s Gate), to the many architectural updates to Wawel Castle, the nearby salt mine, to modern schools, you can really feel the growth of the city and the entire country of Poland.
The Pope, the Pierogis, the People, the PuhVodka. It's all worth checking out if you have the chance.