Our last two days in Poland were as busy as the first. We booked a tour through our hostel to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, in the town of Wieliczka. Our tour included the transportation to the town, which made the trip easy. We arrived at the mines and waited for our tour to begin. The tour starts with a descent into the mines by foot. We walked down the wooden stairs until I began to get dizzy. When I looked up through the centre of the staircase I could see nothing but stairs spiralling up, and still nothing but stairs towards the ground. We finally reached level 1, 64 meters below ground, and the tour began.
The Wieliczka Salt Mine is a 13th century mine that has an entire history and culture in itself. Salt was an enormous part of medieval Poland’s economy and this mine works to keep this history alive. There are displays to show how salt was mined during the mine’s operation. There are also statues and artwork made of salt. Throughout the tour we passed small chapels built into the tunnels. They had been used by miners who would work underground for days at a time.
The most impressive construction within the mine along our route was the St Kinga’s Chapel, a large chamber in the mines that is now used for events such as weddings!
We returned to the city at an awkward time for meals, between typical lunch and dinner time. We decided to get some pierogis and eat an early dinner. Our destination of choice was Pierogarnia Krakowiacy, where we each ordered a plate of 10 pierogis and shared the different varieties. They were the best pierogis I have ever eaten and despite the selection I found myself most partial to the pierogi ruskie, a type of pierogi originating in from the Ruthenians living around the northern Carpathian Mountains in western Ukraine, eastern Slovakia, and southern Poland. Pierogi ruskie is made with potatoes, fried onions and quark (farmer’s cheese). The pierogis were so delicious that we returned 5 hours later for a late night snack!
On December 31, the last day of 2019, we started the day with another walking tour. This time, we took a tour of Kraków’s old Jewish quarter. We learned the history of the Jewish residents of Kraków prior to and during World War II. The guide lead us from the area of the city where Jewish residents had traditionally lived, to the ghetto across the river where they were forced during the Nazi occupation.
The tour guide was full of great information. I could not recommend the free walking tours of Kraków more – I learned so much about the city and its history. We tipped our guide and then returned to the Jewish quarter to try the Zapiekanka or Polish pizza our guide had recommended for dinner.
We returned to the hostel to change and get ready for our New Year’s celebration. We started the celebration at the hostel with the other guests (some from Newfoundland, Valencia, the UK, and Greece!). As midnight approached we walked to Rynek Główny to watch the fireworks and ring in the New Year. The fireworks were set off all along the streets, with no organization to them. We weren’t expecting some to be set off close to us and had to rush out of the way. It was a fun and magical night though! We were all tired travelling the next day but it was worth it.