My First Solo Trip: Day 12
Got a bit of a later start this morning, but I think I made it to the train station before 10:00. I initially tried to buy my train ticket to the Wieliczka Salt Mines from a ticket machine, but couldn’t figure out which particular ticket I needed. I ended up falling in with a young British couple, I think they were from an area near Brighton, and we ended up purchasing our tickets from the ticket office. It’s also possible to purchase your tickets on board the train, which is probably the easiest way to do it, but may be a bit more expensive.
I was really impressed with the train itself and the journey was much shorter than I had anticipated. From the depot, it was only a short walk up to the mines. I was able to get a ticket for the 12:00 English tour and paid the additional 10pln so that I could take photos inside the mine. The unpaid photo-taking is not strictly enforced and I think a lot of people took advantage of this, but I happen to be a stickler for rules and also suffer from a guilty conscience so I went ahead and paid the additional fee. In my opinion, the ticket to tour the mines themselves are a bit overpriced by Polish standards, at least in comparison to all of the other sites I visited this trip.
The tour was somewhat interesting and the statues and cathedral inside the mine are really beautiful. Nearly everything inside the mine is made of salt, from the floor tile to the chandeliers and sculptures! It was interesting to learn that horses and mules were actually stabled inside the mines for extended periods of time. I also learned that concerts and special events are sometimes held in the mines, which must be truly magical. All that being said, I thought the whole experience was a little overrated. The group tour was fairly large, which made it difficult to hear the guide at times, and was not very conducive for asking questions. I wish that there had been more information and individual stories given about the miners themselves and some of the hardships they endured. While our tour guide was good, it felt as though much of the history and function of the mine was simply glossed over.
Getting out of the mines was also a bit of a hassle. You’re basically left to your own devices once you reach the last gift shop and cafeteria. I somehow was separated from the rest of my English-speaking group and ended up with a bunch of rowdy foreign teenagers, while waiting for our turn at the lifts/elevators. I ended up crammed in the smaller of the two lifts with a group of these teens and their chaperones. Before entering the mine, they warn you that some areas may induce feelings of claustrophobia, but the lift was the most claustrophobic part of the entire tour. The ascent is long and dark in a tight space filled with strangers. Thankfully, I was back out in the light of day soon.
Instead of heading directly back to the train depot, I saw a pretty park across the street and decided to take a walk through there. I wasn’t sure exactly what the buildings surrounding the park were, but they were really pretty and I enjoyed wandering through and snapping pictures. Later, I discovered that they are the Salt Castle and Salt Museum and I could have paid a small price to tour them. In hindsight, I wish that I would have because it’s likely that the information that I thought was lacking in the mines themselves, may have been provided at the museum.
I took the train back to Krakow Glowny; purchasing my ticket on board this time. I wandered around the Galleria, a modern shopping mall, for a while. While there, I stopped to grab a pastry and latte at Starbuck’s, where I sat and people-watched for sometime. Finally, I made my way back to the old town and thought about visiting the Underground Museum or St. Mary’s Basilica. I actually got in line to purchase tickets to the Basilica, but the line wasn’t moving and I got tired of waiting and decided I was hungry, so I headed back to the pierogi place again.
This time I ordered both the pork and “student” pierogies, which is a mixture of potato and bacon. Both flavors were just as delicious as I had anticipated! As I was leaving the restaurant to head back to my hotel, there was a woman with two young children frantically asking me something in Polish. I kept telling her that I only spoke English, but she didn’t understand and kept rushing toward me asking the same question. I decided the time had come to attempt to speak the limited words I had learned by playing with the Duolingo app prior to my trip. I always try to learn a few basic words and phrases when traveling to another country. I said “Angielsku” and pointed to myself. I’m not entirely sure this is the correct tense of the word and I more than likely butchered the pronunciation, but the woman did understand me, though she continued speaking to me in Polish. I was more than a little proud of myself for successfully getting my point across. Thankfully, there was a young Polish man up the street that was able to answer the woman’s question and point her in the right direction. It was then that I realized that she had been lost and was looking for an address on the next street over.
That evening, I walked to the McDonalds in old town and bought a soda with ice and then spent a considerable amount of time just sitting in the main square enjoying the atmosphere. The square might be even more beautiful with all of the buildings lit up. I was more than a little sad that my time in this beautiful city was coming to an end.