|Krakow is a great place, I wish I could have stayed longer (even longer than the extra two days I stayed past when I planned to leave). The first day started off overcast but cleared up to a beautiful day and stayed that way for the next 4 days. Krakow used to be the capital of Poland until 1956 and its probably mostly because of that that it has such beautiful streets and buildings dating back to medieval times. Fortunately Krakow, unlike lots of other areas in Poland avoided major damage in WWII so the main attractions, like Wawel Castle remain intact. Wawel Hill, south of the Old Town is the main draw card of Krakow and a walk down there takes about 15 minutes, depending on how many of the hundreds of street performers you stop to watch on the way. Those little guys are everywhere you look, some better than others of course...the break dancers were definitely in need of a few more lesson.
Wawel Hill is crowned with a castle and cathedral, both of which are enduring symbols of Poland. When I got up there in the afternoon I discovered that each separate attraction within the castle required a separate tickets, of which there is a limited quota of tickets each day, and hey were all sold out. I went back earlier and earlier each day and each time I was turned away. But...the outside was lovely too.
Most of our time in Krakow was spent wandering through the town and soaking up the carnival atmosphere of the place. Its a major Eastern European holiday destination so at this time of the year the streets are jam packed with people.
One of the other things Krakow is famous for is the Wieliczka Salt Mine, about 15km south of town. Yes it was said to be an eerie world of pits and chambers, not music to my ears, but it also sounded so fascinating...every single element from chandeliers to altarpieces hewn by hand from solid salt. One underground temple alone took more than 30 years to complete and resulted in the removal of 20,000 tonnes of salt.
I took heart from the fact that the main highlight of a visit there is the Chapel of the Blessed Kinga, a church measuring 54m by 17m, and 12m high. Dimensions of course being integral to whether I would get claustrophobic!
So off I went to the mines, quietly confident that I would be just fine in there after seeing pictures of how HUGE the chambers were. I paid my $20 and an extra $10 to be able to take photo and in we headed. There is a compulsory tour that you have to take, its about 2-3 hours long inside, and there are probably at least 70 people I was towards the start of the pack and walked into the first gently sloped corridor and scanned my ticket and squeezed through the tiny turnstile. Feeling the oh so sight fingers of panic gripping my chest as I descended the first dozen steps i tried to breathe deeply and forget that I was underground; and to ignore the tour guide who was exhorting us all to look down the stair case to see how far we had to go...and kept chanting, 'its 480 steps, 64metres, can you believe it?'
After hearing this a few times I could take no more and turned to walk back out, but there were so many people behind my it was like swimming against the tide and I was getting more and more panicky! I had to do a most ungraceful leap over the turnstile duck and weave under more barricades and run past dozens of quizzical faces before I finally got back to natural light. Such a waste of money...I really have to stop trying these little tunnels!