Travel Travails: Krakow version

Travel Travails: Krakow version

Travail #1: Coming down from Wawel Castle, a woman stopped us to tell me my backpack was unzipped. Sure enough, my cash was gone. Only 50 Euros’ worth or so – not a huge loss. Whoever did it was nice enough to leave my wallet with my credit card and ID – so, thank you! A bit scary: they had to unzip my backpack, get my wallet, open the wallet, pull the cash out, close the wallet, replace the wallet – I never realized a thing.

Travail #2: We had pre-purchased tickets for the salt mines. When we went to pick up the tickets, we were informed that one of the two tickets was dated the day we had booked them, so it was no longer valid. So…in line for same-day tickets. Not so bad, since we had to get in line to buy the photo pass anyway. Todd explained to the ticket vendor what had happened. She redated and initialed the ticket, then asked if we wanted to catch the earlier tour, which was just leaving. Indeed! Times changed and initialed, and off we go – no harm, no foul!

Travail #3: For the third time in our travels, we missed our flight. This was the first time it was all on us. We all thought the flight was for 7:30 and booked a car from the hotel accordingly. None of us double checked boarding tickets – the flight was 5:30 (that pesky 24-hour European clock thing!). We arrived at RyanAir check-in with 7 minutes to spare, but had to schlep our bags through security. The helpful help-girl ushered us to the front of the security line, but we got caught behind the intense search of an old man in a wheel chair (really?!), then all got snagged for one reason or another. I got the most intense frisk I’ve ever had. Normally, I’m appreciative of good security, but this was maddening. Needless to say, we missed our flight. No more flights to Alicante until Monday!

After some searching, we found a reasonably close hotel, reasonably priced. It was quite comfortable, and the food was fine. A helpful desk agent worked magic to get us booked on Swiss Air through Zurich – the app wouldn’t book, and she stayed on the phone until she convinced the Powers That Be that we should get the online price. An expensive error, but these things happen…

Travail #4: As I waded through the laundry on our return, I realized I had left my favorite sweater behind. The hotel staff cheerfully arranged to have it shipped to our next port-o-call: Texas. (Yes, Husband did say to me: If you keep taking that sweater off, you’re going to leave it here.)

We have now instituted a double-check system on all ticket dates and times, as well as a new closing device for all backpacks.

Travel safely, y’all!



Weiliczka Salt Mine

Weiliczka Salt Mine

We rode the train to Wieliczka 10 miles southeast of Krakow to visit the Salt Mine. We were leery of the 380 steps down into the mine, but they were broken into short flights with landings, so were quite manageable.

Salt mining here began in the 13th century. By the 16th and 17th centuries, the mine employed as many as 2000 people and the output accounted for one-third of the revenue of the state treasury.

The underground lakes were eerily serene:

By the 19th century, the miners began to carve figures and chandeliers out of the salt:

St. Kinga’s Chapel, carved in the early 20th century, was a highlight, with bas-relief wall carvings of New Testament scenes:

We were disappointed with our tour guide, who merely regurgitated facts and figures, and we were pressured to move fast by the tour group behind us. While the tour was a disappointment, the sights certainly weren’t.

The sights – and tastes – of Krakow

The sights – and tastes – of Krakow

Sure, we saw the main sights of Krakow…

The Florianska Gate into the old city, across from the Barbican, is all that remains of Krakow´s 14th-century defenses. The Barbican has walls that are three meters thick, is topped by seven turrets, and has 130 slots for archers:


I thought one of Krakow’s most delightful features was the Planty, a public park created from the old moat surrounding the old city:


Rynek Glowny – Main Market Square – is the heart of the city and one of the largest medieval squares in Europe:

The Sukiennice – Cloth Hall – dates from the mid-13th century and has always been, in essence, a shopping mall:

The Stary Kleparz marketplace was a kaleidoscope of sounds and colors:

We trudged up Wawel Hill and explored the grounds of Wawel Castle:


But we were most interested in the food. And we had some great food, not all of it Polish.

The Blue Van has been a Krakow institution for over 25 years. Two men in white smocks grill kielbasa over wood-fired stoves next to their Nyska – a Soviet model van:

Hamsa in the Jewish Quarter:

Starka for vodka tasting:

Camelot Café for brunch:

Jarema provided a taste of old Krakow:


Bunkier Café would have been even more delightful during warm weather, but the brunch was fabulous:


Kazimierz: Krakow’s Jewish Quarter

Kazimierz: Krakow’s Jewish Quarter

On Tuesday, despite the threat of rain, we headed to the Jewish Quarter. We opted to take the tram—getting tickets onboard seems to take a village, but the locals were more than happy to help:

bus 2

We picked up a walking tour. These are free in Krakow, and they’re led by students who speak excellent English and really know their history. Our tour of Kazimierz and Podgorze was a brisk two hours!

We stopped into the Izaac Synagogue, a gift to the city from Izaak Jakubowicz in 1644. The walls in the prayer hall are painted the texts of prayers for those who couldn’t afford prayer books. A shop inside carries kosher goods and some souvenirs.

Our last stop in Kazimierz was at Temple Synagogue and the Jewish Community Centre. Temple Synagogue is the newest synagogue in Kazimierz, dating from 1862. Under Nazi occupation, the synagogue was used as a warehouse and stables, but the building survived the war. Across the yard from the synagogue is the Jewish Community Center, the headquarters of Krakow´s Jewish community. Its aim is to rebuild Jewish life in Krakow, offering events, lectures, exhibits, tours, and community programs.

After touring Kazimierz, we crossed the Father Bernatek Footbridge over the Wisla River into Podgorze. Opened in 2010, the bridge is pedestrian and bike traffic only. The gymnasts performing overhead (installed in 2016) compete with the many locks of love on the bridge railings.

And then – we saw it: Plac Bohaterow Getta – Ghetto Heroes Square. The ghetto’s largest open space, originally a place where people gathered to socialize and relax, it became the site where families were torn apart with people being beaten, executed, or sent to Nazi death camps. Now it is a quiet monument to those souls, with 68 large metal chairs – representing the 68,000 people deported from this square.

The plaza is overlooked by the Eagle Pharmacy, whose owner and staff risked their lives to help the residents of the ghetto.

And the street art:


Krakow’s churches

Krakow’s churches

With 142 churches in Krakow, you are seemingly never out of sight of one.

St. Mary’s Basilica may be THE church to see in Krakow. Unfortunately, it was “closed” for some conservation work, so we could only get a glimpse inside. But the glimpse was stunning:

St Mary's

After being destroyed by Tartar raids in the 13th century, St. Mary’s was rebuilt in the 14th century. Only one of the two towers is part of the church; the other was used as a watch tower by the city. From here you can hear the hejnal, the hourly bugle call, repeated four times, from each side of the tower. The buglers are local firemen, who have to climb 239 steps to the top of the tower. The song ends mid-tune, to honor the legendary watchman who died alerting the town to Tartar invaders in 1241.

Tucked behind St. Mary’s is St. Barbara’s—a charming little church:

Founded in the 14th century as a cemetery chapel, St. Barbara’s was turned over to the Jesuits in the 16th century and became a college.

Copper-domed St. Adalbert’s is Krakow’s oldest church, sitting lonely in a corner of market square:

The earliest parts of the building date to the 10th century (!) Over the years, it has taken on pre-Roman, Roman, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque characteristics. The church is the site of frequent concerts, but we didn’t catch any – another time, perhaps.

St. Francis’ Basilica is home to stunning stained glass and arguably the most colorful church in Krakow:

The Art Nouveau interiors were designed by Stanislaw Wyspianski and feature floral patterns. The centerpiece is the stained glass “God the Father in the Act of Creation.”

The Church of Saints Peter & Paul, built in the 17th century, at first appears to be a government building. But the statues of the twelve disciples (no Judas, but Mary Magdalene) on the fence at the street give it away:


We only saw the exterior of Wawel Cathedral, but it was stunning. Poland’s national church, it is a hodge-podge of architectural styles: Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance, and Neoclassical:


snapshots of Paris

snapshots of Paris

I’ll close out the Paris posts with some random snapshots.

We were there during the Ryder Cup, but this was as close as we got:



We love street art:



They were setting up a floating catwalk for Fashion Week:


Near our hotel was a spot called the Cactus Club. We thought it might be some kind of tequila bar or something, but, no: it was a shop of all things cactus:


a line at the Nespresso stand on the street:


next time, we’ll have to try O’Tacos:


And, finally, Paris fashion on the metro:


Until next time, Paris!


A small bite of Paris: Musee d’Orsay

A small bite of Paris: Musee d’Orsay

I believe that Paris, like most large capitals, is best experienced in small bites. For that reason, I’m glad we’ve experienced it in stays of less than a week. That has allowed us to choose one or two things to focus on each trip. This time: Versailles and the Musee d’Orsay.
If you are a follower of my blog, you know that we are big fans of the hop-on/hop-off bus tours. This time, we opted for something a little different: The Batobus hop-on/hop-off boat tour!
Not only did it get us where we needed to go, it gave us a water’s-eye view of the city.
A floating park:

Houseboats along the Seine:

And the Eiffel Tower:

And so we made our way to the Musee d’Orsay. Despite the fact that we had pre-purchased our tickets with “guaranteed” entry time, we had a longer wait than those who showed up to buy tickets at the door!
But once we got inside, the wait was worth it – stunning!

a mini-Versailles in the Salle des Fetes:

While we were there, they were in the midst of renovating the Impressionist Gallery. The masterpieces remained on view, but were scattered elsewhere throughout the museum. They were kind enough to include an updated map of the location of those pieces, so we managed to see them all.
Some of our favorites:

We had hoped to catch the Rodin Museum, but the delay in entering the Orsay nixed that idea.
At the recommendation of Todd’s brother and sister-in-law, we had dinner at Le Souffle, featuring – wait for it – souffles!
A lovely day in Paris.