A short ride out of the city, we visited Europe’s largest
narrow gauge locomotive museum, which has over 100 trains
on display. The visit included a 15km an hour ride on one to the
Kampinoski National Park, a unesco heritage site that is home
to 3,500 animals, of which there are 31 species of mosquito!
Nearby, but far enough away from the mosquitoes, in an area
designated for picnics, we sampled some typical polish food.
This included sausages, which we heated on an outside fire, and
pierogi, a kind of dumpling in the form of a crescent that can
have many different fillings, in our case meat, cheese and potato.
Fortunately, very little of Krakow was destroyed during the
war, and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Wherever
you want to go is in walking distance with a lot of the activity
centred around its main market square, the largest medieval
town square in Poland.
The Cloth Hall, in the centre, houses a bazaar with many
stalls selling souvenirs and jewellery. At one time the town
was the royal capital of the country, with the Castle still a
major focal point on Wawel Hill. Although ransacked many
times, and therefore sparsely decorated, it still houses a superb
collection of tapestries.
The adjoining cathedral is particularly ornate. Entry can
be booked in advance, which is certainly worthwhile as
people are only let in on a timed admission, which can mean
hours of waiting around. The statue of a dragon spitting out
gusts of fire, a legend of the city, stands at the bottom of the
hill overlooking the Wisla River, which flows all the way
Kazimierz, known as the Jewish Quarter, still has several
synagogues, although the main one has been transformed into
a museum which has many exhibits coupled with
explanations explaining the Faith. The area has a scruffy feel
to it, although behind many of the doors are shops and cafés
which come alive at night. This part of the town was used
extensively for the film Schindler’s List, and there is a route one
can follow to see the various sites used, including the factory.
Not until you visit the camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau
does the reality of what happened during the Second World
War actually hit you. A poignant photographic exhibition by
Chris Schwarz at the Galicia Museum in Kazimierz helps to
portray the magnitude of the situation.
Fifteen kilometres from Krakow are Europe’s largest salt
mines at Wieliczka, which go down nine levels to a depth of
327 metres. The two-hour tour takes in several of the levels,
descending 380 steps through a labyrinth of tunnels.
Astounding are the statues that have been carved by some
of the miners, and the ornamental chapel and church with all its
fittings carved from salt, still used occasionally for concerts and
masses. Fortunately, there is a lift to take you back to the top.
The smoking ban has not yet arrived in Germany or
Poland, so if you are anti-smoking, it is essential to mention
this when booking. There are still trains with smoking
compartments, as there are bedrooms which smell like
ashtrays, as we found out to our cost.
Evening meals are included, whether in the hotel or
at what can be described as an ‘ethnic’ restaurant. Eating
en masse can be good fun and a great way to get to know your
travelling companions. However, it is rare that you get a real
insight into the local food. As long as you have a word in the
tour leader’s ear you can, however, ‘disappear’ and investigate
the local eateries.
A statue to the famous Polish
composer Chopin in the
Lazienki Park in Warsaw
Web site created by Mark Griffin