Salt mines and a fire breathing dragon

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Day 19: Krakow, Poland: Salt mines and a fire breathing dragon

Can you believe it…we’re officially in Poland and ready for a new chapter. So, we got up raring to go this morning and unfortunately were met with a bit of an unexciting breakfast as compared to some of the other hotels, but that’s alright…there’s no way that a country that is completely famous for it’s perrogies will ever let us starve on this trip, right? We jumped on the coach, listened to our morning song (I’ve got a feelin’ by the Black Eyed Peas if I haven’t already mentioned) and were met by our local guide (Ever-yup, that’s really her name) who would be with us for our bus and walking tour of Krakow.

We drove down and walked through the former Jewish Quarter where we saw some synagogues and she made sure to stress that she calls it the former Jewish Quarter because there aren’t really very many Jews living there at the moment. It does however still have an active synagogue and that’s where the Chabad House that Naomi gave me for services is as today is Erev Yom Kippur and I was going to try to get to services for Kol Nidre tonight if I could. We saw some memorials to the murdered Jews of the Holocaust, walked around a bit and then headed to the castle on the Royal Hill called Wawel (pronounced VAVEL) whre we saw the cathedral at the castle and the courtyard and then headed down to the Old Town and the Old Town Square.

The tour ended at Old Town but we all headed to Ever’s lunch suggestion at the end of a street right by the Florian gate (of course we went there too). We ate lunch with most of the tour group of perrogies and fries (fries in Poland-check) and tried to avoid the falling chesnuts from the trees. After finishing out traditional Polish meal, Chantell and Sarah and I headed back to Old Town square for some market shopping for Amber (the stone of Poland) and gelato and then met up with everyone later. Of course, just before the meet time I wound up catching a dance show in the square with these awesome breakdancers that felt like they had just come from either Central Park or Fanueil Hall in Boston.

After our free afternoon we headed to the Salt Mines for an underground tour that lasted about two hours. These are underground mines that are completely made of salt. Grey salt, not white like table salt but miners who were down there for so long sculpted beautiful figures including chapels and temples that were more ornate than some you’ve seen on land. Our guide of course told us that the air in the mines is so clear that it often can cure some of their asthma and allergies and that every breath in the mines can add 5 minutes to your life…as she continued to tell us to breathe deeply I was hopeful that I would no longer need my inhaler. Didn’t work completely but it was definitely clear air. After meandering down many steps and through many long corridors and yes, if you’re thinking what I was thinking…of course we licked the walls (just like Willy Wonka’s lick-a-wallpaper) to see what it was like…guess what we found…SALTY-we left in a lift that had four levels all traveling at the same time and arrived back at the surface.

We got dropped off back in town and I had clothes with me for services so I changed on the bus and we were going to walk back to the Jewish quarter for services as sundown was quickly approaching. So, Mathew, Adam and I went to the Jewish Quarter and headed to the Chabad House but stopped at Subway so I could have my meal before fasting for a day or so…okay, so not the same as I would have at home, but Yom Kippur on the road and at least Subway had veggies, protein and carbs so it might work, right? Well, we found the Chabad House and after trying all of the doors and managing to get inside; there was absolutely nothing there! I was disappointed after all we tried so very hard to get there, but I did have a few of the special prayers for services that Naomi had sent me and I downloaded from the internet so I knew I could at least recite them and fast and tomorrow we would be at our own type of worshipping place at Auschwitz so I tried to make the most of it. So, I’d eaten at least and attempted services to no avail, so we headed back into town so Mathew and Adam could find something to eat and see what everyone else was up to. We stopped at a local market as apparently the place we stop in tomorrow has yucky food so Todd told everyone to stock up on something for lunch tomorrow (not me of course as I was fasting) and while searching for some food ran into Chantell and Sarah (who were so proud of themselves for eating their first kebab) doing the same thing. Mathew and Adam thought that was a good idea so after getting them their kebabs we headed down around the castle to see the famous fire-breathing dragon who guards the city who breathes fire every few minutes. After that interesting experience that to be honest was I think better than the astrological clock in Prague, we jumped on the coach and headed back to the hotel and in true holiday form…I fell right to sleep. Tomorrow is an early start to a very emotional day…Auschwitz on Yom Kippur-the holiest day of the year.

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