Heading South

We enjoyed our day at Kazimierz Dolny, where we’d just arrived at the end of our last post. It was the weekend and the place was packed with almost exclusively Polish tourists.

The stage in the main square was busy with some kind of local “Poland’s got Talent” event, which was all well and good until the troupe of singing and swaying (ie not quite dancing) schoolkids got up. They started off well, then got more and more enthusiastic but less and less tuneful as time went on. “Their parents must be very proud” was Mark’s uncharacteristically polite verdict……

We found a few cheap and cheerful things to look at. There was a path up to the top of “Three Crosses Hill”, with a strategically placed ticket booth just before you got around the last bend to see either the crosses or the view:

We also had a look at the castle and tower which, like most of the historic buildings we’ve seen in the last few days, date back to the 14th century (with varying amounts of subsequent modification):

The camp site at Kazimierz Dolny was packed full when we arrived on Saturday, though most of the vans seemed to be weekend visitors and disappeared again on Sunday evening.

Mark wasted no time in finding someone to chat to (he’s fantastic at striking up conversation with people he’s never met; I’m absolutely terrible at it so it’s a good thing that Mark compensates for my social inadequacies 😱🀐😰) and so it was that we met Walter and Renate, a lovely and very funny Swiss couple….. πŸ˜€ After a lovely stay, we said our goodbyes on Monday morning and off they went (followed by ourselves about half an Β hour later) to continue their travelling adventures.

Our next stop was Sandomierz, one of the oldest cities in Poland. We parked on a small car park next to the city gate (originally there were four but only one survives); the machine happily sold us an overnight ticket, so overnight we stayed….. πŸ˜‰

We had a good wander around the small but picturesque centre.

Then it was time for Mark to reward himself for his touristic efforts – with a couple of beers sat outside overlooking the main square…

The next day we set off towards a small town called Szydlow, which advertises itself as the Polish Carcassonne. We fully expected this to be somewhat overstating the reality of the situation, but it was on our way towards Krakow so we thought we’d head there and take a look.

We hadn’t got far when Mark pointed out a larger-than-average Biedronka (Ladybird) supermarket ahead, then shouted “LOOK WHO’S THERE!” and turned into the car park. Yes, it was Renate and Walter! Renate was busy doing the shopping whilst Walter was guarding the van (presumably from undesirables like us πŸ˜‰).

We were invited in for coffee and, after a lot of chinwagging, it was after 2pm when we finally left their van and, having said some more goodbyes, set off again….

We didn’t drive far before Mark decided that yes, he did need to eat something after all, so we stopped briefly… We arrived at Szydlow and you can probably guess what happened next as we turned into a car park. “LOOK!”.

The blinds in Renate and Walter’s van were all closed, but we soon found them looking round the town! They’d passed us, realised that their route took them through the town we’d mentioned, and stopped for a look around….

The Carcassonne comparison seems to refer to the partial town wall; the buildings inside the wall were mainly modern and not overly interesting.

We did find the old synagogue with some wood carvings outside of famous Polish people, and shamed ourselves by only knowing three of them (Copernicus, Marie Curie and Lech Walesa):

Then it was back to the vans (meeting Walter and Renate again on the way back!), and as it was now late afternoon, a decision was made to stay the night. We made a quick move to the far superior cemetery car park, and had an enjoyable evening lubricated by a few drinks 😁 Who would have guessed that they’re big Billy Connelly fans? We’re still amazed Β at the depth of their knowledge of the English language: “wee jobbies” and the like hold no surprises for Walter and Renate!

This morning, we said some more goodbyes (this is becoming quite a habit!):

We’re now definitely heading in different directions, Renate and Walter to the West and us to the South, so I guess we really have now said our final farewells for this trip… Who knows, though, where and when we might meet up with them again 🀞

Today’s visit was to the Wieliczka Salt Mine on the outskirts of Krakow. I’ve been here once before but it was Mark’s first time. The original salt mine dates back to the 13th century, and production only stopped about 20 years ago (although tourists have been visiting parts of the mine since the early 19th century). It’s huge – around 300km of underground tunnels, though the tourist route only takes in about 2km.

This is one of Poland’s biggest tourist attractions, and they certainly know how to part a tourist from their money. It’s extortionately expensive by Polish standards but hey, if people are willing to pay……

The tour starts with the best part of 400 steps down into the mine. Luckily, the route is all downhill then there’s a lift back up to the surface at the end. We saw plenty of models showing mining operations, machinery etc, lots of tunnels and caverns, and some salt sculptures, some serious and others more whimsical:

One of the most amazing things is a chapel carved into the rock:

One thing we’ve noticed in Poland is that this chap really does get everywhere:

A really interesting thing happens when you get to the end of the main tour (after 2 hours or so). You come to an underground cavern complete with gift shop etc and the guide ends the tour, says their goodbyes, and gives you directions through the gift shop, through the restaurant, and along a corridor past some more tat-buying opportunities to the area where you can get the lift to the surface. They then tell you that at that point you can turn right to the museum if you want but that it’ll take you another hour to go through there….. Not exactly a hard sell….

We weren’t deterred by this, and as we’ve learned over the past couple of days, goodbye doesn’t always mean goodbye. We quickly bypassed the merchandise and headed towards the museum to find out that this part was also guided – by the very same guide! We waited but no-one else from the English tour showed up so we got our own personal tour round the museum and got to ask all of our questions…. Fantastic!

The mine was owned by the Crown throughout most of its history (and more recently by the state). Being a miner was a very well-paid job, and the workers were well looked after. This was an interesting contrast to the typically grim working lives of salt miners / boilers in Cheshire (representing quite a sizeable chunk of my ancestry; it has been suggested on more than one occassion that I probably have genetically salty blood!). The Polish salt miners even had ceremonial uniforms, with hats!

There was none of that kind of thing in Cheshire! I was also interested to see how the miners got up and down into / out of the mine – sat in slings on a rope with a counterweight on the other end? Really?!

And there I was thinking that the “man-engines” that were used in Cornish copper and tin mines (more mining relatives…..) looked dodgy…..

We’d have liked to have spent some time looking round the town of Wieliczka, but by the time we came out of the mine it was late afternoon and we wanted to get to our planned overnight stop on the outskirts of Krakow. We arrived without any problems and got ourselves set up and equipped with a bus timetable. Tomorrow’s plan is to head into town and have a look around…..

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