Krakow was the favorite stop of our December 2022 trip.
Following our Elbe River cruise with Viking that took us from Berlin to Prague, we continued on a land extension into Poland that started in Krakow. Upon arriving at our hotel there, our guide Ivan urged everyone on the extension to join him on a short walk over snow-covered sidewalks. We crossed through the greenway that replaced the original, ancient town wall and down narrow streets to the old town square where the Christmas market was being held. Upon arriving at the square a horse-drawn wagon turned the corner in front of us, but what immediately captured our attention was the incredibly beautiful view of the Christmas market, the Cloth Hall market hall in the middle of the square, and the towers of St. Mary’s Basilica rising from behind – all glowing brightly with the holiday lighting. (The picture at the top of this post captures this view.)
The Christmas market in Krakow felt more like those we’d experienced during prior Christmas Market cruises. It had more local crafts mixed in with the typical food- and drink-heavy markets that had dominated in our earlier stops on this trip.
We featured this night time shot of St. Mary’s Basilica on our 2023 Christmas card:
Here is what the wintry streets of Krakow looked like:
We had dinner at our hotel, the Radisson Blu, while the France-Croatia World Cup game played on the lobby television sets. The crowd didn’t seem to have a favorite, but we were pretty sure that our Croatian guide was watching the game closely in his room.
We began the next day with a bus ride over to the old Jewish section of Krakow known as Kazimierz where we viewed the Remuh Synagogue. The area we walked through had been used as a filming location for Stephen Spielberg’s movie, Schindler’s List.
We returned to our hotel to begin a walking tour of Krakow, starting with a hike up to Wawel Royal Castle, Cathedral, and the Royal Chambers in bone-chilling weather.
Even though the capital of Poland moved to Warsaw in 1596, royal coronations and funerals were still usually held in Krakow, and the route we took from the Castle to the Old Town is known as the Royal Way. Along the way we passed the beautiful Saints Peter and Paul Church, which was reserved just for German worshippers during WWII.
We also passed the archdiocese museum that had previously been the residence of the home town hero and future Pope John Paul II during his time in Krakow.
The highlight of the day was witnessing the noon-time ceremonial opening of the altar at St. Mary’s Basilica. The beautiful altar was swung open by a nun (with musical accompaniment) to reveal the even more beautiful gilded figures of Mary and the Disciples inside. These figures had been stolen during WWII but recovered eventually by the Monuments Men and returned to the Basilica. The whole altar area had been recently rehabbed with the colors of the panels restored to their scientifically determined original colors.
The ceiling of the front and back of the Basilica:
The closed altar:
The interior of the altar:
In the afternoon we toured the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Mining began there in the 13th century, but ended in 1996. The mine has drawn visitors for centuries, but since its closure it has become a major tourist attraction with over a million visitors a year. We did not enjoy the tight confines of the two-level elevator that plunged us into the depths of the mine that extend to nearly 1100 feet below the surface with 178 miles of horizontal passages. After that, except for the crowded ascent at the end of the tour, the mine was amazing, especially the open underground spaces like the St. Kinga’s chapel:
Or the dining area that’s used for receptions for the weddings held underground in the chapel:
The mine was also filled with statues and other artwork carved from salt by the miners, mostly on their own time:
After a hard day “working” in the salt mine, we enjoyed dinner out in a pleasant rustic restaurant, Pad Aniolami:
The next day brought a much less pleasant experience: a visit to Auchwitz and Birkenau.