25 November 2009
Some Salty Mines & Oniony Bagels in Krakow
Delicious. At least that’s one way to describe this town. First it was the delectable donor kebab. For three dollars you’re full for days. Then came the bagels. One word: otherworldly. it turns out the bagel was actually invented in Krakow, which explains the New York City-style bagel carts lining the streets. For about 65 cents you can gnaw on the most delectably oniony bagel you’ve ever set your lips on. Perhaps the crowning achievement of bagel majesty came in the form of Bagelmama, “where the bagel was born.” Filling fresh bagels with everything from smoked turkey and sprouts to the traditional schmear, you could easily have three meals a day at this place (and I did).
Needless to say, I entered Krakow through my stomach and while the rest of the city is indelibly charming - cobblestoned streets, the oldest market square in the world, clock towers, ornate churches and a castle on a hill (obviously) - you can’t help but feel a deep sense of history and strength of a city that somehow managed to survived undamaged after four years of Nazi occupation and another 45 of Soviet occupation. This is a city with a story.
Pair that city with spectacular countryside and some of the most incredible (and overwhelming) day-trips and you’ve got plenty to keep you busy. While we went on a day-trip to Auschwitz (more on that next time) that shook me to the core, we were also able to make it the Salt Mines. Believe it or not, at one time salt was so valuable and so rare that it acted as the catalyst for numerous wars in Europe! This particular mine has claims as the deepest in the world, snaking over 1,000 feet into the earth. On our tour we went more than 400 feet underground, which was both odd and fascinating. I kept thinking, “if these braces snapped we’d be trapped over a football field deep underground (thank you Dad for permanently implanting any comparison of distance and depth with football fields). A Polish friend also told me that “everyone just walks up and licks the walls!” No one - no one - on my tour did that, but maybe it’s because I was with all foreigners and we don’t know the “do’s and don’ts” of the Salt Mines?
Because of the intense conditions and religious heritage of the Poles, workers built incredible underground churches and chapels to pray - each and every day - for a safe return that evening to the surface. What material did they use? Why, salt of course! Salt walls, salt reliefs, salt baby Jesus, salt Mary, salt Pope, salt chairs, salt stairs and, perhaps most incredibly, salt chandeliers! To blow your mind just a bit more, these Salt Mines were selected as one of the first twelve UNESCO World Heritage Sites IN THE ENTIRE WORLD. Visit NOW.