Malopolska and the Tatras

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  • 1. Wieliczka Salt Mine

    Mine

    The salty underground labyrinth stretches and meanders for hundreds of miles. Old maps show 26 shafts starting at the surface and more than...

    The salty underground labyrinth stretches and meanders for hundreds of miles. Old maps show 26 shafts starting at the surface and more than 180 smaller underground shafts joining two or more neighboring levels. The mines have nine levels in total and more than 2,000 chambers where excavation has now been abandoned. The Tourist Route, starting at the Daniłowicz Shaft, takes you through a small stretch of this fascinating underworld, a mere 1½-mile walk between levels 1 and 3.The following legend attempts to explain the discovery of the salt deposits at Wieliczka. Thirteenth-century princess Kinga (also called Kunegunda), daughter of the Hungarian King Bela IV of the Árpád dynasty, married Bolesław Wstydliwy (Boleslaus the Bashful), Duke of Kraków and Sandomierz. She brought with her to Poland a large dowry, which helped rebuild the country after it was destroyed during the Mongol raids. Boleslaus and Kinga were highly respected by the subjects for their piety and goodness. Legend has it that Kinga has given Poland yet another, very precious dowry. When touring the land of her father, she came to the salt mines of Maramures. Seized with sudden inspiration, she asked King Bela to give her one of the shafts as a present. Her father consented, and Princess Kinga threw a gold ring off her finger into the pit as a sign of her ownership. Back in Poland, when the salt mines were founded, some say that it was Kinga who showed the miners where to dig. When they unearthed the first nugget of salt, they found the very same ring that the Princess had thrown into the shaft in Hungary. Remember that in those days, salt was as precious as gold.The underground itinerary takes you to several chapels that have been carved from the salt; huge, fantastically shaped multilevel chambers; and salty subterranean lakes that send off phantasmagorical reflections of light. Look especially for the 17th-century Chapel of St. Anthony's, with the saints' expressions softened with the moisture coming through the shaft. The colossal Chapel of the Blessed Kinga is rather like a cathedral hewn out of salt. Along the way you will notice powerful and ancient timber beams conserved with salt, mosslike saline deposits called "salt flowers," and even grandiose chandeliers made entirely of salt crystals. You will meet many salt-loving sprites and gnomes, along with and the most powerful of all the spirits of the mine, the Treasure Keeper—all carved out of salt, of course.After finishing your sightseeing tour, if you are not too tired of walking, you can visit the underground museum that shows the history of salt mining at Wieliczka, as well as the archaeology and geology of the salty region.Another sightseeing option is the Miners' Route expedition, which is a bit of an adventure trail. You get your helmet and play the role of the miner apprentice, going down the mine for the first time under the watchful eye of the chargemaster. It is a chance to learn more about the miner's profession, which is not an easy one, but it can be exciting. The Miners' Route starts at a different location than the "regular" Tourist Trail—at the Regis Shaft (about 10 minutes walk from the main Daniłowicz Shaft).You can get to Wieliczka by a modern and comfortable suburban train (przewozy regionalne); the journey takes only 20 minutes (get off at Wieliczka-Rynek stop and walk for about 10 minutes to the mine). There are also minibuses (both tour buses and regular connections by private companies) leaving from the Kraków train station. It is a good idea to book your ticket in advance online, as visiting the mine is a very popular attraction. In high season, it may be more practical to join a guided bus tour leaving from Kraków (inquire at tourist information points or your hotel). Visiting the mine involves a long walk underground, so make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes. A visit will last about three hours and requires you to walk down 350 steps. There is a lift, but it has an extra charge and must be reserved in advance. Leaving requires climbing even more stairs (some 450 steps in total), this time with no lift option available. There is an alternative route for persons with impaired mobility (not all, but some parts of the mine are wheelchair-accessible). Bring warm clothing: the temperature down the mine is always the same, about 15ºC (60ºF).

    Daniłowicza 10, Wieliczka, Malopolska, Poland
    012-278–73–02

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: zł 84 (includes guide\'s fee)
    View Tours and Activities
  • 2. Auschwitz and Birkenau

    Memorial/Monument/Tomb

    The Konzentrationslager (concentration camp) had three parts: Auschwitz, Birkenau, and Monowitz (where a chemical plant was run by prison...

    The Konzentrationslager (concentration camp) had three parts: Auschwitz, Birkenau, and Monowitz (where a chemical plant was run by prison labor). The barracks at Auschwitz have been completely restored and made into the Miejsce Pamięci i Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau w Oświęcimiu (Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum), which has been described by one survivor, the author Primo Levi, as "something static, rearranged, contrived." With that in mind, begin with the heartrending movie filmed by Soviet troops on January 27, 1945, the day they liberated the few prisoners left behind by the retreating Germans. The English version runs a few times a day, although narration isn't really necessary. You begin by walking through the notorious gate marked "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work Brings Freedom). The most provocative exhibits are the huge piles of belongings confiscated from victims, as well as the 2 tons of human hair intended for use in the German textile industry. The execution wall, the prison block, and the reconstructed crematorium at the end of the tour are harshly sobering. Far more affecting than the restored Auschwitz are the unaltered barracks, electric fences, and blown-up gas chambers at the enormous Birkenau camp, which is 3 km (2 miles) away. More prisoners lived and died here than at Auschwitz, including hundreds of thousands who went directly to the gas chambers from boxcars in which they had been locked up for days. The camp has been preserved to look much the way it did after the Nazis abandoned it. A walk to the back area brings you to the Monument to the Glory of the Victims, designed by Polish and Italian artists and erected in 1967. Behind the trees to the right of the monument lies a farm pond, its banks still murky with human ashes and bone fragments. Admission to the grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau is free of charge, but your entry must be reserved in advance online, preferably well in advance. This is due to very large numbers of visitors, both inividual and tour groups (more than 1.7 million people in 2015). There are fees for engaging a guide, and it is also possible for individual visitors to join a guided tour with an educator. It is not recommended that children under 14 visit the memorial, and it is a very dark and heartwrenching experience at any age. To reach the camps from Kraków, take the E22a or the train or bus from plac Kolejowy. Alternatively, join an organized tour (information available at tourist information points and hotels). You can park at either camp; from April 15 to October 31 a shuttle bus runs between them once an hour.

    Więźniów Oświęcimia 20, Oswiecim, Malopolska, Poland
    033-843–20–22

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Auschwitz and Birkenau free; guided tours in English zł 40–zł 300
  • 3. Nadwiślański Park Etnograficzny

    Museum Village

    Nadwiślański Park Etnograficzny showcases the folk culture of the regions situated west of Kraków all the way to the old Silesian frontier on...

    Nadwiślański Park Etnograficzny showcases the folk culture of the regions situated west of Kraków all the way to the old Silesian frontier on the Przemsza River. This 10-acre area contains more than 20 wooden buildings accompanied by exhibits grouped into three sections: town homes, religious buildings, and rural architecture. There is also a restaurant designed to look like a typical country cottage.

    Wygiełzów, Podzamcze 1, Babice, Malopolska, Poland
    032-613–40–62

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: zł 10
  • 4. Tyniec Abbey

    Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    The Benedictine Abbey at Tyniec is perched high on a cliff above the Vistula River. Benedictine monks had settled at Tyniec as early as the...

    The Benedictine Abbey at Tyniec is perched high on a cliff above the Vistula River. Benedictine monks had settled at Tyniec as early as the 11th century, though the oldest remaining portions of today's abbey were not begun until the 12th century, and most of the buildings that stand today were begun in the 16th century. From this fortified cloister, the Confederates of Bar set off in 1772 to raid Kraków; as a result, the abbey was destroyed later that year by the Russian army. It was rebuilt, and it is those buildings that you see today. In 1817 the Benedictine order was banned, and the monks disbanded. It was not until 1939 that the order recovered the land and not until the late 1960s that it again became an abbey and the work of reconstruction began in earnest. From May to September recitals of organ music are held in the abbey church.To get to the abbey from Kraków, take Highway 7 (E77) south to Highway A4, then take A4 about 4 km (2½ miles) to Tyniec; or take Bus 112 from most Grunwaldzki, near the Manggha Center. On summer weekends, Żegluga krakowska runs boat trips to the abbey from Kraków.

    Tyniec, Benedyktyńska 37, Kraków, Malopolska, 30-398, Poland

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 10 zł, Closed Sun.

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