Monday, September 30, 2013

Enchanting Eastern Europe - Krakow/Poland

We have already crossed the halfway mark of our holiday - visited 4 countries and stayed in 4 hotels. Today, September 19, is just a traveling day and we spent about 6 hours on the road from Budapest to Kakrow in Poland travesing northward through Slovakia and stopping in Banska Bystrica for lunch and toilet break. We arrived the Kakrow at 6pm and proceeded for dinner before we checked in to the 5-star Sheraton Kakrow to stay for 2 nights. These 5-star hotels provide only free wifi in the lobby areas but not inside the rooms and even then the speed is slow. Those of us in the group numbering about 15 who wants to stay in touch with families and friends on the internet are often frustrated by slow speeds and at times inability of their devices to detect free wifi services especially in public areas away from the hotels, like in the city or rest area. I was very proud of my HTC One smartphone which quickly picked up wifi broadcasts, open and secured. Picking the open channel with the strongest signal I usually succeeded in connecting to the Internet and update my Facebook status and my family. The other great feature of the HTC One is the responsiveness of its camera. Within 10 seconds of fishing it out of my pocket I could be taking photos. And if necessary take panoramic ones as well. Several pictures I shared on these holidays are taken from the HTC One.

The next day we visited the Wieliczka Salt Mine which is one of the world's oldest working salt mines. The Wieliczka salt mine reaches a depth of 327 metres (1,073 ft) and is over 287 kilometres (178 mi) long. The rock salt is naturally gray in various shades, resembling unpolished granite rather than the white or crystalline look that many visitors may expect. A wooden staircase with 378 steps provides access to the mine's 64-meter (210-foot) level. A 3-kilometer (1.9-mile) tour features corridors, chapels, statues, and underground lake, 135 metres (443 ft) underground. An elevator returns visitors to the surface; the elevator holds 36 persons (nine per car) and takes some 30 seconds to make the trip.

Each visitor was provided a wireless receiver tuned to a common channel to track the narration by our local guide Joanna who warned those who feel claustrophobic to either stay out or be mentally prepared. Thankfully no one in our group felt any quiziness as the vastness of the mine, like the Postojna Cave in Slovenia, quickly make anyone feel comfortable. I paid 2.50 Euros for a sticker to authorize me to take pictures and videos while in the mine.

In the afternoon we visited the Wawel Hill on the left bank of the Vistula River. The hill consisted of a complex of many buildings and fortifications; the largest and best known of these are Royal Castle and Wawel Cathedral which is the Basilica of St Stanisław and St Wacław. The Wawel Cathedral was not only a place of coronation for the Kings of Poland, but also their mausoleum. Later, it became a national pantheon. The Wawel Royal Castle served as a royal residence and the site where the country's rulers governed Poland for five centuries (1038-1596). It is a symbol of the independent Polish state and today contains a priceless collection of 16th-century Flemish tapestries, considered to be one of the largest in the world.

Below are scences from the Old Town Square when we hung out before dinner.

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