Sunday, July 8, 2012

July 7, 2012 Krakow, Poland

July 7, 2012  Krakow

This was a weird day because it revealed, to me at least, how different a Jewish journey to Poland is compared to the typical European summer vacation.

We began our day with a guided tour of Old Krakow, which we translated to mean “non-Jewish Krakow” since our tour earlier was to the Jewish sections.

Our guide..

We took a walk around a giant castle, saw a fire-breathing dragon,

and then ascended a hill

to reach a magnificent church that has been centuries in the making.

The Castle

More castle views...

Along the way, we heard the history of Poland and of Krakow.

….and we intersected with hoards of tourist crowds speaking different languages taking pictures jostling for position, etc. etc. etc.  We were real tourists now!  I had flashbacks to tours of European cities…each one with its castles and cathedrals.  Turns out there was more to Krakow than its Jewish section.

Pope John Paul II lived many years in Krakow in this building..

We learned lots of great folklore, visited one of the seven chakras in the world (Krakow gets the one for the brain) 

The chakra for the brain..

then proceeded to the magnificent town square.

The Church in the square...two brothers built the two towers..then one killed the other in jealousy (don't get any ideas, Jeff).

We lunched near the town square

Later, it was time for a snack...

and then came back to the hotel to unwind for an hour before heading out to the famed Krakow salt mines.

Within minutes, Marci, Rebecca, and Shayna were all asleep in their beds!

Our guide  encouraged us to avoid the $80 cab fare for the salt mines and take a public bus.  We’re game!  I had the unpleasant task of waking everyone up…  We walked a few blocks to the bus…

Found a group of young British women heading to the mines as well (always reassuring to have other English speakers who appear to know what they are doing)…and boarded the Line 304 bus. 

We were told that we pay on board so I went to the driver to pay.  He signaled backward to a ticket vending machine in the middle of the bus.  In line after all the British women, I came to learn that the machine only takes coins.  After gathering every coin in every pocket of the four of us, I was able to purchase 3 of the 4 required seats.  Using my impeccable Polish (OK, just body language), I asked a few bus riders if they could break one of my bills into coins.  No luck.  So, I gathered the three tickets, the few coins left, clutched them in my hand and prepared my speech, in perfect English (wouldn’t want to tip the officer with my use of Polish), as to why I didn’t have the required ticket.

Sorry to disappoint but we arrived at the Salt Mines without an audit by the officers of the law…  We did get to the mines for $4 instead of $80.  We are so darn local I don’t know what to do.

The salt mines opened in the 14th century and the tour is a 2 to 2.5 hour walk over about 1.5 miles at a depth of over 100 meters.  We descended down many hundreds of stairs and then were guided through countless caverns learning about different aspects of the mine, of salt production, and of the history of the region.  One of the really good parts of the mine tour was that it was 65 degrees underground.  Yeah.

One of the several chapels built into the mine with salt furniture!

Some photos in the mine...

A salt water lake in the mine..

The girls bought Star of David necklaces made from salt..

At the end of the tour, we learned that a special event had reserved the elevator they use to hoist tourists back to the surface.  Instead, we were being redirected to an industrial elevator in a section of the mine closed to tourists.  It was open air…and even if you don’t already have ambivalence about elevators…rather freaky.  Each platform holds 9 people; each elevator shaft hold two platforms (one above the other).  They swing closed two doors (that look like the doors from the old western bars scenes, only these are metal instead of wood).  Then, they tell you to keep your hands to your side and the elevator hoists you up as you can see the inside of the mine shaft on the way up.

Hold on!

We made it!

We piled into the Weiss’ van for the ride back to Krakow and dinner. 

Marci and Elyse found a great Indian restaurant

A little rest at the Weiss' apartment

Tonight was the culminating event in the Jewish culture festival…what they call “Jewish Woodstock.”

Off to Jewish Woodstock..

 Organizers constructed a massive stage in one of the squares in the Jewish section of Krakow.  From 6 pm until 1 am, a succession of musical groups from the Jewish festival played sets.  We arrived around 10 pm to see thousands upon thousands of people filling the square, dancing to the music with the words “Jewish festival” or “Jewish culture” or “Jewish Woodstock” on signs throughout the area.  We had heard that 5,000 have attended in the past and I am sure there were that many last night. 

On so many levels, it was amazing.  As Zvi and I reflected,
1.     The music was great.
2.     People were having a great time; lots of dancing; moving to the beat
3.     It was multi-generational
4.     We saw lots of men wearing kippot
5.     We were in POLAND, for goodness sake.
6.     There was NO visible security….

We couldn’t imagine such a large Jewish-themed event in the US that would be so popular, attract such a diverse audience, and NOT require barricades for searches on the way into the square.

Dancing the night away..

Alas, tonight the Weiss prepare for their drive to Prague and then Israel while the Dollingers head to Warsaw to prep for the rest of their roots tour....  Bye, Weiss Family...we'll miss you..
It was midnight before we got back to the hotel.  We told the girls we wouldn’t wake them up in the morning…

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