Much as we could have spent another week in Krakow we needed to move on to keep to my well planned itinerary (aka couple of handwritten lines on a sheet of paper). Yet again camper folk proved to be dead friendly, our Dutch neighbours, Francis and Cees, sent us off with a box of tea for Iain as he is running low, then gave us the tea strainer to go with it, along with their address, we hope to stop off in the Netherlands and catch up with them if they are back from their RV tour of Canada.
At the Wieliczka Salt Mines we were directed, very formally, into the car-park and charged £4 to park on a grubby old piece of waste land, the real car-park was 100 metres up the road for half the price! You have to give it them for ingenuity, I maintain I would rather they make a few euro from the tourist in a scam like this than pick someones pocket or mug them, we could have driven out but for £2 standing in roasting heat all day they can have my cash.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
The Salt Mine has been going since the 13th century, the tour takes in various caverns and even two of the chapels carved out of the rock salt by miners. It goes down over 1000 ft, we took the steps down over 300 ft and that was far enough. A very dry and witty Polish guide gave a running commentary in English as we fairly sprinted along the corridors for nearly 3 kms. There isn’t much time to stop, another tour is always right behind you so you are constantly jogged along. We wrapped up warm as it was going to be cold down a mine, saw all the other Brits in shorts and sniggered to ourselves at how clever we were. Wasn’t even slightly cold! we were way hot and pretty sure everyone else thought we were overdressed.
Just needed to start playing “It’s a small world”
Strangely enough half way through the mines they have built a gift shop and refreshment stop – too commercial and a bit Disneyland, they don’t need gimmicks. The highlight was St. Kinga’s chapel where even the chandeliers are actually made from rock salt and not glass. The tour takes nearly 3 hours and you see less than 1% of the mine, the biggest cash cow we have witnessed so far – stunning to visit but felt like we were on a whirlwind, even at the end instead of just waiting for the lift out another guide took us on a 20 minutes hike around tunnels to keep from queues forming. Even the guide told us the salt used to be a big money maker – now the tourist makes the money.
Salt mine carvings – St. Kinga’s chapel
Next stop Sandmomierz, four hours North East, taking mostly minor roads cross country. It’s a small town and another that has faired reasonably well in terms of lack of war damage. As with anywhere in Poland its been invade numerous times – the first time we have come across the Swedes as culprits – they invaded back in 1655.
There wasn’t any industrial development during the Soviet era hence its a tourist heaven of historic buildings in beautiful countryside. Other than the history its supposedly famous for its striped flint, which they push in jewellery, ornaments and general nicnaks, as the flint is only found here they have christened the town the “world capital of striped stone” – probably not the catchiest tagline to date!
The town square is home to all the usual, pavement cafes and trendy tourist shops. bakeries, a few hotels and a 14th century city hall slap bang in the middle. We strolled around with hardly a soul in sight, then suddenly primary school children started to appear from every side street – hundreds of them all in two’s heading towards the square. No idea what was going on, we made a break for the Opatiwska Gate where Iain climbed the steps to the top – all 30 metres of it, I on the other hand stayed on terra firma. Sandomierz boasts a castle, a cathedral, the oldest college in Poland, a palace and two monasteries. It might not be Krakow but it’s not too shabby on the historic buildings scene.
We have been on a lovely campsite on the edge of town, just across the road is a major DIY centre so a bit more stocking up on essentials to hold the van together means we are comfortable of taking all our bits and pieces with us for the next few months. As the budget is looking very healthy we shopped in Carrefour this week, we felt the need to vary our diet a bit, we may go totally mad next week and try Tesco.
Views from the tower
City Hall in the centre of the town square
After a day exploring town on foot we set out next day on our bikes for a ride around “The Apple Trail of Sandomierz”. Mile after mile of orchards with old fashioned farm buildings dotted along the roads together with roadside shrines and wooden or stone statues and crosses at every corner. Not sure where we could have found for a prettier bike ride at this time of year with the orchards in bloom everywhere was covered in pink and white blossom as far as we could see.
Driving in Poland has, so far, been a pleasure. The roads are great, we can understand the signs as they are in the Roman alphabet and with the exception of one small piece of motorway its toll free. We have found though the Poles have a habit of flashing their headlights at us – we know not why. Once it was as we expected for a police radar trap but only once. Every time we drive someone flashes at us every few miles, we keep thinking something has fallen off the van. They don’t wave or smile, just flash the headlights – it’s probably a game to make motorhome drivers paranoid, if so it’s working :).
We have now hit the half way mark of the trip, six months to go. Its all going rather well, we are loving everything and everywhere (easily pleased). Everyone said “it will fly” – it hasn’t – we both feel we have been away for years. What we have experienced so far has exceeded all our expectations and then some. It is without doubt so much easier than we ever thought it would be, once we got over the language /money / driving traumas in one country the others followed on easily.
We don’t have a Lonely Planet or a Rough Guide or anything other guide books , we just choose a place on the map that seems the right distance from where we are and in the right direction, we are continually amazed that around every corner is something totally worth seeing. So its nine countries done and possibly ten to go – the plan is still there but as always our motto is “keep it vague”!