Krakow was one of our favorite cities in Poland. My husband's number one so much so that he is very excited to go back and spend a little more time there next time we are in Poland.
A little history lesson on this awesome city. Krakow was Poland's Capitol for oer 500 years, it has been in existence since the 7th century as a settlement and then grew into the most amazing science and art center in the country. The architecture is amazing and the history can be felt everywhere you turn.
The city is located on the Vistula River in the south of Poland. The geography of the area is beautiful in itself with the easy rolling hills so so breathtakingly beautiful.

Our very first stop was Wawel. Wawel is situated on Wawel Hill and consists of the Royal Castle, Cathedral where many of the Polish Monarchs and prominent polish figures are laid to rest and there are many politically significant buildings.

The Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Stanisław and Vaclav originally built in the 11th century destroyed, the second was constructed in the 12th century and was destroyed in 1305 the current Cathedral was constructed in the 14th century.

 The front view of the cathedral. Taking photos inside is prohibited so to see the frescoes and sculptures you have to go inside. Well worth it I wish I could spend more time there and look.
 The inside court of the Royal castle. The castle was occupied by many Polish leaders from the first king Mieczko I to some presidents later on in the history of Poland. The treasury and royal chambers and apartments along with the presidential suite are amazing to see with fantastically preserved art, china, pottery, clothing. Considering the countries history of invasions it is amazing that so many artifacts have remained for us to enjoy today.

 A mini model of buildings on Wawel Hill I found it very helpful in getting my bearings. To think about how little machinery they had in the 14th century and the magnitude and detail of the buildings is quite humbling.
 Wawel defense walls

View from the Vistula into Wawel Hill.

Under the castle there is a dragon's den - very cool for a little boy to see. If you read down to the Polish Castles section under Krakow you can read all about the dragon and his habit to eat maidens.

 Out and about the city.

 St. Mary's Basilica in Krakow was rebuilt in 14th century. It is famous for its Gothic architecture and wooden altar. From the tower of the basilica every hour on the hour a trumpet hymn is played. It stops mid note as a tradition to commemorate the trumpeter who was sounding a warning during the Mongol attack (13th century). the hymn is played in its entirety once a day at noon.
 Side streets off the square

 The city wall once the entrance into Krakow now a place where many artists display their paintings for sale. you can also find few street performers playing their flutes, accordions and guitars.

 Town Hall  - it looks like it's leaning - well it is all of 55 centimeters the leans is related to a strong wind leaning the tower in 1700s. The tower is 70 meters tall and was constructed in the 13th century. In the basement there is a cafe and theater that used to be a dungeon.
Cloth Hall a trading center which was constructed in operation since the 1300s, you can get the most beautiful trinkets and keep sakes from the little stores in this 700 year old mall.
Jagiellonian University is the oldest medical school in Poland it was established in 1364 and is the number one ranking medicals school in Poland.

Little park just to add more beauty to the city. All in all we spent one day in Krakow and could have probably spend a week and not seen all that there is to see from museums and galleries just to the flavor of the town. What a gem.

Wieliczka - salt mine
This is one of the most incredible places in the world, where you experience the force of nature and the strength and determination of man working together and creating something truly amazing. The mine began forming about 13.5 million years ago. The mining activities started in the middle ages and continued until 1996. There are two stories as to how the mine formed you are welcome to choose which you believe:
In the Miocene period , the crystallization of salt from sea water present in the area began. The salt and rocks filled the area known as the Pre-Carpathian Sink. Later due to tectonic activities and the rise of Carpathian mountains Saliferous deposits were shifted and folded. Thus there are two layers of salt in Wieliczka, the upper is the block type and the lower is stratified.
The other story is that in the middle ages a prices from Hungaria named Kinga was promised in marriage to the ruler over the area where Wieliczka is the King of Krakow. She very much loved the man and wanted her father to give her a good dowry. Answering her request the Hungarian king gave his daughter a salt mine in Hungry. Since the princess could not take the mine with her she saw it as useless and out of frustration threw her engagement ring in the salt mine. Once she married the King and moved to Poland she asked people to dig where Wieliczka is now. The miners dug finding salt and upon further excavation they have found Kinga's engagement ring and returned it to their queen. Kinga has become the guardian angel of miners in the Krakow area.

 1st part of the tour takes place on wooden stairs which take you 64 meters under ground. After a while you get dizzy as they turn every 16 steps or so. You take a total of 400 stairs.
 The Kopernicus chamber one of the 1st on the tour impressive. Keep in mind everything you see in there pictures wit the exception of the wooden supports is made out of salt. Son licked the wall to make sure.
 Kinga being presented with her recovered engagement ring.
 A chamber dedicated to the more experienced miners who were responsible for burning off the sulfur in the opened up areas while mining was going on in the mine. The most dangerous job. Sometimes a miner lost his life due to explosions saving many lives of his co-workers.
 Salt tunnel
 Horses played a very important part in working the mine, there were as many as 80 horses in the mine at it's height. They were well cared for and stayed underground in special stables as it was safer for them than surfacing daily with the miners.
 Example of one of the machines that the horses powered
 The chandelier is made of salt.
St Kinga's Chapel the largest chamber with multitude of sculptures, the floor is one solid slat slab made to look like tiles they are all perfect. this chamber was created by 3 miners over 70 years, it is 54 meter long, 15-18 meters wide and 10-12 meters high. Jan Pawel II visited this chamber as a little boy and always wanted to return services take place in the chapel every Sunday.

 Biblical scene where after Christs birth all 1st born son's are ordered to be killed.
 Before his death Jan Pawel II wanted to visit the mine during his visit to Poland however was unable due to his health. Since his wish never came true there was a sculpture of his likeness placed in the St Kinga Chapel and a chamber is being constructed and dedicated in his honor.
 Underground Slat Lake of on few
 The amazing carpentry at it's greatest supporting the mine.
Water lakes connected by a tunnel, my tata remembers when he took a boat ride through there as a young boy, there are works in place to make rides for children possible again.
 134 meters under ground 3 levels down with 6 more below is a shopping gallery with gifts and momentous from the mine.
 Reception hall available for functions and weddings 134 meters under ground.
A prayer chapel on the way out available for the miners to thank God for safe day at work.

The mine is visited by 1.2 million people annually. At different levels Wieliczka has areas dedicated to rehabilitation and treatment centers. It's special micro climate due to the air quality is very helpful to those suffering from asthma and other respiratory issues. The treatment center offers spa treatments as well. What an amazing day this was! 

Polish Castles

We visited multiple castles and a heritage village while in Poland. I love to see and learn how people used to live and the things they used to build shelter and later to make furniture. Here are the few castles that we visited in Poland, there are many many more that are worth seeing but those will come on the next visit to Europe.

Top Birow

Top Birow is the oldest castle reconstruction that we visited. The original encampment dates back to the 4th and 5th century, later in the 9th century it was built to be a castle for the wealthy land owner and it looked like the reconstruction you see today. The castle is located in the Krakow - Czestochowa Upland in the Eagles' Nest Trail. The Eagles' Nest Trail is a chain of castles built in the 14th century on the boarder of Poland and Silesia.
As you can see from this picture this castle just like the others is a straight up on a mountain with treacherous sides. It amazes me how people got the large tree trunks up there to build this encampment with no heavy equipment to aid. This was all done by hand.

Ogrodzieniec Castle

This is a very well preserved castle ruin from the Eagles' Nest trail. These stone castles were built using the abandon in the area lime stone. This castle was constructed in the 14th century by a polish king named Kazimierz the Great. He built many of the castles on the boarder of Poland as means of protection as well as a way to encourage safe passage for trade. The castle was a Renaissance castle privately owned by a baron  in 1545 finally abandoned as a residence in 1810.

Very impressive central court which could be seen from any section of the castle. Today there are souvenir shops, little restaurants and museums in the portions of the castle which are safe to occupy
  The Knights' Hall - a dining room in an underground restaurant."

 One of the two towers
 Museum room featuring some items that were found in the castle while it was occupied.
The tourture chamber far removed from the main residence.
Reconstruction model of the castle.


The remaining ruins of another castle on the Eagles' Nest trail. This castle is much smaller and did not fare as well as Ogrodzieniec did. We walked on foot from this castle to Bobolice which is a fully reconstructed castle with furnished chambers. All of the castles were within a day’s walk from each other or closer so that messages could be sent back and forth.

The interior court yard.


This is the castle we walked to from Mirow. These two castles are the closest to each other in distance as they were occupied by two brothers. There is a legend that states that the castles were connected with an underground tunnel where the brothers stored their treasures obtained during their travels. The Bobolice brother brought back from one of his trips a fair lady whom he married and kept as his wife. While he was away on another trip his brother fell in love with the wife and she reciprocated carrying on an affair with him. When the husband returned from this travels he found them in a heated embrace. In rage he killed the brother and walled the wife inside the tunnel. It is said that she haunts the castle and is seen as the lady in white. We were not lucky enough for her to grace us with her appearance.
 View from the side note the sheer drop off
The front of the castle

Wawel is a Royal Castle in Krakow not only it is well preserved and has been maintained beautifully, is architecturally amazing but it holds a large collection of arms and jewelry as well as silver in its treasury. There are also royal chambers and royal apartments that are available for touring, including a suite that was used by one of the Polish presidents. Photography is prohibited inside so I can only share exterior pictures and invite you to see the castle in all its glory if you find yourself in Poland, it is amazing and one could spend days just in Wawel.
The interior court of the castle

Exterior wall fresco.
Castle model

A representation of the dragon of Wawel Hill. The story states that the dragon came off the hill to leave path of destruction through the country side until the villagers left a madden for him to eat once a month. The king was tired of the dragon terrorizing the villagers so he offered the princesses hand in marriage to the bravest knight who will slay the dragon. The dragon breathed fire and was undefeated in spite of many attempts by many knights. One evening a shoemaker’s son dressed a barrel of sulfur to look like a virgin girl and left it for the dragon. The dragon ate the sulfur and was so thirsty he drank and drank and drank until he exploded. The shoemaker's son married the princess and they lived happily ever after.

This is more of a palace than a castle but it has special place in my heart. I spent every summer in a small village about 10 minutes from this palace and we would visit the market and the square frequently so I saw it on regular basis. Many of my princess fantasies as a little girl were set in this palace. I also have very fond memories of walking through the parks and gardens with my grandfather as a little girl. It was lovely to be there again and almost be able to feel his presence. The castle also has played a part in my family history as my great-grandfather was relocated to Poland from Austria to overlook the ponds that belonged to the Pszczynski Prince residing in this very castle.
On this note I will wrap up the castle experience in Poland. Next the salt mine Wieliczka.

Flavors of Polska
I love Polish food it goes without saying that the food you grow up with is the food that is comforting to you. My favorite is Polish bread with real butter, it is crunchy on the outside and soft and airy on the inside, the rolls are to die for. In addition to bread I will never turn my nose up at my grandmother’s meat pierogies with bacon bits, yumm (my son and husband cleaned her out when we were there I wish I had pictures of my four year old stealing pierogies from my plate). And for those of you who are familiar with Polish cuisine kluski served with chicken and cabbage is another diner that just makes me warm and fuzzy. Buckwheat is something that my dad frequently uses in place of potatoes or rice and I can’t find it anywhere and oh do I love it so.  A lot has also changed since I was a child and there are more varieties and more influences from other cuisines than I remember so where I didn’t document every meal I have some pictures to share with you of the fabulous food that we consumed.
 Herb pork with buckwheat and mushroom sauce
This diner was cooked by my dad and it was delish, not traditional but healthy and oh so so yummy. The mushroom sauce was delicious, the entire meal was accompanied by a salad.
Cucumber Salad with a little oil and herbs mmm mmm delicious.
Stuffed peppers with rice and turkey with red pepper sauce. Again my dad's creation and again amazing. The sauce was sautéed peppers with some onion in olive oil yumm yumm the veggies just caramelized and were to die for.
 Oh so delicious falling off the bone smoked trout served at a restaurant on the side of a mountain in Bialy Krzyz in the Beskidy mountains. This fish was ordered by my husband and it was incredible, the meat fell off the bone and it was so rich with the smoky flavor, fresh yumm!
On the Grill the white things are Oscypki - a cheese made in the Polish mountains originally made from sheep milk with lots of salty and smoky flavor. Today they are made with cow milk and still have the salty and smoky flavor. My husband bought one from a street vendor on the streets of Krakow and fell in love he could not get enough. They are delicious cold and they are delicious off the grill with cranberry or rowan jelly. The black kielbasa is krupniok a sausage made with barley and blood - definitely and acquired taste. The other kielbaskas are beef kielbasas.
 Can you say family size pizza. Yes pizza made its way to Poland and it is delish, I think it has to do with the flour. Anyway toppings unlike in the US this pizza has tuna and salmon on it, very very good. A little strange at first but a definite repeat next time we visit.
 These are more pizzas we tried in Warsaw one was a Margarita pizza which is just plain pizza, one had pepperoni and fetta this was an amazing combo, and you Hawaiian which had ham and pineapple, all very very good.
Yet another pizza in Warsaw there was 7 of us and very hungry so we ordered 4 pizzas and a calzone. Anyway this is a four cheese pizza and it had mozzarella, feta, blue cheese and brie on it the flavors are powerful and so so pleasing to the palate.
This is about the pine cone shaped potatoes on the plate. We went to a fresh fish restaurant and I thought this was very interesting how these pine cones were served. It is a mashed potato, shaped like a pine cone and deep fried, very tasty.
Pieczonki and zurek, what this is is baked in the fire potatoes with bacon, beet, onion and sausage and zurek is a sour soup based on a specific flour served with sausage and bacon, potatoes and sometimes egg. Delicious and very very traditional.
This is how you make pieczonki, in a special pressure pot lined with cabbage leaves and bacon you layer your potatos, kielbaska and beets and onion then seal it nice and tight...
Gently place it in the fire and an hour or so later yummy yummy pieczonki come out.
My aunt's cake, delicious tastes of summer with fresh fruit in jelly, the cake was moist and fluffy and the fruit juicy. Someday I will try to make it and share the recipe with you.
 Little bite size cookie shells with homemade whip cream and fruit on top, wonderful summer treat and so refreshing.
 Cream stuffed bear - this is a bear wafer type of a cookie treat that is filled with a very specifically tasting cream I used to love them as a child and when I saw it in the store I just had to try it and see if they tasted the same as they did 20 some years ago - and they do. I got to share this with my son which meant so much since I am that mom who really does not have much of my childhood to share since it is in a different country, I loved sharing this treat with my son.
 This is my uncles yeast plum cake it is so flavorful and tasty that I asked him to make it twice. I just loved it. 
 This is my son stuffing his face with a crescent moon shaped roll again mostly a child's favorites and something that I ate as a little girl, he loved them and dziadek (grandpa) made sure to bring a fresh one daily for him to enjoy for his breakfast.
 So there you have some of the flavors of Polska from the more traditional that have been prepared for generations to the new tastes that are just are rich as the traditional meals. We ate a lot and I really enjoyed the food and the new experiences as well as trying new things like the buckweed bread that is only made in the Jura region of Poland. I think that in order to truly understand a culture you need to experience the food.

Warszawa - Warsaw

My visit to Poland started with several weeks of family time and outings; we visited historic castles and the zoo, as well as visiting some of my corners that I frequented as a child. All of this will come, but first I want to share with you the pictures from Warszawa (Warsaw).
I traveled 1st class via train from Silesia to Warszawa to meet up with my husband who flew in from France after visiting Normandy.
My evening in Warszawa was spend with my childhood friend. We went to elementary school together so we date back well over 20 years. Our friendship withstood miles of physical separation and when we finally found ourselves in one room there was no stopping the chatting and catching up over a glass of wine. It was so lovely to have this time with her to meet her husband and beautiful daughters, for the 1st time. My son made fast friends with her girls right away and they somehow managed to communicate in both Polish and English and played splendidly (now they demand to Skype - maybe a new friendship has formed).
The day in Warszawa was full of amazing sites and little history lessons. I am not good at history, honestly I don't have a head for dates, but find the stories fascinating, my husband on the other hand has studied up on Polska in general and thus had great understanding of the history of Warszawa and had a ton of questions. Thank you to my dear friends for answering them all.
We started by visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A little history lesson - it was 1st constructed in 1923 to commemorate the soldiers who fell in World War I. Ever since there have been urns with soil from battle grounds added from conflicts where Polish soldiers fought. There are two armed guards at the site at all times with the exception of occupation during World War II at which time the Tomb was destroyed with the exception of one section by Wehrmacht

Most of the city was destroyed during World war II but was reconstructed after the war as closely as possible to resemble the old settlements of pre-war Warszawa. Warszawy history dates back to the 12th and 13th century.

The Palace of Culture and Science is a very impressive building that was built by Soviet Union in Poland during communism. In 1990 Poland gained political autonomy, but the building remains housing museums, food courts, community center and even a pool.

The Palace of Culture and Science

 Modern Warszawa

Modern Warszawa

Next stop as we walked the streets of Warszawa was the Royal Castle which was the residence and held the administrative offices for the Polish Monarchs since the 16th century until the Partions of Poland. This is a picture of the defense walls of the castle.

 After much walking through the city we found a little pizzeria where we shared some fabulous food with our friends. We went with pizza since we had little kids with us and all three wanted pizza. After 4 hours dragging them from site to site we felt ti was only fair to cater to their appetites and offer some much desired and delicious pizza.

While we were leaving the Royal Castle area we encountered a memorial for the Children Soldiers who fought in World War II uprising in 1944.

 Memorial of the Child Soldiers
 The highest court building and the memorial to Warsaw Uprising Soldiers
We also visited the old town and market where the architecture was stunning and even though it was 80% reconstructed after the war it held such charm that we stood in aww.

Our last stop was Lazienki - Royal Baths Park constructed in the 17th century. It houses many buildings from the baroque period. There are squirles and peacocks to entertain the children. Chopin monument is located in the rose gardens and is one of the most recognizable statues.

Palace on the water

A stroll in the amazing park ended our day in Warszawa. From there we caught the train to meet up with my tata and continue our touring of Polska.