Collegium Maius

On our last day in Krakow, we went to the Collegium Maius. This building is the oldest building at the Jagiellonian University and was built in the 14th century.  BTW, the university was the second founded in central Europe – the first was in Prague. The university acquired the building thanks to funds from King Jadwiga.


Due to a bunch of royal and political tomfoolery, Jadwiga (aka “Hedwig” if you must) of Hungary ended up being the ruler of Poland. Our guide told us that the dudes at the time refused to recognize her as a queen ruler, so they called her King Jadwiga. Joke’s on you jerks because King Jadwiga sounds badass. She did eventually marry Wladyslaw Jagiello, starting the Jagiellonian dynasty. PS he was 35 and she was 12. Wikipedia also tells me that calling her King Jadwiga may be more complicated than just old-timey sexism, but we don’t have time for that.

Fun note: When we lived in Krakow we lived on a street named after Jadwiga.

Jadwiga died at 26 due to a complications with delivering her daughter.  She and her husband had already gotten permission from the pope to establish the university; after her death her husband financed the establishment of the university by selling off her jewelry, as stipulated in her will. She also did a bunch of other kickass stuff like establishing schools and hospitals, translating Scriptures into Polish, and generally being the best.

The Old Library


Enough about how great Jadwiga was. There is a museum inside and tours all day in many different languages – our English speaking guide was delightful. The other people on our tour were from the Philippines which I thought was cool — it’s fun to see people coming from all over to lil’ ol’ Poland.

Being a professor at this time was almost like being a monk – you lived in the university and were devoted entirely to your work. We saw the common room (including a furnace in the corner done in Middle Eastern style, so trendy at the time) and a few professors’ quarters that had also been converted into exhibits.

Our guide showing us a larger copy of the Jagiellonian Globe

The Jagiellonian Globe dates back to 1510 and is the oldest known globe that has the Americas on it. They’re sort of down around the bottom where Antarctica is but the important thing is that they tried. The actual globe is very small and in this weird cage so I didn’t get a good picture of it – they had a larger replica that the guide could show to us.

There are also various Polish Achivements on display here, including Andrzej Wajda’s awards and Wisława Szymborska’s Nobel Prize.

Copernicus Room – hard to tell with the lighting but that is a portrait of him.

Of course one of the Jagiellonian’s big claims to fame is that Nicholas Copernicus was a student here. There is a whole room about it; they even dug up the roster that shows he paid his tuition on time.

Assembly Hall

Also: did you know that Poland had the second constitution in the world? The first was the US Constitution. Poland is pretty kickass but it is unfortunately sandwiched between powers that historically have beat it down. I wonder if Krakow would have been more like Prague if history hadn’t gotten in the way.

Speaking of Prague, the Collegium Maius also has an animated clock which is cute and all but I’m sorry…I’m coming off the Astronomical Clock and that is a tough act to follow!

Wieliczka Salt Mines

I know “salt mine” is usually not super high on peoples’ honeymoon visit lists but Wieliczka is really fun and interesting. I think this is my 5th visit and I’ve enjoyed it every time.

YES: you can lick the walls. But our guide reminded us that innumerable people before us had also licked the walls, so maybe not. I did try some of the salt water that was trickling out of a fountain elsewhere in the mine. Yep, pretty friggin salty.

Wieliczka was opened in the 13th century and produced salt until 2007!

The view down the stairs

You enter the mine by going down 380 steps to the first level, 209 feet down. There are enough turns down the flights of stairs that you start to feel a little dizzy by the end.

Throughout the chambers there are salt carvings of famous visitors,  such as Nicholas Copernicus.

There is also a scene from the myth of how the salt mines were found. Polish Prince Boleslaw decided to marry Princess Kinga of Hungary. Her father asked her what gift she wanted to bring to Poland and she said she wanted to bring salt (this was in olden times when salt was super valuable). Her father bought her a salt mine in Hungary and when she went to visit, she threw her engagement ring inside.

When she arrived in Poland, she directed workers to dig for salt in a certain spot. They started digging and found salt – with Kinga’s engagement ring inside! You’re welcome, Poland!

Kaziemierz the Great

It was difficult to get any photos or videos, but there are also little “multi-media” sort of exhibits in the mine. Our guide told us about how miners used to burn off excess methane gases (“mine farts” – Brendan) in the mine with torches. There was a little display of mannequins with torches and an audio/visual display of fire in the chamber.  Scary!

But the best part of all is the main chamber:

They have events and even weddings down here. The chandeliers are made of salt crystals and there are relief carvings on the walls, including a reproduction of the Last Supper. If I recall correctly, these were done by miners.

There is also a salt Jebus and a salt Pope and some other salt saint stuff.

u salty Jebus

In one of the chambers they played Chopin and had what could be termed a “light show” but mostly they just turned the lights on. Needed more lazers. There were spooky salt brine pools that I found disturbing because it’s exactly the sort of weird green water a monster would hide in.

Brendan got to pretend to be a miner and operated a pulley. It was one of those multi-person wheel turner things. Apparently being a miner was a pretty sweet gig, they even got a beer from time to time.

In one of the chambers we saw another salt pool. At one point there was a little boat that you could ride but I guess some people drowned, maybe some of them were Nazis so we don’t care, but St. John was placed here as he protects against drowning. The guide mentioned that St. John was actually a Czech saint and we were like YEAH WE KNOW WE MET HIM ON THE BRIDGE! Everything comes full circle.

On the way out you pass through a full-on restaurant (although we didn’t have time to eat) and they wisely funnel you through like 3 different gift shops. We did get some bath salts and some cooking salt blend (dill and celery seed – Polish blend)

The elevator back up is pretty terrifying – they cram like 6 people in this tiny compartment that is pitch black and it goes up approximately a bajillion miles an hour. Then you get to the top, they scare the shit out of you because the exit door is behind you, the opposite side you came in. The elevator attendants looked very tired.

This chamber took 100 years to dig out.

Vampire Bones: Slavic Folklore

Rynek Underground was something I was so excited about I was telling people about it before we even left.

Under the Rynek (market square) that exists now are remnants of an older square: cobblestones and support structures for the original wooden Sukiennice (Cloth Hall). They turned the site into an underground museum about the history of Krakow from about the 14th century up until WWII.

They had cool exhibits about life at that time, including recreations of buildings (homes, blacksmith, etc), holographic images of various artifacts that they found in the dig, etc.

That’s cool and all, but I was in it for the VAMPIRE BONES.

In Slavic folklore, vampires are a little different.  Vampires are born human but turn into vampires after they die. They can live a normal human life but precautions have to be taken when they die (you can also cause a regular human to become a vampire if you screw up their funeral rites).

I took a college-level class called “Dracula” (thanks mom and dad!) and although we did spend some classes just watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer we also did learn some cool Slavic folklore.

The professor at the time, Jan Perkowski, was/is an expert in the field. He told us that in the ’70s, he interviewed a group descendants of the Kashub Slavs about their beliefs.  He asked one woman why she believed in vampires and her response was “Jestem.”

At this point in class he asked us if anybody spoke Polish and knew what that meant – I got all excited and raised my hand but he continued on without calling on me and I was so excited I told the girl next to me “IT MEANS ‘I AM [ONE]’!!” and she just gave me this bored side-eye. Like OK lady you’re in this class for the easy A but SOME OF US ARE ACTUALLY INTERESTED

It was also at this point that we ran out of time and he made us wait until the next week to hear the end of the story.  :O

This woman said she was a vampire not because she spent her time sucking blood but because she had been born with a caul (a membrane covering her head/face) which was one of their signs that you would come back after you died. Other signs include being born with a full set of teeth, a tail, or red hair. She knew that when she died her family would have to take extra precautions and she was cool with it.

The best way to prevent a vampire from coming back after it has died (the first time) is to cut its head off when you bury it.  Or you can put a scythe under its neck in its coffin so if it does rise up, it’ll cut its own head off. You can also go old school and just cover it in heavy rocks.

My favorite option is to fill its coffin with poppy seeds because the vampire will have a compulsion to count every seed. The task will take so long that it’ll be up all night and burn up in the sun. Why do vampires need to count seeds? It’s a mystery but it’s a FACT.

They found “real” vampire bones under the Rynek which they were able to identify by the method of burial: hands and feet found and, in some cases, the head cut off and placed behind the knees. They found 6 skeletons like this, They had reproductions of one of the skeletons in the exhibit but it was too dark to get a good pic. Here’s this informational sign instead (click to enlarge):

There is actually a LOT of interesting stuff around Slavic vampires and I sort of wish I had kept my books from that class. But you can go Google it on your own time. ;P


Kazimierz is a historical – and now sort of hipstery – district of Krakow that used to be the Jewish part of town.  During WWII, the Nazis relocated the Jews to a ghetto in Podgorze across the river (also the area in which Schindler’s Factory is located and where Schindler’s List was filmed). After the war, Kazimierz was basically empty and fell into ruin. When I was in Krakow in the mid-90s I don’t think I ever went into Kazimierz and was surprised when I returned in 2009 to hear that it was at that time becoming a nightlife hot spot.

Now, it’s filled with all sorts of neat shops and galleries, in addition to the synagogues and traditional restaurants.

There is even a food truck square – informally called Judah Square, after the mural on the wall there.

Important story: I got a ‘gourmet sausage’ at one of the trucks there – a huge kielbasa covered in goat cheese and cranberry sauce of some kind. I didn’t realize that a) the kielbasa casing was very tough and b) that the kielbasa was actually cut in half (hidden by the toppings), so when I tried to take a bite, instead of cutting through the casing, I just catapulted the kielbasa up into my face and onto the ground. >:( >:(  Luckily I still had the other half.

LOOKarna’s shop – this image was available as a print and we got it!

We went back to Kazimierz a couple times because it was such a nice place to be. We did go to one place that seemed like a hoppin’ brunch spot (do Poles do brunch?) and we received hipster-level service; ie, they ignored us for a long time even by European standards. And then the food was ‘meh’ and overpriced (incidentally this was a time we strayed from Rick Steves’ suggestions because the place we wanted to go to was closed. NEVER STRAY FROM RICK STEVES)

We had dinner at Klezmer Hois (per Rick Steves’ recommendation) and it was one of the best dining experiences we had on our trip. It was a more traditional Jewish restaurant – although the menu was translated into English we still had to look up all the Jewish foods 🙂 – with a really comfortable, homey feel and live klezmer music!

King Casimir (Kazimierz)

Młoda Polska – Young Poland

I didn’t expect to get so much art nouveau on this trip. When we visited St. Francis’ Basilica – right across the street from Pope John Paul II’s residence and his favorite place to pray, as indicated by a silver plaque on his preferred pew – we got to see some wonderful examples of the art nouveau movement in Poland.

I’ll let Wiki do the talking because I actually didn’t know this was a thing. Educational honeymoon! Literally cut and pasted for your convenience:

Young Poland (Polish: Młoda Polska) was a modernist period in Polish visual arts, literature and music, covering roughly the years between 1890 and 1918. It was a result of strong aesthetic opposition to the earlier ideas of Positivism which followed the suppression of the 1863 January Uprising against the occupying army of Imperial Russia. Młoda Polska promoted trends of decadence, neo-romanticism, symbolism, impressionism and art nouveau.

Wall detail in the church

In the period of Young Poland there were no overwhelming trends in Polish art. The painters and sculptors tried to continue the romantic traditions with new ways of expression popularised abroad. The most influential trend was art nouveau, although Polish artists started to seek also some form of a national style (including styl zakopiański or the Zakopane style). Both sculpture and painting were also heavily influenced by all forms of symbolism.

More wall detail – click to enlarge

It is a really beautiful church with different designs on every wall – you wouldn’t think it based on the pretty basic exterior. I had been in this church before but for some reason didn’t remember what it was like on the inside; it was fun to discover it all over again!

Polish Eagle – a little fuzzy because, as I discovered, my point and shoot is crappier than an iPhone.

In addition to the paintings on the walls, there are a lot of beautiful stained glass…es? Windows. Stained glass windows.

God the Father in the Act of Creation by Stanislaw Wyspianski 

I remember once Sarah and I were visiting Krakow and got caught in a thunderstorm. We took shelter in this church – the stained glass of God was pretty spoopy with the lighting behind it.


Michaels Cave

Later, Bren and I had breakfast at Michael’s Cave (Jama Michalika). The restaurant itself is decorated in an art nouveau style and is apparently where all the artists used to come – the walls are decorated with the drawings artists used to give in lieu of money.

The food was OK. We just got breakfast. Supposedly their cakes are very good but I guess we’ll have to wait until next time to find out.

Royal Walk – Old Town Krakow

The Barbican (Barbakan in Polish)

Our first day in Krakow was a bit of a non-starter because we basically did not get any sleep on the train and were too tired to do anything. We saved the Royal Walk for the next day, where we roughly followed the coronation route through the city.

Barbakan model

We started at the Barbican (Barbakan), which is a fortified outpost that used to be part of the city walls. There was a frazzled looking old man on a bench that saw us looking at it and he took it upon himself to try and pass on some info – apparently he spoke mostly Polish and German, only a few words of English. He was trying to tell us that this barbican was the biggest in Europe so he kept using the German word “gross” — “the grossest in Europe!” with his arms wide. He also used a handy brass model nearby to express that it was connected to the Florian Gate by a walkway and surrounded by water.

Grunwald Monument

On the other side of the barbican is the Grunwald monument. This memorializes the Polish and Lithuanian joint victory against the Teutonic Knights. When the Nazis occupied Krakow this was one of the first statues they destroyed; when the occupation ended it was one of the first statues the Poles put back up (the one that stands now is a copy).

Florian Gate – inside

The Florian Gate (I always accidentally call it the “Florianska Gate,” a combo of the English and the Polish Brama Florianska) was also part of the city fortifications, built in the 14th century. It features a relief of St. Florian (to protect against fires) as well as a replica of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa in the gateway.

For some reason I can’t find a day photo even though I know we took one. Sorry to take you out of the story by suddenly making it nighttime. ;P

Walking through the gate you end up on Florianska street and head straight on to the main square and St. Mary’s Church, which I accidentally call the Mariacki Church (a combination of the English and the Polish Kosciol Mariacki). 

This church is the defining silhouette of the Krakow skyline with its mismatched towers. The legend is that two brothers were each building a tower and when one brother realized his tower was shorter, he threw his brother off the tower in envy. Then he stabbed himself in the heart with a knife out of remorse. EASTERN EUROPEAN FAIRY TALES

Stolen from youtube

Every hour the bell tolls and a trumpeter plays the hejnał (sounds kinda like “hey now”) out of the taller tower, once in each cardinal direction. Listening to the song, you hear the it stops short, mid-note. The legend there is that the Tatars attacked the city in the middle of the night and the man in the watchtower sounded the alarm with this song. He took an arrow to the throat mid-note and died but his alarm was enough to alert the city and save it.

Adam Mickiewicz

In the middle of the square there is a statue to Adam Mickiewicz, generally regarded as Poland’s greatest poet and especially known for his poem Pan Tadeusz, a national epic poem. It starts out “Litwo, ojczyna moja which is basically the only part (including me – I didn’t even have to look that up) anybody knows. It translates to “Lithuania, my country” — that’s right, a Polish national poem starts with talking about how great Lithuania is. To be fair, back then it was the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Remember how they defeated the Teutonic Knights together? Good times.

Sukiennice – Inside

I took surprisingly few pics of the Rynek, I guess because been there done that. In the middle of the square there is the Sukiennice – Cloth Hall – a long hall of shops that is modeled in a Renaissance style. People are still selling the same crap they were selling when I lived there. Like, the EXACT SAME

We continued on to St. Francis Basilica, which I will talk more about in a separate post about Młoda Polska. 

Oddly, as we were looking around the church, the same man from the barbican came in and pointed to the snowflakes pointed on the ceiling and said “winter…microscope” (mee-kroscope). We think he meant to indicate that they had microscopes at the time this was painted and as such knew snowflakes had that structure.

Wawel Cathedral

We walked down ul. Grodzka (where some sort of race/run seemed to be happening) and ended up at Wawel. Unbeknownst to us, Wawel is free on Mondays so ALL the tickets were sold out. The grounds are always free to tour but if you want to go inside places you have to have a ticket. Bummer.

Wawel was the seat of Polish political power for ages and is still a significant symbol of Polish identity.  Some of the buildings can be dated back to the 9th century. You can also see how it grew over the time in a sort of collage-y way on the cathedral pic above – Gothic next to Baroque next to more Renaissance styles.

During WWII, Krakow also became the seat of Germany’s General Government – they even renamed the Rynek “Adolf Hitler Platz” – and Hans Frank lived in one of the buildings in Wawel.  OFFENSIVE

Inner courtyard

The courtyard at Wawel is also done in Italian style.  You really should just google Wawel if you’re interested, there is way too much history behind it for me to write here. 🙂


We went down to see the dragon statue. I like it because it’s sort of wacky – he’s got like 6 legs for some reason. He squirts out fire every 15 minutes or so. The legend goes that a dragon was terrorizing the city (as usual) and the King offered his daughter to whoever could get rid of the dragon (+1 old timey use of ladies as prizes). A humble cobbler had a plan: he filled a sheep with sulfur and laid it at the mouth of the dragon’s lair. The dragon ate the sheep but the sulfur made him hot on the inside so the dragon ran to the Wisła for a big drink of water. He got so full of water that all the cobbler had to do was throw a stone and the dragon exploded. Work smart, not hard.

Cute icon 🙂

Traveling by Train in Central Europe

This must be what it’s like to live in a tiny house

We paid for a reservation for a sleeper car on the overnight train from Prague to Krakow. We weren’t sure if our print out was sufficient or if we needed something else, so I went to the info guy and showed him my thing and asked if it was OK and he said “yeah yeah yeah” in a way that indicated I was annoying him.

So long story short it, reservations =/= tickets. APPARENTLY – I googled this later – a ticket pays for “an” seat and a reservation pays for a specific seat. It is possible to have a reservation without a ticket if you have a EuroRail pass. Obviously we did not. So the conductor asked for our tickets, we gave him our reservation, and he said we still had to give him tickets. We didn’t have any!

The conductor was very nice about it. We asked if we could buy a ticket and he said he could sell us a ticket to the last Czech stop and then we’d have to buy a ticket from the Polish conductor for the rest of the trip.  Even though it’s 2017, it’s still Europe, and for some reason credit cards were a problem. The thing I don’t quite understand is the Czech conductor was going to sell us a ticket and charge our card but the Polish conductor was going to be unable to take card. Then the Czech conductor went away for a while, came back, and then suddenly HE could not take cards but he assured us the Polish conductor would be able to. Wha???

Check out my Euro jacket

Bren asked if he could buy the ticket on his phone which luckily was OK. Not so luckily, we were on a train that was going in and out of service areas so it took a solid 20 minutes to complete it. The website was all in Czech so the conductor had to do half of it for us. Finally we were able to buy a ticket online – to the last Czech stop, not sure why we couldn’t just buy through to Krakow – and we were told the Polish conductor would come sell us the rest of the ticket.

We basically did not sleep because of fear of being kicked off at the border. Then we arrived in Krakow – no sign of the Polish conductor. I asked one of the train staff about it and he said that she must have just been lazy about it and we got off the train real fast before anybody could say anything to us about it.

So that’s how we got a discounted overnight ticket but I would have rather paid the money and had a good night’s sleep!