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The Land of Po

So a bunch of us friends spontaneously decided to go on a short trip to the land of salt mines, amber jewelry and basically everything cheap!

Whether it’s for a fact, or we were just plain fortunate, Poland seemed to be pretty much every tourist’s dream – sights, sounds and low prices all around. Spending the last two years in the United Kingdom, alcohol ^_^, food and pretty much everything we spent on during our trip to Poland seemed ridiculously inexpensive in comparison. Of course it doesn’t beat countries like Thailand and Cambodia, but I believe based on statistics (and now experience), that Poland is easily home to some of the most affordable cities (eg. Krakow & Warsaw) in all of Europe for visitors/travelers.

Our first stop, Kraków Old Town, was unlike most old towns I’ve been to across all of Europe. There were so many reasons but I couldn’t pin-point a particular one for certain. Besides boasting one of the largest medieval town squares in all of Europe (UNESCO world heritage site) and listed by Lonely Planet guides as the most beautiful market square in the world, its rich history, magnificent monuments and centuries-old buildings were without doubt contributing factors. Then again, the massive pillow fight in the square could have been responsible for boosting the atmosphere!

The second part of our trip was spent south of Kraków at Zakopane, also referred to as the “winter capital of Poland”. Simply put, the ambience of the ski-resort town at the foot of the Tatra Mountains was identical to that of a perfect Christmas postcard. Despite it being April, the scent of fresh pine, a whiff of a mouth-watering hunter’s stew and the aroma of pork roasting on a spit made our noses resonate with the festive spirit. On the other hand, frosted cars, icy pavements and our breaths in the bone-rattling cold reminded us that the cruelty of winter was far from over. Nevertheless, what better way than to top our Yuletide experience with a snow-hike up the Tatra Mountains?

For camera techies: The biggest mistake I ever made on this trip was totally forgetting my fixed-hood Samyang 10mm lens was incompatible with any sort of filter ND filter. Filming in the snow without an ND Filter is a BIG NO. Everything was blown-out even on a cloudy day and barely salvageable in post. Silly of me.

Our highlight of the trip, brought us back to the outskirts of Kraków at the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Listed as a UNESCO world heritage site since 1978, the “Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland” is located at a depth of 327 meters and is over 327 kilometers long.  The most fascinating part of the mines was probably the Chapel of St. Kinga (0:57 mark in video). Home to a large number of salt-carved sculptures and bas-reliefs, we found ourselves standing in great hall carved entirely out of rock salt which served as a subterranean church for miners in the past and for various functions/events today. Just imagine, the altar, the floor and even the chandelier’s crystals were made from salt! I love my salt… I really, really do.

We wrapped our visit to Poland with a stopover at Auschwitz and paid tribute to those lives lost in the war. Coincidentally, we visited it on Holocaust Rememberence Day (Yom HaShoah) and to see swarms of people doing homage was indescribably moving – Not really the way we wanted to end our trip but what can I say? It’s a grim, but definitely necessary reminder.

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