We left Kraków grudgingly as we would have loved to explore this old town some more, but three great adventures awaited us along with six hours of travel time.
First it was a trip to the salt mines. We only saw one percent of the mine, yet we walked three miles and with over 400 stairs. The part of the mine we walked was 350 feet deep, which started with an elevator ride that was quite claustrophobic with a lift out of the early 1900s, more like a freight elevator with no lights inside. We just kind of held onto each other and hoped for the best.
The mine is no longer used for salt, just tours and to carve more attractions. Statues of famous people such as Goethe line the rooms and hallways. One room held an entire church made from salt. They even hold Sunday mass there, free of charge (I didn't pay the three Euros to take photos). A bit of the tour was hokey when the guides tried to recreate what it was like for the miners, complete with flashing lights and loud explosion sounds. Today, the miners work to keep the tunnels safe for tourists and create more art. Another strange part was all of the gift shops: four lined the tour route right in the mine and a final one at the end.
After our salty tour, we headed to Częstochowa (pronounced "chest ah hovah")
This is place was the highlight of the day but my knees are still sore. We visited a museum dedicated to now saint and former pope John Paul II. It had many of his personal items and clothing as well as vestments, books and portraits. Then we went into a basilica with blue and rose marble with white marble statues and embellishments all in gold. Another museum had knight armor and robes encrusted with jewels from the Middle Ages (no photos allowed).
Another museum held artifacts from Hitler's final solution, items the prisoners had made from their meager rations, including rosaries made from bread crumbs and small dolls.
Then for the main attraction: a side chapel off the basilica held the Black Madonna. A priest was saying mass, but still pilgrims lined up to walk a circle around the church to see the famous painting, supposedly crafted by St. Luke from a piece of the holy family's dining table. During the last part of the walk that circles behind the altar right in front of the icon, people drop to their knees and kneel upright or crawl the last part the way. It was easy at first, but then our knees really started to ache. They still do at the end of the day.
After these two big events, we traveled on to Warsaw, where we learned how to make pierogies, Polish ravioli or stuffed dumplings. We had pierogies for dinner and then--with a chef guiding us-- made our own dessert "plum" pierogies that didn't look too appetizing, nor were they very good. They were boiled instead of fried in butter and most of us got the dough too thick.
We didn't finish the day until 10 pm. A side note: we stopped at a McCafe at snack break and saw lots of signs for KFC, apparently a favorite of Eastern Europeans; and Warsaw appears to be Poland's tech center with skyscrapers marked with Dell, Samsung and Microsoft signs and logos.