Finally a warm day we heading out in t-shirts and shorts. Today is our free day and I elected to take both excursions, the City Bike Ride and later in the afternoon a tour of the Salt Mines.
We walked from Hostel Deco to the center square where we picked up our bikes. They had several versions of bikes, and I picked one with a basket in the back to hold my backpack. Overall, the bikes were in excellent condition with only one bike on our tour getting a flat in the first few minutes. The flat tire was quickly resolved as we were circling the city center and then we were on our way.
The bike pace was good and anyone who can ride a bike would be able to keep up to the group. The tires where quite wide to handle the cobblestones. There were no shocks but each bike had padded seats to varying degrees. The bikes had a single 7-speed shifter for hills and were definitely a lighter frame that what I had used in a similar Holland tour a few bike years earlier.
We stopped by the north gate which is all that is left of the multiple layers of city walls. The ancient walls had been demolished long ago to feed the expanding city need for housing material and reduce disease.
We then biked to the University District, and our guide told us about how the university came to being and how, during WWII, Nazi tricked most of the intellectuals to a conference where they were then rounded up and sent to a concentration camp. A great deal of WWII history in this part of the world and much of it can be quite gloomy. The tour was not all doom and gloom though. We stopped far a while to look at a clock which, on the hour, played music and had a little visual display.
Next we headed to the castle, where we saw the Wawel Dragon Statue. The Wawal Dragon has an important role Polish mythology. As our guide explained, there are many stories about the fire-breathing dragon. In one instance, the guide explained the legend where a peasant tricked the dragon into eating sulphur and he exploded! By killing the dragon the peasant gained the hand of the princess in marriage. The statue breathes fires, but, as our guide explained it, the fire was only visible at random intervals. Just before we left, it did let out a puff!
We stopped for a half hour halfway through the tour for food/bathroom break at the edge of the river. and next we headed to the Jewish Ghetto where, during WWII, Jewish people lived after being kicked out of their houses. At the Ghetto food was scarce and heavily rationed, worse still SS men would perform selections and send Jews to concentration camps where then where ultimately worked, starved, or gassed to death. Not many happy stories at this location.
Our final major stop was at the entrance to Schindler factory. It was in this factory that Oskar Schindler was able to protect some 1100 Jewish workers by giving them continued employment in the factory and using bribes and political connections and influence to keep them in his employ and out of the concentration camps. Oskar Schindler’s WWII activities were eventually chronicled in the movie “Schindler’s List”.
Bike ride back was fun but it soon became clear that on a Sunday at lunch the city center soon became packed with foot traffic.
(Graeme on tour in Europe. Images will be added when time and reliable internet access permits)