Ok, let’s get the first question out of the way first… What do I mean by a Sten? Quite simply, I’m getting married but my closest friends are guys (and are also my partner’s closest friends, the four of us have been together since college).
My ‘Maid of Honour’ is a guy, or ‘Bridesman’. I also have a bit of a loack of female friends, so it seemed a bit stupid for me to have a Hen Do… Instead me and Dave had a combination Stag and Hen Do. A Sten Do.
Now let’s put the trip into perspective. Me and Dave know that we were going somewhere, but had no idea where. We had to be at Crewe Train Station by 12.30 on the Friday and would be back sometime on the Sunday. There was probably going to be a lot of alcohol involved… I had no involvement in the planning and couldn’t get a Rough Guide! In short, a scary time for me!
The Mystery Sten Destination
The plan was to meet at Crewe Station at 12.30. However, being a little bit paranoid, we decided to go to Crewe for breakfast and being even more paranoid, we arrived at the bus stop a little too early. So we went to the Cafe on the Square for a tea and coffee. This is one of our local cafes and a good one. Fresh coffee and even loose tea, you can’t go wrong!
Arriving at Crewe Train Station, we were still early (one of the guys had said he’d meet us for breakfast). Having time to kill (and since it was the Sten) we walked down Nantwich Road to the Beer Dock.
The Beer Dock isn’t a pub, not really sure what you’d call it. It has a few beers on tap and a magnitude of bottles to choose from. I had a ‘Gasping Goose’ Cider, which the main thing I noticed about it was that the blurb on the back of the bottle invites you to visit their orchards – on the list that goes! After a drink we headed back towards the Station to a Sandwich Shop called Whitney’s, for a breakfast sandwich. This is where we became four and train tickets were dished out, to Euston. Not much of a clue really. After breakfast it was to another pub, well it is the Sten.
The Train journey was nothing much, just long, a few changes and a lot of alcohol. But finally we arrived at Stansted Airport. The mystery was finally revealed! Tickets to Kraków AND a Rough Guide to Poland for me! So I spent the next few hours with my nose in a book, as we transversed through the airport and had more to drink…
After a long day of travelling, we finally arrived in Kraków and got a taxi to the hotel (which turned out to be a little out of town, but with good tram links). We were staying in the Hilton.
After freshening up we meet at the bar to rehydrate. We then found our way to the tram stop nearby and had great fun trying to figure out where we needed to go. As I had had no involvement in the planning and only a few hours to read my guidebook, so I was not all over this! We managed to get nearly into town, then we walked the rest of the way. Though I’m not sure we made it to the actually centre, more the outskirts.
A Little Exploration
After a tour of a few streets we decided we needed to get some food (it was nearly midnight after all) so we stopped at a place called Bobby Burger which did very interesting burgers (especially when you have no idea what you’re ordering).
In all honesty, I think I picked the wrong one! Dave’s looked so much better. But we did all decide it’d be fun not to look at the English menu and try and guess.
After we had finished eating, we found another bar, where I finally got the courage to try a drink I didn’t know. I still don’t know what it was, but it was good. A honey flavoured shot (probably ‘wódka’). Since we had no idea where was good and we were all a bit pooped from the long journey we decided to call it a night. After one Uber Taxi fail we finally managed to get another to come to us and home to the hotel we went. Where for some reason, we decided one more drink was appropriate!
A Second Mystery
Breakfast was a vast selection of all sorts. From waffles to herring in oil and everything in between! Just what we needed. There was a plan for this day, but once again we had no clue. I was half expecting Auschwitz, but that’s a bit heavy for a Sten. Turned out we were going to Wieliczka Salt Mines, which is listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Monument.
On arrival we paid for our tour and I decided to also buy a camera license, so that I could take pictures. After a short wait the tour started with stairs. Lots of stairs. They just kept going! Down, down and down. I was just glad it was down and not up! Level 1 is 64m underground. Throughout the tour every chamber has a sign, saying when it was excavated and there were signs that pointed where the tour went and a similar sign with a #, which I presume was the fire escape, but no one explained!
There were lots of examples of machinery, lots of history and is the only tour I’ve been on that actively encourages you to lick the walls and take part of it. Seriously, lick the walls, it tastes like salt! Never would’ve guessed!
Many of the statues have two dates on them, this is not Birth and Death of those whose image the statue is in, one is the date the statue was made. Oh and all the statues are carved from salt. The walls are salt, the floor tiles are salt. You are literally surrounded by salt!
After licking the walls, seeing the ‘Hungarian dog’ and some statues, we entered another chamber that had a scene of statues. We were told the story that these figures represented. The main figure was St Kinga. It is believed that St Kinga threw her engagement ring into Maramures salt mines in Hungary. The ring was then rediscovered in the Wieliczka salt mines – quite a trip for a ring! This has made St Kinga the patron saint of miners.
A bit further down we reached a cavern called ‘Spalone’ with statues of men with burning torches. Here we heard that any open fire is extremely dangerous as it can cause explosions. In England, we used Budgies down the mines to check for toxic gases (if the Budgie dies, get out!). Which I guess is a bit safer (for the people anyway) than waiting to see if your torch explodes! There was then a ‘show’ which consisted of fire images being played on the walls (even the tour guide sounded disappointed).
Brine And Water
Along the next corridor we were encouraged to take some rock and suck it – it was salt of course. We were even told that we were welcome to take some home. The next chamber had stalactites of salt, that have to be cut down regularly so that they don’t fall. But if some water drips on your head, this is meant to be good luck.
A few stairs down later we reached another machine demonstration. There was also some water to taste. Guess what, it was brine! The next corridor had ‘seven dwarves’ carvings, however there are actually eight figures. Why? I don’t know. Maybe the eighth figure is Snow White? There was also a small pond where you could make small wishes only. Literally, no big wishes were allowed.
St Kinga’s Chapel
By this time we had also been through a few chapels in the mine. But nothing prepares you for entering St Kinga’s chapel. It is huge! And the chandeliers (made of salt) are amazing. There are figures and biblical stories carved into the wall – one of which has a pink Jesus.
The carvings on the walls have a 3D effect, which is pretty cool. My favourite one was the last supper. This chapel is still used for worship and ceremonies such as Weddings. At the exit of the chapel there are plaques (carved in salt) with the names of those who made the chapel.
After the chapel, we came to the lake where you could make a big wish. Big pools of water means you get a big wish, small pools are only for small wishes according to our tour guide. I guess that does make sense. There is also a precise small coin that you are meant to use, you must have your back to the pool and use your right hand to throw the coin over your left shoulder. It’s all very precise.
Next was a break stop, where there was a statue of Weimar guarding the entrance to the toilets! Here you could buy a snack, drink or souvenirs like amber jewellery.
Music And Light
After our breaks, we were led to a cavern that had a large pool. Here we witnessed a light and music ‘show’. in all honesty, I always fail to see the point of the shows. Don’t get me wrong, I think they are impressive, I just don’t understand why they are a thing. Feel free to put your thoughts about this in the comments.
A few chambers later we saw a statue of Jozefa Pilsudskiego, now this man had an awesome ‘tash! Apparently his moustache was a memorable feature of his. Heading past this statue, we went down a little bit further to a pool with a dock and a tunnel. Boat trips used to run from here. However, a group of soldiers over loaded a boat, capsized and there were mortalities, so they no longer run. There are plans to reopen these boats, but there are a lot more tourist now, so the finer details have not been sorted.
A few more caverns down and we had another ‘show’ all about the dangers of the mine. This was actually done really well, but I the whole music and light thing still eludes me. I guess it manages to cross language barriers.
On Our Own
Not long after this show, we end of the tour, where there were more stalls to buy souvenirs. There was also what we dubbed the ‘Wonka-vater’. A lift that for 5zl per person takes you above this cavern to a lookout over the cavern.
At the lookout there are also what I called ‘disco rocks’. They were awesome! In normal light, they just looked like normal rocks, but then the light switched to UV and they changed to disco colours! I was a little too fascinated… The 5zl to go up in the lift is well worth it just to see the ‘disco rocks’.
We were then on our own to explore the rest of the tunnels (well the path through the tunnels). Here we met the ‘treasurer’.
This is basically a photo opportunity, which we took full advantage of. A short walk later we came to the restaurant and at first I wasn’t really hungry so didn’t want anything, but soon got tempted by spinach pierogi when one of our friends had them! And I’m glad I did, although I could’ve done with half a portion, there was a lot there!
The path ended with a queue for the lift. About the lift, it’s a good job none of us are claustrophobic! Talk about a tight squeeze! Then it was back to the hotel to prepare for the final night.
We’d seen a bowling club on our explorations the night before, which we thought would be fun. Unfortunately so did the rest of Kraków – there was a four hour wait for a lane! So no bowling for us…
This time I’d had time to check out the guidebook map a bit more, so had a better idea of where the centre actually was. It turns out we were pretty much there the night before, we just took a wrong turn, typical. As we got to the main street the sights of the churches were mesmerising, I need to go back to see this area during daylight and explore Krakow more.
The first ‘bar’ we ended up in was called Staropolskie Trurki. We probably stayed here too long, but it was good. Essentially it was a Wódka shop, but with plenty of tasters available.
There was also warm mead to drink (which was lovely). We bought some full shots and had a fair few tasters. My favourite was the chocolate Wódka, but I wouldn’t recommend the gingerbread.
After our drinks we headed to the Rynek Glowny (the main square) as I’d looked up a few places to eat and drink. We found Wierzynek, which claims to be the oldest restaurant in the city, but we had our heart set on a milk bar. I hope to go back to Wierzynek one day.
The milk bar I’d chosen unfortunately had a function on, so we couldn’t go here. Luckily we happened upon another one just a little back up the road. We caught it just before closing and so were able to eat. I really want to try some Goulash, and so I did. Once again, there was a lot of food in a portion (and for not much money).
A Random Meeting
I’d also looked up a cocktail bar called Paparazzi, so we tried to head there. We couldn’t find it, well we found a restaurant with the same name, in the exact same location. But it was definitely more of a eating than a drinking place.
Luckily, the bar next door looked good, so we went in. The bar did very good Long Island Iced Teas, though there was no ice and certainly no tea and very little mixer in these. Here we got talking to a Polish couple. I say talking, they didn’t speak English and we can’t speak Polish (other than the formalities we’d picked up). However, their son (who was at the bar) could speak English quite fluently and when he joined us conversation became easier.
So here we stayed for a while, having interesting stop-and-starting conversations. Every time we got another drink, we bought them Wódka too. This turned out to be a bit of a bad idea, as the mother ended up completely legless… Oops! We hope they enjoyed themselves as much as we enjoyed talking to them (and trading swear words with the son). After this, we decided to move on and explore more of the night life. We finished in an underground club, but don’t ask me where it was!
And It’s All Over
That was the end of that night. So we stumbled back to our rooms and had a very hard time getting up in the morning to catch our early(ish) plane home. Kraków is one that is still on the list, it needs some daytime exploring from me. One day, I’ll journey there again.