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Wieliczka Salt Mine

It's a gorgeous sunny Sunday and here I am indoors writing this for you. xP You lucky sods. And on the way up through the park I saw a guy on a freaking unicycle, which was quite awesome -- not doing it for show, just pedalling sedately along, as you do -- and I'm thinking of getting some rollerblades and maybe trying to pick up a cheap guitar and life is good.

Anyway, the point of this update. Welcome to Wieliczka!


Wednesday 11th April: Wieliczka Salt Mine

"Are you sure this is our stop?" I enquired of my impromptu guide-come-kidnapper when he prodded me to get off the No13 tram (...yes, a No13) at what looked, to me, like a great expanse of absolutely nothing in the middle of a downtown built-up area. Welcome to sector three, I thought obscurely. He nodded emphatically. "...How sure?"

"Very sure!" he told me with a grin. "I've been here before."

Nice for him. Not in the least reassured, I got off the tram and looked across the square. It was maybe thirty feet across, and spaced out along the way, tidily arranged in precise rows, were chairs. Single, hardback chairs, larger than life-size; I commented vaguely on their weirdness. "Spielberg!" my guide informed me (as you might have realised, this was another one with limited English). "You know Schindler's List?"

"Yes," I said, casting around for some sign of sanity (shush, I realise this is a lot for me to ask, but a lot of things are better than a crazy German kidnapping me. I'd have settled for a crazy Pole, at this point). I've never seen it, but I thought that might not have been a wise thing to admit to, so I kept quiet after the affirmative.

"This is a, a--" He hesitated, searching for the word.

"Monument?" I suggested, and realised that I was tensed to kick and run.

"Moment!" he agreed cheerfully.

"Nice," I commented, vaguely; and then at last I saw them -- three folks from my much-loved intensive class. Apparently I hadn't been kidnapped after all, then.

(Sorry for worrying you with all the dramatising, mom).

It was quarter past four on a sunny Wednesday afternoon and the minibus was idling across this Schindler square. This was a trip arranged by the course people, and since my kidnapper was in the group as well (a class above me, I think), I wasn't as stupid as I bet at least two of you are thinking I was to have gone with him. (I know which two as well. Shut up, boss. (... Robert and John, if you're reading this, that 'boss' doesn't mean you. And now I just stop leaving messages to specific people, before it gets weird...)). I'd signed up because there's some vague and unspecific family legend about my grandfather visiting this same salt mine; whether he worked there or knew people who did or what I have no idea, but nonetheless, I thought it'd be interesting.

It was only a twenty-minute bus journey to Wieliczka -- the 'big salt mine in the little village' -- and I spent most of it in lively conversation with Vivien, my twig of a granny-type from Peterborough. The accursed roomie hadn't come, citing expense as her reason (and since she owed me 70zl already, I could almost see her point, though the trip only cost sixty). We arrived just after five, to much panic and chaos; apparently the English tour was ready to leave already. Maria, the organiser from the course, thrust tickets into the hands of the three Blighty-born, and told us where to go, in no uncertain terms (not quite in that sense, but nearly). And off we scurried, and tagged on to the end of the English-language tour. The rest of our group, Germans for the most part, joined a tour in their own mothertongue five minutes later.

We were led down three hundred wooden steps, in tidy increments of a dozen or so at a time, and our two resident claustrophobes (what freaking claustrophobes were doing down a mine is anyone's guess. Maybe they were masochistic claustrophobes. Now that'd be fun. Shut it in a cupboard and it comes out-- sorry, back to topic, where was I?) were faintly reassured that this was Going To Be Okay.

Long way down.

Eventually we got to the bottom, had the standard keep your hands inside your skin at all times during this journey talk, and the tour got underway. The first cavern we went to had some impressive salt statues, and this set the tone for the rest of the tour. And since you'd probably be as bored as I was if I told you all the stories the guide rambled on with (I amused myself taking daft piccies, aren't you lot lucky?), I'll just show you pictures and summarise.

Meet St. Kinga (and her entourage). She pretty much founded salt mining in Wieliczka, possibly in this whole region of Poland, hence her beatification. On a visit when she was young, she tossed her engagement ring down a shaft, saying this symbolised her commitment to Poland and its people. (Nice of her, but the gal was a princess. She could afford another engagement ring. And the guide never told us whether or not her guy forgave her momentary weirdness and married her anyway). However many years later when she visited again, a miner presented her with a lump of salt which, when split open, of course contained her engagement ring. Some legends are just plain universal.

Beautiful statues though, and the light show as the guide told us the story was damned impressive.

They kept horses down the mine; the last one left in 2002. (These guys are models, just in case you can't tell. Otherwise I'd've been riding the buggers. I miss horseriding like mad; apparently there's a stables nearby, and I fully intend to find it and go riding. Lots. But yet again I am sidetracked; I'm in a very sidetrack-y mood today). The guide assured us several times that the horses were better treated than the miners, and I'm inclined to believe it. There're peasants all over, but horses cost you.

This fellow (damned if I can remember his name; someone go and look it up for me xP) was the king who passed laws standardising mining regulations and generally tidying up the legalese behind salt mining. Obviously quite a hero in these parts, but in all honesty, I liked the statue more than the story. He's got a very regal nose.

Oh, now these guys made me jump. They're obviously just mannequins, but I caught a glimpse of them around a corner, well away from our group, and I must admit I did have a momentary catching of breath and widening of eye. (Wouldn't you, if accosted by five entirely random Victorians?). They represent some of the early paying tourists to visit the mine; it was opened, in part, to the public in the late 18th century, I believe, although people had visited before (Kinga, for instance, and various Popes and other royalty. Hardly your average package tour).

They didn't give me half the start this fellow did though. He moved. And I was, by now, tired, irritable, in withdrawal, dehydrated and sick of people glaring at me for taking pictures, and he did nothing for my mood.

This, however, most definitely improved it. This is the famous underground cathedral (does that make Wieliczka technically a city, then?), a huge cavern of salt, decorated with carved reliefs and statues and those gorgeous chandeliers. Instant obsession here.

Some more shots of the cathedral:

The main alter:

Apologies for the blurry image. The Last Supper in salt (mind your sodium intake, boys).

The tour went on, but unfortunately I was tired by now -- it was getting on for eight PM by this point -- and most of the rest of my pictures are, in a word, crappy. We got home for around nine, and I went and collapsed into bed, tired but generally quite happy, and thrilled to have seen the salt mines, even if the guide did go on and on and ON horribly.

A day or two later, in town, , after going on a horse-and-carriage ride with Vivien, Valeska and Ingrid from the course (they're going home now, lucky sods; I'm doing two weeks more intensive and then living here until gods know when), I came across a gang of folkies in traditional costume and thought I should get the camera out. So here you go. ;D

Oh, no, sorry, that's a horse.

Er, so is that, sorry, hang on a minute. (The carriage ride was brilliant but expensive. Blah).

Ah, there we go!

And this one you don't want but you're getting it anyway. xD Xof self-portrait (had the camera at arm's length, emo-style, hah), me in the carriage (check the reflection in the shades, you can see down the side of the carriage a bit). And yes I look like craaap yo but who's counting?! xD

In other news, I am developing a worrying addiction to Mahjong. Seriously. Who knew little tiles on a screen could be this fascinating?


( 1 writer — Leave a note )
Apr. 15th, 2007 06:40 pm (UTC)
First may I point out that you wrote this on the 15th and unless your kidnapper is very kind and lets you communicate with the outside world WHY would I be in the slightest worried? Beside I know your style by now. Love the costume pictures. Hope you got your Zlotys back before your room mate left. Thanks for the number. keep working hard.
( 1 writer — Leave a note )


City of Flowers and Shadows

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Welcome to the travel log of the adventures of one ShadowSaine, variously known as Zof, Shadow and Oi You, on a big city and bright burning lights adventure in Krakow, Poland, 2007.

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