A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about poland

Mines of Moria

We set out on Monday for the Wieliczka salt mines just half an hour away from our Krakow hotel. Managed to catch the 11am English tour, were given radio receivers and earpieces. At first it was 94 vertical metres down into the depths. 7 steps on each flight, endlessly turning round and round until my mum got a little dizzy. Looking down through the center, or axis of the staircase, all I could see was darkness below. So I just stopped counting and checking until suddenly I was on level ground! And sincerely hoping I wouldn't have to climb back up.

Basically the tour brought us through the relatively small section of the mines that isn't still operating. It was loosely a history from really ancient times until the recent past. Nothing spectacularly interesting, we learnt about the discovery of the salt deposits and how the industry properly started, and the basic technology that they used. Technology referring to the pulley systems used to transport stuff between the surface and the mines. At first, humans turned the big wheel-pulley thing, but later when they brought horses in, they used the horses. Poor beasts, they basically spent their entire lives away from the sun! It was too difficult to bring them in repeatedly. The tour guide assured us that their lives were comfortable and suffered from no physical ailments though.

There were some exhibits of horses and people that illustrated how the horses turned the wheel. I was just looking at it, when one of the other tourists commented that the horse was real. I was shocked at first, but she meant that real horse skins had been used in the making of the horse statues, and stuffed. Which I guess is not totally surprising, I mean, it happens a lot, but still. I guess there's quite a high chance of them being the original horses that were brought down. Chilling thought.

So, as to the caves and passages themselves. Most of the walls are grey, like rock. But later I realised that pretty much everything had a shiny gleam to it. Because almost everything was 95% salt, like NaCl salt. The 5% was enough to turn the walls black-grey. The miners carved most things out of the walls, including some really spectacular halls with artwork and naves on the sides. White washed wood usually made up the structural supports and banisters and stuff. Occasionally we saw white cauliflower formations which are secondary deposits. That just means that it's brine, or salty water that eventually dried and formed the cauliflower stuff.

The moment we entered the first big hall, I couldn't help but think of the Great Hall of the mines of Moria. Obviously (despite being really big and pretty) it was nothing compared to the Great Hall, but it was awesome to imagine myself there nonetheless. And when we went into some caverns with lakes, all I could think of was Gollum, paddling his boat around silently, with eyes like the moon and his precious on his mind and fishhh in his mouth.

We had lunch in the cafeteria, 300m underground (we'd continued to go downwards at other points on the tour) which carries the distinction of being the deepest meal I've ever had hahaha. At that point we all took out our phones and began to wiki LOTR, because we couldn't agree on whether the dwarves came from the Mines of Moria or Erebor. I know, geeky family right? Anyway partly it was a confusion of terms. The dwarves' original home was Khazad-dum, in the mines of Moria, in the Misty Mountains. Later, being driven out by orcs and the balrogs, they relocated to Erebor in the Lonely Mountain. Then, as you know, came Smaug and they were driven out again until during the time of The Hobbit Dain was reinstalled as king.

We continued to explore some halls and then left via this crazy, old, crowded 4 tier lift. As we met anew with the sunshine, our eyes burned.

Drove over to Krakow altstadt, where we wandered around for a while. The main marktplatz is huge by the way, with a gigantic building in the center, housing two rows of small souvenir shops. And it's true that Krakow is a much better city to visit. Although Warsaw's altstadt is really pretty and unique, it's so small. In comparison, Krakow's altstadt provides much more walking enjoyment, and is really densely packed with churches and other pretty buildings. There's also a nice castle that you can walk into for free (with an awesome central courtyard, I felt like a princess/knight). And a Jewish quarter to the south east of the altstadt, but we didn't have time for that, unfortunately.

After that was just dinner and packing. The next day was a relatively unremarkable day, except for the 1200km drive from Krakow to Hamburg via Warsaw and Berlin. MAD DRIVE. My butt died from the 14h. I survived, but with Joan only partly read, because I wasn't feeling too well and reading in the car for long periods makes me carsick.

It must also be said that I spent Monday evening and the next day just reading up on LOTR hahahaha. So I understand everything much better. I've only gotten through the first part of the Silmarilion so far, but hopefully the background knowledge will help me to get through the rest now.

OKAY so anyway I can't wait to read LOTR again when I get back! And even though I've read the Hobbit twice in 2 years, I totally wouldn't mind giving it another shot. And I'll try the Silmarilion again, and then to round Middle Earth off I'll read the Children of Hurin again hahahaha. Assuming I have time. FYP here I come :(

Posted by seaskimmer 02:12 Archived in Poland Tagged travel poland drive read lotr krakow Comments (0)

Warsaw/Warschau/Warszawa

W is pronounced as a v in both German and Polish

Late morning set out for Warsaw. Long drive there, by the time we got there it was maybe 4? That included a few random petrol, food and wc stops. Meantime I'd started on Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn which I'd been meaning to read for a long time. Old book, had it on PDF on Dropbox and in my phone.

Dropped our bags off then drove in to the edge of town (booked a hotel out of town. More likely to have a private car park. Learnt from stolen car experience in Prague a million years ago) and parked. Walked in, went to the Chopin museum.

Chopin was born in Warsaw and spent most of his early years there. He was quite the music prodigy. Unlike Beethoven, there are no indications of hometown dislike. Nonetheless once he left Warsaw for further studies (lol) I don't think he ever went back. If he did, not more than once.

Cool thing: accidentally met HY there! And we were just talking about her. But I guess of all places to meet her, it would be in a Chopin museum hahaha. It was so nice to see her again!

Walked halfway to the Altstadt (I don't think I could ever call it an old town, after having known the German word first) then decided it was too late and far to make it all the way there and then back to the car. So we had dinner ('authentic Polish cuisine') and a fast, cold - forced march to the car.

Earlier departure from the hotel this morning (so weird now saying hotel instead of hostel) and drive to the Altstadt since we hadn't really seen it. I actually think the Altstadt is really pretty! It's got similar structure as other places but most of the buildings have some painted designs. Very cool, unique. And in the centre of the Marktplatz is a statue of a mermaid with sword poised for the downstroke. Coolios. Not much time spent there, it was a really fast one, unfortunately. But we were on the way to Auschwitz so priorities, priorities.

Long drive. I finished The Last Unicorn. It was so good. Classic fantasy, I've missed that. Fantasy is one of my favourite genres. This was so well done, I liked that it broke the fourth wall and acknowledged that it was indeed a sort of fairy tale. And it was sweet, and bitter, and sad but so beautifully written. Recommended!!

We'd spent more time at Warsaw in the morning than desired, so we only got to Auschwitz at 5. The gps led us to Birkenau-Auschwitz, or the second section of Auschwitz. It was really big, not all the barracks had been rebuilt but you could tell that there were rows and rows. Almost nothing to read through. Then a 5min drive to the first section, where there was much more to read. A lot of the barracks had been converted into exhibitions. We were so late that we only had time to properly look at 2 of the bigger ones, and to skim the 4 permanent displays.

Auschwitz was the largest concentration camp, and I think is one of the most famous because it was an extermination camp. Not all of them are. But all sick, old and otherwise 'unhealthy' people were killed almost immediately on arrival, in the gas chambers. This was about 75% of people. Out of the estimated 6 millions Jews killed in ww2, 1.5 million of those were killed here. (the 1.5 could have included Roma, sinti, and others though). Because I was rushing through the camp so fast, I didn't really have time to let it all sink in.

One thing I learnt was that the Polish resistance was the biggest underground resistance in the world. They also saved the most Jews. Very cool, hats off to them. Much greater esteem now!

Began reading Joan of Arc by Mark Twain on the way to the Krakow hotel. I don't know why I've suddenly regained by bookaholicness! My book binge days kind of stopped with secondary school. After that I just didn't have time for such a sustained spree, unfortunately. But now I just can't wait to feel the paper on my fingers, see the words disappear before my eyes and be replaced by dancing images, and lose myself in the story.

The pages of books are often too close together.

Posted by seaskimmer 15:32 Archived in Poland Tagged warsaw poland concentration Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 2 of 2) Page [1]