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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)


View SEP Pre-Trip on seaskimmer's travel map.

Dear Mum and Dad,

Please don't be mad.

Okay I've just WhatsApped you guys anyway but here's a full account of my couch surfing and hitchhiking activities so far:

Couch surfed in Brussels with this really nice guy called Nicolas. That's where we met a really cool fellow couch surfer from California who's been traveling eastern and western Europe on her own for the past year and two months. Nicolas' place was clean and nice, just that the hot water wasn't reliable.

Hitch hiked from Bruges to Ghent with a lovely couple, lady was called Ellen. They live in Ghent and were super nice, wrote down a list of local things that we can do, and best Belgian beers. (held up 'Ghent' written on the back of my bus ticket at the side of the road leading to the highway to Ghent for about half an hour, with thumbs stuck resolutely up) (most people will shrug shoulders apologetically if they can't take us. These three guys were funny idiots who all gave broad smiles and thumbs up as they passed us by)

Couch surfed in Ghent with an architecture student called Pavel. He lives next to his parents (Nicolas lives above his mum's shop, she's a dentist) in a place that used to house hobos. But they got chased out and he redid the whole place on his own. Our bed wasn't the cleanest but the shower was heavenly. There was another couch surfing couple there but we didn't have much chance to talk to them.

Hitch hiked from Ghent to Brussels with a Belgian Air Force engineer (wanted to be a pilot but hearing wasn't good enough). He was pretty cool. And he doesn't actually live in Brussels but a town further down, so he spent quite long detouring through the poor city traffic for us. (held up sign written on pie box for half an hour as well) (we accidentally almost attempted to hail a police car. They were amused.)

That was all with E. With S I attempted to couchsurf a night at Darrens place in Cork. At first he seemed okay, like the picnic at the water's edge was lovely, but when he brought us to his place we were disgusted. It's absolutely filthy and filled with stuff everywhere. There was a pile of half eaten bread on the table, and the kitchen was a mess of uncleaned dishes and random food. The toilet bowl itself was alright but the shower looked supremely dirty and S spotted a garden slug. That last piece of news didn't bother me because I'd already made up my mind not to shower that night. We slept on Darrens big bed with 2 Belgian and German girls who we'd spent the day with, while he slept downstairs in the living room. The bed wasn't clean, had a bunch of crumbs at the side, brushed most of it of but guess who slept there? Ugh. The four of us spent a while coming up with a plan to beat it the next morning (we'd initially planned on staying 2 or 3 nights) before going to sleep. At least it wasn't cold. The Belgian girl did a fantastic job the next morning of explaining why we were all leaving, and we walked away with a sigh of relief. The moment we got to our hostel, S and I took a shower. So relieved. Hope I can wash that set soon because it's one of only three sets I've brought.

Couch surfed with a guy called Owen and his roommates on our third night in Cork. At this time it was E, S and I. Slept in the living room on the couch and the sofa bed. Not the cleanest but understandable for college guy standards maybe? Hot shower also amazing here. If you read my other post I'll tell about the people there.

Conclusion: there are good and bad experiences to be had in couch surfing and hitchhiking. So far I've been blessed with fairly okay ones. I'm not going to do it all the time because it's not always safe to, like in Portugal and Spain (my next stop) but Belgium is known to be safe enough. I do think however that it's an amazing way to get to know locals, because a true couch surfing experience involves interaction and conversation with your host. It's always good to hear the slang and the culture and the ordinary lives of the country. As much as I would like to believe that I could roam around the countryside on my own like a lost waif and breathe in the essence of the land, I think that maybe half the experience of travel is the people.

That being said, I will be responsible and not romanticise it too much, so I'll just be friendly along the way, stay in hostels and talk to other travellers etc. And I also don't do any of this alone, if alone I'll pay for normal stuff.

Sooo yes that's an account of things so far, you know I don't like to keep things from you guys. Let me know when you've read this fully?

Love, Sophia

Posted by seaskimmer 11:31 Tagged people travel hitchhike couchsurf Comments (0)

Bus musings 2

sunny 15 °C

Ireland is an absolutely beautiful place. As we drive through the Irish countryside from Kinsale back to Cork, I can't help but love the green, which even as farmlandish land is already so much wilder and less kept than the Belgian and German countrysides. And as the setting sun bathes the uneven grass and spiderweb trees in gold, I can't help but love this land of green even more.

According to lonely planet, "Narrow winding streets lined with artsy little shops and a handsome harbour full of bobbing fishing boats and pleasure yachts make Kinsale one of Ireland's favourite mid sized towns; its superb foodie reputation is just another reason to visit. Its sheltered bay is guarded by a huge and engrossing fort, just outside the town at Summercove."

We spent a trying morning attempting to get a free brunch at the' feeding of the five thousand' city council event, one of the pre-St Paddy's Day activities, but E and I ended up separated from S and annoyed. We took the bus to Kinsale and managed to meet S there, walked around the pretty picture of a town, and spent an enchanted time walking part of the way to Charles Fort. We found a little path walking down to the bay, and sat on sedimentary rocks? Talked, had some scones, enjoyed the fabulous view across the bay. Saw a seal that bobbed around twice but refused to stay up long enough for a good photo.

Turned back about 40% into the walk to Charles Fort, had fish and chips dinner at Dinos. As we were eating by the bay, the bus to Cork came and we debated momentarily over whether to run for it or wait for the next bus in an hour. This quick discussion resulted in a frenzied picking up of the remaining fish and chips (E), the nabbing of the tartar sauce and Fanta orange (me) and the wrapping and throwing of the junk left over (S). We all ran across the road and then attempted to find our tickets. That done, we finished eating in the next 30s and settled down to enjoy the ride back.

Pretty glad we decided to come to Kinsale. I was right in thinking that the town would be kind of touristy like Bruges, but it totally makes up for that with the stunning views. The town itself is also somehow a little less pretentious and more local, relaxed seaside village. It's wonderful.

Tomorrow we might not to go to Dublin immediately. Technically the only things we really want to do/see there are Trinity College and a short bit of the parade. So depending on bus timing and price, we might stop for a few hours somewhere in the middle of Cork and Dublin. That would be really nice.

Posted by seaskimmer 16:40 Archived in Ireland Tagged travel bus ireland Comments (0)

Bus musings

overcast 10 °C

While Paris itself has a comprehensive metro and train system, the whole of Ireland has been made easy to travel by bus.

There are several operators but the cheapest we found was eireann, because it's not a direct 2 point bus but instead goes to many stops. As such, its service X8 got us from Dublin airport to Cork in 4 hours rather than 3, but I actually enjoyed the ride.

Ireland is really cold and damp, which means that the sky is permanently overcast and visibility is persistently poor. I like that though, sounds like the Ireland of the many books I've read! No wonder it's the setting of so many fantasy stories, that thick white mist looks like it hides so many secrets. (edit: misty and freezing in the mornings and nights only)

One of the places we went to en route was cahir castle. I didn't know that we would actually go there, so every time we followed a road sign pointing us to the castle, I cheered inside. We finally got there, and it looked older, more crumbly and more grim than gravensteen. I could totally imagine gruff Picts (or is that the Scots?) striding around in battle gear there. When the bus turned a corner around the castle, I could then see a river already rushing with spring snowmelt running alongside the castle wall. So. Cool.

It also surprises me how much the Irish language is represented here. I thought it would be like gaelic, which is hardly spoken or known, but I see Irish in lots of places, like road signs have both the Irish and English names.

If France is a graceful maiden dancing atop a hill, Ireland is a slim unruly Irish lad, looking over his shoulder as he disappears barefoot into the forest, green eyes full of mystery and mischief.

I think Ireland is one place I would come back to and spend a week to see the smaller places. If course, this is before really exploring even Cork and Dublin so perhaps spoken a little too soon. We shall see.

Posted by seaskimmer 17:07 Archived in Ireland Tagged travel bus green ireland faery Comments (0)

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