Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ascent of Wieliczka

            With our ten day trip coming to an end within the next couple days Professor Roth planned for us to visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine, which is about thirty minutes outside of Krakow.  After a rough night of sleep, we set out for the salt mines around 9:15 in the morning to try and catch one of the earlier tours.  Needless to say, after the rough night of sleep I passed out on the bus ride over to the mines so I would have enough energy to walk around the corridors that lie beneath the surface.  The tour was going to be about two hours long and in the process we would be walking a little over two miles, which only makes up a miniscule percentage of the total amount of miles worth of corridors that are included in the mine.  The deepest part of the mine is a little over a thousand feet below the surface, but the tour only took us a little over 200 feet down.
            We began our tour by walking down sixty five flights of stairs where we reached the first room on the tour.  Our tour guide was and older gentlemen, who seemed to like he had been doing tours for a while.  He was very knowledgeable and he had a very dry sense of humor that was pretty tough for me to pick up at first.  However, as the tour kept going I began to realize that he was making little jokes here and there to spark a laugh out of the group.  The first room contained a monument in honor of Mikolaj Kopernik, an astronomer who was very fond of the mine.  From there the tour guide took us down many corridors that were supported by wooden beams and on the walls you could see the salt beginning to form all over again.  At the end of the corridor we came to a cavern that had stairs leading another fifty or so feet down.  As we began to walk down the wooden stairs the guide pointed out a set of stairs that were from the fifteenth century.  These stairs were carved into the floor of the cavern and you could see that over the time they had began to erode.  I was astonished that even over the last couple hundred years they were still visible and seemed as though they were still somewhat able to walk on. 
As we made our way through the mine the tour guide pointed out salt that was growing on the walls that they call, cauliflower salt. After contemplating whether or not I should lick it I decided to go for it and try the salt.  I didn’t know what to expect.  Would it taste exactly like the salt that I put on my food back home or would it have a weird taste to it?  It tasted exactly like salt.  The salty bitter taste took over my mouth for the next thirty or so minutes of the tour.  I tried to wash it down with water, but after a little I just accepted it and decided to just wait till it left my mouth.
Trying not to think of the taste I made my way down the corridors and at the end was a huge room.  Inside was a chapel that was at least sixty feet from ceiling to floor, another eighty feet in length and forty in width.  The walls the lined the chapel were made entirely out of salt statues and carved murals.  Hanging from the ceilings were three crystalline salt chandeliers that radiated light throughout the entire chapel.  Unlike the rest of the mine the floor of the chapel was made of salt that was carved out to look as if tiles had been laid down.  One of the murals on the wall that stood out the most was the one of the last supper.  This mural was a three dimensional hand carving that portrayed one of the most influential paintings from the Christian faith.  As we walked out of the chapel a statue of Pope John Paul II, yet again made of salt, stood to commemorate his visit to the salt mines during his time in the Papal office. 
Throughout the rest of the mine there were many other chapels and rooms that were used yearly for weddings or other types of gatherings.  There were also many underground lakes that were used by miners to transport the giant salt blocks easier.  There was one area in the mine where a small canal connected two medium size lakes.  Our tour guide told us of a story from World War II of ten or twelve Nazi’s who capsized the boat while on the canal.  A few of the soldiers perished and shortly after that the administrators of the mine decided to lower the depth of the water in that area to one meter to prevent any fatalities from happening again.  The rest of the tour consisted of going to the museum, which was down in the caverns as well.  There were bits and pieces that I found interesting, like this blue salt crystal that was the same color as tanzanite, my mother’s birthstone.  The crystal itself was about the size of a football and it got its color due to certain chemicals that naturally made their way into the crystal during the growing process.  The rest of the museum was interesting, but I was absolutely exhausted from all the walking and was excited to be able to rest in the bus on the short ride back to the hotel.
When we returned from the salt mines we all went to BagelMama to grab some lunch then we were going to see two synagogues that Rich thought would be good for us to see.  The first one was the oldest standing synagogue in the city of Krakow.  Now a day it isn’t a functioning synagogue, but a museum that covered the basic overview of the Jewish religion itself.  The second synagogue we visited was fully functioning and carried a lot of World War II history with it.  During the Second World War the Nazi’s converted the synagogue into a horse stable.  Instead of destroying it flat out this was one of Hitler’s many ways of humiliating the Jewish community, instead of just destroying it flat out.  Much like many Catholic churches the synagogue was filled with stained glass windows that were donated or put in as a memorial to some Jewish families within the Kashmir district, also known as the Jewish Corridor of Krakow.  The ceiling of the synagogue was filled with gold furnishings of Corinthian like flowers and stars.  There were both the traditional five point stars and littered throughout them were many six point stars, also known as the Star of David.  With the light from the stained glass windows coming in the gold furnishings glimmered like the stars in the midnight sky.  Out of the two synagogues this one was probably my most favorite because I am a big fan of stained glass. Especially seeing how I am planning on getting a stained glass portrait of St. Patrick as my next tattoo.  It was interesting to see what another religion portrays in their stained glass window murals.
For dinner we went out to a Milk Bar near the main square of Krakow.  A milk bar is a restaurant that originated in the twentieth century for those who couldn’t afford to go out to a regular restaurant and get a meal.  This was a cheap way for those who were having money troubles to get a good meal.  I got an order of meat and cabbage pierogis and a chicken and ham Panini.  Needless to say I was full by the end of the meal and my stomach was hard as a rock.  After dinner we all went out as a group to celebrate Katie’s 21st birthday and have a few beers.  We went to a place called the Beer Gallery that had over a hundred of different beers in any kind of flavor you can think of.  Due to the fact that I was full I decided to only have one beer and I bought Katie one as well.  I got pilsner that reminded me of a micro brewery beer that I tried while in Ireland, which was made by Guinness.  It was a dark beer that had a very rich and thick flavor to it.  When I finished my beer I made my way back to the hotel and quickly went to bed with much anticipation for our next day’s trip to Auschwitz and Birkenau.
Patrick Malone
Monday, April 3, 2013
Ascent of Wieliczka

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