Saturday, August 11, 2012

Are You Sure It's Not October?

Today we went to Wieliczka Salt Mine.  It was an excellent day to spend doing something inside, because it was rainy.  It was also 55° Fahrenheit most of the day today.  Yes, it's August, and it was 55°.  When Andy told me the weather forecast for today, I asked him if the projected high was for inside or outside the salt mine.  The salt mine was also chilly, though, so we had already prepared ourselves to wear jackets and long pants; it's just that we ended up wearing them all day. 

The foray to the salt mine generally went much more smoothly than my trip to Auschwitz.  I would say two things about the experience in general: it is really cool, and I would recommend it as something to see if you happen to be in Krakow; however, it really needs better signs to direct visitors to the right line for their tour.  When we arrived at the tents where the tours began, we couldn't even tell there was supposed to be a line.  As a result, we missed the rest of our tour group as they entered, and the staff almost didn't let us go in.  Thankfully, we had a sympathetic worker help us into the next English group right away.

The first step in getting into the mine is going down.  380 steps.  And that put us 64 meters (about 197 feet) below the surface, which is the "first floor" of the mine.  Throughout the journey, we continued going down periodically until we were 135 meters (about 416 feet) below the surface of the earth. 

We learned about many periods in the history of the mine.  The earliest discoveries of the salt deposits date back 6,000 years!  The mine itself was established in the 13th century.  Many famous people, including Copernicus and von Goethe, came to visit the mine over the centuries.  Nearly every chamber we visited had some sculpture made of rock salt to commemorate these events and people, or just to show what life as a mine worker would have been like.

There was even an interactive part where the children in the tour could work the pulley system that brought salt out of the mine, and wood and supplies in.  The wood is also an important part of the mine, because the salt preserves and eventually fossilizes it.  Thus, wood was used to reinforce the passages of the mine once an area had been exhausted.

The most impressive area was the underground church.

In some places, it felt like we had gone into the mines of Moria.  There were even dwarves.

I was equally impressed with the opportunities to use the bathroom and get a snack along the tour.  (It was over two hours long.)  After the tour, we went to the underground restaurant.  Andy and I are continually amazed at the reasonability of prices here, especially food.  We had a tasty hot meal for much less than a major tourist attraction would have charged for the same fare in the U.S.

Tonight for dinner, we couldn't find the place we first wanted to try; so we went to Jama Michalika, a restaurant that's been around for about 150 years.  Legend has it that all the poets, writers, and other famous artsy folk made this place their hangout at the beginning of the 20th century.  Dark wood and very tall ladder-back chairs made an atmosphere that felt formal but cozy at the same time, and we were serenaded by live piano music.  Again, the quality of food you get here for the prices is just amazing. 

We probably ate too much tonight, but at least we're going to the gym tomorrow.  We've gotta live while we're here, right?


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