Since Movember is also NaNoWriMo, I thought I would try to write a lot of my dissertation this month. I did some conversions (to account for differences in subject) and set a goal. But I thought maybe on Sundays I should write a blog post instead of my dissertation. That way I can try and catch up on the months of silence, and have a little break from the “grind”. We’ve done a few interesting things in the last little bit, so hopefully I’ll cover what I need to. I’ll start with the oldest first.
The only bad thing is that not editing is essential to NaNoWriMo. I edit compulsively and it brings my writing up to it’s usual mediocre level. I’m afraid you’re in for some rough patches ahead. That said, I couldn’t stop myself from editing this a bit. :-/
Krakow salt mines
Since I talked Rachel into going to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, I get to write about it. Sadly that means the writeup comes about 3 months after the actual trip, and so I don’t remember as much. It’s probably for the best, otherwise I would bore you.
The tour was at times a bit rushed, I suppose because they have 1.2 million visitors to whisk through every year. Nevertheless, it was quite interesting. They encouraged us to taste the walls, but up high where fewer people might have dirtied them. And definitely not on the floor. Apparently that’s not obvious to everyone.
Of particular interest to me were statues of men clearing out the methane in the old days. They would crawl along the ground and lift torches on the end of long sticks to the ceiling where the methane would gather. It was a dangerous job of course since the methane would often explode rather than burn off. Perhaps my favorite part was the ubiquitous salt growths. They were made of snow white salt, somewhat resembling cauliflower (there were some tiny salt stalactites too) that was deposited from the air. It looked like cauliflower or white fungus. It was crumbly and delightfully salty (what did I expect, right?) and I would have loved to sprinkle it on popcorn. The whole time we were underground I wanted to eat popcorn or pretzels.
One of the original UNESCO world heritage sites, Wieliczka is traditionally a gift from the Hungarian princess Kinga. Boleslaw, the king of Poland, asked to marry Kinga, the princess of Hungary. He sent an engagement ring to the Hungarian court and Kinga accepted. Her father was going to send gold as a dowry, but she thought that wouldn’t be good since the Boleslaw was already wealthy. When asked what he should give instead, she answered salt because Hungary was known for it’s great salt mines. Unsure of how to transfer a large amount of salt, she prayed, removed her engagement ring and threw it into a salt mine.When Kinga arrived in Poland in 1239 she asked the king to tour the country. Soon she told the servents to stop and dig. One of them brought her a white stone–a lump of salt. She ordered it split open, and out fell her engagement ring. In that moment everyone understood her actions and what a wonderful dowry her father had given. Since then Wieliczka has been known for it’s rich salt deposits and has brought prosperity to the area.
One thing they didn’t tell us on the tour is that St. Kinga (beatified in 1690 and canonized in 1999) and her husband were so devout that they took a vow of chastity. Apparently their marriage was never consumated, and Boleslaw was known as Boleslaw the Chaste.
Speaking of devout people, if I remember correctly, there were something like 40 different chapels in the salt mines. We only got to see 3 of them. The most famous is the Chapel of St. Kinga. It was constructed by 3 miners (working one at a time) over the course of about 60 some years. It’s the site of concerts, weddings, and mass. In fact, after we left we watched a wedding party being lowered a few people at a time into the depths. The chapel is decorated with sculptures cut into the salt walls and (sometimes) back lit. The natural translucence of the salt allows a very striking effect. A real glowing sacred heart for instance. The chandeliers have “crystals” made of salt which was dissolved and then redried. The floor has a tile pattern cut into the salt floor. It was an impressive chapel and quite pretty albeit somewhat monochromatic.
There were statues throughout the tour, mostly modern, but some older. There were at least two underground salt-saturated lakes. I couldn’t help but wonder if diving in would hurt more than diving into fresh water due to the extra bouyancy. During the Nazi occupation some drunken soldiers took a boat ride. The boat capsized and some were trapped under the boat. In their enebriated condition they were unable to right the boat or to dive down and out from under the boat (because of the high buoyancy). They died when the air trapped with them ran out. The Nazi’s used some of the large rooms as impromptu factories during the war since they were obviously safe from reconnaissance planes.
At one point in the tour, the floor was tiled with something familiar looking. I was just about to tell Rachel that it looked like we were walking on salt licks, when the guide announced that in fact we were. It was weird seeing so many of them, and not a single one had been carved by bovine tongues!
Rachel’s brother and sister came and stayed with us for a few days. We went with them to a little town near the Austrian border called Sopron. It’s known as the most loyal city because in 1921 it chose to be part of Hungary instead of Austria. We had never been there, and it’s quite pretty. Most of the buildings were in very good condition and very colorful.
Sopron is a destination for medical tourism. There were dentists offices everywhere to service the Austrians who come across the border. Almost everyone speaks German, and if it’s clear you don’t speak Hungarian that’s the language they go to next. Pretty much everywhere else we’ve visited it would be English.
Another source of income for Sopron is the brewery. We didn’t visit it, but we did buy some Soproni Zero (grapefruit and orange flavors) in the supermarket. Rachel’s brother liked it, but her sister thought it was gross. I think it did grow on her a bit, but I don’t think she’ll be a connoisseur of non-alcoholic beer anytime soon.
The fire tower and town hall were closed for renovations, so we only went inside three attractions: the goat church, a reform church, and the Storno house. The goat church was somewhat small. There was a tomb from 1644 underneath some of the pews which I thought was interesting. The reform church was much larger and completely different from Catholic churches. It had three floors and reminded me a bit of the Synagogue in Budapest. Apparently the organ is the largest in Hungary. The organ was indeed gorgeous and we wanted to go up stairs to see it, but it was closed off. The Storno house was very interesting. The last owners of the house (the Storno family) loved to collect antiques and it contains a large selection of old things. I loved the smattering of arms and armor (of course), as well as the intricate locks and keys from various periods.
We decided to eat at a restaurant which was recommended in Rick Steve’s and also on the way back to the train station. Sadly, when we got there is was closed for renovation (or maybe permanently). We had to backtrack quite a bit and hurry so as to not miss our train, but we made it.
Word count: 1323 (1667/day needed, i.e. I failed)