A “salty” underground walk, anyone? 

Leave a comment Standard

“If you go to Krakow, do not miss the salt mines in Wieliczka”, we were told back in Colombia by a polish guy. He seemed to believe that those were the best salt mines in the whole entire world. Happening to be around the corner and keen to see whether this man was right, we booked a tour through our hostel. As tickets were sold out, this was the only way for us to visit the Wieliczka salt mines before leaving Poland. It felt great for once to just sit and relax during the short drive to Wieliczka. Upon arrival, we gathered around an English-speaking tour guide before embarking on our very own version of the Journey to the Center of the Earth (dramatic effect? Check!). Frankly speaking, I wasn’t particularly excited to spend the next 3 hours underground but to be fair, this looked much safer than the mine we explored in Potosi, Bolivia. Back in 2012, to celebrate Christmas, we went down dodgy ladders, crawled through narrow tunnels while surrounded by darkness and fear and played with some TNT 20 meters below the surface. THAT was intense and nerve wrecking. In Wieliczka, it didn’t feel like we were in a mine, it could have been any basement or bunker; we used a steady wooden staircase to descend the 380 steps and reached the first level, located at 64 meters underground. 

I had somehow expected the walls of the mine to be shiny and sparkling from the salt; Instead the walls were mostly drab… but ô so delicious. You know what they say, you gotta love a good “free” salt tasting *disclaimer: No wall was harmed during our visit*. Even tho our guide assured us that it was fine to lick them, salt stopping the propagation of bacteria, we decided to give the walls licking a miss and use our fingers instead. The thought of licking a wall, that had been licked millions of times before, was seriously not appealing. Other than salt tasting, the visit was very interesting as we learnt about salt mining that ended in that mine in 2007 and were told the legend of princess Kinga who asked her father to be given for a salt lump for her engagement instead of a diamond (what on earth…). This is my simplified version, I am sure a more poetic version can be found online. The chapels and salt statues (that we weren’t allowed to lick… Go figure… wouldn’t it have been fun to tell the world that I had licked Copernicus?!) were quite beautiful but the rushed pace imposed by our guide and the group following us was a downside of this guided tour; we couldn’t take our time to admire the detailed work that was surrounding us. Such a shame!

After going down some (many) more steps to reach levels 2 and 3, at 135 meters, we finally had some free time to discover the underground lake (wish o’clock!) and the St. Kinga’s chapel. It could have been nice if it wasn’t for the feeling that we had been confined like cattles in an overcrowded corral. Dreadful. At the end, Heidi and I took some time to check a mini (micro mini) museum where there was an interesting exhibition: The Extraordinary World of Minerals. Illuminated with UV light, the minerals (among others: halite, dolomite, aragonite…) glowed and looked pretty funky! It was probably my favorite part as none of the hundred other visitors ventured to this micro mini museum and it therefor felt very special to us. Going back to the surface felt rather adventurous as our group boarded an overcrowded tiny elevator. In less than 30 seconds, we had returned to the world of the living! Alive and kicking, we were ready for our next stop: Budapest! 

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem! 

Our step into one of the world’s darkest side of humanity: Auschwitz, Poland…

Comments 2 Standard

While we were in Kraków, we couldn’t NOT go to Auschwitz; we owed it to the victims of the nazism and we owed it to the future generations. I dreaded this day a lot as I still remembered the pain and the fear I felt while I was discovering the horrors that happened in Struthof, a concentration camp in France. I was only 15 at the time of my visit and I remember silently sobbing, overwhelmed by the terrifying pictures and testimonies that surrounded me. I couldn’t believe it: had humans really done this to other humans? This was the first time that I realized that evil does exist and the first time I faced the brutal consequences of intolerance and ignorance. That day I knew… Even though I have come a long way from a tiny village girl who was surrounded by racism, I’m only human and it is hard sometimes to remain tolerant when some monsters cause trouble, pain and destruction around you. I’m grateful for my friends, for their diversity in so many ways who help me be a better person and avoid dangerous overgeneralization. 

We jumped on the first bus departing from the Krakow main station and we were dropped off directly in front of the museum as it was opening. We decided not not to hire a guide as we wanted to go at our own pace to let the gravity of the experience sink in. It was a difficult morning, surrounded by death, pain and sorrow but as George Santayana said, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. With intolerance and cruelty ripping through a world, where minorities are being targeted and persecuted over and over again, where innocent girls are abducted and sold as child brides, where peaceful protests are being answered with violence, where a powerful nation is considering electing a misogynist, racist and bigoted clown as a president, where extremists (among others vegans, feminists, religious…) believe that their opinion is the only one that can be spoken and heard, you know places like Auschwitz are more than ever needed.

Throughout the camp, roses were left as a tribute to the numerous victims and as much as this place still echoes pain and tragedy, we must believe in the goodness of people and raise our children in respecting the others. In one of the buildings, where women and children were kept prisoners while waiting for their tragic fates, somebody had left a rose. My romantic side wandered and I found myself daydreaming that the rose was left by a great grand child of a SS, who just discovered his ancestor’s past, came to pay a tribute to his victims. Peace and tolerance in the world seem a utopia nowadays but it is never too late to start believing. Here is to tolerance and forgiveness. 

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!

Once upon a time in Kraków, Poland 

Comment 1 Standard

I had barely stepped out of the train that I knew that I would love Krakow. Except for the weather… WTF Krakow? How dare you welcome me with a cold wintery wind, a grey sky and some unnecessary drizzle? Krakow, I was not impressed! However, the train ride from the airport was perfect: on time, quick and cheap, the staff very friendly. The main station (called Glowny), located in a mall, was also the bus station. That was definitely going to make our day trips from Krakow super easy. Heidi had booked us a room in a hostel in the old town. Since I arrived first, I paid the mall a visit, while waiting for my Alaskan partner in crime. I am not a big fan of shopping but once in a while, I cannot resist to a good mall session. I might be a backpacker but deep down I’m still a girl who was raised in a consumption world. Whatyougonnado? Clothes were incredibly cheap and it was, for me, a sign that my overworn and tired (try backpacking 6 months with the same limited outfits. Not many outfits survived such trips) clothes had deserved to be retired and replaced by fresher ones?! A few shops and sushi later, I was ready to start this adventure with Heidi. 

… and she arrived, with a defeated look on her face: “guess whose backpack is nowhere to be found “. Oh! This wasn’t a good start. My brain has been trained to find solutions so we started emailing, calling, harassing the company at the airport, mandated by the airline to track lost luggages (they picked the wrong team to mess with). A day passed and unhappy with the result, the office at the airport in Kraków was clearly staffed with incompetent (or lazy) people, we decided to investigate on our own and started to call the three airlines Heidi flew with between Anchorage and Kraków. Lufthansa, in charge of the last part of the journey, told us to contact the airport mandated company (really). This suggestion didn’t go well with us and we hung up to avoid any unnecessary waste of time. Next, Condor refused any responsibility (of course what else) and blamed it on Alaskan airline, as you do. The lady on the phone was convinced that the bag had never left Seattle… last but not least, my favorite phone call: with Alaskan airline and the lovely Jennifer who did her outmost to track Heidi’s backpack. We were making progress: it was shipped to Europe for sure, the tracking system proved it. Alright back to the incompetent (or lazy. Either way useless) staff at Krakow airport. We sent them a very clear message, Heidi’s backpack was in Europe, either in Frankfurt or Krakow, they had to find it and quick because we were running out of time. We had already extended our stay in Kraków as an employee thought that Heidi’s bag had been found… what to say… but soon, we needed to start this Eastern European adventure!  

If like us, you have a full day and evening to spend in Kraków, have fun: 

  • Eating Pierogi (a traditional Eastern / Central European dish – recipe will follow on one of my Tuesday yumminess) but make sure you do it before walking around as it is quite heavy! 
  • Wandering in the old town wth it’s beautiful old buildings. We really loved our by night tour, surrounded by drunk young adults from all over the world. Krakow is apparently a known party city…  
  • Chilling on the main market square
  • Strolling through the Jewish district, Kazimierz that became artistic heart of Kraków
  • Visiting the Wavel castle (we skipped this as he weather forced us to go into a pub instead) 
  • Sipping cheap cocktails in a local pub

Krakow has a lot offer and with a great weather, a wonderful place to sit in the summer nights at coffee places’ on cute little squares. Outside Kraków, there are also several day trips to take. Follow us to read more about a tough but must see place not to forget what humans are capable of. Next stop: Auschwitz. 

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!