A very interesting and surprising environment awaits if you visit the Wielicki salt mines which are about 45 minutes outside of Krakow.
On arrival you walk down 183 metres with a couple of stops along the way. The climate is controlled at 15 degrees via hermetically sealed doors and the ceiling soar above you even though you are so far underground (and in fact the mines go down to 300 meters). These mines have existed since the 14th century and were only closed about 15 years ago.
Aside from actually being surrounded by massive rooms, they are full of sculptures – most done by the miners – all in salt. There is a chapel and a huge ballroom used for concerts and weddings and even the chandeliers are made of salt crystals. The last supper below is actually only six inches deep but has amazing perspective.
Here is the wedding/concert hall and the chandelier.
This post is the most challenging I’ve ever written.
That’s because it is about my visit to Auschwitz Birkenau. Some of you will know I have a mixed heritage so this visit was especially important to me. First I thought I might not post about it at all but then I figured that the whole point of this place being kept as a museum is to remind us what we can sink to and to hopefully ensure we never let (genocide coupled with chemical warfare) happen again. The weird thing is that the weather was glorious on the day we visited and the two towns are very pretty so to show it in glorious technicolor seemed somehow to denigrate the people who were there. I therefore opted for converting all photos to black and white as a mark of respect but added one in colour at the very end as a contrast.
The visit starts at Auschwitz. A place originally built as barracks so ideally suited to hold prisoners with minimal construction. The entry saying “Arbeit Macht Frei” (work sets you free) is a perverse twist of the biblical term about “truth setting you free”.
These pictures show the grounds and signage on the buildings in Auschwitz.
The next section takes you to an area that is titled the “proof rooms” where undeniable evidence exists about the horrors that happened and it feels really personal as you view shoes and baskets and pots and pans and then the cans of Zyklon B used to release the gas.
Then on to Birkenau which was actively built as a place in which to murder large numbers of people who were considered undesirable. As a comparison Auschwitz covered about 20,000 people but Birkenau was intended to house over 100,000 people. This area is where the selection took place once people got off the trains – who would live and who would be sent direct to the crematorium. It is hard to decide which was the worse fate.
For my friends in Australia the train carriage shown – actually a cattle tuck – was restored and paid for by Frank Lowy whose father disappeared when he was 13 and who refused to give up his prayer shawl when told to do so and was killed before he could be shipped to Auschwitz. These photo also show the remains of one of the gas chambers that was not destroyed by the Nazis before the allies came.
The pics below show the awful interiors where people had to live.
And finally this is where Rodolf Hóss, who ran and developed the Auschwitz Birkenau complex, was hung right in front of the place he ran a couple of years after the war ended.
And worth remembering
This was my first time to Poland – and if you know me you know a new country is always a big thrill. After a five hour drive from Prague we arrived in Kraków. Another lovely medieval town with a main square, pretty buildings and beautiful churches and very nice and friendly people.
First stop was the university buildings area. That’s a statue of Copernicus and the interior of the Noworolski Cafe which has been in Main Square for many decades. We had our coffee outside and enjoyed people watching.
The main square itself is huge. It has a tower which is all that is left of the old town hall, a beautiful huge building called Cloth hall which has cafes and restaurants at its base and an art gallery upstairs and also another spectacular church – St Mary’s Basilica. Another claim to fame is that this is the town that Pope John Paul II came from and you feel his presence all around
Then we trekked up to Warwel Castle. Another massive complex and worth the walk – we did 23000 steps on this day!
We ended the day with a food tour – 14 different dishes from Bigos to perogies to vodka to stuffed cabbages (my fave). It was excellent – provided by Delicious Poland – give it a go if you visit.