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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Poland, Part 3: On Statues Made From Salt and Food Without Any

A cold wind is blowing, yet my body is warm, haing already walked for over two hours that day. The air is fresh and I am breathing well, my sinuses open and clear. Yet, I am 135m below the Earth's surface. Welcome to the Wieliczka Salt Mines.

Worked on for around 900 years, there is over 200km of passage and over 2,000 caverns in this underground labyrinth. I was unsure about going since its pretty pricey (compared to other museums in Poland, you also have to pay en extra 10zlotys/ 2.50e for a camera permit if you want to take photo) and also its not so clear how to get there, yet it was worth it in the end. There was plenty to see, and the tour guide spoke English well and she had a great sense of humour so we laughed a lot.

With large statues of saints, kings, and philosophers carved into solid salt crystal, complete with a display of coloured lights and Chopin playing int he background, this was a completely new experience for me.
The salt mine is actually so huge that you may also find an entire church underground, complete with a statue of Pope John Paul II which they put there after he visited the place. If anyone is looking for something unique for your wedding, you can also book your ceremony there, they even have several large halls (complete with salt crystal chandeliers) which would easily fit a reception of 200 people.

We saw also several waxworks displays, gigantic underground caverns several storeys high, and stables where they kept horses underground (the guide told us that once they were there, they never saw daylight again until their deaths). The most beautiful thing I experienced was being in a large cavern which, at first, was completely pitch-black. In the darkness, you start to realise a soft sound, that of water falling. Music starts playing, and lights come on slowly, small yellow and purple and green rays, casting beautiful rainbows over a vast salt lake, which glittered and sparkled as the light danced over it...and the lights were programmed with the timing of the music, so when there was a musical climax, the lights themselves burst into joy and the entire cavern was lit up, and we could see the stone ceiling, though it was high up, glittered too, encrusted with crystals and stalacites.

Definitely worth it. Go there if you're in Poland. Nuff said.

There are many more things to do in Poland (particularly Kraków), for example visit the streets of the old town, Sukiennice (a Renaissance icon, see photo)...but unfortunately, you cannot fit in everything! The last thing I would like to write about: the gastronomic Polish experience...

Polish food is a strange, yet delightful phenomenon. Something which fascinated me was the presence of milk bars, which made me think of the film 'A Clockwork Orange'. Known as 'Bar Mleczny', these little curiosities are remnant from when Poland was a Communist state, serving as a way to provide cheap yet nourishing food to the working population.

Typical Polish food includes pierogi, which are are dumplings made from unleavened dough and filled with just about everything - from spinach, to chicken, to apples and ricotta cheese. My dear friend took me (along with the Australian and another friend I made along the way, photojournalist from Mexico) to a typical Polish restaurant with home-made pierogis which had more than 200 different types of pierogi! They were pretty good, especially the spniach ones, and for dessert I tried pancakes stuffed wih ricotta, and served with some kind of vanilla was actually kind of disgusting! The pancake was soaked in oil and cheese had a really strange texture, I was glad I only order half a portion! (yes it is possible to do that in Poland).

The best thing I ate in Poland was fried sheep cheese, served with mashed potatoes and colesaw, and cranberry jam... strange, but delicious! And filling :) Interesting drinks I had was this Yerba Mate tea, which gave us a kick when we were in the mountains, and this light brown beverage served in a glass bottle called Kvass, which translates as 'bread acid', made from fermented bread. The best thing I drank however, and this should interest my German audience, was.. HOT BEER. (it's like Glühwein but they use beer instead of wine!). Basically you get a typical lager beer, add a little sweetened ginger syrup, spices like cinnmon, cloves, and orange rind, and heat it up - you are instantly warmed up even just by the smell! Oh man it was soooo tasty!!

Anyways, dear readers - I hope you all enjoyed Poland :) Tune in next week - where you'll hear about floating Christmas trees, an opera house made from glass, and a street full of sex shops rivalling the Red Light District,

my first official Couchsurfing experience in Hamburg, coming to a blog near you.

Bis dann ;-)

(Blog dedicated with special thanks to my dear friends Justyna and Łukasz, who hosted me during my stay in Poland and made all this possible - missing you both very much!)

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