This is another installment of journeys I have taken that have not been nature oriented; nevertheless they were fascinating experiences:
WIELICZKA SALT MINES – KRAKOW, POLAND
Krakow was relatively unscathed during World War II and was a much-needed diversion during my trip through Bohemian Europe that included sites of unspeakable atrocities like Auschwitz and Warsaw. After viewing the 50 meter high Wawel Castle on the edge of town, which is considered Poland’s version of Buckingham Palace, we plunged into the depths – 135 meters to be exact. To get there we had to squeeze into one of three multi platform gated elevator cars – not a favorite place to be for someone who is VERY claustrophobic, but I believe that one must push to get outside of one’s comfort zones to fully experience what life has to offer. After being literally squished into the elevator car- which is gated all around – but NO WALLS – we dropped so quickly (17 seconds) that I thought for a moment I was back on a Coney Island Steeplechase ride. The mine has nine floors and shafts, some dating back to medieval times. You must travel through the shafts with a guide as it is very easy to get lost in the dimly lit winding paths – and it is pretty chilly – 45 degrees F.
The sites beyond the mining area were truly spooky – carved statues, chandeliers made completely of crystalized salt- like something out of a horror movie – there is even a huge chapel and ballroom hewn and decorated with salt for weddings and concerts – there is a separate large elevator for catering these events.
The space is breathtaking and also includes underground lakes filled with crystal clear but green hued salt water
Speaking of breathtaking, the Wieliczka Salt Mine offers spa services in these underground mining chambers with the use of a unique micro-climate: an air free of pollution and allergens, rich in micronutrients, with a constant temperature, high humidity, and free from harmful radiation. It is called “subterranotherapy” and is supposed to be quite beneficial to patients suffering from asthma and allergies affecting the respiratory tract.
Seeing only a tiny portion of this mine – it goes down to 327 meters – took nearly three hours – fortunately all downhill . The trip back up on the lift took only 45 seconds- almost quick enough to get the bends.
VIGELAND SCULPTURE PARK – OSLO, NORWAY
One of the most thrilling perks of my career in television advertising was the opportunity to attend the Olympic Games, as two of the clients, rCoca-Cola and McDonald’s were major sponsors. In 1994 the Winter Games were held in Lillehammer, Norway. For those who might not remember, these Games had unforgettable moments- most particularly the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan knee attack drama. I had fantastic seats for the free final skate – row two- and when Ms Harding tearfully stopped mid-performance to show the judges that her skate lace had ripped – her raised leg was placed right on the railing in front of my seat. I was so mesmerized by this unprecedented maneuver that I forgot to take a picture – sigh.
But I digress- a side trip on a Sunday before leaving Norway brought us to Vigeland Park in Oslo. To set the scene, I am with my 14-year-old daughter and my Coke client – who is also a good friend. We had been told that this park contained “very interesting” statues. The artist, Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland spent his lifetime on his artistic obsession and dedication to the human form. In theory, the sculptures range in topic from representation of humans in everyday situations, such as walking, sitting, holding hands, to highly abstract works. “The Monolith” is the focal point of the park. It is a 14.12-meter high, highly symbolic sculpture consisting of 121 intertwined human figures, meant to represent the human desire to reach out to the divine. The carving of this monolith took over 14 years and involved work by the artist himself as well as 3 other stone carvers.
I said in theory, for when faced with so many larger than life but realistically intertwined human bodies we quickly began to feel that we were in the middle of a Kama Sutra challenge – remember I am with my teenage daughter. Add to that the fact that the wind-chill factor was 60 degrees below zero so attempts to take pictures had to be consummated quickly (sorry couldn’t resist the double entendre). We quickly devolved into hysterical laughter- and my daughter and client amused themselves further by sliding down ice hills. We stopped laughing abrupty when we realized that on Sunday there was little likliehood of finding a taxi to get us back to the hotel – gulp- but luckily another group of tourists came along and gave us a lift.
Here are some pictures of the more “G” rated sculptures showing then many faces of humanity: