Wednesday 31 August 2016

A Long Weekend In Poland - Part 2

Day 2 – Auschwitz and The Salt Mines

Today, we had chosen to visit two of the main tourist destinations of the area around Krakow – the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, and the Salt Mines at Wieliczka.

After studying WWII in history class and reading Anne Frank’s Diary, Sam had decided she wanted to visit Auschwitz.

Commemoration to those countries, people and organisations who
contributed to and support the work of the Auschwitz-Birkenau
Memorial and Museum

In order to make best use of our limited time, we chose to book an organised trip taking in both destinations in one day with timed visits, something that worked out well as the weekend’s Assumption Day public holiday meant the crowds were out in force!

We entered the museum via the infamous
"Arbeit Macht Frei" gate ....

.... past blocks that once housed the detainees .... 

.... and which now contain the exhibitions

What can I say about Auschwitz? I’ll be honest with you: I have not, and never will have, the vocabulary to put into words how it makes me feel.

So many people ....

.... passed this way ....

.... no escape

The sheer numbers involved are mind-boggling, with upward of 1.3 million people believed to have been gassed, tortured, executed or starved to death between the camp’s establishment in June 1940 and its liberation in January 1945, and the human suffering evidenced here is indescribable.

The gateway to the Auschwitz II - Birkenau may be familiar to
those who have seen the film Schindler's list ....

.... where wagons like this transported up to 80 prisoners at a time
in suffocating conditions ....

.... to the camp, which at its peak comprised around
300 blocks across 140 hectares ,,,, 

.... and where unimaginable numbers were murdered in Crematoria
like this now-collapsed example

Suffice it to say, the museum and memorial should stand forever as a reminder of what man is capable of doing to man if given the opportunity, and why it should never be allowed to happen again.  

If you want to find out more, please see the official website:

After an interesting but solemn morning, the afternoon’s visit to Wieliczka was a more light-hearted experience. We started with a wander around the village, then took a guided trip of the Salt Mines.

At Wieliczka, we met the locals in the main square ....

.... relaxed a while in Tellytubby land ....

.... before descending into the bowels of the earth

In total, the mines occupy nine levels and reach a depth of around 327m. It is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which includes sites such as Stonehenge, the Ironbridge Gorge and the Derwent Valley in the UK.

Miners often spent their spare time carving statues from
the rock salt, and some beautiful images remain such as 
those of famous scientist Nicolaj Copernicus ....

.... and figures from Polish legend.

All in all, around 1.2 million people visit the salt mines every year, but the tour covers less than 1% of the total tunnel length of almost 300km!

The tour shows how miners through the ages ....

.... helped by horses that spent almost their entire life underground ....

.... and even gnomes, dug the precious salt from the ground

By the time we had reached the end of the tour, we had reached 136m below ground and descended over 800 steps.

The beautiful Chapel of St Kinga is a fully-operational church in
one of the excavated galleries, 100 metres underground ....

.... where the chandeliers ....

.... reproduced works of art ....

....  and even Popes are carved from the
raw rock salt ....

.... and we can sit like royalty amidst the titanic figures of this rocky Valhalla

That evening, we again headed to the main square for dinner, followed by a wander out towards the Barbican and Florian’s Gate. 

Evening at the pierogi festival

Tom in the frame with artist Jan Matejko

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