Monday, May 16
Being in Europe is fab, but for a good portion of today, my body was in Poland, but my heart was in Florida. Space Shuttle Endeavour lifted off on its final mission and we were supposed to be there, but a launch delay combined with our travel plans made that impossible. We did however manage to watch the launch in HD video, albeit on an iPod in a WiFi zone, in a salt mine over a hundred meters below the earth’s surface having just finished touring the Wieliczka Salt Mine just outside of Krakow. The mine produced salt from the 13th century until 1996 and features an incredible labyrinth of chambers with some large enough to fly a hot air balloon in, but the big draw here is the collection of sculptures created by talented miners, in rock salt. The bas-relief wall carvings are fantastic, but very difficult to photograph. Except for some rather focused area lighting, the mine is of course dark and a photo flash pretty much washes out any contrast and the sculpting details. Ergo, the pictures suck.
From the bus returning us from Wieliczka, we connected with a tram to take us to Nova Huta, a communist era “planned community” built beginning in 1949. Today, the area is suppose to be far more inviting than it was in the years before the dissolve of the Soviet Union, but it certainly still retains a lot of its Stalin-era drabness. We did find a delightful little restaurant that maintained a chunk of its pre-solidarity “warmth” and I finally got my stuffed cabbage rolls.
Tomorrow it’s off to the Czech Republic with stops at Auschwitz and Birkenau.