Sunday, 20 December 2015

Discovering the new land - Solilandia

It's almost Christmas. We're probably all getting busy with Christmas preparations. It's the same with us.

It's warm and cloudy outside. Too warm for December. Over 10 Celsius degrees. Feels more like an early spring than winter ;) We don't expect snow in the near future, either. Which is a shame, cause who doesn't dream "of a white Christmas".

But there's nothing we can do about that. Sadly.

Today, we're not going to be concerned about the weather conditions outside. We will not care if it's raining, snowing or unbearably hot (which it actually was). We're going to direct our steps "a few" metres below the ground level. We're going to visit a salt mine.

Ever since we visited the salt mine in Berchtesgaden in 2012, which we were disappointed with, I've been meaning to visit our Polish salt mine. I heard a lot of good stories about it, a lot of praises, so I wanted to check it out for myself. Since we live at the seaside, meaning the north of the country, and all the important mines are in the south, that meant a huge trip for us. Not a one-day getaway.

But since we were already in the south visiting Pieniny mountains, we could also visit the famous Wieliczka Salt Mine. Right? Right!

I browsed the mine's webpage to look for different options of sightseeing. I wanted the tour to be short enough not to get the kids too bored, but long enough to show us as much of the mine's beauty as possible. And then I came across a perfect tour for us. A special tour for families - Discovering Solilandia. I chose the date and the preferred time and bought the tickets online. It turned out to be a great choice when we saw the long queues. But, as far as I remember, there was no other option for this particular tour anyway.

We took long trousers and some long sleeves, just in case. Everywhere I checked I could ready that it's around 12-13 degrees down there. However, since it was so hot outside, it was around 18-19 degrees in the mine when we visited.

Finally, our guide came to us and immediately started talking with the kids. He took them all to the front and we started going down the stairs. Right until we reached... well, maybe not rock bottom, but it was hundreds of steps to go ;)

In order to enter the mysterious land of Solilandia (Land of salt - to translate the name into English and take off a bit of magic ;)), everyone had to place their hand on a handprint in the wall. And ever since then, the adventure began.

The kids had to look for clues, maps, various objects. Once they found a list of all things they have to find or do (it was the first thing to find), the guide got them acknowledged to all the creatures living in Solilandia. Which was quite a few. We couldn't remember it all. Apart from telling the kids all about Solilandia, the guide was also telling them the story of how the mine was created (Saint Kinga yet again!), what they could see in various parts of the mine, how the miners used to work, what are mine dogs and when the horses stopped being used for mine works. It was all interesting also for adults.

We saw dragons, dragon eggs, we could try some works that the miners were doing, we saw some salt dwarfs (these were not regular dwarfs, but the citizens of Solilandia). Finally, we got to the most famous chapel. I've seen many pictures of it, but I could not imagine it was that huge! You can get married there, if you're looking for a unique place to do that. And, yes, there's also a restaurant close-by (in the mine, next to the chapel) where you can have your wedding reception. Plus, you can spend the night there as well. All in one place :) Anyway, I couldn't believe my eyes. And it was all so beautiful! And made of salt. After all, we're in a salt mine.

Finally, on our way, we saw an old guy in strange robes. Someone in between Gandalf and Dumbledore. That was the ruler of Solilandia. He asked the kids if they found all the things they were supposed to find. Then he read them a passage from a book titled: From a diary of a Wieliczka dwarf. Finally, it was time to get back to the legend about the creation of this particular mine. Do you know it? Do you want to find out? Here it is (after Wikipedia):

There is a legend about Princess Kinga, associated with the Wieliczka mine. The Hungarian noblewoman was about to be married to Bolesław V the Chaste, the Prince of Kraków. As part of her dowry, she asked her father for a lump of salt, since salt was prizeworthy in Poland. Her father King Béla took her to a salt mine in Máramaros. She threw her engagement ring from Bolesław in one of the shafts before leaving for Poland. On arriving in Kraków, she asked the miners to dig a deep pit until they come upon a rock. The people found a lump of salt in there and when they split it in two, discovered the princess's ring. Kinga had thus become the patron saint of salt miners in and around the Polish capital.

So from all the girls, the old guy chose one and dressed her as Kinga. Then he asked for two strong volunteers. Artur was chosen one of them. They had to dig in a pit to find... something. Artur was the one to find it. It was Kinga's ring (of course) So he had to go on one knee and put the ring on Kinga's finger (as if my little boy was proposing!).

The whole adventure was a lot of fun. Artur got so interested in the mine, that once we got back home, we bought all the books about Solipeople, dwarfs of Wieliczka salt mine. We have already read them all twice (there are three big ones and one small one (short one, though big in size) for smaller kids. About one of the dragons).

We got back to our hotel. Slowly. Without any rush. We knew it was our last day of the trip. Early, very early next morning we got into our car and drove back home. Our home. Which we also love a lot :)

The handprint on the wall

All the various creatures living in Solilandia
Saint Kinga receiving her ring

The famous chapel

Arturek with our dwarf ;)

The old guy ;)

First list of world heritage (two places from Poland here!)

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