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Monday, 29 September 2014

The Complete Maus By Art Spiegelman

Dearest hearts,

Remember how a while back I was telling you about this wonderful comic book I read? I was telling you back then about Marzi, written by Marzena Sowa. She was recalling her childhood from the communistic Poland. Today I wanted to share with you yet another comic book close to my heart, due to the subject it is touching. I have always loved reading history books and from everything the Second World War was the most interesting part for me... it could be subconsiously the reason I decided to give Krakow a change and stay here :) The book that I wish to tell you about today is named MAUS - The Complete Maus By Art Spiegelman to be more precise (maus = mouse in German language - the jews are portrait in the comic book always as mice.
Combined for the first time in 2003, The Complete Works include Maus I: A Survivor's Tale and Maus II - the complete story of Vladek Spiegelman and his wife, living and surviving in Hitler's Europe. By addressing the horror of the Holocaust through cartoons, the author captures the everyday reality of fear and is able to explore the guilt, relief and extraordinary sensation of survival - and how the children of survivors are in their own way affected by the trials of their parents. A contemporary classic of immeasurable significance.
The comic book is dark and serious but very touching. Known worldwide it has achieved the wonderful feat of being the only comic book awarded with the Pulitzer Prize in 1992!  FYI: The Pulitzer Prize is a U.S. award for achievements in newspaper and online journalism, literature and musical composition. It was established by Hungarian-American publisher Joseph Pulitzer and is administered by Columbia University in New York City. According to the administrators of the Pulitzer Prize the correct pronunciation of the name should sound like the verb pull, as in "Pull it, sir". The Pulitzer Committee frankly stated they found the work difficult to classify. "Maus" remains the only comic strip to be so honored.
Reading the book is an experience in itself. It transposes you into Art's place and makes you understand the relationship he has with his father. This is a story about survival and love. Love inside a family, the kind of love that makes you never to let go. You would never let go of your family if you love them. Art shows his guilt - that probably was rooted deep and stayed with him all his life... - when it come to the relationship with his father. Also, I believe it takes a great deal of courage to face the world and show everyone how ones relationships truly were. We always have the dendency to hide and to lie that we are ok, we are fine, when in fact we have deep holes inside of us... that hurt!
I loved how in  the second part, the one about New York and about the period after the war, we can actually see a picture of Art's father. It is a warm and full image of a young man that although he has faced the horrors of war, still has the strenght and the positivism to look forward. I loved Art's father, I loved Vladek, and they way he always choose to see the bright side of life. He was cautios and he was always thinking of the future and the future of the ones he loved. 
The book is not only about the extremely hurtful experience of living in Poland during the time when jews were persecuted but it also extends to the future. We see Vladek being marked by the experiences he has been through... he collects thing, scraps and odd bits and ends and feels the need to attach himself more to objects. He fears that history will repeat itself. That is why he even shows Art how he would build a safe place, just in case he will need it one day. He shows him how to create fake walls and ilusions and teaches him the tips and tricks on getting along with the guards and stealing trades. As Vladek said... it is always good to know how to do a bit of everything. The events that Vladek has been through not only affect his parents and himself but also the generations after. Art was born in the Sweden and lives in the States, yet he feels the influence still. 
Art Spiegelman uses animals to represent different races and nationalities. It's a very effective metaphor. Jews are drawn as mice, which reflects back to the anti-Semitic stereotype of Jews being subhuman rats. Germans are cats; they prey on Jewish mice. Americans are dogs, they fight the German cats. The French are frogs. The Polish are pigs; Nazis considered the Polish people to be pigs. Jewish Mice sometimes pretend to be Polish pigs to hide from the German Cats. They do this by wearing pigs masks. 
I recommend reading this comic book with all my heart. If you are a fan of history and if you are not, if you are a fan of comic books and if you are not. Surely this book will touch you and make you think of the horrors passed and the power that people truly have inside themselves. For me this book is also about courage, endurance and love. Let me know what you think of it as soon as you finish it ;) I would love to hear your opinions!

Yours truly,
The LadyBug Who Is A Fan Of History/Comic Books 
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Friday, 26 September 2014

Wieliczka - The Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland

My dearest friends,

**The opinions in this post are my own 100%. Nobody told me what I should or should not write. I have always written from my heart! Discover Cracow invited me on this tour free of charge. In exchange, as a lovely lass, I am offering them my feedback as a happy customer. I must admit this is a new experience for me but I loved it and I would do it again anytime!**

A day or two ago I was telling how Discover Cracow began a collaboration with your very on Twisted Red LadyBug. We first went to Auschwitz I and II on Saturday 20th. A day after I had the pleasure of taking my lovely husband to the Salt Mines. Have you ever heard about Wieliczka? The Wieliczka Salt Mine is located in the town with the same name, very close to Krakow - make it maximum 30 minutes by car. The mine build there produced salt until 2007 and is one of the oldest salt mines still in operation.
There are about 1.2 million people who visit the mines annually. The Wieliczka salt mine reaches a depth of 327 metres (1,073 ft) and is over 287 kilometres (178 mi) long. We had the guided tour inside the mine done by a wonderful lady - her name was Ewa - whom we were informed that she was a professional guide who was also a minor!
Inside the mine there are machines that take your picture and you can send it to yourself via email!
The Entrance To The Salt Mine
UNESCO Patrimonium
As I said, getting to Wieliczka does not take long. We started at 9:10 am from the city center and by 9:40 we were already in the bus station, taking off and heading to the Salt Mine. I must tell you that you need to be prepared for the 378 stairs you will have to go down in order to reach the first level. That would be aproximately 64 meters down. The tour, in total, takes up to 2 hours and a half and by the end, one will be 135 meters under ground.
Princess Kinga
Make sure that you pack some warm clothes in your backpack/bag. The temperature inside the Salt Mine is constant and it is between 14 and 16 degrees Celsius - no matter the season and time of day. So if you are planning on coming in spring and summer and you are in shorts and a tee, I bet you will freeze of, so be careful about that!
Also, if you are planning on having the camera with you and taking pictures everywhere, make sure you buy the 10 zloty extra ticket pass for the audio/video. You can also purchase it inside, when you will reach the St. Kinga Chapel. Trust me, sometimes if I miss certain places, I like to look at the pictures, and would you like to tell your family and friends that you have none, just because u did not have the extra ticket? Also, if you buy it inside, make sure you have change as you cannot pay with your card.
The Wieliczka mine is often referred to as "The Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland." In 1978 it was placed on the original UNESCO list of the World Heritage Sites. Even the crystals of the chandeliers are made from rock salt that has been dissolved and reconstituted to achieve a clear, glass-like appearance. It also houses a private rehabilitation and wellness complex.
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. Inside the mine, there is a special chamber where you can see Princess Kinga sculpted out of salt :)
Notable visitors to this site have included Nicolaus Copernicus, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Alexander von Humboldt, Fryderyk Chopin, Dmitri Mendeleyev, Bolesław Prus, Ignacy Paderewski, Robert Baden-Powell, Jacob Bronowski (who filmed segments of The Ascent of Man in the mine), Karol Wojtyła (later, Pope John Paul II), former U.S. President Bill Clinton, and many others.
 A 3-kilometer (1.9-mile) tour features corridors, chapels, statues, and underground lake, 135 metres (443 ft) underground. An elevator returns visitors to the surface; the elevator holds 36 persons (nine per car) and takes some 30 seconds to make the trip. If you are claustrofobic, try to somehow reason with the tourguide and tell him/her about it.
When I say that 9 people per car go in the elevator, I must admit that one can barely drop a needle in the car. You try to move as less as you can and try to suck all the air out of you... you somehow feel like sardines packed in a tin box... and this actually made me think of Auschwitz. It might be also due to the fact that the day before I did go to Auschwitz... but it made me think of people in the standing cells, 4 in a box that barely one person would fit in...
The tour actually consists - as the tour guide also said - of less than 5% of the Salt Mine. Wieliczka Salt Mine consists of 2,000 excavated chambers.
Along the way there are fascinating sculptures made out of salt. Due to the corrosive nature of the salt and the humidity levels which have to be monitored, when the Salt Mine is busy some of the chapels are not visitable due to the sheer number of people. Breathing raises the humidity and things start to melt down. If you look closely at some statues, that is very visible.
In the Josefa Pilsudskiego, a couple of dozens years ago, people could actually have a bot tour in the underground lakes, but as now they have a yearly number of visitors of 1.2 that is totally impossible. But I believe that must have been very original and romantic :) Especially if you would have done it with your significant other :)
The best for people whom would like to have a tour and learn more about the mine is to actually buy a tour. The queues for the individual users are quite huge and people need to wait until a certain number is reached to get a guide from the Salt Mine. It is even harder when you are an English speaker, as there are a lot of Polish visitors.
At the end, there is a brand new chamber, well at least for me... The first time I visited Wieliczka was 3 years ago. About the same time I actually visited Auschwitz. I can see the changes and it was lovely seeing this new room. It was a visual and audio room, with a 3D animation done on the salt wall of the room. I loved the room as I could visualize a huge ball being held there. The floors are perfect for it! :) and smooth and shiny... delightful!
Another lovely addition to the Salt Mine are the photo-machines placed in 2 rooms - as far as I could observe, as they were pretty well hidden ;) All you have to do it accept the regulation, take the photo and input your email. Autumatically and immediately an email will reach the inbox selected and you will have the picture there. I think that is brilliant as couples don't usually have the chance to take a picture together :)
Reaching The End Of The Tour
This is where one of the machines is located - see one of the first pictures of the post to see how the picture would look like
The location is also very popular and posh nowadays. People can have weddings there. It gets expensive and it has high standards but hey! One does the wedding for a lifetime, so why not? The menu, in case you are interested, is over 500 zloty per head. There is a lovely cafeneria/self-service place where you can grab something to eat. I can't tell if the food is good but it did smell good ;) We had only 15 min break and I am sorry, I am not a fast eater...
The Exit, That Leads To The Corridor/Stairs To The Elevator Shaft
I would like to thank Discover Cracow one more time for this opportunity. It was lovely collaborating with them and if ever someone would ask me of a tour guide for Auschwitz or for Wieliczka for sure I would point them out to the City Center, on Jana street number 2, at the blue & white team. The tour guides are nice and they smile a lot, they are helpful and they answer to any questions you may have.
And I tell you, if you would ever be near Krakow, you need to take a few hours off and to to Wieliczka. It does wonders on your mood and miracles on your lungs ;)

** Sponsored post but written from the heart, without any external influences**

Yours truly,
A LadyBug That Loves Salt Mines
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