Tag Archives: Jules Verne

Journey To The Centre Of The Earth

It wasn’t all that long ago, certainly within my lifetime, that people were sent to carry out hard labour in salt mines as a punishment. They probably still are. The Soviets especially liked compelling people to go deep underground (usually in Siberia) to mine the precious commodity but today things have changed and we were actually paying for the privilege of dropping down towards the centre of the earth.

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Iceland – The Golden Circle, Mud, Geysers, Ice and Waterfalls

Eventually we reached Geysir in the Haukadalur valley, which is the oldest known geyser and one of the world’s most impressive examples of the natural phenomenon. I had seen geysers before at Yellowstone National Park in the USA but these here were even more impressive. We followed the path past the bubbling mud pots and the belching steam vents and joined a bus tour party who had an entertaining and informative guide.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: (Golden) Circle

Iceland Sunrise

Golden Circle – Iceland

Iceland LandscapeIceland Car Hire Volcano Damage InsuranceGeyser Iceland

On the subject of Iceland and Circles, a few days ago I posted a circle challenge:

The answer was the interior clock faces at the top of the tower of the Hallgrímskirkja Cathedral in Reykjavik, Iceland.

They are more impressive from the inside than from the outside…

Lief Ericson Reyjkavik Iceland

Weekly Photo Challenge: Careful

Iceland Hot Geysir

There were about thirty other mud pots and water pools and it was a good job that we had the benefit of the tour guide because he was giving sound advice on temperatures and what you could comfortably touch and what you couldn’t because some of the pools contained boiling water that would strip flesh from fingers and would have involved an unplanned  trip to the infirmary.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Ephemeral, The Geysers of Iceland

Geyser Iceland

Luckily the nearby geyser Strokkur erupts much more regularly every five minutes or so to heights of up to twenty metres (that’s the equivalent of about five London double decker buses).  Crowds of people were gathered expectantly around the glassy pool waiting for the translucent blue water bubble to foam and then dramatically break through the surface forcing many gallons of boiling water and hissing steam into the air.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Signs

Iceland Geyser Warning

There were about thirty other mud pots and water pools and it was a good job that we had the benefit of the advice of the previous tour guide because he had provided warnings on temperatures and what you could comfortably touch and what you couldn’t because some of the pools contained boiling water that would strip flesh from fingers as though putting an injudicious hand into a pool of piranha fish and would have surely involved an unplanned trip to the infirmary.

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Iceland Geyser statistics

Iceland, The Golden Circle and the Geysers

Iceland Postcard

“The problem with driving around Iceland is that you’re basically confronted by a new soul-enriching, breath-taking, life-affirming natural sight every five goddamn minutes. It’s totally exhausting.” – Stephen Markley – ‘Tales of Iceland’

Today we planned to drive one half of the Golden Circle to see the hot water geysers at the rather unimaginatively named Geysir and then the waterfalls at Gullfoss.  We were hoping for improved weather but after breakfast and as we left the hotel we were to be disappointed because there was grey hanging cloud and a slight dampness in the air.

 The road out of Reykjavik took us eastwards and as we drove we began to appreciate fully the landscape and as the sun began to make a jagged appearance through broken clouds we stopped for a while to enjoy the wide open spaciousness of the countryside.

Living in a crowded country it is nice to visit places where there is no one else about and there was a real sense of solitude and isolation and this was is surprising really when you consider that Iceland only has a population of slightly over three hundred thousand people and that population density is the lowest in Europe at less than three people per square kilometre. That is about a hundred times less than the United Kingdom at two hundred and forty-four people per square kilometre and a lot less crowded than the most congested country, which is Monaco, at sixteen thousand four hundred people per square kilometre which probably explains why it is difficult to get a sun bed on the beach or a sensible restaurant reservation there.

Further along the route we came across some Icelandic ponies that were obligingly posing for visitor photographs and a bit of petting.  The ponies are unique to this country with laws that prevent the importation of any other equine breeds that might compromise the pedigree and after the ponies we stopped for magnificent views of the River Sog with the sun hugging the horizon and shooting teasing shafts of temporary brightness through the heavy clouds. What little sunshine there was, we welcomed because it transformed the khaki scrub into flowing golden meadows and a symphony of winter colours stretching across vast open fields to magnificent snow capped glaciers beyond. 

Iceland Sunrise

The drive to Geysir was much further than I remembered from a previous visit but along the way there were a number of viewing points and we might have stopped to see an old volcanic blow hole and according to the guide book now filled with turquoise blue water and an impressive waterfall with surging white water rushing over black rocks and creating a hanging spray of misty water, but as we drew into the car park Kim spotted a 200 krona entrance fee, declared it not worth the money and dissuaded everyone else from the viewing opportunity.  Rather selfishly I thought but didn’t really mind because I had seen it before.

Everywhere there was evidence of volcanic and geothermal activity with a strong smell of sulphur hanging in the air like heavy Victorian parlour curtains  and a landscape of cracked and broken rocks and deep fissures like open earth wounds that made the place seem precarious and exciting.  

Iceland, I thought, is a bit like Wales, but with attitude!

Finally, after I had nearly taken off the bottom of the car driving over the most vicious speed hump that I have ever encountered,  we reached Geysir in the Haukadalur valley, which is the oldest known geyser and one of the world’s most impressive examples of the phenomenon.

Geysir is a thermal park atop a vast bubbling cauldron of geothermal activity. Hot and cold springs, hissing fumaroles and sulphurous mud pots of unusual colours and temperatures decorate the surface.

I had seen geysers before at Yellowstone National Park in the USA  and these here were every bit as entertaining and impressive.  We followed the path past the mysterious bubbling mud pots and the threatening steam vents and I was able to act as guide because last time here  we tagged along with a bus tour party who had an entertaining and informative guide.   

Iceland Geyser statistics

The original great Geyser erupts only infrequently now so you could be a long time hanging around waiting for a show.  Apparently people used to encourage it to blow by pouring soap powder into the borehole as this was a generally reliable way of encouraging it to perform but eventually this stopped working because the residue of the soap clogged up the underground vents rather like an automatic washing machine that hasn’t been rinsed through.  Geologists now believe that it requires a dramatic event such as an earthquake to set it off again.

Luckily the nearby geyser Strokkur erupts much more regularly every five minutes or so to heights of up to twenty metres (that’s the equivalent of about five London double decker buses).  Crowds of people were gathered expectantly around the glassy pool waiting for the translucent blue water bubble to foam and then dramatically break through the surface forcing many gallons of boiling water and hissing steam into the air.

There were about thirty other mud pots and water pools and it was a good job that we had the benefit of the advice of the previous tour guide because he had provided warnings on temperatures and what you could comfortably touch and what you couldn’t because some of the pools contained boiling water that would strip flesh from fingers as though putting an injudicious hand into a pool of piranha fish and would have surely  involved an unplanned trip to the infirmary. 

After we had watched the geyser erupt a few more times we went into the nearby shop but left again almost immediately on account of the silly prices and because the coffee was served in cardboard cups rather than porcelain mugs (don’t ask me why)  and continued our journey towards Gullfoss and the falls.

Strockur Geysir Iceland Geysir Golden Circle

Weekly Photo Challenge: Sun

Now we began to appreciate fully the landscape and as the sun began to appear through broken clouds we stopped for a while to enjoy the spaciousness of the countryside.  First we found some Icelandic ponies that are unique to this country and then stopped for magnificent views of the River Sog with the sun hugging the horizon and shooting shafts of brightness through the heavy clouds.

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Krakow, Wieliczka Salt Mine

Going Underground at Wieliczka

“Wherever he saw a hole he always wanted to know the depth of it. To him this was important.” –  Jules Verne –  ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’

It wasn’t all that long ago, certainly within my lifetime, that people were sent to carry out hard labour in salt mines as a punishment.  They probably still are.  The Soviets especially liked compelling people to go deep underground (usually in Siberia) to mine the precious commodity but today things have changed and we were actually paying for the privilege of dropping down towards the centre of the earth.

The hotel clerk tried to persuade me to book a personal taxi tour but at forty zlotys more each (£10) this seemed an unnecessary expense so I booked the regular tour instead.  This meant that to begin with there was a couple of shuttle bus journeys to reach the final rendezvous point across the river Vistula on the western side of the town where we separated into two groups, one for the Nazi concentration camp tour to Auschwitz and the other to the salt mines just a fifteen minute ride away on the outskirts of the city.

It was still rather overcast as we drove the short distance but it was much warmer today and by the time  we arrived at the Wieliczka Salt Mine the sun was beginning to compete with the milky clouds  and we left the bus and walked to the entrance to meet our guide for the tour.

We were soon to be swallowed up into an underground labyrinth of tunnels so the weather was actually rather irrelevant.

The mine is in the suburb town of Wieliczka that is now part of the greater Krakow metropolitan area and since the thirteenth century has continuously produced high quality table salt.

It has been one of the world’s oldest operating  mines producing salt for seven hundred years until commercial mining was discontinued in 1996 due to low prices and flooding problems, followed by formal closure in 2007.  It now produces just sixty tonnes of salt a day which sounds rather a lot but this is only a by-product of routine maintenance operations.

The largest underground salt mine in the World is in Goderich in Ontario Canada which produces twenty-five thousand tonnes of salt every day, which might sound like an awful lot but is only about 5% of Worldwide production!  That is a lot of salt!

Journey to the Centre of the Earth…

 

Today the mine is a tourist attraction and about one million, two hundred thousand people visit every year.  This might seem like a strange sort of place to visit but the attraction is a collection of statues and an entire cathedral that have been carved out of the rock salt by the miners over the years – presumably during their tea breaks.

So impressive are the sculptures that in 1978 the Wieliczka salt mine was placed on the original UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

After we were assigned an English speaking guide who welcomed us on the tour and then the visit began with a long descent down a vertical shaft which meant negotiating over three hundred vertiginous wooden steps that zigzagged past fifty-four platforms down to the first level.  From here we were about to enter a maze of tunnels and interconnecting chambers that are over two hundred miles long and probably puzzling enough to confuse even the Minotaur of Greek legend.

The Underground Pope and a Cathedral…

 wieliczka salt mine

We walked through disused and exhausted chambers, passing by whole forests of timber props and retaining walls and through heavy wooden doors to reach the first of the sights, the Copernicus Chamber, where for those of us who were expecting statues similar to white marble we were disappointed by the rather lack-luster grey of the rock salt figure and the guide explained that this was due to clay impurities and other contamination in the rock.

Down in the mine we walked for over two miles through a succession of chambers, carved chapels and exhibits that explained the history and the operation.   The route took us to a depth of three hundred and twenty-seven metres and down a precise total of eight hundred steps.  Almost at the bottom was the star of the show where an entire cathedral complete with a statue of the Polish Pope, John Paul II, had been craved into one of the largest caverns where there was a light show accompanied by a rendition of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, which to all of us seemed to be a rather strange choice of music.

After that there were a few remaining tunnels and chambers and the inevitable gift shops and then thankfully a lift to take us back to the surface, which was preferable of course to having to climb back up the eight hundred steps.

Wieliczka – Discover The Treasure…

Wieliczka Salt Mine advert

Back on the surface of the earth the sky was clearing nicely now and blue patches were rapidly replacing the unwelcome clouds and by the time the coach dropped us off on the edge of the old city centre the sun was shining and the temperature was rising nicely.

In the square we selected a restaurant for lunch based on the contents of the menu board outside but then managed to find ourselves in the wrong place.  We really wanted the Krakow specialty of soup in a hollowed out bread bun so we had to do the embarrassing thing and leave as soon as we had realised the error and relocate ourselves in the correct place next door.

Here we were served our preferred lunch where it was fun trying to anticipate how long it would be before the hot liquid would leak through the crust and end up spilling the scalding liquid spectacularly into our laps.  We wondered if we could attempt this at home but I certainly wouldn’t recommend trying it with a loaf of thin crust supermarket ‘economy’ loaf..

Krakow, Wieliczka Salt Mine

Iceland – The Golden Circle, Mud, Geysers, Ice and Waterfalls

The weather was a bit of a surprise because we had interpreted ‘Ice land’ rather more literally than we should have and were expecting sub zero temperatures, mountainous snow and lots of ice.   What we hadn’t taken fully into consideration was the effect of the gulf stream that delivers warm water from the Caribbean directly to the south of Iceland and thereby keeps the temperature unexpectedly mild

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