The last day's harmonogram, or schedule. I'm in W2.
Blogspot: The adventures of fifteen days in a chamber, 135 metres below sea level: Part 3
Written by Roger Hartopp
Welcome to a new blog for our learners of English as I look back over my three weeks in Wielicka salt mine, near Krakow in Poland.
I would like to say that the blog itself is not intended to be an advertisement or free publicity for the mine or the facilities it has, or a critique of its operations or staff, but simply this is just a story of my experiences of spending fifteen afternoons and early evenings inside a large salt chamber.
WEEK THREE: The end of a routine, and I'm glad it's over...
DAY 11, 1 July 2019. Another very hot day expected today on the surface, but perhaps the last of the really hot days; this evening, storms are expected. I’m told this as I’ve just been sent a weather warning on my phone.
Upon arrival at the mine, but before we head down into the chamber, there seems to be many more people this week, including some faces we haven’t seen before. It takes four lift journeys to get us all down. However, once we settle to our tables, a lot of them seem to still have empty spaces…
Our walk through the shaft had to pause momentarily when one of the older ladies, one who likes to use walking sticks, gets – what appears to be – one of the sticks caught in the rails where carts are used to transport newly dug rock salt. Now these rails only protrude a couple of centimetres, and also there is a small step either side. A misplaced stick is enough to send the lady tumbling to the floor. Fortunately, there are plenty around to help her up – and a doctor – and it seems, after a minute or two, and another pause which I assume was to check her out, she seems fit enough, if a little shaken, to continue with us to the chamber.
As we enter our third and final week of our stay down here, I’m kind of concerned about what else I can write about that hasn’t already been covered. From routine, repetition has now settled, apart from the fact that only the doctor is still the same; all the instructors have changed. My harmonogram still shows the two regular sets of exercises. So what to do? Well, it’s just gone 2.30pm as I write this, we’re in for another five and a half hours, so I’ll just have to see. My only concern now is what to write about tomorrow… something that’s significantly different from the previous six days, and with the view of filling a page as close to a full page as possible.
I noted on day 10 that one of our group had got into the habit of sneaking away to take some rock samples. Well, the idea seems to have caught on with two or three other women in the group. As my son says, it’s only salt!
As we wait for the lift to go back to the surface, the air pressures between the surface and the 135 metres underground produce a high-pitched screech as air is forced out of any gaps that it may find as the lift pushes this air down. Although this doesn’t affect me personally, some of the group have to stick their fingers in their ears. But one of the instructors has a minor solution to this; she simply presses on the lift door.
We emerge to a very overcast sky, but it’s very hot. Even though there’s no sunshine, the air temperature is still well over thirty degrees Celsius. But as regards this blog on the computer, I’ve failed to fill a full page. It’s a definite sign of things to come for the remaining four days, which perhaps shouldn’t be that surprising…
DAY 12, 2 July 2019. Much as I’d like to write something really different, there’s nothing to add that’s been really different. Although I didn’t mention it yesterday, I had observed myself falling into some kind of lethargy, deciding to fill/waste my time playing Patience on the one game app that will work on this computer. It was later that I realised that I’d forgotten the real reason for taking the computer down into the mine in the first place; I should have been working on updating my texts for my conversation lessons!
I suppose the novelty of being in a salt mine is starting to wear off, and I’m probably looking forward to the time it ends, although on the last day I feel sure will be one of the more action-packed as I expect the end to take on some kind of ceremonious aspect.
Until then, the routine remains. You either spend your free time either playing games, talking to people, using one hour of that time to take part in the organised exercises, or going on the exercise machines. In fact, just typing that has made me feel that’s where I should be going now rather than being on the computer, which is how I’ve spent all my free time so far and not really going out and actually doing something…
“I’m bored!” says my son. And I’ve just been observing him and the other youngsters ‘playing’ the kind of exercises I’d love my lot to do; forming two teams, passing a big green ball over their heads to the one at the back who then runs to the front and repeats the exercise until the whole team have done this. The first team to complete the exercise wins.
I decided to go on the machine that you do walking exercises on, and thanks to the fact I’ve got the kids game to watch for entertainment, I easily do three kilometres in twenty minutes. Add this to the fact that this morning I cycled a total of about sixteen kilometres to do a teaching job, I don’t think I’ve done too badly for exercise today.
DAY 13, 3 July 2019. Arrive. Go in lift. Go down. Wait for others. Walk to the chamber. Pass the morning shift. Go to the table. Dump bags. Sign in, take breath test (600) and check the harmonogram… oh, I see that apart from the usual mirror room at the usual time, my group is down for a visit to the Smok chamber for another lie down and short snooze.
But it’s not all boredom. In fact, upon arrival and settling down at my table I’m very kindly offered a piece of cake from one lady on the same table who appears to have baked it herself. I can only describe it as a kind of ginger cake combined with a chocolate topping, some jam filling and even a slight hint of alcohol. Although it’s not my kind of cake, it’s tasty enough not to turn down and I duly eat it all. If they can eat cake down here, so can I. I don’t feel guilty at all, even though I’m supposed to be cutting down on sugar.
Today, in between the exercises, I’ve chosen to spend my time on work – that is, not only on updating this blog, but taking the opportunity at looking at all my reading texts which I use to begin a new topic in my conversation lessons. It’s been a chance to update and standardise those texts that have not already been standardised, and also to complete a brand new replacement text for something that was, perhaps, a little controversial, so I’ve decided to retire it. I may add that particular blog to the others in the blogspot section of the website at a future date.
I’ve just returned from the Smok cave and it’s not been as good as the last time. It took about ten minutes to eventually settle down and get the lights out, but instead of some nice steady plinky plonky music like last time, we’ve got a drone in the background with a speaker sounding/droning as if he’s the Polish Leonard Cohen. I think the subject was about relaxing, but I think I even managed to doze to that after a while. When Leonardislaw Kohenski finally ended, the plinky plonky music returned, but the mood was rather spoilt when the instructor decided to announce that it was time to get up before the music ended and the lights went up.
DAY 14, 4 July 2019. One thing that is regular which I haven’t mentioned before is that when after I go through my immediate routines (table/sign in/breath test/take picture of the harmonogram), is I then go to the lockers to collect my things.
But without fail, every time I go, the same (older) ladies are there, still getting ready. The trouble is that their lockers are located pretty much where mine is, and the locker for my trainers is also used as a seat by the old ladies so I’m often having to wait until they finish. Well, that was up until yesterday. One old lady has also stripped off her summer trousers ready to replace them with thicker winter ones, and so invites me to get my shoes while she’s sitting in just her knickers... she is sitting directly on top of where my locker is! (Well, I believe she was in her knickers as I’m far too polite to look and check!)
Today’s daytime routine is also going to include some normal work rather than just updating my files and typing this as I’ve got about two pages of proofing to do, which I promised I’d get done today.
1619: Text seemed straightforward and easy to check, which is not always a good sign, but I’ve reread it, given it the electronic reader treatment and it all seems fine. I’ve just enjoyed a cooked dinner, the first proper cooked dinner for a while made up of pork cutlets in gravy and potatoes, with cauliflower served separately.
My son has his second visit to the Smok chamber for his lie-down. On this occasion, I wished I was there; for only the second time in my stay here, I felt that I could go to sleep somewhere. The proofing’s been done (will get it sent once I get an internet connection), I’ve done some more touching-up on various topics in my student discussions, and had another cup of tea.
Dear me, I'm now feeling really tired. That's the first time I've felt like that since my second day here, but this time there's no lecture going on in the background. I think it's definitely penultimate day syndrome. Certainly, this is the first time I've truly felt that I've really wanted to go straight home today. I've been promised an extended weekend break away from the city, and on this occasion I'm really looking forward to it.
And, perhaps rather selfishly, I'm looking forward to the end of all this tomorrow.
Day 15, 5 July 2019. Last drive to Wieliczka, last 135 metre journey down into the chamber. The last... oh, you know where this is going.
The only exception shown on today's harmonogram is that at 6.15pm it's signing out time.
6.15pm: we're all issued our 'freedom papers'. It's all in Polish, so it'll be down to the wife to explain it all to me later.
And that's essentially it. There's no ceremony to the end of all this. Not even a free lump of salt. The day is just like all the other days; we leave at 7.10pm, arrive at the lift, meet the night shift groups coming in, go to the top, say goodbyes to everyone from the lift, and that's it... no exchanges of hugs or kisses or sadness. It's all kind of disappointing. Well, maybe there is a saddish feeling that it's all over, but overall, after 15 days, I think everyone's glad it's done.
So after what is the shortest blog entry, I'll use the rest of this entry to present an 'afterword'...
How do I feel now after those 15 days? Well, I feel pretty good, but I suppose I felt equally pretty good before the start of it all. My existing puffer and one small tablet a day have both been very effective anyway as regards keeping any asthma away as a result of grass pollen and dust particles. It's true that all the time I was down there I never had any ill effects. But maybe I'm simply one of those who doesn't have these conditions as badly as others. Certainly, those I have spoken to in the mine all mention that they have their health problems, and for sure I haven't seen anyone in the group suffer from any problems all the time I was down there.
So would I go back? I've been there on two previous occasions in 2012 and 2013 and can pretty much report the same thing, although in those days there seemed to be more of a connection between the group and the instructors. But when I think about it, what else could the instructors have done without appearing to be a nuisance? I think, in this area, my memory is perhaps cheating a little, and at the end of all this, unless there is a real change to my health for the worst, I don't really see myself going back unless my doctor recommends this. And then it's another fifteen days, more new people to meet, and more chilly days - or days of relief from the heat - in an underground chamber 135 metres below ground level.
Six hours a day, 135 metres below ground level. I suppose it is an experience in itself. But if I do it again, I'd like to try an overnight stay. Night time's the time when, if I do get an asthma attack, that's when it happens.