While I was visiting Jon Maiden’s blog, I had a question about destinations in Europe. Specifically, engineering marvels. I’m a civil engineer, so many of the things I like to see while I’m on vacation are triumphs of human achievement. While I was inspired by some of the helpful suggestions he provided, I figured I should do some more research, since I love seeing impressive engineering works.
In the summer of 2000, my family drove around the country for three weeks. My dad did ALL of the driving. My Gram came with us and spent most of the time in the front seat – she’s managed to be taller than just about everyone else in our family so she had really long legs. My mom spent a lot of the time in the very back right corner, next to a seat piled high with suitcases, camping gear, snacks, and pillows. My brother and I camped out in the middle two seats of the minivan, with an inverter that plugged into the cigarette lighter, a 9″ tv/vcr combo, and a Playstation… the first one.
We drove all over the country for three weeks- and one of the places we visited was the Hoover Dam. That was the first real engineering-related place I remember going. We were able to go on a tour of the dam – down inside it through the visitor’s center, past the humongous turbines, down and outside near the base of the dam (near the “comb” just above the water in the photo above).
I was seriously impressed that they had to cool the interior of the dam to get the concrete to dry (or it would still be wet today).
That 21,000 men worked on the dam and built the entire thing in 5 years. I didn’t know it at the time, but now I know that is a gigantic workforce for a construction project compared to the amount of labor we currently need to build things, while the duration of construction is approximately the same as the bridge that now spans it, despite today’s high-tech equipment.
That 112 deaths occurred between the initial survey phase and the end of construction. I can’t even imagine those working conditions. Construction is still one of the most dangerous careers you can have – but currently, most projects (at least in the US) end without any fatalities.
What That Means Now
It means that since then, I’ve gone on to get a B.S. and M.S.E. for civil engineering, and I’m currently working full time as a water/wastewater engineer. I still find site visits for work interesting (in case you don’t know what that means, I essentially go to treatment plants, where your faucet water comes from, or where your *ahem* wastes go – the kind of job you never think about until suddenly you can’t turn on the faucet or flush your toilet).
It also means that I like to see engineering marvels elsewhere in the world. I’m fascinated by how both humans and nature itself shape the world around us. We guide water through pipes, but also stop it up in rivers. We build sky-gazing buildings, but also dig deep into the earth.
One of those places deep in the earth, is the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland (click here for the English Wikipedia article – the official site is in Polish and google translate can only do so much). It’s located near Krakow, where we were already planning to spend a day or two. It looks like it costs 73 PLN for a foreign language tour (English is a foreign language!), which is around $23 USD, or $18 if we can get a discounted rate with US student IDs. It’ll be worth it to see this crazy human ingenuity.
My mom’s family was from Poland, so that is one of the definite destinations for our trip next year. She is terrified of heights, but has no problem going into caverns or caves – so this will be something we can both enjoy. I’m really excited – this mine has been in operation since the 13th century! It has been visited by incredibly famous people (Nicolaus Copernicus, Fryderyk Chopin, President Bill Clinton), used as inspiration for films and movies, and is an original UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hard to beat those endorsements!
Tackling the Language Barrier
Speaking of Poland, I checked out a CD set today from the library in an attempt to teach myself basic Polish! To be fair, I also checked out a CD set to learn basic French, and so far all I can say in French is “Excuse me, do you speak English?” or “I am American”… I’ve got a long way to go. But we’ll see how it turns out. I like listening to CDs in my car on the way to work – it’s much better than listening to the same Top 40 songs every morning and evening. But Polish is supposedly one of the hardest languages to learn, so I chickened out and started with French. Oh well – maybe I’ll encourage my mom to listen to the Polish CDs instead – she used to know some Polish growing up so she’d probably have an easier time re-learning it.
So thanks to Jon Maiden for the suggestion! I had only heard of the mine in passing previously. It was good to get a second opinion so that I’d look further into that mine.