Sunday, September 17, 2017

Dragon's Den - Smocza Jama

Smocza Jama. Or Dragon's Den, an ancient cave. Despite the puffing, fire-breathing dragon, there's nothing to be afraid of, as long the dragon is fed enough cattle every week. Either cattle .... or equivalent number of humans.

That is, until King Cracus killed the dragon. Nowadays there's a fire breathing statue of dragon that comes to life every few minutes. You should be more afraid of the ticket machine at the entrance, for this machine is your only way to enter this legendary cave. It might also be the world's only cave with a ticket machine in the entrance.

Dragon's Den is at the centre of Krakow, Poland, under the Wawel Royal Castle, going through the rocky Wawel hill and exiting near the river bank. The cave is altogether 270 meters long, and 85 meters of it are open to the public. The entrance is at the top of the hill, on the yard of the castle, where one descends through a tower to the cave. There are a number of other entrances to different parts of the castle as well. Those entrances are primarily on the long side tunnel that is closed off from the area open to the tourists. But there are a number of small holes in the porous limestone, so fun to explore. Read more about the history of the cave from Wikipedia. A map of the cave can be found here.

Entrance is 3 złoty or about 75 cents.

The dragon statue is in front of the cave exit on the public area. It breathes fire about every 4 minutes, and is best observed during the evenings. There's usually a collection of small kids crawling on top of the rock that the dragon stands on. The cave itself closes though before the evening, the exact time depends on the season. I was in Krakow for a meeting, so had trouble making it to the cave in time. On the first day I missed the closing time by 30 seconds.


More pictures from the dragon:

Signs, Wawel buildings, ticket machine, and the entrance stairs to the cave:

Inside the cave:


Photos and videos (c) 2017 by Jari Arkko. All rights reserved. This blog is also available at the TGR site. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi Relaasta.

Krakow Sauna

I had an opportunity to visit a sauna in Poland. Obviously I took the opportunity!

This was again another Hilton sauna, at the DoubleTree (Hilton) Krakow, as I was in Krakow for a meeting.

The sauna was again quite nice indeed. A nice big pool, and three different saunas. I was a bit pressed on time though, so didn't have too much time to spend except in the hottest Finnish sauna.

Photos (c) 2017 by Jari Arkko. As always, the photos from swimming pools and saunas have been taken when the facilities were closed or closing, and there were no other customers present.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Elfvik Quarries

I've been sick, and with painful feet problems for a long time. I wanted to get out today, to test if I can move around. Or breathe outside air. I chose to visit the Elfvik Quarries in Espoo, near Villa Elfvik.

The idea to visit these places came from the excellent book on mines in Helsinki and nearby: Saltikoff, Laitakari, Kinnunen, Oivanen: Helsingin seudun vanhat kaivokset ja louhokset, available conveniently in PDF!

It is surprising how much mining activity there has been here in the last 400-500 years. Small mines, mostly, except in the Kaivoksela area where you have mine shafts running down 60 meters. In Elfvik, the quarries are for making granite blocks for construction. The quarries are recent, as the operations only begun in the early 1900s and ended in 1960s.

On page 57 of the book there's a quote about the Elfvik quarries from Hannes Lae (some kind of financial director, but what do they know?), where he criticises the "party lifestyle" of the quarry men. But I'm sure they worked pretty hard, splitting blocks of granite is hard work... and living on the rock hill as they did, must not have been easy either.

There's a lot of small quarries in the area, I didn't count all of them, but here are the main ones that I visited:

I also wonder why the book uses the spelling "Elvvik", whereas the current place names around are always in the form "Elfvik". Anybody know?

Oh, and what about my illness and foot? They didn't get any better, in fact my foot started to hurt a lot, and I started coughing. Maybe it is too early for even these kinds of small excursions. Back to resting :-(

Bolts in the rock face:

Quarry 2, barely visible:

Quarry 4:

Quarry 5:

Quarry 6:

Quarry 7:

Photos (c) 2017 by Jari Arkko

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Map of the Nepperi Cave

Nepperi is at the center of the big controversy: is the largest cave inside Ring III in Vantaa as currently believed, or perhaps in Espoo?

I'm trying to recover from multiple problems in my feet, and a cough, so excessive sports was not in the program today. But, I did want to go out somewhere nearby and see something interesting. And Jarmo was also interested in joining. We ended up visiting the Nepperi cave in Espoo. The weather was sunny and cave site was dry and ice-less. (On Jarmo's previous visit here he hurt his leg by slipping on the ice.)

I draw a map of the cave with some basic measurements. This isn't a proper cave map, but will give you an idea of what's on site (3 separate caves) and the overall shape and size of the caves.

I had previously visited the Nepperi cave but not explored it fully. I had also visited the Kalkkikallio ("Limestone hill") caves in Vantaa, and taken some measurements. Those measurements indicated that the main cave there was six meters (!) long, and that there might be a squeeze through another cave in the area that would total eight meters.

The Retkipaikka article concludes that the Kalkkikallio caves are the biggest one inside Ring III, though partially based on how cave-like they are. It is certainly true that Nepperi is not overall as cave-like. However, even Nepperi has a tight squeeze in darkness behind the larger open horizontal crack area.

I won't answer the original question about which city takes the win, because these matters are more about interpretation than measurement. However, I have now drawn a map of both cave sites (PDF and JPG), and there are even some numbers.

You could go under a rock roof or tunnel in Nepperi for at least 15-20 meters, whereas in Kalkkikallio you can do that for at most 8 meters, or at least in the cave parts that I found.

The dark, cave-like part is shorter in Nepperi (something like 4-5 meters) than in Kalkkikallio (6 meters). But to get to the dark part in Nepperi you need to traverse under the rock roofs on both ends for several meters.

Furthermore, while the entrance to the main cave in Kalkkikallio is very tight, at Nepperi the tightness follows almost throughout the cave, as the vertical crack / roof area is for the most part very low. Finally, most roof caves in Finland are at ground level, which makes them feel easy. At Nepperi the crack is half way up the cliff, and is quite exciting.

But of course, both caves are interesting, and different. Happy that we have those caves in so near the densely populated city areas.

Cave locations:

Main cave:

Corner cave:

Sidehole cave:

Pictures from Jarmo:

Photos and maps (c) 2017 by Jari Arkko and Jarmo Ruuth. Tämä artikkeli löytyy myös suomeksi Relaasta.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Black Snow Apocalypse. Now.

Imagine bright, white snow, gently covering a mountain. Now imagine all that snow black, dirty. Melting hard ice, covered by an accumulation of pollution and dust from air. This is reality.

End of August is not great time to ski in the northern hemisphere. One of the few open places is Hintertux Gletscher in Austria. But even they have mostly melting ice and accumulation of dirt. Black snow.

In other news, my right leg feels finally OK to ski a bit on. However, I fell on top of my camera on the slopes, and now the left leg is very painful. I was unable to ski the next day. I succeeded in getting out of bed and sitting in a car seat, but it wasn't easy.

By the way, I can recommend once again the Spa Neu-Hintertux hotel. It is such a friendly place. Their pool are is wonderful, on the top floor with large windows giving a view to the forest-covered mountains around. And the saunas are even nicer: four different saunas, including a very hot Finnish-style sauna.

Further down in the slopes there's really only dark ice underneath. And it is difficult to distinguish the slope from the equally grey rock fields next to it.

Snow is stored under white plastic, and every night some of it is used to maintain the lower slopes:

Holding my leg after falling on top my camera on the top of the slope:

Further down in the valley, it was very nice!

The pool area at the spa hotel:

Photos and videos (c) 2017 by Jari Arkko. This blog is also available at TGR. Time blogi löytyy myös suomeksi Relaasta.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Underground Hotel Room

This is the world's oldest and biggest hotel room. And it is 64 meters underground, in a cave in Arizona. Sadly, we did not have money to for the night (850 USD) but we did get a tour.

The Grand Canyon Caverns are off the Route 66 south of the Grand Canyon. 35 million years ago water eroded cave passages on this high plateau, leading all the way to the Colorado river. The cave is one of the largest or perhaps the largest dry cavern in the world; there is no longer any water in the system. It is amazing that smoke tests have indicated an air path from the cave to Grand Canyon 97 kilometres away. For more of the history of the cave, see the Wikipedia page.

Interestingly, it estimated that there are about 1000 caves in the Grand Canyon area, but only a bit over 300 of them have been surveyed. And I did not learn how much of the Grand Canyon Cavern is surveyed.

We were busy driving from Flagstaff to LA that day, so we didn't have a whole lot of time to spend in the cave. In addition to the regular tourist tour (45 minutes, 21 USD) that we took, there are spelunking tours (2-3 hours, 100 USD) to the newer cave part discoveries. The maps that I saw were a tiny fraction of the reported length of 97 kilometres, I think that is merely the distance to Grand Canyon.

To get to the cave,  exit I-40 to Route 66 from either Kingman or Seligman. There's also a general aviation airport on site.

After visiting I realised that I had been here before, 35 years ago when touring the western US with my parents and little sister who was maybe seven at the time. I remember that we run into a local cowboy in the bar afterwards, and he gave my sister a small meteorite rock. (Not sure if it really is, but it was heavy, and had smooth metallic forms on the outside that is common in meteorites. Sweet gift in any case.)

Today, tourists enter the cave through an elevator. This is the original entrance to the cave:

The cave also doubles as an emergency shelter, here are the supplies:

A giant sloth was trapped in the cave thousands of years ago. It tried to crawl out, and even today the claw marks are visible on the rock:

A bob cat has also been trapped in the cave:

On the way to the cave, be sure to stop at the Roadkill Cafe. But don't order anything meat-based...

This blog article is also available at the TGR site. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi Relaasta. Photos and videos (c) 2017 by Jari Arkko. All rights reserved. The video editing and music is from Apple iMovie. For copyright of the music, see