We were on the fence about whether visiting the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Krakow was something we wanted to tackle. We visited a salt mine in Germany a couple of years ago, and while we had a nice time, salt mine visiting isn’t something you need to complete really frequently. Still, this one boasted some beautiful caverns and a chapel carved out of salt and is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so we decided to give it a shot. (As a side note, UNESCO Sites feel like Pokemon lately: gotta catch ’em all!)
We took a city bus crowded with Chinese tourists out to the site and before very long, we were climbing down dozens of flights of stairs, following our sort of English speaking guide (Ben’s note: Listening to our tour guide sounded an awful lot like listening to the Rural Juror). Even the tour was in English, I was only catching about every third word. He did have some fairly funny jokes when we did manage to understand him.
The salt mine dated back to the 1600’s and has been continually built and embellished since then. Now, the tourist trail through the mine is decorated with elaborate salt structures and life size dioramas explaining what might have taken place here.
Chapels were built within the mine we were told, because 10% of mine workers died on the job every year. Remaining workers needed somewhere to worship, reflect, and pray for safety. The biggest chapel, the chapel of St. Kinga, was complete with sculptures and chandeliers all carved out of the salt. The result was stunning and reminded us of Gringotts from Harry Potter. (In more ways than one, trying to get out of there without a guide would be terrifying!)
We also visited a couple of underground lakes and what looked like a reception hall. We almost never stopped walking down stairs, and after two hours we were something like 140 meters below ground. By the time our tour was complete, I was hoping we weren’t going to have to walk all the way back out. Instead, we were sent to a long line, which led to a long walk, which led to another long line, and then a long bout of sitting on a bench for our turn to ride the rattly elevator back to the land of sunshine. The whole tour was really well run, but the exit process took forever!
Finally, we were back outside, heading for the center of town. Before we called it a day, we wanted to see the castle! We walked slowly around the castle, meandered to Krakow’s enormous main square, and then took a leisurely kepab lunch before heading back to camp.
Back at camp, the internet was down, so we got busy on a big round of long-procrastinated tent-keeping. Ben tuned the bikes while I ran laundry, scrubbed down our mats and tent, and cleaned out our food bags.