Another morning, another train ride…
this time to the town of Wieliczka, known for one of the world’s oldest salt mines, dating back to the 1200s. When I get off at my stop, however, it feels like a ghost town. Not a soul in sight, and the train station is completely boarded up:
It does feel a little bit like I’m the last person left on Earth, but I know the Wieliczka Salt Mine is a tourist attraction so it’s got to be around here somewhere… Ten minutes later there are a few cars on the road and some squirrels playing on the street. I’m debating my position against tour groups in my head (and losing I might add), but then I reach this incredible scene at some park, with another single soul on the bench, and I just know this path I’ve taken this morning is exactly where I’m meant to be…
And then finally…solitude is gone:
A few basic facts about this mine: depth of 327 meters and length of 300 kilometers. The 3km tourist route makes up less than 1% of the mine’s passages.
The statues and figures below, just two out of so many, were all carved out of rock salt by miners and artists:
The carvings look more like a matte, grayish granite than white. But the salt deposits on the ceilings and walls of the mine look like this:
The tour, which starts with 387 steps down narrow wooden stairs into the mine, is quite pleasant especially since it’s so warm outside. But it’s packed in here, and again, it does feel like a cattle call just as at Auschwitz. Patience, however, does pay off at the end when we reach the large chamber that’s the Saint Kinga’s Chapel (101 meters underground)…everything you see here is carved out of salt, including the magnificent chandeliers:
It’s such a cool place, in every sense of the word. But what I really love is the undeground lake:
This mine, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, stopped commercial mining in 1996 due to flooding and low demand. Nowadays you can rent some of the rooms for special events. They’ll even do weddings.
By the end of the tour we are about 135 meters underground. We gather in a small waiting room for the “bullet” elevator up to sunlight. The conductor promises us the ride is the best part of the entire tour.
He manages to fit about 10 of us inside the elevator and whoosh, 30 seconds later it’s over. It feels a little bit like flying.
If I had my way, I’d just be riding that elevator up and down all day long! But no such luck, they’ve got a long line of tourists waiting to get out of the dark. I really do not know how those miners adapted to living underground for so long.
Not so surprisingly the ride takes us immediately into the gift store. I’ve seen the salt lamps all around Krakow already, and I already got to taste the salt inside the mine (yes, by licking the wall) (no, I was not the only person doing it) (fine, if you insist, I was the only adult doing it…in my group anyway) so nothing is screaming at me to buy. But I will add another coin to my collection…