Monday, June 23, 2014

Krakow, Poland: Wieliczka Salt Mine

Actual date of this event: 4 May

One of my dad's requests for our time in Krakow was to visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Wieliczka... I have typed that word plenty of times since I first saw it and still have to look it up and copy it. I am a terrible half-Polish(by blood). Anyway, I really didn't know what to expect of the tour, but I was really quite blown away by the experience. It was very cool!
The mine is located just outside of the city center, so we decided to take a taxi there rather than figure out public transport... we were being lazy. I picked up our tickets for the tourist route that I pre-purchased, and then we waited for our entrance time.
Wieliczka Salt Mine was on the first UNESCO World Heritage list in 1978.
The salt mine only allows you to visit in groups, so everyone has a certain time slot and a tour guide to go along with you. We each got a headset, so we could hear the guide even if we were in the back of the group. We started the tour by going down 380 stairs, 64 meters below ground. The stairway was very small, and it zig-zagged back and forth. Just this was a neat experience! I do have to say though that this tour was not a tour for the claustrophobic! (Note: I'm not calling anyone out, but he is a great photographer, except when it is dark. I apologize for the blurry pictures.)

The tour guide was very patient and waited at the bottom for everyone to arrive. It was a very good thing a guide was with us because we were taken through so many corridors, not even Luke The Navigator would have known the way out.

All of the sculptures were made out of salt. It was difficult to tell at first, but the guide would shine her flashlight on the salt and show that you could see through it.
 In some corridors, even the ground was made of salt. I felt like I was ruining a future good pot of cajun cooking while walking on the salt floor.
Since the salt mines are underground with no natural light, some of the corridors were painted white to give the impression that there is natural light. I wasn't convinced, but maybe after hours and hours of working in the mines, it helps.

Horses were a big part of mining, doing many big jobs. The last horse to leave Wieliczka was in 2002.
In several areas, salt was dripping from the ceiling. It was pretty neat to look at as some drips were about 15 inches long!

The most exquisite area of the whole mine was the Chapel of St. Kinga. The pictures don't look like much, but I promise this place was stunning! The entire thing - floor, ceiling, walls, sculptures, chandelier, everything - was made of salt. It was beautiful!

Masses are held in the chapel every Sunday, open to all visitors. The chapel is also used for weddings. Can you imagine getting married in a room of salt? How cool!

After the chapel, we continued our way, going farther underground. In the end, we descended a total of 135 meters and walked down 800 steps. It was quite a bit of walking, but it was great!

The lake is located at the 135 meter mark underground. It has about the same amount of salt as the Dead Sea. Years ago, a boating accident occurred in the lake and the men did not survive. A Memorial Of The Drowned Persons was placed here to commemorate the accident.
At the end of the tour, we were taken to the gift shop... of course... where the guide left us. A display showed all of the different kinds of salt and rock in the mine. We also had a chance to go to a museum, watch a film, and learn some more about the salt mine if we wanted.
To get out of the salt mine, we had to climb those 800 stairs back up! Just kidding! Just kidding! Just kidding!! But we did have to walk a really long way, I'm guessing it was close to a mile, to get to the elevator. The elevator was two levels and each level had a max capacity of 8 people. We had six people in our level, and I do not think two more people could have fit! It was really tight, and the ceiling was probably only about 6.5 feet tall, if that. It was really creepy! Like I said, this tour was not for the claustrophobic! In the end, it took us about 3 hours to go through the tour. It was a bit chilly underground, but we were prepared for it and had jackets with us. Thanks, Dad, for putting this on our Krakow list. It was fun!

Way back when, salt was more precious than gold as its preservation purposes were a life-saver.

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