Friday, June 25, 2010

Wieliczka Salt Mine

There are two main attractions nearby Krakow that visitors shouldn’t miss: Auschwitz Concentration Camps and the Wieliczka underground Salt Mine. Both are UNESCO world heritage sites and the tours take half a day only. They are easily booked in the many tourist points in Krakow and all you need to do is compare prices and the schedule that best fits your holiday.

Wieliczka Salt Mine is located not very far from Krakow. It is one of the oldest salt mines in the world. Since the 17th century, the mine was producing table salt, and only until 1996 when the commercial operation stopped. Nowadays, being a UNESCO world heritage site, the salt mine serves as a major tourist attraction of the Lesser Poland region boasting of sculptures and an underground cathedral hand crafted from rock salt by the miners.

I took the afternoon tour. Our group descended the mine cave via wooden stairs, 378 steps in total, and quite a long hike down really but for the unfit, there is a lift. After reaching precisely 327 meters down under, our tour guide announced that we are still above sea level. This is because Wieliczka, the town, sits on high altitude. Sebastian jokingly said that we are still higher than the Netherlands.

The Wieliczka Salt Mine entrance and our jolly tour guide called Sebastian descending the 378 wooden steps to the salt mine.

Here is a clearer view of the wooden staircase, it took some time to get down under. Middle foto is one of the chambers in the salt mine dated 1666 - very old. Right foto is a beautiful angel sculpture, hand crafted by miners from rock salt.

More rock salt sculptures hand crafted by miners. To think they are made of salt is quite mind blowing.

A walk through the history of salt mining, on the left foto you can see a wooden trolley pushed by a miner which is called 'Hungarian Dog' - maybe the Hungarians invented this or its a joke from the Polish side, who knows. Foto on the right shows a horse with a miner. Interestingly, and this is a fact, they managed to bring down a few horses in the cave during the olden days. How they did that before remains a mystery.

The underground stunning rock salt cathedral hand carved by the salt miners. Everything here is made of salt, the altar, the walls, the table, even the chandeliers, they are made of crystallized rock salt. Really impressive and so cool!

My only souvenir foto in the Wieliczka salt mine by the hand carved altar and next foto is a carving replica of the Last Supper on the wall of the underground salt cathedral.

There is also an underground lake and next foto is the fast old fashioned lift (elevator). It takes less than a minute from the bottom to reach the surface.

More fotos here: Wieliczka Salt Mine - Wieliczka, Lesser Poland, Poland

The 3.5 kilometer salt mine tour includes a visit to the underground cathedral hand crafted from rock salt by the miners, sightings of a vast array of rock salt carvings, a walk through salt mining history, passing an underground lake and a visit to a secret lake chamber that includes lights and show. There is a wellness and rehabilitation center as well, souvenir shops, a restaurant, more chapels and many interesting nooks and crannies with salt carvings.

At the end of the tour we boarded this old fashioned yet fast lift. The lift cabin is not entirely sealed; we could feel the wind blowing against our bodies and inside the cabin as we ascended in seconds to the light. Exiting the building I followed a group of ladies who I thought were with the group. As it turned out they were from a different group and when I climbed on to their bus (full of Russians)—they all shook their heads sideways and sang a chorus: “No!” LOL.

I quickly retraced my steps however I couldn’t find the rest of the group. It was becoming late, darkness started to seep in around me and I can see the last set of tourists leaving the property. I wanted to panic but I know myself, I just can’t. I’m always learning about myself every time I am in situations like this. My problem is I don’t remember where our tour bus was parked so with that dilemma in mind I went for a little walk following the souvenir shops down the road. As I was crossing the intersection, I saw a relieved Sebastian waving at me, haha.

It looks like I wasn’t the only one that lost the group. We had to wait for the other 2 French tourists as well!

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