Before I saw the Wieliczka Salt Mines outside of the Polish city of Krakow, I wasn’t actually that interested in going. But there are two main things to do in the city (other than eat mounds of Pierogi) and Aushcwitz was too emotional to do again. Also, I was coughing up significant portions of my lungs after being at Sziget festival for a week and had heard the salt mines were good for what ailes ya.*** I’m uber glad I gave them a go though, as seeing an entire cathedral made of nothing but salt and being taken back in time to where miners crafted such things for themselves was a wonderful experience. It’s also an easy breezy day trip from Krakow at just 15km from the city.
After a shortish bus trip the tour of the salt mines takes to this fabulous invention, the never-ending staircase. Well, it seems like that when you need to descend more than 50 flights of stairs (350 steps) to begin the tour. I took the classic tourist route, but those with more adventurous plans and more forgiving wallets can also take routes that allow them to be miner for a day or explore much further into the mines.
My tour began with being told that what you will see is only 1-2% of the actual mine, and for that reason shouldn’t wonder off unless you aspire to live a very salty and lost existence. You are lead past sculptures of Poland’s great academics, the famous polish gnomes and tableau’s depicting the legend for which the Chapel, the main attraction of the mines, was named.
You are lead through narrow tunnels made entirely of salt with the exception of wooden support beams, also entirely encrusted in and preserved by the salt and several hundred years old. You will be invited to taste the salt the walls of made if, and differentiate when the floor beneath you in salt or concrete based on its shine.
The air in the mines is said to help with respiratory ailments and allergies as a result of the unique micro-climate created by the salt. As I was bravely soldiering through my deathly cough at the time, i could be seen taking creepily deep breaths all through my visit, no doubt reminding others in my group of the mouth-breather who sat behind them at school. All in the name of health my friends 🙂 There is actually a dedicated health resort for people to visit, but not on this backpacker’s budget (I can occasionally afford to feed myself).
After venturing through some more tunnels, sliding past a salt lake and tasting some of the salt-water (deep, deep regret) the tour ends with it’s prize gem in the chapel of St. Kinga, where the darker less-pure salt has been carved into an enormous cavern lined with wall etchings an intricately decorated with salt-crystal chandeliers, all at a depth of 101 metres.
The mines are truly a unique experience, and have been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1978. While my visit didn’t necessarily cure my cough, it was an unexpected pleasure to see such magnificent scenery carved in such rare circumstances. Add to that the artists were mostly the salt miners themselves and you can truly appreciate the beauty of these mines.
***Ok, maybe I wasn’t quite that sick, but I felt very bloody sick, ok??
Have you ever visited the salt mines? Was some ailment of yours cured? (I was a little crushed to still be sick after…as ill-advised as that may have been)