to Poland: Day IV

Day IV went down like this:

Took the correct train to Wieliczka, the place we had mistakenly gone the day before. We went there to visit the Salt Mines.
We got a private tour just by happenstance. At 9:30 in the morning we were the only English speakers visiting the Salt Mine. Score! Our guide told us that if we came during the summer the line to the ticket counter is about a 40 minute wait, and groups are at least 30 to 40 people. This doubles the tour time itself, from the hour and a half we spent with her, to 3 hours. So glad we came in the autumn!
The mines are like this sprawling subterranean world.The immensity of the place became more fascinating after our guide told us that the tour is composed of only 1% of the entire mine. If we wanted to see it in its entirety, it would take over 4 months. 
We started the tour by walking down a dizzying wooden stair passage, down and down and down, around and around and around. Inside the climate is cool and dark. It’s odd to think that there is so much earth above your head when you get to the first level of the mine. There is basically a forest of lumber in the system of tunnels and chambers, holding the ceilings up and protecting the walls.

 

Do you know why the wood is painted white?
Photo courtesy of Krista Schilling
As the guide explained how the mine began and subsequent years of operation, I was especially impressed by the dangers of mining. Through trial and error and advances in technology, people from the 14th century and onward have had to improve the mining conditions. Risking explosions and suffocation and collapse, it’s amazing what our forefathers went through to provide their communities with such a simple thing as salt. I wonder who the first people were who thought, hmmm, let’s risk our lives by tunneling beneath the earth to chip at rocks all day long so that we can preserve our food? Survival in the modern world is so much easier now because of them. I’ll especially appreciate the simplest and mundane thing on my kitchen table from now on, table salt, after seeing all the work that goes into producing it. 
 
Salt tiles, salt walls, salt ceilings.
Photo courtesy of Krista Schilling
We learned about horses that were used underground, even into this turn of the century. Big, burly work horses, they basically never saw the light of day, and the miners even believed they were probably blind from living in the mines all their lives. The last horse to work in the mine left sometime after 2002 (maybe later). Our guide told us that this horse didn’t adjust well to surface life. I can’t imagine what its reaction to seeing daylight for the first time was. Poor horse. I guess it didn’t have quite the same reaction to life on the surface as Plato predicted.
 
Chandelier made completely of salt rock. Salt rock ceilings too.
We got to see some amazing sculptures under the surface, all carved from salt. Gnomes too. Though, no sightings of the real ones that I know are lurking around there somewhere, just effigies of them carved from salt rock. There is even a beautiful, cavernous cathedral carved out of the rock salt walls. All of the carving underground has been done by miners over the centuries, not professional artists. They’ve been quite creative. 
 
The underground, cavernous cathedral.
Photo courtesy of Krista Schilling.
They hold mass here every Sunday and even weddings too.
The salt mine itself is like its own city. They have restaurants and gift shops, chapels, reception halls, pools of salt water, and even chambers for healing. People come to the Salt Mines for several weeks at a time to take advantage of the salt mine’s curative properties, such as somehow helping asthma-sufferers. Don’t ask me how that works.
 
And this whole little city is constantly threatened by the simplest of foes, the water running through it. They have a piping system, using a lot of wood, to pump the water out without dissolving any of the salt rock supporting the place. So much to worry about!
 
After the Salt Mine, we returned to Krakow for souvenir buying. And then Jen took us to a little place Anna showed her that makes, I’m certain, the best hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted. It’s like melted chocolate in a cup, thick and dark, topped off by homemade whipped cream. I’m so glad they don’t have this in Nantes, because it would be a very difficult temptation to resist daily.
The best whipped cream and thickest hot chocolate in all of Krakow.

 

Oh, chocolatey goodness.

 

After shopping, we joined Anna and her friends that evening for her birthday party at a cool little bar in the Jewish quarter. We ended up dancing the night away with our new found Polish friends. Not a bad end to our trip to Krakow.

Autumn color in Krakow.
Polish monstrosity: some kid with skinny legs standing in a monster costume in front of St. Mary’s Cathedral.

Dziękuję (thank you) for reading!

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