Day 6, Saturday, August 31, 2019
We had a quiet day today. I rested and did some blogging and Bob checked out the train station and where to buy groceries. He had a great idea, to use our empty carry on suitcase to haul our groceries. So mush easier than carrying heavy bags.
Day 7, Sunday, September 1, 2019
The Wieliczka Salt Mining Tour is on the agenda for today. It is a twenty minute drive and we arrive early so we sit in a nearby park where it is cooler until it is time for our tour. It is going to be 31° today, so going into a mine where the temperature is a constant 17° seems like a good idea. Immediately upon entering the mine we descend 54 flights of stairs, 380 steps down to the first level of the mine which is 64 meters deep. This photo is looking down the crack between the flights of stairs…and we were already almost halfway down when I took this! There are dioramas showing some of the old mining techniques and machinery. These men are lifting ‘salt logs’ which weighed between 200 kg and 2 tonnes. The first shaft was sunk in 1280 and salt is still mined here today. The salt was formed 13 million years ago by an inland sea. The salt preserves the logs that are used for reinforcement. These are newer ones but we see others that are hundreds of years old. These sculptures are carved out of salt by the miners in the 20th century. These figures illustrate the legend of how the salt mines were discovered in Poland. Horses were used in the mines from the 16th century until 2002. Up to 350 horses worked and spent their whole lives underground. Interestingly, they did not go blind being in the darkness most of their lives. These horses operated a machine that moved the salt logs from one level to another. There are nine levels and 2 km of shafts and tunnels but we only visit about 1% of the mine. There are white seams of almost pure salt in some places. Most of the salt mined was between 80-90% pure. There are some strange creatures living in this mine. Stairs go down and down and down…there are 800 steps that we descend in all! Apparently gnomes make good miners! Looking down one of the long tunnels that we are not allowed to enter. Wow! This is St. Kinga’s Chapel. It is entirely constructed from the salt in the mine. Most of the stairs on our route are made of wood, but these two staircases we walk down are made of salt.The miners built over 40 chapels In the mine. It was very dangerous work so they would pray before their shift that they would be safe and then they would offer thanks before they went home. This representation of da Vinci’s last Supper is carved in salt, as are… all the sculptures… the main altar. Even the chandeliers are made of salt crystals!
The floor looks like stone but is salt worn smooth by the millions of visitors to the mine.
An underground lake with scaffolding and stairs high above.
Another of the mine’s inhabitants! This guy is a bit scarier than the little fellow we saw earlier:) This chamber connects the two levels of the mine and is 35 m. high. Because the roof is so high it needed to be strongly reinforced with all these high timbers. Another underground brine lake. The water in these lakes is 33% salt. Ocean water is only 3% salt. Luckily we do not climb this set of stairs! They disappear in to the darkness at the top of this chamber. One of the many long tunnels we walk through. At one time visitors rode boats through this part of the mine and were treated to a fireworks display 90 meters underground! Today the mine has over 1.5 million visitors a year so it is impossible to still offer this experience. There is an underground banquet hall and restaurant. Another of the chapels we visited. A close up of the mine walls. We were invited to lick the walls, and taste the salt. We only licked our fingers and then touched the wall so we could taste the salt. I didn’t relish the thought of actually licking the walls!This enormous chamber is 135 meters below ground on the third of nine levels. The entire mine occupies about a 5 km x 5 km area. The ceiling here is 36 meters high and a Guinness World record was set here for an underground hot air balloon flight!
I was hoping to sketch underground but there just wasn’t the time, so I made notes instead, but I did sketch one of the tourists before we went underground.
On our way back to our car, these comical characters caught my eye, but there just isn’t room in my suitcase.