“If you go to Krakow, do not miss the salt mines in Wieliczka”, we were told back in Colombia by a polish guy. He seemed to believe that those were the best salt mines in the whole entire world. Happening to be around the corner and keen to see whether this man was right, we booked a tour through our hostel. As tickets were sold out, this was the only way for us to visit the Wieliczka salt mines before leaving Poland. It felt great for once to just sit and relax during the short drive to Wieliczka. Upon arrival, we gathered around an English-speaking tour guide before embarking on our very own version of the Journey to the Center of the Earth (dramatic effect? Check!). Frankly speaking, I wasn’t particularly excited to spend the next 3 hours underground but to be fair, this looked much safer than the mine we explored in Potosi, Bolivia. Back in 2012, to celebrate Christmas, we went down dodgy ladders, crawled through narrow tunnels while surrounded by darkness and fear and played with some TNT 20 meters below the surface. THAT was intense and nerve wrecking. In Wieliczka, it didn’t feel like we were in a mine, it could have been any basement or bunker; we used a steady wooden staircase to descend the 380 steps and reached the first level, located at 64 meters underground.
I had somehow expected the walls of the mine to be shiny and sparkling from the salt; Instead the walls were mostly drab… but ô so delicious. You know what they say, you gotta love a good “free” salt tasting *disclaimer: No wall was harmed during our visit*. Even tho our guide assured us that it was fine to lick them, salt stopping the propagation of bacteria, we decided to give the walls licking a miss and use our fingers instead. The thought of licking a wall, that had been licked millions of times before, was seriously not appealing. Other than salt tasting, the visit was very interesting as we learnt about salt mining that ended in that mine in 2007 and were told the legend of princess Kinga who asked her father to be given for a salt lump for her engagement instead of a diamond (what on earth…). This is my simplified version, I am sure a more poetic version can be found online. The chapels and salt statues (that we weren’t allowed to lick… Go figure… wouldn’t it have been fun to tell the world that I had licked Copernicus?!) were quite beautiful but the rushed pace imposed by our guide and the group following us was a downside of this guided tour; we couldn’t take our time to admire the detailed work that was surrounding us. Such a shame!
After going down some (many) more steps to reach levels 2 and 3, at 135 meters, we finally had some free time to discover the underground lake (wish o’clock!) and the St. Kinga’s chapel. It could have been nice if it wasn’t for the feeling that we had been confined like cattles in an overcrowded corral. Dreadful. At the end, Heidi and I took some time to check a mini (micro mini) museum where there was an interesting exhibition: The Extraordinary World of Minerals. Illuminated with UV light, the minerals (among others: halite, dolomite, aragonite…) glowed and looked pretty funky! It was probably my favorite part as none of the hundred other visitors ventured to this micro mini museum and it therefor felt very special to us. Going back to the surface felt rather adventurous as our group boarded an overcrowded tiny elevator. In less than 30 seconds, we had returned to the world of the living! Alive and kicking, we were ready for our next stop: Budapest!