Holy buckets in Wieliczka, Poland – Final European tour part VIII

Holy buckets, it’s been far too long since I’ve updated my blog. I’m currently on winter break right now but classes start up soon (far too soon for comfort, since I still have 100,000 things to do before classes start), but I’m going to try and catch up on my updating before then. Or at least try not to be so remiss in the future.

So, I’ll get around eventually to explaining why I disappeared for the past six months or whatnot, but first, back to Poland.

The day after I went to Auschwitz, I went to this little town in Poland called Wieliczka. Have fun with that pronunciation; I dared not try it until I heard a Pole say it. Anyways, Wieliczka is famous because they have a salt mine there.

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I know what you’re thinking. Salt, yay, tastes good, but not exactly exciting.

BUT THAT’S WHERE YOU’RE WRONG. Because Poles love their salt so much they carve statues in it.

Well, at least in the Wieliczka Salt Mine they do. And it’s absolutely extraordinary.

I joined a tour going to the salt mine. If you know me, you know I’m not a fan of guided tours. I decided that taking a tour to the mine would be the best option after reading a horror story of some traveler who took the buses there and got horribly lost somewhere in Poland. By this point, I was exhausted and felt that I couldn’t deal with being lost in Poland, so I decided to play it safe.

Wieliczka Salt Mine II

The tour group drove us to the mine and then we descended into the cold, black depths of Moria. Or not really; it was pretty well lit and thankfully warm, since I hadn’t brought a lot of extra clothes. As we went down staircase after staircase, our tour guide asked us about ourselves. I had heard some people in my group speaking a Scandinavian language, and I almost exploded with happiness when they said they were from Norway.

Love those Norwegians.

Eventually we got to the first part of the mine, where we saw the first statues. Some rooms tell the history of the mine, others contain statues of famous visitors to the mine, and others contain chapels. It was a bit surprising because the salt in the mine was not white, like I expected–most of it was dark grey. Our tour guide explained why this was the case (forgot, sorry), and he also explained how they mined salt in the good ol’ days. They used  horses, which lived down in the mine. Fortunately unlike the horses used in coal mines, these horses did not go blind. There was even a lovely mannequin of a horse, though I wasn’t fooled. Wooden structures are also used for support in some places in the mine. Some of these structures are so old that they’ve been petrified by the salt.

When we were walking through a tunnel at one point, our tour guide told us we could lick the salt. I was all for just sticking my tongue right up against the wall, but decided against doing so when I saw one women intelligently scrape a bit of salt with her finger and lick that. I followed suit, though honestly if I had been at back of the pack I probably would have just licked the wall.

It’s just salt, right 😛

005After wandering through more tunnels and caverns, we came to one of my favorite parts of the mine–Thorin Oakenshield and his company of dwarves!

Okay, I sincerely apologize. It’s nearly 2:30 AM here and I had soda so I’m crazy hyper, plus I’m on a weird Hobbit kick right now.

But really, they do have statues of dwarves/gnomes in the mine. I couldn’t get a great picture of it. With the flash on you can see the statues better, but with the flash off you can see the beautiful lighting they used. I loved it, though.

Next we came to probably the most amazing part of the mine, St. Kinga’s Chapel. That’s right, it’s an entire chapel, made out of salt. Even the chandeliers are made out of salt! The tiles in the floor, too, are carved in the salt. Various Biblical scenes can be found carved in the walls of the chapel, including the crucifixion of Christ and “The Last Supper.”

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St. Kinga's Chapel IIBefore I move on, let me just clarify something. All the people who carved these statues and rooms in the mine shaft were just ordinary miners. They weren’t artists specifically brought in to beautify the mine. It’s incredible that they were able to do such beautiful work because carving salt is not easy.

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There are a few underground lakes in the mine, and given that it’s a salt mine, the lakes are incredibly salty. It’s almost impossible to drown in these lakes because you can’t sink due to all the salt in the water. When we reached this one underground lake (pictured below), our tour guide told us a story. Some years ago, some miners were rowing a boat across this lake. Something happened and their boat flipped over, with them stuck underneath the boat. Unfortunately, they couldn’t swim under the boat because they couldn’t sink, so they ended up suffocating when they ran out of oxygen.

Wieliczka Salt Mine underground lake

We walked through a few more rooms, including a gift shop (classic) and a conference room. We then took an elevator to the top of the mine.

I’m not a huge fan of elevators. I think part of it is due to the fact that at university, I used to work in a research lab on the 13th floor. My friend and co-worker once had to take the elevator down to a different part of the building. She later told me that when the elevator arrived, she tripped up into it because it had stopped higher than floor-level. By the time she realized this was unusual, the doors had closed. She pushed the button for the floor she wanted to go to, but… nothing. She started pushing other buttons but it still didn’t move. Eventually she just pushed every button and the elevator agreed to go down to the 2nd floor, but still, she said she panicked.

Some months later, a different friend of mine crammed a whole bunch of our freshmen mentees into the same elevator. Too many people, stuck elevator, panic. Again, the elevator decided it would go to the 2nd floor so they managed to escape, though apparently the froshies were freaking out. Thankfully I had enough good sense to go in a different elevator.

So yeah, don’t like elevators too much.

The elevators in the salt mine are two-story standing elevators, and man do they cram you in those. Thankfully the ride was short so I didn’t have to endure the pain of an elbow sticking in my back for too long. But that was enough.

We walked through yet another gift store, and then our tour guide shuttled us back to Krakow, where I had more pierogi for dinner.

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