Wieliczka salt mine, worth its weight in … salt?

St Kinga's Chapel (the patron saint of salt miners)

Dave the motorhome is in the thick of it, he’s in the official parking for the Wieliczka salt mine (N49.98494 E20.05279). The town looks like it’s normally a quiet place, but tonight there is a huge concert and fairground just across the road from us. All free of course, but we’ve no need to watch – we can hear it perfectly well from here!

Last night we nipped to another free concert, this time it was Jazz in the market square in Tarnow. We popped along and listened to a couple of tracks, but the mosquitoes got the better of us and sent us back to Dave for shelter.

Jazz in Tarnow market square....nice!
Jazz in Tarnow market square….nice!
The Jazz Steps Band from Hungary
The Jazz Steps Band from Hungary
No jaywalking here in Poland - you can tell we're back in Northern Europe!
No jaywalking here in Poland – you can tell we’re back in Northern Europe!

This morning it was time to say a sad farewell to Keith, although we hope to bump into him again soon as he’s doing the Krakow three too over the next few days; Krakow, Wieliczka Salt Mines and Auschwitz. With Dave smelling sweet from four loads of bargain laundry – 10 Zloty (£2) a load, we headed off for an uneventful journey to Wieliczka. The roads here in Poland are just too good, or at least the ones we’ve been driving on. We heard from Keith and a couple of others at the campsite that those in the north are on a par with Ukraine! So glad we’re sticking to the EU funded / Euro 2012 revamped ones in the south.

Jay and Keith at Camping 202 in Tarnow
Jay and Keith at Camping 202 in Tarnow
Uneventful roads in Poland
Uneventful roads in Poland
Even Charlie got bored looking out of the window
Even Charlie got bored looking out of the window

It may have been an uneventful drive, but our trip into Lidl was a bit of an eye-opener. I know Poland is famous for its vodka, but I didn’t realise just how cheap it would be. A 70cl bottle of Absolute for £8, or a 50cl bottle of the local ‘acid stomach’ vodka for £4. It’s a good job neither of us are big vodka fans or Dave would be struggling over the border into Germany!

We reached Wieliczka and found the official parking – all along the road men in neon jackets waved flags with a blue parking P on them as we passed, but we held out for the official place as it was mentioned on one of our databases. 30 Zloty to park up (£6) and we can stop for the night too – winner. As I jumped out to wave Dave into place a couple wandered over from a Brit registered Mazda Bongo (one of the best car names you can get!) and said ‘Hi, are you Our Tour?’. As it’s on the side of Dave in stickers I thought they were being funny, but it turned out that they had read our blog and emailed us a few weeks ago – it’s a small world!

After a chat, and a quick tour of each other’s van, Colin and Louise headed off to the ticket office while we had a bite to eat and walked Charlie. By the time we got to the ticket office we paid our 75 zloty each plus 10 zloty to take photos (which is partly why there are so many, we wanted our money’s worth) and squeezed onto the same tour as Colin and Louise, and off we went. I’ll let the photos show you the place, but the don’t fully do it justice so if you’re ever in Poland it’s certainly worth a visit. The mine itself is on nine levels which are between 64 and 327 metres underground. There are over 2,400 chambers connected by corridors of a total length of 155 miles! We got to walk about four kilometres of it and visited over 20 chambers, gawping at chapels, lakes and mile after mile of wood – it gets so impregnated with salt that it doesn’t rot!

300 steps down into the mine....
300 steps down into the mine….
....how many levels can you count?
….how many levels can you count?
The mine is dotted with salt sculptures done by the miners
The mine is dotted with salt sculptures shaped by the miners

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More steps down - good job it's a lift back up!
More steps down – good job it’s a lift back up!
Louise and Colin in one of the chapels
Louise and Colin in one of the chapels
St Kinga's Chapel (the patron saint of salt miners)
St Kinga’s Chapel (the patron saint of salt miners)
salt crystals on the chandeliers
salt crystals on the chandeliers
There was plenty of salt at this last supper
There was plenty of salt at this last supper

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Salt bricks for animals were used to pave some of the corridors ahead of a visit by Pope John Paul II - unfortunately he was too sick to travel and never visited as Pope.
Salt bricks for animals were used to pave some of the corridors ahead of a visit by Pope John Paul II – unfortunately he was too sick to travel and never visited as Pope.
A brine lake you could float in
A brine lake you could float in

After we’d toured the caves our guide told us about the second tour that you could do and did her best to put people off, ‘it’s another two kilometres… you’ll have to wait 30 minutes for it to start… technical stuff for geologists’, but we’d read our guidebook which had forewarned us of this tactic, so while the rest of the group left Louise, Colin, Jay and I were joined by a woman from Portugal who also had the same guidebook as us. Kate, our guide, who’s name is actually something else but she uses Kate as it’s so much easier for the British tourists, then took us on a tour of another part of the mine. Here the five of us were treated to more sculptures, huge wooden pulley systems for moving up to two tonnes of salt, various types of salt crystal including pink salt which comes from central Poland and is coloured by rust. If you do the tour, it’s worth making sure you go for the museum part too.

Jay tastes the wall in a quiet corridor
Jay tastes the wall in a quiet corridor
Salt and rock
Salt and rock

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A great salty moustache
A great salty moustache
In the olden days, before over a million people a year visited, you could take a quaint boat ride around the place!
In the olden days, before over a million people a year visited, you could take a quaint boat ride around the place!

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A plan showing the nine levels of the mine - it's massive!
A plan showing five of the nine levels of the mine – it’s massive!
Wooden horse powered hoisting equipment
Wooden horse-powered hoisting equipment
When water seeps in 'salt cauliflowers' are formed on the rock and wood
When water seeps in ‘salt cauliflowers’ are formed on the rock and wood
A woolly mammoth tooth found in the mines
A woolly mammoth tooth found in the mines
Our 40 odd strong tour group diminished slightly for the second part!
Our 40 odd strong tour group diminished slightly for the second part!

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After the tour we were squeezed into the ‘new’ lift, from the 1950’s with the remains of another tour group and shot back up to the surface. Once through the obligatory tat shop, like Chilean miners we donned our sunglasses as we emerged into the sunlight. The warmth of the evening was welcome after the cool mine, and we said farewell to Colin and Louise who were off to a campsite near Krakow.

A squeeze in the lift back up
A squeeze in the lift back up
Salt souvenirs
Salt souvenirs
Charlie has paid his 10 Zloty so can now take photos in the mines
Charlie has paid his 10 Zloty so can now take photos in the mines

A quick drink and bite to eat in Dave, after all licking salt mine walls does make you thirsty, and with Charlie in tow we set off for a walk around the town. The place was alive with people, and we thought back to all those empty towns and villages we’d wandered around over the past couple of winters. We had an ice cream each and watched the world go by. As dusk fell the fairground lit up and the afternoon family band on the concert stage has changed to a rock band. Earplugs may be required tonight!

Synchronised flying over the town
Synchronised flying over the town
Late afternoon concert, now it's all rock and laser lights!
Late afternoon concert, now it’s all rock and laser lights!
Charlie likes pies, but in Poland he is pies!
Charlie likes pies, but in Poland he is pies!

Ju x

 

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