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Friday, 26 September 2014

Wieliczka - The Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland

My dearest friends,

**The opinions in this post are my own 100%. Nobody told me what I should or should not write. I have always written from my heart! Discover Cracow invited me on this tour free of charge. In exchange, as a lovely lass, I am offering them my feedback as a happy customer. I must admit this is a new experience for me but I loved it and I would do it again anytime!**

A day or two ago I was telling how Discover Cracow began a collaboration with your very on Twisted Red LadyBug. We first went to Auschwitz I and II on Saturday 20th. A day after I had the pleasure of taking my lovely husband to the Salt Mines. Have you ever heard about Wieliczka? The Wieliczka Salt Mine is located in the town with the same name, very close to Krakow - make it maximum 30 minutes by car. The mine build there produced salt until 2007 and is one of the oldest salt mines still in operation.
There are about 1.2 million people who visit the mines annually. The Wieliczka salt mine reaches a depth of 327 metres (1,073 ft) and is over 287 kilometres (178 mi) long. We had the guided tour inside the mine done by a wonderful lady - her name was Ewa - whom we were informed that she was a professional guide who was also a minor!
Inside the mine there are machines that take your picture and you can send it to yourself via email!
The Entrance To The Salt Mine
UNESCO Patrimonium
As I said, getting to Wieliczka does not take long. We started at 9:10 am from the city center and by 9:40 we were already in the bus station, taking off and heading to the Salt Mine. I must tell you that you need to be prepared for the 378 stairs you will have to go down in order to reach the first level. That would be aproximately 64 meters down. The tour, in total, takes up to 2 hours and a half and by the end, one will be 135 meters under ground.
Princess Kinga
Make sure that you pack some warm clothes in your backpack/bag. The temperature inside the Salt Mine is constant and it is between 14 and 16 degrees Celsius - no matter the season and time of day. So if you are planning on coming in spring and summer and you are in shorts and a tee, I bet you will freeze of, so be careful about that!
Also, if you are planning on having the camera with you and taking pictures everywhere, make sure you buy the 10 zloty extra ticket pass for the audio/video. You can also purchase it inside, when you will reach the St. Kinga Chapel. Trust me, sometimes if I miss certain places, I like to look at the pictures, and would you like to tell your family and friends that you have none, just because u did not have the extra ticket? Also, if you buy it inside, make sure you have change as you cannot pay with your card.
The Wieliczka mine is often referred to as "The Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland." In 1978 it was placed on the original UNESCO list of the World Heritage Sites. Even the crystals of the chandeliers are made from rock salt that has been dissolved and reconstituted to achieve a clear, glass-like appearance. It also houses a private rehabilitation and wellness complex.
There is a legend about Princess Kinga, associated with the Wieliczka mine. The Hungarian noblewoman was about to be married to Bolesław V the Chaste, the Prince of Kraków. As part of her dowry, she asked her father for a lump of salt, since salt was prizeworthy in Poland. 
Her father King Béla took her to a salt mine in Máramaros. She threw her engagement ring from Bolesław in one of the shafts before leaving for Poland. On arriving in Kraków, she asked the miners to dig a deep pit until they come upon a rock.
The people found a lump of salt in there and when they split it in two, discovered the princess's ring. Kinga had thus become the patron saint of salt miners in and around the Polish capital. Inside the mine, there is a special chamber where you can see Princess Kinga sculpted out of salt :)
Notable visitors to this site have included Nicolaus Copernicus, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Alexander von Humboldt, Fryderyk Chopin, Dmitri Mendeleyev, Bolesław Prus, Ignacy Paderewski, Robert Baden-Powell, Jacob Bronowski (who filmed segments of The Ascent of Man in the mine), Karol Wojtyła (later, Pope John Paul II), former U.S. President Bill Clinton, and many others.
 A 3-kilometer (1.9-mile) tour features corridors, chapels, statues, and underground lake, 135 metres (443 ft) underground. An elevator returns visitors to the surface; the elevator holds 36 persons (nine per car) and takes some 30 seconds to make the trip. If you are claustrofobic, try to somehow reason with the tourguide and tell him/her about it.
When I say that 9 people per car go in the elevator, I must admit that one can barely drop a needle in the car. You try to move as less as you can and try to suck all the air out of you... you somehow feel like sardines packed in a tin box... and this actually made me think of Auschwitz. It might be also due to the fact that the day before I did go to Auschwitz... but it made me think of people in the standing cells, 4 in a box that barely one person would fit in...
The tour actually consists - as the tour guide also said - of less than 5% of the Salt Mine. Wieliczka Salt Mine consists of 2,000 excavated chambers.
Along the way there are fascinating sculptures made out of salt. Due to the corrosive nature of the salt and the humidity levels which have to be monitored, when the Salt Mine is busy some of the chapels are not visitable due to the sheer number of people. Breathing raises the humidity and things start to melt down. If you look closely at some statues, that is very visible.
In the Josefa Pilsudskiego, a couple of dozens years ago, people could actually have a bot tour in the underground lakes, but as now they have a yearly number of visitors of 1.2 that is totally impossible. But I believe that must have been very original and romantic :) Especially if you would have done it with your significant other :)
The best for people whom would like to have a tour and learn more about the mine is to actually buy a tour. The queues for the individual users are quite huge and people need to wait until a certain number is reached to get a guide from the Salt Mine. It is even harder when you are an English speaker, as there are a lot of Polish visitors.
At the end, there is a brand new chamber, well at least for me... The first time I visited Wieliczka was 3 years ago. About the same time I actually visited Auschwitz. I can see the changes and it was lovely seeing this new room. It was a visual and audio room, with a 3D animation done on the salt wall of the room. I loved the room as I could visualize a huge ball being held there. The floors are perfect for it! :) and smooth and shiny... delightful!
Another lovely addition to the Salt Mine are the photo-machines placed in 2 rooms - as far as I could observe, as they were pretty well hidden ;) All you have to do it accept the regulation, take the photo and input your email. Autumatically and immediately an email will reach the inbox selected and you will have the picture there. I think that is brilliant as couples don't usually have the chance to take a picture together :)
Reaching The End Of The Tour
This is where one of the machines is located - see one of the first pictures of the post to see how the picture would look like
The location is also very popular and posh nowadays. People can have weddings there. It gets expensive and it has high standards but hey! One does the wedding for a lifetime, so why not? The menu, in case you are interested, is over 500 zloty per head. There is a lovely cafeneria/self-service place where you can grab something to eat. I can't tell if the food is good but it did smell good ;) We had only 15 min break and I am sorry, I am not a fast eater...
The Exit, That Leads To The Corridor/Stairs To The Elevator Shaft
I would like to thank Discover Cracow one more time for this opportunity. It was lovely collaborating with them and if ever someone would ask me of a tour guide for Auschwitz or for Wieliczka for sure I would point them out to the City Center, on Jana street number 2, at the blue & white team. The tour guides are nice and they smile a lot, they are helpful and they answer to any questions you may have.
***
And I tell you, if you would ever be near Krakow, you need to take a few hours off and to to Wieliczka. It does wonders on your mood and miracles on your lungs ;)

** Sponsored post but written from the heart, without any external influences**

Yours truly,
A LadyBug That Loves Salt Mines