The drive from Auschwitz to the Wieliczka salt mine took quite a while, maybe an hour, an hour and a half. There wasn't too much to see on the way apart from the sun starting to set in the sky and the beautiful colours it was producing. Since it had been a pretty full on morning, it was nice to relax and reflect on the things I'd seen and heard, and take a little nap. When we arrived at the salt mine it was a short walk from the car park up a hill to the entrance. I hadn't really done any research on the salt mines, I just knew that they were a popular attraction to visit from Krakow. You cannot just wander around the mine, I bet they would lose quite a few people if they did that as the place is absolutely huge, and you are given a guided tour of the mine with a local guide. Our guide was really, really funny. He had a very dry sense of humour and I loved his craic. We were given headphones so that we could listen to him and started our descent down many, many stairs. The walk down
the stairs wasn't too difficult and there were markings to show how far down we had gone.
We reached the first level, which is called Bono and is 64 metres deep. I was really surprised to find out that the mine dated back to the Middle Ages and was the largest source of salt in Poland. We walked through the caverns that were covered with huge wooden logs. We came to some chambers which date back to the 19th century. One was filled with sculptures of what looked like royalty and the other had models of people and artefacts to show how mining was conducted in the past. I was quite surprised at how big it was, I would have thought that mines would have been pretty cramped, but here the chambers were pretty large. I was also surprised to see a model of a horse down there, as I always forget that these types of animals were sent down the mines to. We also saw a sculpture of King Casimir the Great. He used money from salt mining, that made up a third of the Polish treasury's income, to develop and modernise the country. He also regulated matters
regarding salt mining.
We headed deeper to the next level, the Markowski Brothers Higher Level, which is 90 metres deep. Here there were more dioramas showing how mining was done in the past. We continued down to 101 metres below ground and came to the viewing platform looking out across St. Kinga's Chapel. This was amazing, it was so cool to see this large, empty chapel below with the chandelier lights shining above it. We headed down the stairs and and some free time to look around the chapel. The chapel was designed by three sculptor miners: Józef Markowski, Tomasz Markowski and Antoni Wyrodek. The chapel was brilliant, there was so much detail. I loved looking at the detailed pictures that had been carved onto the walls. It would be really atmospheric to attend a wedding or religious service there. I think the miners can attend a mass there at the weekends. We made our way further down the min and came to these beautiful blue lakes. The water was a gorgeous turquoise colour and it reminded me of some pools that I had seen when hiking in Korea. Then we continued on into a huge cavern that was
supported by lots and lots of wooden beams. I couldn't get over not only how huge the cavern was, but how deep under the earth it was.
We reached, what I think, was the deepest pint that the tour goes to, the Kazanow Split Level, which is 130 metres deep. We also saw the Jozef Pilsudski Grotto, which was really cute and looked like a canal in Venice. This dates back to the beginning of the 19th century. I would love to be able to do a boat ride exploring the lakes and grottoes in the mine. I'm not sure that hey are all linked though. We passed more sculptures and a few gift shops, at our own pace, before coming to a big function room. I would like to go to a party in there. We all met up again at the queue for the lift back to the surface. The journey back to the top of the mine was a bit cramped as they have to squeeze a certain about of people into the tiny lift for each trip. The journey didn't take too long and soon we were back at the top. I enjoyed the trip
around the mine, it was not what I expected at all. One fact that totally shocked me was that on the tour we only covered 2% of the mine and we spent about three hours in the place! The drive back to Krakow passed quicker than I expected and we were dropped off on the edge of the Old Town. After orientating myself, I headed back to where I was staying to make some dinner and to relax. It had been a long, emotionally draining day. I can understand why some people like to visit Auschwitz separately from the salt mine as it is a very heavy place. However, I think visiting the salt mine stopped me from stewing on all the evil that Auschwitz encapsulates.
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