Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Poland: Wieliczka Salt Mines.

I was so excited to visit Poland. Like most Americans, my heritage is a dash of this, a splash of that. I'm a quarter Polish, and that's substantial for two reasons. One, I know for a fact that I'm a quarter Polish because I know my grandfather is 100 percent Polish. We've traced that back to his parents in Poland. Two, I do not know what else I am, really. I know I'm probably 3/16 Hungarian and 1/6 Czechoslovakian, but I don't know if that falls in the current day Czech Republic or Slovakia bit, and that's just based on my grandma's talk. Dad is a bit more vague, saying he's mostly English, and estimating that I'm 40 percent English, and then claiming that there's probably a dash of German, a bit of French, and a touch of Europe in there. All I know with certainty is that I'm a quarter Polish. That, and I look a bit Polish because a friend once asked if I was, with no prior knowledge, and I've taken it as a compliment to this day.

Well then. That was a long aside that I don't know where it's going anymore. Shall I start over?

I was so excited to visit Poland, and kept saying, "Ahhhh, motherland!!" in the weeks preceding. Note: That reference is to the best flash animation. ever. When I arrived in Birmingham a day and a half before jetting off to Poland, though, I found that our trip was not planned. It should be known that I love plans. I love itineraries, I love timetables, I love schedules. I love other things like cheese, ice cream, shiny objects, ceramics, and other items characteristic of magpies, too. I was panicking about a lack of Poland plan, though. I turned anxious and all sweaty over it, tried to book us on some tours only to have that plan foiled, and finally had to join along with my family's crazy idea that everything would be fine. It turns out all was fine, but this is only one example to that title, so far.

So we arrived at the Hotel Maksymilian in Krakow, which was an awesome and affordable hotel, talked with the super helpful front desk girl and booked ourselves on a tour of the salt mines for that very day. I was foiled out of this plan the day before, so I was skeptical. Lo and behold, the tickets she sold us got us on a bus and into the salt mines, though, so everything was fine.

The salt mines are in the city of Wieliczka (sounds like veal-ich-ka), about 20 minutes outside of Krakow. They're hundreds of years old and they are what originally brought money into Krakow. We journeyed underground into the mines and toured the different chambers and galleries dating from the 1600s through today.

I didn't really understand why the miners created these chambers and galleries when they were also busy mining the salt, and I didn't think of that question during the tour. Palm to forehead. Mining was dangerous work, though, and Poland, being a very Catholic nation, the miners wanted to pray before heading farther underground. Thus, one of the first chambers was a chapel so the miners could pray. Unfortunately, much of this chamber has since been destroyed by the humidity (salt and water don’t play well for reservation purposes), but the chandelier above, made out of salt, is from the chamber. You can see the rock salt ceiling and the effects of humidity on it, too.

As we continued through the mine, there were more chambers dug out of rock salt with statues and memorials dedicated to famous visitors or to explain the old school mining process. Those are boring compared to these trolls.

I can confirm that everything’s made of salt, too. I licked the ceiling.

The most impressive room was the cathedral. They hold mass here every Sunday and the occasional wedding. The room is also, again, entirely made of salt. The stairs, the walls, the ceiling, the artwork. The floor is made to look like tile, but it’s salt with lines dug out to look like it’s tiled.

I was again obsessed with the chandeliers and struggled with the fact that I was too short to clink their pretty crytals.

It wouldn’t be Poland without an homage to Pope John Paul II, either. Here he is, appropriately in salt.

There were also some impressive underground lakes. There used to be little boats out on the water, but the high density of the salt water posed a risk because you can’t swim in the water – you just float.

We were then propelled out of the mine in the creepiest elevator. It didn’t have full walls. I could have lost an arm, but everything was fine.

Up next – we visited Auschwitz and Birkenau, took a walking tour of Krakow, and did a lot of shopping at the Cloth Hall.


  1. you can also attribute our very polish body build to the fact that we are indeed polish.


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