First off, breakfast at the hotel. Why the hotel, maybe because I needed something substantial after yesterday’s beetroot soup with dumplings (AKA, borscht if you are Russian, barszc if Polish or simply beet soup if you’re me). But the reality is the hotel had good WiFi and breakfast was free. After a few hours catching up on work and way to many cups of coffee, I set off for the day around 11:00 with the goal of checking out a salt mine and then the inside of the Castle. I had been admiring the Castle since I arrived. Each time I looked out my window it was different, as the sun seamed to transform it in to something new as the days progressed in to the nights.
The woman at the front desk told me the salt mine is just 14km southeast of Kraków in Wieliczka. She said “You just need to take the number 304 bus from around the corner from the hotel just behind the JUBILAT grocery store”. After browsing in the store and a little time in a used book store that was hidden under the back entrance of the JUBILAT, I was finally on a bus heading out of Krakow. It was all too simple… the part I did not count on was knowing when to get off the bus, I
realized a little too late the bus did not terminate at the salt mine and I will not even discuss figuring out how and what to pay to ride the bus. Apparently I picked the correct stop in Wieliczka (the second one if you are wondering). After about a ¼ of a mile walk following a few scattered signs, I arrived. I purchased a ticket for a guided tour (the only way to see the mine) and queued up for the 1:00 English tour only to find out it would be a 2.5 hour event.
It’s a very cool yet eerie world of pits and chambers, and everything within its depths has been carved by hand from blocks of salt from the walls to the floors. We made our way down some 800+ steps into a labyrinth of tunnels (only 1% is open to the public). We ended up about 135m below ground and the two and a half hours passed quickly. At points I was thinking I was in one of Tolkien’s tails with The King beneath the mountain.
Carve out of the salt was everything from chapels with altarpieces, statues to monuments – and there are even underground lakes. The showpiece is the ornamented Chapel with a carving of John Paul at one end. Every single element here, from the chandeliers to the altarpieces, is of salt.