I don’t know about you, but when I hear the words “salt mines” I’m hardly filled with excitement. That’s why the first time I visited Krakow, I dismissed Wieliczka as a boring day trip for nerds and squares. However, I would soon live to regret my mistake.
Since my previous, misinformed, dismissal of the mines I’d seen photographs that proved it was indeed one of the many wonders of the world. Moreover, it’s listed in my Lonely Planet Ultimate Travelist book, which has become my makeshift bucket list of travel destinations. So, on my second visit to Poland’s second city, the Wieliczka Salt Mines topped my to do list.
That’s why even an eight o’clock wake up time after a night sampling Kazimierz’s finest drinking establishments couldn’t prevent us from visiting. So, our breathes still tinged with the taste of tatanka, we headed bleary eyed to the UNESCO listed attraction which is a 20-minute drive south of Krakow.
Much to our eternal woe, to get to the first level of the mine, tourists have to descend a wooden staircase. A spiralled wooden staircase. A spiralled, wooden staircase with 380 steps. 380 dizzying steps with the hangover from hell. Absolute hell and a half.
Somehow, we managed to reach the bottom of the stairs without fainting or losing our stomach linings. So, we soldiered on. And our brave efforts were certainly rewarded. Much of the early excursion is a bit of a delirious blur for me. However, I do recall licking a salt wall and marvelling at the many salt sculptures that litter the subterranean site.
However, all I really need to mention in this post is the salt mine’s four chapels. And, particularly the exquisite Chapel of St. Kinga. This cavernous underground church is large enough to seat 400 people for mass. And, a number of ornate features festoon the chapel, including carvings, crystal chandeliers and sparkling alter. Certainly not what you’d expect to find at the bottom of a mere salt mine.