Krakow - Wieliczka Salt Mines

Trip Start Nov 22, 2013
Trip End Dec 24, 2013

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Flag of Poland  , Lesser Poland Voivodeship,
Tuesday, December 17, 2013

We looked at a few tour companies to visit the Salt Mines, but decided to catch the local bus again - you get a great look at local life using the local transport, especially when it is 12 Zloty (about $4-50) for all of us for a half hour bus trip.

We arrived in Wieliczka about 10.10am when some very helpful locals told us which stop to get off at... and we didn't even ask (perhaps we look like tourists!). We had some trouble finding the Salt Mines, so we dropped in to the Tourist Info centre - turns out we were only 100 metres from them, but it looked shut as the gate was closed. Due to being low season, only a pedestrian gate was open, but we still arrived in time for the 10.30am tour.

There were only 8 on our tour and a handful on each of the other languages - a far cry from the up to 8,000 people a day they get there in summer! The tour starts with a descent down 380 steps to Level 1 of the mine at 65 metres (there are 9 levels, but we only went as far as Level 3, 135 metres, and we walked 1% of the 250km of tunnels).

Each tunnel and many of the chambers are reinforced with logs, so there is an enormous amount of wood down there, as well as 5 chapels (the largest one still used for a service every Sunday), a banquet room, restaurant and various salt water pools. A fascinating tour of the history and working of a salt mine.

Some salt mine fun facts:
- this mine has always been staffed by specialist tradesmen, and never by prisoners, children or slaves (that must have been only the Russian ones!). It ceased operation as a working mine in 1996.

- it has been open for tourism since 1774 (yes, Poland was doing salt mine tourism 4 years after Australia was colonised)

- The mine goes underneath 80% of the city of Wieliczka and they still employ 400 staff, mostly to fill in the tunnels in order to strengthen them. They are using a mixture of sand and brine inserted under pressure, and estimate this process will take 150 years.

We caught the local bus back, did a bit of shopping for the train trip back to Warsaw tomorrow, then back the the apartment for some last minute washing and cheese eatings!!

Looking for a place for tea, I Googled "Best goulash Krakow" and one of the suggestions was a little restaurant about 50 metres from our apartment in a residential side street - and it was top notch - log cabin decor, wooden benches with fur throw overs, open fire, potato cakes with goulash, cabbage rolls, sauerkraut... and Bison vodka (grass infused - apparently the local favourite, mixed with apple juice) - that was Katie's. My beer came with a straw - is that because I had raspberry added to it!!?
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