It rained yesterday and more was expected today so an activity out of the weather was preferable. Of the standard tourist attractions in this region Majella had long ago decided that Auschwitz was off her list. It is a standard inclusion on most package tours to this region and one reason we preferred to do our own thing. Encouraged by a recommendation from Geoff Romeo on Facebook, our preferred out of the weather activity for today was the Wieliczka Salt Mine.
Assembly time for our tour today was 9:30 am about 30 minutes walk from our apartment so there was no need to rush this morning. Nevertheless we were up by 7:00 am and took the opportunity to do some laundry. After breakfast we relaxed until just before 9:00 am when it was time to head off to the old town to meet our tour.
We were early at the tour office and stood around with others waiting to go. Eventually we were shepherded a short distance to a road outside the old town to meet our coach. It was delayed by mechanical problems and it was 10:00 am before we boarded. Just before we did, I suddenly remembered that I had intended to feed the parking machine this morning but had forgotten. It was too late to do anything about that so, if there were consequences, they would have to be faced later. I wasn’t so much concerned about the quantum of any possible fine as the challenges of dealing with it in Polish.
Wieliczka is not far out of Kraków so even with some traffic the bus got there reasonably quickly once it arrived and set off. The mine is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has history dating from the 15th century.
At the mine we were shepherded again into groups and issued with tickets and devices for listening to the guide. Then we queued for what seemed to be much longer than the 40 minutes or so that it was. We finally made it into the mine just after 11:30 am and began the descent of about 350 steps to the first level, almost 100 metres below ground.
It was not until we had reached the end of the final staircase that our guide informed us that there was a lift so it would not be necessary to walk back up any stairs. I had been looking forward to the challenge but some others on the tour looked as though getting down had been more than enough exercise.
In the course of a couple of hours we walked 3 km or so through galleries and open spaces below the ground. Our guide was a young Polish woman who spoke excellent English and was well versed in the history of the mine and points of interest along the tour path. The deepest point we reached was 135 metres below the surface. Although the mine has not been in production for about 20 years there are still more than 400 miners working there on maintenance with a current project being to pack disused spaces with sand to prevent subsidence that could affect the town above. Packing is cheaper than the traditional method of shoring up with wood and can be reversed in future if necessary by removing the sand.
The tour wound through passages that included sculptures in the rock salt and displays that demonstrated how the mine had operated in the past. Dangers in the mine included explosions caused by ignition of methane gas and stairs carved in the rock salt made slippery by the absorption of moisture in the air. There are spaces with sculptures commemorating significant people, including Polish astronomer, Copernicus, and several chapels. The largest of those is the Chapel of St Kinga which commemorates the Hungarian princess who married a Polish prince and found the salt deposits. It includes carved reproductions of some significant religious art works and a life size statue of Polish Pope, John Paul II.
It was 3:00 pm by the time we arrived back in Kraków and we walked as quickly as we could back to the parked car to see what might have happened in our absence. There was no sign of a penalty ticket on the car. I retrieved the keys from the apartment and went to the machine. Any attempt to buy a permit generated a time on 25 September – Monday. I don’t know the days of the week in Polish so the information on the machine meant little. I went back to the car and checked the permit I had bought yesterday. It is current until after 10:00 am on 25 September. Parking is free on Saturday and Sunday. A check on the text from our host confirmed that I had not picked up on that in the information she gave. Any concern we had about parking was unnecessary. We are covered until Monday but will be gone on Sunday.
After coffee and a rest in the apartment we walked back to the old town. Majella had been told by a friend that there was entertainment there on weekends but as it had rained heavily for two days and summer is over, all we found was the bubble blower we had seen yesterday and the market stalls. We wandered about there for a while and Majella made another small purchase. We tried the fried sheep’s cheese, Oscypek, with bacon and found it very tasty. After a short stroll to see Florian’s Gate and the old city wall more closely we came back to the square.
It was only 5:00 pm but Majella was already thinking of an early dinner so we started checking restaurant menus. There were several that looked inviting but Majella thought we might have an apperitif and suggested the beer and vodka special I had last night as appropriate. We walked to Gin Dobry where we had been last night. I had the special, with lemon vodka this time, but Majella could not face a pint of beer and settled for just the raspberry vodka.
For dinner we strolled back to Piano Rouge where we had checked the menu earlier. We shared the board of local specialties – sausage, 2 types of cheese, pickles, horseradish sauce with cranberry, bread, and more. That was more than enough for two. Majella had the Red Piano cocktail and I had a glass of red wine.
On the way back to the apartment we picked up some pastries at a bakery to eat on our journey tomorrow. That left us with a little more than 30 zloty ($10 AUD) which would be no use to us after tomorrow morning when we leave Poland. I slipped out to see what I could get and returned with a can of beer recommended by our driver yesterday, a small bottle of cider with berries for Majella, and 500 ml of raspberry flavoured Polish vodka. That should keep us supplied until it is time to leave for home in a week or so.