Our day started early, where dawn met drizzle. It was an appropriately damp and somber setting to see Auschwitz and Birkenau (which I’ll blog about separately). A punctual driver picked us up at our apartment right on schedule. We had booked ourselves into a small tour (~20 people). It would be a long day, not because of the hour and a half drive from Kraków to Auschwitz (and hour and a half back), but because of the harrowing and spirit-crushing hours touring the brutality and atrocities of the Nazi’s extermination camps. Knowing this, we had booked an extension of our tour with an add-on. To lighten the weight of our collective loss of faith in humanity, we had intentionally booked a trip that would end with a tour of the UNESCO’s World Cultural and Natural Heritage listed Wieliczka Salt Mine.
The several hour tour would take us to depths of 135 meters (443 feet), and to 20 chambers spread across 3km (1.86 miles) – a mear 5% of the overall mine dating back to the mid-13th century.
Our journey started with a dramatic descent down nearly 60 flights of stairs, to our initial depth of 64 meters (210 feet).
The legend of the salt mine is that Kinga, (who was later canonized the patron saint of salt miners as St. Kinga) the daughter of the King of Hungary Bela IV and wife of Polish ruler, Boleslaw V, threw her engagement ring in a Hungarian salt mine and it magically made salt appear in Poland (as well as her ring). To commemorate this legend (as well as political, religous, and other figures) miners carved rock salt sculptures in large chambers throughout the mines.
Our descent continued to a chapel built by and for the miners. During long stays in the mine it gave them a place to workship.
The most incredible chamber on the tour, at 331 feet deep, was the Chapel of St. Kinga – 67 years in the making (by 3 master miners who had been promoted to do the work). It held dozens of carved salt statues, a salt floor carved to look like tile, and even salt chandeliers.
The next major chamber we came to was held up by an incredible latticework of pine timbers.
Our tour ended with a further ascent to a restaurant, bar, and gift shop some 443 feet below the surface before we were able to catch the fast ascending elevator ride back to the surface.
As we headed back to Kraków we looked for places to eat near the Old Town Market. We stumbled across an interesting looking restaurant called Dobra which focused on building meals around varied types of groats.
After dinner we headed to Pod Badanami to see some live music with Mea Culpa & Jazz Roosters whom we had heard about the night before. While listening to jazz standards in Kraków seemed odd (although there is a long history of jazz in Poland), the band was good and the venue (in the catacombs beneath Old Town Market Square) made it even better.