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Today we are in Krakow (Poland). Yesterday we drove from Teplice to Krakow, stopping in Auschwitz and Birkenau.
This morning we went to the famous Wieliczka salt mines just outside of Krakow (another UNESCO world heritage site). To start the tour you travel down 400 stairs in a long continuous wooden staircase (like the ones in tall buildings). The mine is entirely carved out of salt. There are many rooms in the mine that have salt statues and salt pictures carved into the walls.
This is the cathedral (carved out of salt).
For those of you who are scientifically inclined, there were large methane deposits in the mine, and it was the job of some very unfortunate miners to move around the rooms and passageways of the mine with very tall torches, hoping to ignite the stray methane that accumulated near the ceilings before it was accidentally lit by explosives. These men never married as their lifespans were not long. And you thought your job sucked!
Also, there were horses brought down the vertical mine shafts in harnesses that lived out their lives in the cave doing manual labor. They said the horses were well taken care of and did not go blind because there was plenty of light in the mines.
The tour guide asked us to please not lick the statues (to verify their salt construction), but told us we were welcome to lick the walls as much as we would like (but only up to 5 kg please). I don’t think anyone in the tour took her up on this offer, but it did pretty effectively keep people from licking the statues as well.
In the mine there is a church, a ballroom, restrooms, a bar (of course, there are bars everywhere in Europe). However, I did not see an internet cafe (maybe next year, as they said they add new features every year). There was one room that was 36 meters tall and several small lakes too.
At the end of the tour, thankfully you travel back out of the mine in a lift that carries up to 9 people at once. People were very worried about feeling claustraphobic in the lift, but it was not bad as you could see through holes in the wall and it was big enough for 9 crowded people and a pretty short ride. I think the stairs on the way down bothered more people than the lift.
Here is an ice crystal chandelier.
St. Barbara (the patron saint of miners).
And some strange carvings of gnomes that “live” in the salt caves.
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