Last night we had decided that we would get up this morning and walk back over to the market square and visit Wawela Castle. Instead we headed to Wielczka Salt Mine. With our changing Auschwitz plans we thought we would skip the mine because it is east and we will be heading west – if I had reserved our Friday tickets the geographics would have worked in our favor. We have seen castles but have already skipped two other salt mines.
En route to the mine we were able to see the Square of Empty Chairs. It is a memorial to the Jews taken from Krakow and each chair represents 1,000 Jews. There are 68 chairs and they each face the direction of the concentration camp to which they were taken. Mark drove around the block while I hopped out to take a photo. We are a little paranoid about parking.
There is also a small portion of the Krakow Jewish Ghetto Wall that we wanted to see. We spent an extra hour driving around and around trying to figure out our destination on AppleMaps. We tried a lot of ways and then to navigate ourselves. I switched to Google Maps and we drove right to it. We actually found a place to park and we paid for 24 minutes although it took about five. No chances on parking tickets…. When I first saw a picture of the wall I was intrigued by the shape and wondered why they had bothered to make it decorative since it seemed to be created to degrade and humiliate the Jews. Then I learned it is shaped to represent Jewish gravestones and I felt sick.
The salt mine was cool and we were glad that we went. We parked at the first lot we saw due to our paranoia, and then we had a bit of a walk to the actual parking lots which had plenty of space. Oh well. We had time for a quick ice cream cone before our English tour. For the several English tours we have been on we haven’t heard anyone speaking English – but I think they choose the tour because they don’t speak Polish or it is just the next available. In Auschwitz we all had our own headset so we could easily hear our guide. In the salt mine we had to work to stay near our guide. His accent was difficult to understand and most of the tour group spoke their unknown languages to each other very loudly. We missed most of the actual “salt” information because at the beginning we hadn’t yet learned to stand right next to him. We did hear him say it would be a three hour tour – and here again we had not eaten lunch. We were relieved that it only lasted two hours and the third was if you wanted to proceed to the museum (but he said he had already told us everything). The two hours were interesting and entertaining. We descended something like 822 steps and ended up 135 meters below ground. There is prehistoric evidence of man gathering salt at this area through the salty water which they would boil down. When that became scarce they began to dig. This mine began in the 1600s.
There are multiple sculptures within the mine created by the miners. There are a few chapels because they were very religious. A few of their original sculptures in the small chapels are not recognizable because of humidity in the mine, but there is a huge chapel, beautifully carved. Perhaps completed in the early 20th century? You can have weddings here. Even the chandeliers are salt. And yes, we licked the walls (salt kills germs).
We had a five hour drive to our hotel so we took the tollway. Luckily Mark had wanted a donut from Krakow – he is a big fan of donuts and this is their birthplace. We stopped for dinner at a delicious little restaurant about five minutes to our hotel. The hotel check-in was a bit confusing. It is another castle – this time with a gatekeeper of sorts who hurried out to meet us in the dark. She had to open the gate and then told us to park right there. We were not exactly sure if the hotel was in the castle or another building and from where we parked we couldn’t see anything helpful. So we started off in the dark and eventually found our way.
Our room is huge and we were somewhat amused to find that our bathroom is all windows – at least the room with the toilet and shower. We aren’t really sure what lies beyond the windows so we just left the lights off. There seemed to be a good amount of noise in the hallways – I think it was families exploring the castle. We shut off our lights at 11:00 which is right when some sort of music began – quite loudly. It must have been a Polish opera – some of it was pretty and some of it rather harsh. We finally determined it was coming from outside our window. I don’t know when it stopped but was so happy to wake in the middle of the night and have silence.
Photos – the wooden stairs to the first stag of 1600s mine – we were about 1/3 down. The blue spots on the photos are salt. Baby Jesus is pink salt from another mine. The donut is chocolate filled – they all looked alike and were good… not sticky-sweet and the bread had substance. That delicious dinner plate is duck with raspberry sauce, fried purple cabbage, with pear and pureed pumpkin – I think it was about $12 or less.