Krakow is amazing itself, but if you are here you MUST go and see this wonder of the World. I can’t put into words any write up that can convey how awe inspiring this place is. A must see, once (or twice!) event in your life!”
I really should have known when I read this that I’d be in for a disappointment. I’m quite prepared to put my hands up and admit we made a few mistakes along the day – such as ignoring the guidebook’s exhortations to buy tickets in advance in Krakow, and taking a Polish-language tour rather than waiting for the next English one – but even if we hadn’t I still think our impressions wouldn’t have been all that different.
The Wieliczka Salt Mine was first founded in the 13th century and continued as a working mine until 1996, and it’s huuuuge. It’s even apparently impressive enough that it made it onto the very first listing of World Heritage sites (the committee decided it was more of a priority listing than Auschwitz, which had to wait another year). The workings of the mines, and the sheer scale of it I have to admit is impressive, but the bit that it’s most famous for are the various underground chapels carved out of the salt, the biggest of which is the the enormous chapel of St. Kinga.
It’s undeniably breathtaking: over 100m underground, 54m long and 12m high, and every single bit – altar, statues (including one of the old pope, obviously), chandeliers – are carved out of salt.
Unfortunately to see the chapel you have to endure a ridiculously overlong tour (about three hours) – after not very long, one salt chamber starts to look very much like another – including a particularly rubbish (and confusing) son et lumiere. So by the time you get to the chapel (about 2 hours in), you’ve started to lose the will to live; afterwards, the knowledge that you’ve seen the best bit and still have an hour to go, with no chance of escape, is pretty crushing. As if to annoy you even further, the tunnels force you to go through about six gift shops (I’m not exaggerating here) and two cafes before you even get to the lift; once there you face a further queue that took us another half hour. I must admit the lift is quite an experience – a tiny, 4-deck lift that has you sandwiched in like sardines – although probably not one I fancy repeating.
Should have gone with my original plan of exploring the model socialist city of Nowa Huta instead. Will have to do that next time instead (and there will definitely be a next time, there’s still lots more to explore both in the city, and in places like Auschwitz and the Tatras mountains nearby).