Okay. This was stupid on my part. But the tour guide on our trip down into the Wieliczka Salt Mine invited us to touch the walls of the cave and then lick our fingers if we liked. Stupid, stupid, stupid. For one thing, thousands of other visitors had likely touched those same walls, too, and for another thing, of course it tasted salty.
The entire caves were made of salt. The floors, the walls, the ceilings. The salty “cauliflower formations” and stalactites of salt. The sculptures carved down there (for no real reason). It was a salt mine. And I licked it. From that moment on, as I descended the 800 stairs, all I could think about was the famous Seinfeld line, “These pretzels are making me thirsty.” Except it wasn’t pretzels driving my thirst. It was simply salt.
One of the first sculpture displays we saw depicted the legend of Kinga, the princess who came from Hungary and asked her father King Bela IV to find her a salt mine as a wedding present. He did, and she threw her engagement ring into the mine opening. Once miners began excavating the precious salts or “white gold” from the mine, the first load contained her ring. Or so the legend goes…
Other sculptures inside the cave included one of Copernicus, Pope John Paul II, King Wenceslaus II, King Casimir the Great, and seven dwarves (minus Snow White).
All of these were made of salt, as was the chapel where services are still held every Sunday. In fact, weddings can be held there, too. I’m not sure who would choose such a salty venue for their wedding, but it is an option.
There are also two man-made lakes in the mine. The briny water is akin to the water in the Dead Sea. It would be hard to drown in the water because of the buoyancy of anything in it. And yet — people did drown when they were in a boat in the water and it capsized, trapping the passengers underneath.
The tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site lasts about 2 hours. It is interesting to think about the life that took place there in early days. There were horses and horse stalls down there, as well as several series of pulleys to transport the salt loads to the top.
Visitors also have the choice of taking the “Miner’s Route.” During this, they experience what it’s like to be a miner, measuring methane concentrations, digging and transporting salt, and exploring unknown chambers. Sounds like thirsty work to me!
Luckily, once visitors have descended 135 meters into the caves, there is a lift to carry them back up — and a snack shop where you can quench your thirst. Pretzels would indeed make one thirsty, but not as thirsty as licking the walls of a salt mine. Be forewarned!
If you were going to add a sculpture made of salt in the mine, who would you memorialize?
Salt sculptures… now that is a weird thing to see! I like the Seinfeld reference… that pretzel scene in Seinfeld with him and the rental car lady is one of my favorites scenes ever.
Thanks. My son and I quote this all the time.
Yes – a salty Pope sculpture was weird to behold.
I laughed when I read about your reaction to licking the salt off your fingers, Juliann. It made me think of people kissing the Blarney Stone. Why would they! The mine is interesting. Thanks for taking me there. It gives new meaning to ‘working in the salt mine.’ –Curt
Uh oh, Curt. I kissed the Blarney Stone, too. Apparently, I’m just a lemming. Haha.
I’ve heard of the Wieliczka salt mine, since it seems to be listed on every tour of Poland I’ve looked at, but didn’t know much about it — I had no idea there were sculptures made from salt. How bizarre! Loved the Seinfeld reference . . . and I would probably have licked my fingers, too — so I would have been right there with you wondering, “What the hell was I thinking?”
What a weird and interesting place! I probably would have licked my fingers too haha. What did the air feel like down there?
They have salt mines under Lake Eire that I always wanted to visit, but they are still operation so there are no tours and not a rich history. They definately aren’t a UNESCO site. My dad did some engineering work in the salt mines as a contractor every now and then. He said that every piece of metal that enters the mine stays in the mine. The metal doesn’t corrode when it’s in the mine but instantly gets foiled when it reaches the water in the air.
This is so cool! I’ve only ever seen salt mines outdoors. Kind of spooky, especially with the drownings–you’re very brave!
Your salty comment made me laugh. I visited natural salt mines in Peru, and was invited to taste the salt straight from the salt pool. It was just as I expected – salty! Hahah.
Now that I’d learnt one thing not to do in the salt mine! 😀 It does look likea lot of fun down there. I haven’t visited any salt mine before.
The history of salt’s importance and the mining industry in Eastern Europe was interesting to learn about. I’m not sure where any other salt mines are!
Your post made me laugh so hard! I probably would have licked the salt without thinking about it first too. 🙂 Classic Seinfeld reference – I love it! To be honest, I had a friend visit this same salt mine, and he got separated from the tour guide and was lost for 30 minutes, so I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. But I’m glad you had a great time!
It is a little maze like. Similar to caves I’ve been to, but the salt being mined was such a different perspective from the underground mines in my part of the world.
Pingback: Inside Asheville’s Salt Cave | Browsing The Atlas·