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WIELICZKA SALT MINE ****** http://www.wieliczka-saltmine.com/ Established in the 13th century this Unesco World Heritage monument is the first salt mine built in Poland and one of the oldest such enterprises in existence worldwide. It represents hundreds of years of history, tradition and progress, as it transformed from its fairly primitive early state to the spectacular museum it is today. Because Wieliczka is not just a salt mine set to teach you all about the excavation methods and mining tools used over the centuries, it’s also a whole underground settlement, with endless shafts, chambers, chapels, reception rooms and even a lake. Visited by over a million tourists a year, this attraction is so unique I have never before experienced anything even remotely comparable! There are several different options available as far as touring Wieliczka goes, but the most popular and by far most rewarding (considering the incredible sights and the low level of difficulty) is the Tourist Route. You begin your adventure in the Danilowicz Shaft, where you can purchase your tickets and photo passes (quite expensive, but well worth it!). The groups are led by an official representative of the establishment (uniformed and all); several different languages are offered. To commence the exploration you descend down approximately 60 flights of stairs into the actual mine. You are not allowed to enter the museum unaccompanied, nor would you really want to because not only would you probably get hopelessly lost in the salty labyrinths, but you would also miss out on the expertise of your guide (both very informative and often funny). This sightseeing venture takes about 2 hrs to complete, but afterwards you can stay underground as long as you wish and continue investigating the surroundings on your own (just a certain designated, well marked area however, they would not let us run rampant all around the mine). Unfortunately for us, fortunately for everybody else you might think. And you might be right. But anyway, as you walk along the murky shafts you encounter some truly amazing, almost surreal objects and entire chambers made out of salt! We are taking about salt sculptures, carvings, chapels, a ballroom (still actively used today for festivities and parties) and a cathedral complete with salt crystal chandeliers (a place of worship and a concert venue). Let us not forget the saline lake, where people used to enjoy boat rides in the past and where we are (according to the guide) welcome to take a swim any time. She was smirking when she said it though. So maybe not… Gigantic wooden constructions serve to support the more elaborate structures and add a certain rustic charm to the otherwise gray color scheme (fun fact: the salt in Wieliczka is not white at all, but instead takes on the hue of all different shades of gray). Those interested in the history and past utilitarian function of this enterprise will also not be disappointed, as many equipment reconstructions and live-sized figures imitating miners at work are featured along the way. What I found especially astounding is the fact that even though what we have seen already seemed so vast, in reality it only constitutes a little over 1 % of the entire territory of the Wieliczka mine. After the guide bids you adieu, you are left to enjoy the rest of the attractions by yourself. You can visit one of the numerous souvenir shops selling all kinds of elaborate, imaginative trinkets made out of salt, go to the mining museum or to the Lill Gorna Chamber. This multimedia paradise contains a small movie theater playing a 3D film about the wonders of the mine and salt in general, as well as various interactive stands where you can learn about related subjects or test your knowledge. If all these impressions have stimulated your appetite, you can feast on traditional Polish delicacies such as bigos or golabki in the underground restaurant (Karczma Gornicza). Although certainly not gourmet quality, the food was nonetheless very tasty and nicely presented. After you have rested a little bit and satisfied your hunger, it’s time to go up into the world again. Luckily this is accomplished with the help of an elevator, because I honestly could not envision having to climb up all those horrible stairs. If that were the case, I would have just stayed down there permanently and become a miner. Certainly preferable. Especially considering nobody is actually excavating anything there anymore. So a lazy, retired miner. Awesome! Last but not least this attraction is quite easy to reach by train: the station is located only a few minutes walk from the Danilowicz Shaft (where the tour starts). Since we were based in Cracow, we took one of the regional trains there.  These run back and forth quite frequently and the whole journey takes about 25 minutes. I would recommend visiting Wieliczka very highly: it definitely qualifies as one of the world wonders! In fact I found it almost impossible to believe that this fascinating underground realm was created for the most part by our ancestors hundreds of years ago. Especially considering the inferior nature of the tools and techniques used back then, as well as the many dangers the workers were subjected to. This salt mine is indeed a true monument to the ingeniousness and perseverance of man.
 RATING     ****** excellent     ***** very good     ****good     *** average     ** pretty bad     * horrible
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WIELICZKA SALT MINE ****** http://www.wieliczka-saltmine.com/ Established in the 13th century this Unesco World Heritage monument is the first salt mine built in Poland and one of the oldest such enterprises in existence worldwide. It represents hundreds of years of history, tradition and progress, as it transformed from its fairly primitive early state to the spectacular museum it is today. Because Wieliczka is not just a salt mine set to teach you all about the excavation methods and mining tools used over the centuries, it’s also a whole underground settlement, with endless shafts, chambers, chapels, reception rooms and even a lake. Visited by over a million tourists a year, this attraction is so unique I have never before experienced anything even remotely comparable! There are several different options available as far as touring Wieliczka goes, but the most popular and by far most rewarding (considering the incredible sights and the low level of difficulty) is the Tourist Route. You begin your adventure in the Danilowicz Shaft, where you can purchase your tickets and photo passes (quite expensive, but well worth it!). The groups are led by an official representative of the establishment (uniformed and all); several different languages are offered. To commence the exploration you descend down approximately 60 flights of stairs into the actual mine. You are not allowed to enter the museum unaccompanied, nor would you really want to because not only would you probably get hopelessly lost in the salty labyrinths, but you would also miss out on the expertise of your guide (both very informative and often funny). This sightseeing venture takes about 2 hrs to complete, but afterwards you can stay underground as long as you wish and continue investigating the surroundings on your own (just a certain designated, well marked area however, they would not let us run rampant all around the mine). Unfortunately for us, fortunately for everybody else you might think. And you might be right. But anyway, as you walk along the murky shafts you encounter some truly amazing, almost surreal objects and entire chambers made out of salt! We are taking about salt sculptures, carvings, chapels, a ballroom (still actively used today for festivities and parties) and a cathedral complete with salt crystal chandeliers (a place of worship and a concert venue). Let us not forget the saline lake, where people used to enjoy boat rides in the past and where we are (according to the guide) welcome to take a swim any time. She was smirking when she said it though. So maybe not… Gigantic wooden constructions serve to support the more elaborate structures and add a certain rustic charm to the otherwise gray color scheme (fun fact: the salt in Wieliczka is not white at all, but instead takes on the hue of all different shades of gray). Those interested in the history and past utilitarian function of this enterprise will also not be disappointed, as many equipment reconstructions and live-sized figures imitating miners at work are featured along the way. What I found especially astounding is the fact that even though what we have seen already seemed so vast, in reality it only constitutes a little over 1 % of the entire territory of the Wieliczka mine. After the guide bids you adieu, you are left to enjoy the rest of the attractions by yourself. You can visit one of the numerous souvenir shops selling all kinds of elaborate, imaginative trinkets made out of salt, go to the mining museum or to the Lill Gorna Chamber. This multimedia paradise contains a small movie theater playing a 3D film about the wonders of the mine and salt in general, as well as various interactive stands where you can learn about related subjects or test your knowledge. If all these impressions have stimulated your appetite, you can feast on traditional Polish delicacies such as bigos or golabki in the underground restaurant (Karczma Gornicza). Although certainly not gourmet quality, the food was nonetheless very tasty and nicely presented. After you have rested a little bit and satisfied your hunger, it’s time to go up into the world again. Luckily this is accomplished with the help of an elevator, because I honestly could not envision having to climb up all those horrible stairs. If that were the case, I would have just stayed down there permanently and become a miner. Certainly preferable. Especially considering nobody is actually excavating anything there anymore. So a lazy, retired miner. Awesome! Last but not least this attraction is quite easy to reach by train: the station is located only a few minutes walk from the Danilowicz Shaft (where the tour starts). Since we were based in Cracow, we took one of the regional trains there.  These run back and forth quite frequently and the whole journey takes about 25 minutes. I would recommend visiting Wieliczka very highly: it definitely qualifies as one of the world wonders! In fact I found it almost impossible to believe that this fascinating underground realm was created for the most part by our ancestors hundreds of years ago. Especially considering the inferior nature of the tools and techniques used back then, as well as the many dangers the workers were subjected to. This salt mine is indeed a true monument to the ingeniousness and perseverance of man.
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