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Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Poland II : Wieliczka Salt Mines & Krakow Jewish Quarters

After last weeks rather sinister and foreboding post, this one will hopefully have a slightly happier feel to it as I put up the last few photos from the trip to Poland. Which included visits to their
salt mines and to the Jewish quarters, with a slice of Jewish cake in the cafe where Steven Spielberg often sat whilst writing for Schindler's List (a film added to my must-watch list!). A little less text for this one with a fair few photos, which will please my sister who usually has the pleasure of quickly proof-reading before I post.

As before, diary extracts are written in italics.

Wieliczka Salt Mines

I peer over the shoulders of the passengers to watch out of the front windows. Brand new apartments sit next to buildings half torn down and derelict, their insides spilling across the neighbouring land. Small, tatty sheds for homes sit amongst the bare woodland. A grey haze rests across the sun. 

The bus ride to the salt mines allowed us to see more of the suburbs of Krakow, and gave us another chance to try to navigate the local transport. We met a Brazilian woman travelling with her son. Her son was six, and she was travelling Europe with him, alone. I thought this was incredibly brave and inspiring of her.

Looking down through the 360+ steps to the bottom of the shaft

The salt mines were built in the 13th Century, where people carved into the solid walls of salt with hand tools, extracting it for table salt. The mines were a dangerous place, dark and damp, with build ups of gas that could kill.

Wheels of an old cart, used to push lumps of salt around the salt tunnels

The salt does not look like the classic table salt we season our food with until it comes into contact with moisture. From solid, grey rock into a white 'cauliflower' of salt crystals. I licked the walls, and tasted the stream of water that run through the mines. As I expected, being made up entirely of salt deposited by a sea over 13 million years ago, the walls and water tasted just like salt. And left me needing a good helping of fresh water. 

Cauliflower encrusted salt walls

The saline lake - 100% saturated salt water. For perspective; the Dead Sea has a salinity of ~34%

Incredibly, some of the old chambers have been transformed by workers and artists that have carved into the walls. Statues, scenery and animals have been shaped into the solid salt. The underground cathedral was stunning. Everything made of salt, even the crystals on the chandeliers. The place made me wonder why people go to such lengths to create places and artwork of such intricate and incredible beauty, on such grand scales. These people believed so strongly in their religions that they dedicated so much of their lives to producing such places of worship and inspiration.

The underground salt Cathedral

Salt chandeliers

The last cavern before we exited

The rusty old lift flew up through the mine shaft from about 160 metres to surface level. And to think this place goes to well over 360 metres below the surface, is a genuinely amazing feat of engineering. The mines are still active today, and form one of the oldest working mines in the world. 

 Jewish Quarters

Disappointed there were no apple pancakes for breakfast this morning. Had to make do with cereal, yoghurt, sausage, egg and biscuits instead. Last night was the first time it felt cold here, a feeling I had expected to feel more of. 

We walked along the river and into the Jewish Quarters. The river flows with a film of iridescence shimmering on its surface. We stop at a bakery and get a lump of traditional polish cake, no idea what it is called, and ate as we walked.

The Star of David

Ariel: The Jewish cafe where Spielberg went to whilst writing for Schindlers List
Once inside, the rooms are filled with old, old paintings

A man smokes in the square

Shadows of the railings on the cobbled streets

Bridge over the River Wisla 

We crossed over the bridge and headed towards Schindlers factory. The place where Oskar Schindler saved the lives of over 1,000 Jewish people. 

The entrance gate to the factory

"Whoever saves one life, saves the World entire" Telmund 4:12

It took me a while to understand the quote. Put into perspective by one of the survivors, whose children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces, and all of their children and family thereafter are all alive today because Oskar Schindler saved that one person from the Germans, where they would have almost certainly have been killed. They estimate that around one million people could be alive today thanks to the actions of Oskar Schindler.

People watching from a cafe in Krakow

 Before we left for home, we headed back into the market square one last time. We drank coffee. We ate dinner. We shopped on the market, and took in the vibes of this historic and charming city. Being here has been far more enjoyable than I had expected. I am not much of a city person, preferring the rolling hills, running rivers and crashing waves of the countryside. But for three days, Krakow has opened my eyes and taught me a thing or two about the past.

It has also reinforced my belief that town centres and cities are far prettier and far more romantic when it is wet and raining. Sometimes, to top it off, being dark helps too.

Horse drawn carriages through the Square

We sat down to eat in the traditional cafe, where the off duty street entertainers ate - a man dressed as silver painted wizard statue, and a man with shells and crabs glued to a big coat and hat. Mulled wine. A tram ride back to the hotel. Awaiting taxi to airport. Our journey home begins. 

Back to wildlife for the next blog... Thank ya'll for reading! Hope you have enjoyed.


  1. When I was travelling around Eastern Europe, the history and the differences in culture really made me appreciate cities - but like you I feel much more at home in the wilderness!

    I loved reading about the salt mines - it is incredible the danger people put themselves through to earn a living.

    Were lots of the buildings in the Jewish quarters brightly coloured? We noticed that in cities like Prague and Bratislava the designs of buildings in Jewish areas were so beautiful!

    The people watching photo is my favourite, but as always, a fab set of images :) x

    1. Definitely agree - some wonderful cities, but glad to have access to some open countryside - cannot believe how flooded everywhere is. Really feel for people exposed, the storms have been incredible but extremely damaging.

      The Jewish Quarters were definitely well looked after and nicely decorated, with some brighter choice of paint which was refreshing !

      Thank you for commenting :) x

  2. Beautiful set of photos Tom, as ever. The salt mines are fascinating. I think the b&w photos work beautifully too.

  3. This is a really good read for me, Must admit that you are one of the best bloggers I ever saw. Thanks for posting this informative article about the ancientWIELICZKA SALT MINE TOUR. I found that the salt mine in Wieliczka is a unique development in the history of mining, because the rock salt deposits were mined here without interruption from the early 13th century to the end of the 20th century. So i really grateful to you for this valuable information.

    1. Thank you for your kind words! It is a wonderful place that I thoroughly enjoyed visiting!