Wieliczka Salt Mine – what it’s like

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Wieliczka Salt Mine

The Wieliczka Salt Mine (pron: vee-el-eetch-ka) is located in the town of Wieliczka outside Krakow. It is one of the most astonishing places I have ever visited and I knew I had to include it in my novel Are My Roots Showing? which came out on Amazon in May through Cirrus Publishing. Most of the action in the book takes place in Warsaw but there is also a section that takes place here in the salt mine in southern Poland. I first found out about it as a child in Polish School which took place on Saturday mornings (a common occurrence in the UK at the time). It was in a book about Poland its geography and culture and I knew I had to visit it one day.

Salt production

Wieliczka opened in the thirteenth century and amazingly, it has four chapels hewn entirely out of rock salt, not to mention lots of amazing statues carved out of salt too. It produced table salt until around 2007 but commercial mining stopped eleven years before. There was a time when miners were paid in salt because it was so valuable.

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Artist miners

Childhood dream it may have been – I’ve been to Wieliczka salt mine twice now – once on my own in late 2004 when it was under a thick blanket of snow and again in September 2010 with my husband (I’d really bigged it up) and he wasn’t disappointed.

The amazing thing is that the miners themselves carved out the chapels and statues out of the rock salt. It took tens of generations of miners to complete it.

Rock salt chapel

Chapel Kinga, the biggest chapel is entirely made out of salt. It has a salt floor, a salt altar, even Jesus is salt. There are rock salt chandeliers that have been treated to be ‘crystal clear’ but everything else is a beautiful and mysterious pale glassy grey.

Last Supper Salt Mine

There are 178 miles of corridors but you only walk along 2 of those miles. As you pass through the cool corridors, passing various salty pools with different statues in them (the waters are incredibly still and you wonder if you’d float in them like in the Dead Sea), as you walk you’ll see occasional bubbling up of some pure white crystals in the nook of a wall, like a sort of white salt cauliflower sprouting. The air feels pure and ‘mineral’ in character and there is a health resort within the mine where people go to have respiratory conditions treated. To me, the air seemed quite pure, cool and curiously still.

You take steps down around 120 metres, although at its deepest, the mine measures around 327 metres. There are rooms for conferences and theatre shows too but these aren’t made of salt!

UNESCO

It’s the most fantastic place and somewhere you simply must not miss it if you ever go to Krakow. It’s been on the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage List since 1978.

Also, I have learned that there is an even older sister site you can visit at Bochnia.

For more information about visiting Poland see here.

How Polish are YOU? Quiz

How Polish Are You?

Although I had Polish parents (but was born in the UK), I only score about two out of ten on this. How Polish are you? Do the following quiz and read the results below.

  1. Do you have a round face and chiselled cheek bones?
  2. Do you eat meat whenever possible and genuinely wonder how veggies survive?
  3. Can you calculate the number of Złoty to the dollar to four decimal places, even if you are woken up in the middle of the night?
  4. Do you have an abnormal ability to transport vast amounts of luggage on the top of a car? NB This trait is not just limited to cars. I once saw a man in Poland walking alongside his bicycle with a sofa balanced on the pedal.
  5. Do you go mental over scary food such as galareta, sledzie, or cold soured milk and pickled cucumbers?
  6. Are you always talking about the cisnienieatmospheric pressure – and how it can be blamed for everything form rheumatism to marital snoring?
  7. Do you have a propensity to look glum (or at best very serious) even when you’re happy?
  8. Do you have an enduring love for Poland, no matter how far away?
  9. Do you pray more to Mary than to God?
  10. Can you drink vodka like a fish and wake up feeling totally fine the next day?

Results:

10 out of 10. Excellent. You are a true Pole. If someone cut you in half they’d find a copy of Adam Mickiewicz’s ‘Pan Tadeusz’ inside.

9 out of 10. Very good. You are, to all intents and purposes, a true Polak/Polka.

8 out of 10. Good. You are very Polish and don’t let the side down.

7 out of 10. Good-ish. You are pretty Polish but could do better.

6 out of 10. Average sort of. You need to get more Polish kuchnia (Polish cooking) down you, go there on holiday and speak Polish more often, starting with Poles shopping in Lidl.

5 out of 10. Not really good enough. Your red and white colours are fading pretty fast.

4 out of 10. Errr… you are less than half Polish and need to try much harder. Say five Hail Mary’s in Polish and read ‘Quo Vadis.’

3 out of 10. Hmm. You should have studied harder at Polish school, learned your mushrooms and all your Kings and Queens (then you’d have also known that even the two queens were crowned as kings).

2 out of 10. You, Polish? You’re having a laugh. You wouldn’t know a pieróg from a Krispy Kreme doughnut.

1 out of 10. Sorry, but you have failed the Polish test and are about as Polish as a Union Jack. Go back to the Polski Elementarz and spend five years out there.

Karola Gajda is the author of the novel ‘Are My Roots Showing?’ on sale on Amazon though Cirrus publishing – or go to the homepage and click on the red button.

My first Polish story book

If my house was burning down, then this children’s picture book is one of the few things I’d save on my way out.

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My mum would read to me from it regularly when I was about seven or eight – the story with the man looking for his glasses a firm favourite. She would read it to be over and over again and of course the punchline was that after he’d turned the house upside down and looked at the mirror in exasperation, he saw they were on his head all along (how many of us have been there!)

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I love the illustrations because they’re so naive and innocent – although the one with the old lady being butted by a goat is slightly scary…

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Looking at the back of the book – which is called ‘Pierwsza Czytanka’ (first/early story book) – there is a list of all the authors who have contributed. The book was published by Panstwowe Zaklady Wydawnictw Szkolnych (PZWS) in Warsaw in 1927.

If you’d like to buy my book which mentions storks, scary forests but sadly no exploding dragons, you can buy it directly from my homepage or simply go to Amazon.

My book comes out on 25 May 2016

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