Our first stop in Poland was at an office selling “Winety’s” so we went in to be told that we would not need one for Poland. It was only for vehicles over 3.5 tonnes which was a relief.
It should have been a 4hour trip to Poland and to Wieliczka about 1/2 hour from Krakow, however,this turned into more like an 8hour trip with many
roadworks,  detours which had us driving in circles and then the strangest toll where we waited for an hour in traffic to be charged 9 zloty or about $3. We then drove on for a few more kilometres and were then held up again at another toll booth where we had to pay another 9 zloty. A Very strange system indeed. We got to outside the city about 9.30pm when it had just got dark and we had to stop for directions a few times. We thought that many people in Poland would either speak English or German but most spoke neither and just talked away in Polish as though we would understand. We finally found a lovely camping ground with a lovely garden and with outdoor tables and chairs.

The next day it was 35degrees when we walked down to the town of Wieliczka pronounced “vielitchka” and caught the bus which took 1/2 hour into Krakow. We got off in the centre of town and walked around the imposing castle along the river Vistula.
The clouds were building so we decided to take a private tour in a golf type buggy around the Jewish quarter and the former Krakow ghetto. Our engineer guide was very knowledgeable and gave us time to get out at many locations to take pictures or  enter a famous church. All of a sudden we had thunder and lightening and torrential rain for an hour so we were very glad
to be in the buggy with plastic curtains around us. The guide kindly dropped us off at a nice coffee shop where we stayed until the rain had stopped. We went into the main central market square which covers 10 acres and is very intersting with historical buildings, monuments, a large town hall tower and the oldest covered market in Krakow. There are many parks and the main roads around the city are very wide with up to six lanes. We caught the bus back to our van and had our meal outside in the garden. It had rained very little outside the city and was warm enought to sit outside at 8pm.

Maurice was feeling a bit “fluey” the next day and was not keen to go underground so I left early and walked through the town to the Wieliczka Salt mine and got there at 8.30am to beat the crowds which didn’t happen as there were busloads of every nationality already there. They conduct tours in about 5 languages and our guide was fluent in his explanations however if you asked a slightly unrelated question he was then not so fluent.
We only came upon the mine the previous day by accident,however, it is a major tourist attraction near Krakow and over 1million local and foreign tourists visit it each year and up to 6,000 people in one day. It was incredibly well structured with groups passing each other but it didn’t feel crowded at all.
It was not noisy in the tunnels which were very well ventilated and the they had been very well restored. The”tourist tour” only covered 1% of the mine and we went down only two levels  to 135metres but the mine was up to 400metres deep and had 9 levels. The scale of the mine was staggering – 10kilometres long and 2kilometres wide and over 350 kilometres of tunnels and to think that it was all excavated, even the enormous chambers with pick and shovel – no dynamite. All the statues and floors are made of salt. The white deposits are known as cauliflower.
There was a reduced 139 zloty (about $46) price if you took two tours so I decided on the tourist mine tour (2hours with many stairs down to 135 metres and much walking) and the miner’s tour further across town which was a 3hour tour and had only been open for less than 2years.  All the statues, carvings and chandeliers are made of salt as are all of the floors.
I had some soup and salad in the restaurant which was 102metres below ground level and was then crammed in a small caged lift to the surface with 10 other people.

Unfortunately the ushers spoke no English and after showing my next ticket I was pointed to stay with a group. I luckily saw a man who I had spoken to earlier and he told me that the next tour was at the Regis shaft about 500metres away, so by the time I ran to make sure I got there for 12noon, I was hot and annoyed at not being told the right information. Once I had got my breath back the guide Marek appeared and he spoke excellent English and was a mine (sorry) of information. He had been taking the tours for over 20years and I had a very personalised tour as I was the only person on the tour which was great. You are signed in and then are given a pair of overalls, a miner’s hat and lamp (as there was no lighting in that part of the mine, much of which is in it’s original state (with many bolt reinforcements). I also got a satchel with a small first aid kit and a cannister with oxygen in case of fire! It was a much more adventurous tour which had me climbing up and down ladders to the various large chambers and over wooden logs and in one spot crawling on hands and knees into a chamber.  Marek showed me the various stages of salt mining and I got to make some of the woven hemp rope, chip away at salt and turn the water wheel, all things that were done in the mine as well as measuring the level of methane
in the tunnels. Luckily there was none.   At one point we turned off our lights to experience total darkness which I didn’t find bothered me at all.
There were many horses kept there up to 15years ago as they did much of the operation of moving the salt blocks.   The last mining done with picks and using horses stopped only 17years ago.

The miners measured out a piece of rock and dug around it, let it fall to the ground and then shape it into 700kg cylinders which were then transported to the surface.
There was even a health spa underground as the air is very health giving for any lung or upper respiratory problems. People pay about $600
for a 2 week stay and they stay underground for 6 hours a day.
The tour was so interesting and actually doing things “hands on” really gave you an idea of the miner’s work. The miner’s were well paid and it was a very healthy environment in which to work and the miners suffered none of the dreadful effects of those who worked in the coalmines.
King Franz Joseph of Austria visited the mine in the 1800’s and a special room was dug out and doors carved out and attached so that he could have refreshments – caviar and champagne before he continued on his tour!

On Monday the 26th May our third day in Krakow was spent walking around the old town and main market for many hours and I climbed the 120 steps up to the top of the town hall tower to get a good view of the city.
We returned and had a delicious polish dinner of mushroom soup and potato and sauerkraut soup and pancakes filled with goulash at the motel part of the camping-site with Geoff and Glyn an English couple who were also staying there.

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