Thursday, May 24, 2012


Our last day with VBT was even more spectacular if possible. The day dawned bight and clear, and our ride took us to some of the neighboring towns and countryside surrounding Wieliczka.
We stopped at this little wooden church, build to knotty pine and from the outside very unpretentious.
However when we went inside it was spectacular, bright and cheerful in light blues and gold. Again our biking trip was a bit longer than expected as we missed the first turn on leaving the church and took Joanna, our guide in training on a long detour. However, since it is a new trip, this allowed a correction to the route for the future, so it was not in vain.
After lunch and before our private tour of the salt mine, we gathered on the steps of our hotel for a group photo.
The Wieliezka Salt Mines is one of the oldest in the world and until recently has been continuously producing salt from the 13th century. It is on the original UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. The numerous chambers contain historic displays of methods of extracting the salt, as does this one, dug in the early part of the 15th century.
Supplies were lowered and salt raised to the surface by ropes and pulleys first maned by men and later by horses.
There were many rooms with incredible sculptures, many created by the miners themselves telling stories of events of the time.
This one depicts a miner lighting a new cave with a long handled torch.
The horses lived underground, usually they lasted there for about 15 years, where they had stables, were fed, watered. The mines are dry and air relatively fresh because of the absence of dust that existed in coal mines.
Horses were used to power the the wheels of this pulley system, and also to pull sleds with barrels of salt and supplies.
As we walked on relatively smooth surfaces and lighted steps we were shown the worn steps dug into the sides of the cave and could only imagine the difficulty and danger of the miners steps.
The highlight of the tour was the "Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland" where everything is carved of salt. The chamber is enormous, and even the beautiful hanging chandeliers are made of salt.
This scene of Mary with the baby Jesus,
And this one of the last supper, show tremendous depth, though in reality they are carved no more than 10 inches deep.
The alter, part of the church, is entirely of salt, and service is conducted every Sunday here and many weddings are performed in this spectacular place.
The floor of this passage is paved with salt bricks, creating a smooth walking surface.
Before we left the Salt mines VBT had arranged a Polish vodka tasting in one of the underground chambers. For me this was a special occasion as I have found Polish vodka varied and delicious.
Before leaving this incredible place we had a few more treats, one being beautiful music broadcast in a chamber with excellent acoustics. Another was a visit to this lowest of chambers containing a lake of clear water 20 feet deep. Boats used to take tourists for a ride here but I saw no sign of that activity now.
Fortunately we did not have to climb these stairs, beautiful as they were, as we rode an elevator back to the surface.
Seeing this small Protestant chapel on the way.
I think our guides, Joanna and Timothy were happy to have survived their time with us, and looking forward to several weeks off as because of the soccer matches in Warsaw in June there would be no trips to Poland until July.

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