I am not sure what comes to your mind when someone proposes you to visit a salt mine. I too had visualized some image in my mind before I arrived at the Salt Works Museum. It was about an hour's drive by road, by the pick up cab arranged by my hotel where I booked this tour. It was very convenient, I got picked up right outside my hotel and was dropped at the entrance of the salt mine museum.
From the outside, it looked like a very ordinary building - nothing mine like. As I entered the building, I came across a structured front desk resembling a small subway station. You could buy the tour tickets choosing your preferred language, time, etc. The museum offers only guided tours. I had pre-booked mine in English and waited at the hardwood benches going through the literature about the mine.
I could see tourists from several different nationalities at the entrance lobby and guessed that it must be a popular place to see.
At the said hour, the gates opened for the tour batch that I was part of. We were greeted by our polish tour guide who spoke excellent, clear and fluent English. Off we went into the entrance and down below under the ground into the mine. I lost count of the number of stairs that I must have climbed down and started wondering whether I would need to come back up the same way; to which out tour guide re-assured us that we would get lifts to come back up.
We went through several alleys, walls of which were all made of salt. I had imagined to see a lot of white, but the walls in there were all dark, almost black. The air smelled of salt, but it was not pungent or stinking at all - rather quite pleasant. Out tour guide informed that it the salty air was in fact considered good for health and had the power to cure some respiratory disorders too.
We got to see several exhibits and working models demonstrating how the mine was operated in those times when there was no electricity. I learnt that it was pretty darn hard work to mine the salt and wondered what made those men take all the pain, Our tour guide told us that unlike today, salt then was considered more precious that gold or silver; that its preservative use made it a life saver. Men, horses, wood and rope were extensively used to ferry the heavy salt blocks up the mine.
Deep under the ground, inside the mine they have also built a beautiful cathedral, with statues all carved out of salt, even the crystals in the overhead chandeliers are made from salt. The staircase is made of salt. It really seemed unreal. And I was informed that some very special people can also rent the cathedral for their marriage ceremonies - how is that, a marriage in a salt mine, hundred metres below the ground. Pretty cool.
Throughput the tour what amazed me was the robust re-inforcements and neat structures that held this building safe. Our tour guide showed us the long metal pipes that have been almost injected into the walls to keep it from dis-integrating. I felt really safe and as I said before, the experience was nowhere close to what I had imagined a mine to be. It is well lit, clean, wide passages, extremely well maintained.
In one of the exhibit areas, our tour guide demonstrated how men used to burn out the otherwise toxic gases that could kill the mine workers. A working (not real) exhibit demonstrated how dangerous it was. It was pretty insightful.
The mine even has an underground restaurant, shops where you can buy souvenirs, salt items, snacks, water, soft drinks etc.
My journey back up was pretty interesting too. The lifts that ferry people up are not like your regular hotel or apartment lifts. They are the industrial type, somewhat primitive looking - all clickety clanky reminding me of those old style wooden roller coasters. But I must mention that they are really well maintained - not for a moment did I feel unsafe.
I came out of the building back into the clear blue sky and sunshine, having had what I would like to call as a very unique experience.
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