45 minutes by train to Bochnia
We meet in front of the train station to catch the 9:55 train to Bochnia. On the way to the platform I come across another Lajkonik. This time, it is a book about them. It is waiting for buyers on the shelf of a small book stand.
Through the grey November day the train takes us to Bochnia to the east of Krakow.
I am invited to a wonderful lunch with the family. I feel welcome and enjoy the salmon with vegetables and a tasty Chardonnay. And I enjoy the conversations trying to catch more and more of the Polish language spoken at the table, next to English that makes me feel comfortable.
Visiting the Bochnia salt mines – it is a great multimedia show
Bochnia is a town of about 30’000 inhabitants with a historical salt mine (wikipedia says that it is the oldest mine in Poland). We have a reservation for a guided tour in English. It is just the three of us that follow the young guide presenting his mine with a lot of enthusiasm. We dive 200m deep underground using a squeeky metallic elevator. A baby cries, but some Swiss German makes it feel less scary.
Fotos are forbidden around this antique elevator. Interesting… what technology innovation could a foto take away from here? Our guide laughs – he does not understand this either, and he is proud: “This elevator is antique, but it works perfectly fine, no need to replace it.”
This is how travel.poland announces the tour to the mines on their Website: “Numerous historical stagings, presented in holograms, interactive projections or … recordings, is located along 1.5 km route, 180 m under the earth’s surface. Beside historical performances, the exhibition consists of multimedia shows picturing the harsh reality of mining work such as marsh gas explosion or underground flood.”
A small train takes us about 1km into the mine, rattling loudly. We follow the historical presentations of the Polish kings from the foundation under Wladislaw to the first industrialization efforts under Kazimierz. While Kazimierz – with the twinkling of an eye – prefers to be called Kazimierz III instead of “the Great”, two Italian trade men explain the positive impact that dividing tasks in the mine had on the budget of Kazimierz and Poland – they speak with an Italian accent.
And last comes King Auguste the Strong from Saxony who switched to the catholic faith to take over the Polish throne in the early 18th century. He had a heavy German accent and further optimized productivity in the mines.
Then there were the multimedia shows on how it all worked underground – cutting off the salty pieces from the rock, transporting the pieces of rock, detecting and eliminating methan, turning the engines that brought oxygene into the mine…. and yes, some of these scenes were frightening and noisy. Nevertheless working here was a privilege and the job was often handed over from father to son. The miners were paid in salt which was very valuable. It could be exchanged against gold. Grey salt is even more valuable than white salt, our guide says.
The chapel rounds off the experience.
And eventually, we walk down a few levels to see the huge restaurant, the playing grounds, and the dormitories – some two hundred guests are expected tonight.
After about 2 to 3 km we take the elevator again. The reception hall is full of the guests and their kids that intend to spend the night in the mine. The place seems to be popular, and rightly so!
This salt mine is surely worth visiting. Why could I not find it in the Lonely Planet?