Krakow: Salt of the Earth
Krakow, Poland, was city #3 on the Halverson’s sixteen-day winter vacation, which also included stays in Berlin, Germany; Munich, Germany; Brussels, Belgium; and London, England.
The Halversons have a collective yen to crawl underground. During our Prague vacation in November, we took the boys 70 meters below ground in the 400-million-year-old KonepruskÃ© Caves in Central Bohemia. In Krakow, we took the boys and Grandma S. 150 meters underground into Krakow’s 900-year-old Wieliczka Salt Mine. In the KonepruskÃ© Caves our boys fell in love with being worms. In Wieliczka, they fell in love with a woman named Kate.
Wieliczka salt mine was once among the world’s biggest and most profitable industrial establishments, back when common salt was commercially a medieval equivalent of today’s oil. Today, visitors walk underground for about 2,000 meters in the oldest part of the salt mine and see its subterranean museum, an excursion that took us two hours.
Nine centuries of mining in Wieliczka produced a total of some 200 kilometers of passages as well as 2,040 caverns of varied size. The tourist route includes twenty chambers and the world’s biggest museum of mining. Many of the chambers feature statues carved by the miners themselves, like the Dwarves Cave, which is filled with industrious salt dwarves that captured my boys’ imaginations. [Click on the image to see it bigger and in more detail.] Occasionally concerts, weddings, and other events take place in the Wieliczka mine’s biggest chambers, most notably the Chapel of Saint Kinga, which is a sizable subterranean church carved in rock salt and embellished with salty sculptures and bas-reliefs. It took thirty years for this room to be carved in its entirety by a succession of three men, all stunningly talented amateurs. I swear, if we’d known about the Chapel of Saint Kinga when we got married, my husband and I would’ve exchanged vows there.
(Wait, did you hear that? It was my mother groaning as she read this, because she knows I mean it. Which means she would’ve had to go 150+ meters underground, too. And as she’s said, the only cave she ever enjoyed was the basement of Bloomingdales.)
To get to the first level of the tour 150 meters underground, we had to descend 400 steps on a wooden staircase. Fortunately, an elevator would return us to the surface at the end of the tour. Three almost-four-year-olds may be able to go down that many steps, but UP? I don’t think so! I don’t think Grandma would’ve appreciated that, either. Or me, for that matter.
Our guide, the glorious Kate, made my boys feel special. She encouraged their questions and answered them all, even the ones like “Do you ever stay at the Ibis hotel?” Didn’t have much to do with salt or mining, but what do you do? The boy is only three, he hasn’t quite mastered the art of flirting. In return for their great questions, Kate gave them rocks from the mine. For boys who regularly stuff their pockets with pet rocks and pinecones, there couldn’t be a more brilliant gift. Kate won them over completely. At bedtime that night, my exhausted boys talked about their new love, wishing aloud that she had come to the Ibis with them at naptime, because they just knew she’d be a good cuddler.
Kate, wherever you are right now, above ground, under it, leading more young men down the path of puppy love, know that three darling boys dreamed of you this Christmas season and talk about you still, now that we’re back in Lowestoft. You now rank right up there with pet rocks and pinecones. Does it get any better than that?