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Wieliczka Salt Mines - Follow the Hound | Follow The Hound

Descending the first 433 wooden stairs into the Wieliczka salt mines is a disorientating experience, the winding, neverending descent making you dizzy as it continues down into the abyss.

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You reach the bottom and enter a huge log-lined cavern, from where you carry on your descent.

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You walk past eerily still models of miners and you find out that the whole 270km network of mines were constructed with just pickaxes and hammers. That 2 miners would progress but 2 metres a month.

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Each chamber in the complex is now dedicated to a national hero. The first holds a 15ft statue of Mikolaj Kopernik, who visited the mine while a student at Krakow university. The statue, like everything else is made from the Salt-rock of the ground, and carved by a miner, not a professional.

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You continue through the winding, white-washed wooden halls, through caverns and narrow caves, each populated with carved tableus and rock salt figures. You reach the first large chamber, complete with original horse-operated winch system from the 1800s. No longer complete with real horses.

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You push on, ever downwards, past salt-stalactites and brine channels. You start to notice small carved men in nooks and crannies. Then you reach a tiny cave populated with psychedelically lit dwarves, recreating the day to day work of the lifesize miners from the previous scenes.

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As you round a corner soon after, you reach the largest and most impressive of the caverns so far. The main chapel. Part Lord of the Rings, part vatican city. Completely carved by hand out of salt-rock. 170m underground and lit by salt-crystal chandeliers. Your breath is taken away.

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Awe struck and fascinated, you carry on, wondering what other underground treasures this subterranean narnia could possibly hold. You exit to find the first of a network of underground lakes, tinted blue and lined by salt crystals. You are told that the salt levels means buoyancy is so high that it would be impossible to drown.

SaltMines-16 SaltMines-17You edge around wooden walkways, eyes transfixed on the blue abyss. You pass into the next chamber where wooden towers made from lashed trees tower hundred of feet above you, drawing your eyes upwards and reminding you how much rock and earth is above your head.

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You are now convinced that this underground world can not hold any more magnificence. You reach another chamber, with a wooden staircase ascending from a calm pool. As you enter the lights dim, and up starts a symphony, echoing its majestic chords in time with the lights around the cave.

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You are now utterly enthralled, rushing through each passage to find what secrets the next chamber holds. You reach the last chamber with towering wooden staircases and partitions 150ft to the ceiling.
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As you reach the end of your tour and await the rickety miners lift to whisk you the 195 meters back to the surface, you learn that after walking nearly 4km over 3 hours, you have explored and seen but 2% of the mine. The the tunnels extend 270km, descend to 350 metres, hold 40 more chapels, countless underground lakes and untold other wonders.

You leave amazed. You leave wishing you could explore more. Most of all, you leave glad you were never a miner.