Although in general we lucked out with really good weather in Krakow, there were two days where it rained, and it rained steadily. On these two days, like virtually all other tourists in the city, we decided to try and find nice things to do in the dry. For us this meant a visit to the Wieliczka salt mine and a long time in Schindler’s Factory.
Luke and I went to the salt mine on my second day in Poland. The train from Krakow Glowny was a very affordable 3 zloty each, followed by half an hour of queuing, waiting to get our 21 zloty tickets from the ticket machine. Visits to the salt mine can only be completed in groups, but we were lucky enough to jump into the last few spots of the group that left right after we bought our tickets, meaning we did not have to wait another half an hour.
Deep under the earth the three hour tour took us through the caverns and tunnels cut out of the rock. It told different versions of the story of the discovery of the mine, and showed different tools and procedures associated with mining the salt. Although some of the mechanics looked very similar, the whole system was quite a contrast to the salt well we had visited in Zigong, China. In China, there was a salt brine deep under the surface of the earth, accessed through the drilling process and brought to the surface through a large, ox driven pump. Then it was boiled in massive tubs until the water had evaporated, leaving edible salt. In Wieliczka, the salt was crystallized, and found in the rock. While salt brine did come from a spring in the ground, the real production (and wealth) came from mining rock salt. Like the ox-driven wheel, men and animals were used to transport the heavy rocks up from lower levels. While they did not have to bear the temperatures of a south-chinese summer in addition to a whole row of boiling cauldrons, they did live underground for much or all of their lives. (The workers, our guide noted, were well paid. And the horses presumably did not know what they were missing.)
Most memorable, though, were the sculptures and caverns. The sculptures were all done by miners, added after the mine was closed, while it was being prepared as a tourist attraction. Even more impressive, and created before the tourist incentive, were the chapels and caverns. The oak reinforcements probably received a new lick of paint, and more reliefs were carved into the walls, but the space was carved out as part of the mining process. And the space was massive. With the contrast of the white painted oak beams and the salt-crystal chandeliers the dark space became a chapel or temple.
Our next rainy day was spent wandering the seemingly endless exhibit in Schindler’s factory.
The name ‘Schindler’ is famous since Spielberg turned the story into a high grossing hollywood movie. You all know the one, “Schindler’s List”. The museum is in the ceramic factory which Schindler owned, but does not just focus on the events in that building, but rather the story of the Jews in Krakow in general. Floor after floor of rooms are connected through small corridors, rooms imitating living, working and public spaces, films giving personal accounts, and interactive screens providing more information than you could ever digest in a day.
This museum was incredible, mapping changes in time, in regime, public attitude, government composition, architecture, seemingly everything that the curators could think of. By the time we reemerged from the building the sun had returned and we headed off to reflect, discuss, and enjoy the sun.