We booked a day trip from Kraków to the Auschwitz and Birkenau Concentration camps and the famous Wieliczka Salt Mines. It wasn’t a trip I was looking forward to, but it was something we both felt we had to see while in Poland.
The concentration camp sites are now memorials, some buildings have been converted to museums, others have been left in their original state. Many were destroyed during the war. It’s a sobering site and I think seeing it in person drives home the magnitude of the horrors that took place. As the famous quote in the museum states, those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. It’s much harder to forget the horrors of the past when you can see the evidence of it and walk inside the gas chambers where so many were murdered. We took a guided tour, which is required for most of the year and was worth doing.
After a lunch break, we visited the salt mines. The mines are a UNESCO world heritage site for the incredible carvings and salt sculpture inside, and it’s well deserved. We just took the tourist route, but for the more adventurous or those with more time, you can do the miners route and travel more off the beaten path.
You start off by taking over 300 steps downward into the mine (don’t worry if you’re afraid of heights, they are completely enclosed!) and then wander through caves and passages through the rock salt. The sculptures the miners made in the salt are incredible-there’s an entire cathedral down there complete with chandeliers made of glass. Most of the structural elements are made of timber since steel would corrode too quickly with the salt. It’s really an amazing feat of engineering.