Touring Wieliczka's Salt Mine is a favorite memory for my family members who have been fortunate enough to visit there. My most recent visit brought new experiences, because my niece Cecilia, who was traveling with me, insisted that we venture out on our own, not with a formal tour group. We followed the advice of several tour books that instructed us to take the bus from Krakow. All lined up outside the bus depot, it was easy to locate the small buses labeled for Wieliczka. We paid 2 zlotys ($0.50 USD at the time (2003 year), check the current prices) and took our seats. After the short 10km (6-mile) ride, we walked the 2 blocks to the Salt Mine entrance, and bought tickets for the English-spoken tour. We also bought the permit for Cecilia to take pictures during the tour. Even though you can purchase a large selection of picture books, the privilege of showing off your own photography is well worth the 10 zlotys.
While waiting for our tour to begin, we walked around the outside grounds, but resisted the desire to shop at the souvenir stands until after the tour! We returned to the building lobby and soon heard the announcement for the English tour. As we began the tour, the guide announced casually "If anyone cannot walk down 400 stairs, please tell me immediately." No one responded, so we began the descent deep into the earth. Cecilia counted 800 stairs in total, although the second half of the stairs were spaced throughout the mine route, with intervals of walking the smooth salt floor.
The tour path runs through chilly corridors that the miners walked, with frequent stops into the underground chambers. Some chambers display panoramas of the mining livelihood, such as the seventeenth century process of horses harnessed to treadmills - that look like a merry-go-round structure - moving salt within the mine. Another chamber depicts the legend of Blessed Kinga, who ordered a well to be dug and tossed her engagement ring into it. Salt, not water was extracted from the well; in the very first lump of salt, Kinga's ring was recovered. Therefore, Blessed Kinga is credited with discovering the Wieliczka Salt mine.
I recommend a book written by F. C. Anstruther, J. Sekalski, F. C. Anstrother (Editor), entitled: Old Polish Legends
Another interesting book by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab, Mary Anne Knab (Illustrator), entitled Polish Customs, Traditions and Folklore