15 September, Poland – ‘All Over The Place – Europe, Part 2’
I never thought a salt mine would be high on my list of places I’ve filmed and would like to come back to, but Wieliczka Salt Mine is like nowhere I’ve ever been before. As Chris and I descended 120m below the surface in the classic old miners’ lift, our (wonderfully sarcastic) guide Mark told us the mine is over 700 years old and that up to 300km of tunnels have been dug in that time. But not just tunnels.
There are churches and chapels, theatres, dining halls, man made lakes, tunnels you can row boats through, monumental sculptures, children’s figurines and several huge vaulted caverns that took up to 50 years to mine by hand (they once brought a hot air balloon down to use in one of them). It’s all made of salt. The walls, floors, ceilings, even the chandeliers hanging from one particularly ornate hall.
Normally if I was underground all day I’d be craving fresh air and sunlight, but the air is very clean thanks to the salt killing all the airborne bacteria and fungi. By the time we’d filmed in some of the most interesting caverns, had a lovely three course lunch and filmed a sketch in a tunnel off a room that looked a bit like Dr Who’s TARDIS I couldn’t believe we’d been down there for over 8 hours.
The sketch was about a pepper spy trying to gain access to the salt mine, and was Chris’ last bit of filming with us for this year. Mark, who’d done a great job of showing us round all day and keeping noisy tourists at bay, declared it “as funny as Monty Python”, which is just about the best compliment anyone has paid to us as far as I’m concerned!