bus to Alba Iulia
Ok, time to type the Salt mine. This would be much easier if I was not so lazy, and typed it the day we did it, but that’s life. Will try to do better later.
We checked out of the pension this morning, we would have liked to stay, but they were fully booked tonight, so we had no choice. We were allowed to leave our bags though, and headed over to the salt mine. At least it was not that far away. Just up the street.
Paying our tickets we went in. We had no idea on what to expect, although we knew there was a bar, pool tables and even a ferris wheel down there. We knew it would not be like the salt mine near Krakow in Poland, but went in with an open mind.
Walking through the long tunnel that took us deeper under the hill. Salt started to appear on the tunnel walls, building up at the base as white nodules. Eventually the bricks were completely encrusted in salt. Every ten meters or so there was a marker letting you know how far from the entrance you were. 10m, 20m, 50m, 120m and the tunnel changed from brick to salt. We were now in the mine proper.
The salt off the walls were a deep colour, black under the neon lights that were everywhere, yet there were swirls and lines of colour apparent beneath the shiny exterior.
The first room off the main corridor was the echo room, called that due to the echoes your voice produced from up here. Unfortunately it was all fenced off, with multiple signs everywhere saying you could not go any further. The Romans started this mine, and built it in a bell formation. A small opening on top getting wider and deeper as they excavated the salt. We played around in the room for a little bit, doing the cooee’s that are expected in a situation such as this.
Going back out, we could see dips and ripples in the salt, it could be mistaken with water dimples from a dried out stream. We found out later that it is caused by the air currents carving out sections of the walls. Following the tunnel further we ended up in one of the extraction rooms. As the mining got deeper, they needed to use elevators to bring up the salt. This was a huge wooden structure, similar to the one we had seen in the silver mine in Kutna Hora. It used the same principles of a horse to turn the huge winch and lift up the loads of salt. Nearly everything is still there, the metal bits starting to rust, and everything being covered in salt.
We could go down a little bit here, as the miners were not allowed to use the elevator, and then joined another passage. Here we were surrounded by school kids.
We decided to walk around the viewing platform first, and let them descend into the depths ahead of us. This was a smart choice. As we walked around the wooden platform suspended hundreds of feet above the bottom of the bell shaft, we got a good look around. Neon lights were suspended at all different levels, and the elevator was lit up like a Christmas tree. It was quite a spectacle. Further along, we could see salt formations appearing on the north wall. These are long stalactite figures. Apparently they can get to be about three meters in length until they break under their own weight. It is an amazing sight, even if we were on the far wall.
Looking down, we could see the ferris wheel in action, dwarfed by the scale of the space around it. Walking all the way around the top we came back to where the salt formations were. They are impressive. Further on we could look down onto the salt lake on a lower section. We would check that out later. Back around the loop, we were at the elevator. There was another group of school kids here, so we decided to take the stairs. This was fairly interesting, as every year they carved the level into the side of the wall. As we descended, each year was about one level, but as we got lower and closer to the end of the 19th century, the levels got closer together. Wether this was due to the expanded space they were mining, or the lack of demand we are not sure. It would probably be a combination of the two, as the mine lost its importance. Eventually to be forgotten, and only used to store cheese for about 50 years before the wars. On ground level, we saw that it had re-invented itself as an amusement park. It just seems as if they had not thought it through so much. There was a bowling alley with two lanes. Bowling produces a lot of noise anywhere, and in the bottom of a very large enclosed space the noise echoed around and round. Then there was mini golf! Seriously, there was a nine hole mini golf course. Two pool tables that were rather badly placed, and then a plastic kiddy playground. Past that was a fenced off section containing about five pingpong tables. In the middle there was the ferris wheel! It was an amazing sight. We are not sure why, or how someone came up with this idea, but it is novel, and worth seeing just for what it is.
The noise down here is phenomenal. There are school kids running around balistically. Not looking where they are going, and screaming at the tops of their lungs. It was even louder than the bowling! We had wanted to have a game of pool down here, as who can say they have played pool deep underground in a salt mine? But with the kids, noise and most importantly, the position of the tables, we decided to skip it. Descending even deeper underground to escape the noise, we came to the subterranean lake. Here there are even more neon lights, set up in clusters after you pass over a bridge. There are a few small boats that you can hire to row around the lake. One thing we thought was funny was the power pole sticking up out of the lake. Romanians have a fascination for power poles, and they are even down here!
Spending a couple of hours in the depths of the mine was enough for us. We could have spent a lot longer, but with all the noise, lights and kids running around, we had had enough and headed back out to the daylight. On the way we did pass a small shrine, and the Nobles staircase that is done out of wood, but now encrusted in salt. It is well worth seeing, just because it is a salt mine, but the inside, well, you just have to see it to believe it. It doesn’t have the style of a South Korean Cave, but it definitely has something. We just are not sure what! The only real let down was that we couldn’t find the bar!
Picking our bags up, we walked through town to the bus station, at least the new bag survived the trip. While we were waiting, someone wanted to drive us to our next destination Alba Iulia (Alba Lulia?) although the fare he wanted to charge was astronomical, but as we were Australian, we could afford it. No thanks, we will wait for the bus and pay 1/10th the price!
The bus trip was ok, and we ended up on the outskirts of town. There was a pension nearby, but we couldn’t get anyone to answer the door,so we walked into town. On the way there was nothing. We couldn’t find anywhere we could stay. Eventually we made our way to the fortress. Here there was a pension that was open, and we had to take their room, as we couldn’t find anywhere else. It was a long walk, and the room was basic, but it was somewhere.
After checking in, we went for a walk around the old down town, found some dinner and headed back. On first impressions it is not the jewel of Romania, but there is hope for tomorrow and the fortress.