On tour last month I had the chance to visit the Salt Mines near Salzburg with my group. This is a great bit of fun and a chance to cross the border between Austria and Germany (and back again) while hundreds of feet underground, you don’t get to do that every day. Salt mining first occurred in the area several thousand years ago with the Celts developing the ability to extract salt from the rock. Mining on a more industrial scale was continued in the 1600s and the mines were active until just a few years ago – today they are a superb tourist attraction.
The journey begins by climbing up to the village of Bad Durrnberg, in the hills close to Salzburg. The first part of the visit is the donning of white protective overalls over your clothes, always fun to do. Before I could ask for a size the woman looked at me then went off to get wheat might only be considered the clown size. These ballooning trousers were almost impossible to wear and required triple tying of the knot to retain dignity. What did I learn? Don’t be last in line when they’re handing out amusing clothing.
Once suitably attired everyone gets on a ‘train’, you straddle the bench seat, hold the shoulders of the person in front and travel down into the mine for about five minutes, form here it is a walk through the dark tunnel to the first video point. At the mines we visited there is a three part video that tells the story of the formation of the mine and how it came to be controlled by the Bishop Wolf Dietrich Raitenau in the early 17th century. The next stage is the bit everybody really comes for – the miners slide. There are two slides and the shorter one is first. Head down in twos or threes holding on to the person in front. This polished wooden slide whisks you down at great speed, just as the miners did, then deposits you at the bottom (deposits….anyone?).
The visit continues through more tunnels, one more (bigger slide) and with a boat ride (yes, a boat) across the salt lake. All in all it was a great diversion and a fun way to experience something that most people would not think to do. The tunnels can be pretty dark, the slides are fast and there is a lot of walking. Naturally, this is not for all. My entire group went; this included the rather wonderful Sister Norma Fleming. I know better than to declare her age to the waiting world, but she gamely joined in the train ride, the tunnel walk and even went down the slide the way it was intended to be used – a sterling performance.
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(Editor’s note: Paul Mattesini’s posts appear Tuesdays on Following the Equator. If you have a travel question for our resident expert tour director, or an idea for a blog post topic, you can email Paul here, and he will answer readers’ questions in future posts.)