Claustrophobia in salt mines

I couldn’t resist adding a P.S. to Norine Matteson’s note about the Wieliczka Salt Mines (July ’05, pg. 85). I was there (with a Rick Steves tour of Eastern Europe) on May 29, ’05, and our experience, while similar in many respects, was also shadowed by a serious problem in getting OUT of the mines at the end of the tour.

While, as Norine said, the sights were very interesting and the tours were spaced so that only one group was in a chamber at any given time, the chaos at the exit left most of us with the conviction that it was an experience we would neither repeat nor recommend.

It may have been the time of day (late afternoon) or unusually heavy crowds (it was a hot Sunday), but, whatever the reason, there was a huge crush of people at the exit, with everyone (except, initially, we more polite and restrained Americans) pushing and shoving to be first in line.

At least one member of our group suffered a panic attack and had to move to the side for air. The rest of us were smashed so closely together that there was no room to breathe! The local guide who had taken us through the mines did not wait with us but took a “coffee break” with other mine guides until such time as our group was at the head of the line. Also, because of the crush, seven members of our group ended up getting being left behind while the rest were allowed out to board the elevators to the surface.

Our wonderful tour guide, Tina Hiti, who has been leading Rick Steves’ Eastern Europe tours for the past four years, said she had never before seen such a crush of people.

Further, there are only two very small elevators (each holding about eight people) in which to go back up, and these are operated in pitch blackness, which caused further anxieties for several of us!

I don’t know if that was a one-time occurrence or if it is a symptom of the popularity of the attraction outstripping its ability to accommodate visitors, but I know 26 Americans who won’t go back into the mines!

Portland, OR