A few days before driving to Austria, we were at the dinner table and Ella (age 7) asked, “Where does salt come from?”
“Hmm…good question! Want to go to a salt mine and find out?”
Of course the answer was yes…and how very convenient that we already had this excursion planned!
Our first day in Austria was very wet—a perfect day to be underground!
We took off for the Salt Mine Tour (SalzZeitReise), eager to see what so many people have raved about!
The mine entrance is located on a beautiful hillside, with some wooden playground equipment to keep kids entertained while you wait for your scheduled tour to begin.
The website and the company fliers all indicated that children under age 3 were free, so we prepared to pay for 2 adults and 2 kids. When we walked up to the ticket window, we were surprised to see a sign indicating that children under 4 were not allowed AT ALL. The lady at the ticket counter again confirmed this.
Ugh! Our plans were DASHED!
The kids were so disappointed, so Jared quickly volunteered to stay behind with Ethan for the 2 hour tour, and encouraged us to go without them. The girls were so relieved, and we left Jared to explore the outdoors in the drizzle.
After paying the entrance fees of approximately 15,50 € for adults, and 9,50 € for kids, we were given some apparel to wear, and we all suited up in our highly attractive mine suits.
We first got on the little train tram that took us inside the 500-year old mine. I admit it was a slightly awkward mode of transportation…because they make everyone sit saddle-style, and they squish everyone on VERY tightly (meaning that you have no choice but to be very intimately squished on your neighbor). That part = not so cool.
After driving through small mine tunnels, our first stop was an open area of the mine where they had a little theater set up to give you some instructions, and also show the first of a series of movie clips that we would continue to see throughout the tour. The movie is a dramatic reenactment of the history of Salzburg, with a fine amount of comedy to keep it interesting. The movie is in German, with English subtitles—which meant that I had to sit between the girls and read the words very quickly to them, so they could keep up! I was so thankful for that translation!
Next, we started walking into the tunnel, and actually left Austria and walked into Germany. Apparently much of this mine is located under Germany, which proved to be a VERY big deal in the mine’s history (leading to big ownership disputes)!
Of course, one of the biggest highlights of the mine tour was being able to slide down the old wooden slides! I know it doesn’t look like a traditional slide…and that’s because it most certainly isn’t!
You sit on the two raised wood rails in the middle, and go speeding down the smooth wooden beams! I suppose this is one benefit to the attractive outerwear…no worrying about snags in your clothes!
We got to ride an even longer slide down to the deepest part of the mine! They had photos posted on the sides of the walls showing people sliding on these back in the 1800’s…for fun! Apparently this kind of tourism has been going on for awhile!
The deepest part of the mine has walls made of 98% rock salt!
Basically, the reason salt is found mountains is a result of tectonic movement that eventually forced the salty seabeds into mountains.
The Celts actually discovered salt in these mountains ages ago, but they mountain’s wealth was only rediscovered in the 1500’s.
To extract the salt from the the walls of the mine, they first fill up a room with water, and let it sit. The salt is leached from the walls, making a brine (salty water), which they then pump out of the mine (using hollowed wooden tree trunks as their original pipes!).
The brine is then boiled and the water evaporated until only the salt remains. It is then dried, refined, and formed into giant cones, which were quite the form of currency back in the day! The owners of these mines became filthy rich!
We entered a few of these giant rooms filled with water, and took an underwater boat ride from one end to the other. The lights were dark, they had some fun changing lights on the sides, and played Enya-like music. Kind of a cool experience!
At the end of the tour they let you take the easy way out…up a very long escalator, and back on the cram-packed little tram to the entrance. They gave each person a little mini salt shaker that has proved to be the perfect travel companion in our journeys!
We regrouped with Jared and Ethan who had happily spent 2 hours exploring the mountainside’s beauty. On our way back to our rental home, we got enticed by the thought of someone else cooking our food, and so we stopped at the Salzburg Outlet mall for some amaaazing pizza and baked potatoes.
This outlet mall was certainly above the quality of a typical outlet mall you’d see in the states!
The best part about the whole experience was hearing Ella tell Jared all about it later. She could explain to him perfectly the process for leaching the salt out of the walls, boiling it down, etc.
Not to mention…she has complained several times since leaving Austria that Jared has to go back and do the tour, too…because she is so sad that he missed it!
I’m sure we’ll be back!