You may not think of a salt mine as an exciting place to visit, but I’ll swear otherwise. Here’ ‘s a roundup of four salt mines I feel are worth your time and way more than a grain of that mineral.
Wieliczka Salt Mine, Poland
The Wieliczka Salt Mine near Krakow, Poland, earned one of the 12 prestigious spots on the very first UNESCO World Heritage list. Its operations date back to the 13th century, making it one of the most historic and famous salt mines in the world. Operations continued until 2007, more than 750 years. During World War II, the Germans used the mine as an underground facility for war-related manufacturing. Today, it’s primarily a tourist attraction.
In the heart of Central Mexico lies an enchanting colonial-era city, Guanajuato. Founded by the Spaniards in the early 16th century, it became the world’s preeminent silver-mining center in the 18th century. Guanajuato’s captivating historic district and famous mines have earned a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Yet, many have yet to hear of the place. I recently made an extraordinary day trip to Guanajuato from San Miguel de Allende and was thoroughly impressed by its beauty and historical significance.
Taking the Bus
I was dropped off at the bus station in San Miquel de Allende and, with a bit of wariness, hopped aboard a public bus. To my surprise, the choice was a luxury option at a bargain price. I found large and roomy seats like those in the first-class section on an airplane. I could recline, use a footrest, and watch a video screen- except everything was in Spanish – which I do not speak. I sat back in comfort and enjoyed the scenery.
A little more than an hour later, the bus pulled into the central station of Guanajuato, and I walked out the door to find a line of waiting taxis. An approximate 10-15 minute cab ride takes one into the historic district. Even though the driver spoke little English, he pointed out the underground tunnels in the old mining town, now subterranean streets. I was fascinated and wanted to explore them, but I had not allotted time. A few mines remain open to tourists, but if lucky, I’ll see them on a return visit.
Dangle a visit to the Fountain of Youth in front of any woman my age and they’ll dance visions of laser treatments, Botox or wrinkle fillers in their heads. As luck would have it, the true Fountain of Youth, discovered by Ponce de Leon, exists in nearby St. Augustine,Florida. Why I’ve never visited defies explanation as my crow’s feet, furrowed brows and sagging chin beg for help.
I arrived one Saturday morning and found the parking lot bustling with cars, buses and tourists exiting a sightseeing trolley. The 15-acre site rests adjacent the Mantaza’s Inlet–just a stone’s throw from downtown and the city’s crowning glory, Castillo de San Marcos National Monument or simply ‘the fort’.
I meandered into the Spring House, a throwback to circa-1957 roadside attractions of early tourism, featuring life-size dioramas. These, I might add, haven’t benefited from a dusting in over 20 years. But, in an innocent way, the Old Florida icons are charming. I felt I was stepping back to a childhood museum visit, so heck; I was already I feeling younger.
I was also enthralled by a little 5-year-old boy who endlessly barraged his parents with questions. “What are those guys doing? What kind of pants are they wearing,” he asked. His Mom attempted to explain, reading from the sign telling of the 1565 Spanish landing. “But why,” he countered, that nightmarish question delivered over and over from a curious mind.
I stayed back and eavesdropped, and then we all proceeded toward the building’s piece d’resistance–a hole in the floor–revealing a stone shaft with a laconic spring bubbling at about as much intensity as a pneumonia patient. Visitors are invited to partake the wondrous water from paper cups placed on a counter. Forget sipping, I gulped two glasses in hopes of some youthful benefit.
While Ponce de Leon thought he had discovered the source of longevity or everlasting life; I was seeking to erase a few signs of aging. If this is the Fountain of Youth, who knows what might be emulsified in the ionic liquid.
However, feeling far from a frog turning into a princess, I wandered on to investigate the rest of the archeological site. While the attraction doesn’t rank as a world-class museum, the grounds prove interesting enough and educational. A makeshift Timucuan village had been constructed in one corner, a two-story 3-D globe presentation explains the Spanish explorations and a statue of Ponce de Leon proudly stands near the river’s edge.
Two costumed re-enactors demonstrate the firing of an old canon every hour. Kids love this, but it was here I found a treasure–Carlos, a strappingly handsome Spaniard whose looks stole my heart.