Back To The Salt Mine…
We’ve just concluded our epic tour of Romania and Transylvania (mostly without wi-fi), and for me this country came out very high in the list of central/East & Baltic places I’ve been visiting in the last few years. It felt a little like touring India; there were so few of us visiting from the UK that you start noticing the others wherever you go, picking up their voices across a restaurant or a church.
Rarely have I experienced such radical extremes in a country still emerging from a repressive regime. The rural and the urban, culturally well supported and unsupported, rich and poor are paired in stark contrast. Starting in Cluj-Napoca, taking in Sighisoara, Brasov, Viscri, Sibiu and other places it was easy to see the attraction of a country with a phenomenal number of world heritage sites, ranging from untouched villages that remain pretty much as they were one thousand years ago, to the astonishing salt mine at Turda, surely a site where the next Bond film must be shot.
This operated for hundreds of years – the horses went blind within two weeks from lack of light – and has now been sensitively converted into a living museum filled with odd, retro things to do – crazy golf far under the earth, anyone? Or how about a boating trip on the underground lake?
Not a visit for claustrophobics, or for anyone who doesn’t feel like waiting for the lifts and decides to take the vertiginous, slippery wooden stairs, as we did, it’s an incredible piece of design that must rank as one of the coolest sights underground. I’m surprised Wallpaper magazine hasn’t had its staff party here.
Turda offers a unique climate, as the enclosed mine is free of allergens and bacteria, making it perfect for sufferers of respiratory ailments, which may explain why I wasn’t out of breath after climbing hundreds of stairs. At 80 per cent humidity the mine maintains a steady temperature of 11 degrees C. The salt forms coatings and stalactites over the wood, giving everything an other-worldly feel.
There’s a ferris wheel and a bowling alley inside as well as a history of the place, but it’s the sheer magnitude of the central space that overwhelms, making the Tate’s turbine hall look like a student’s bedroom. A 30 kilometre drive from Cluj airport, it’s well worth a weekend visit. Tomorrow – how we fared in Castle Dracula.