Back To The Salt Mine…

Observatory

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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12 comments on “Back To The Salt Mine…”

  1. Steve says:

    Wowww!!! Amazing pictures!!! I must go there one day. Although I have an apartment in Sofia I’ve never once been to Rumania. Seems I’m really missing something.

    BG and RU are perceived as ‘lumped together’ in Britain, this is so unfair, they could hardly be more different. And also Bulgaria is much smaller of course.

    Is it true there’s a whole ‘underground city’ in Bucharest, where thousands of people live who never see light???

  2. Steve says:

    And the underground minigolf is a MUST!!!

  3. Jo W says:

    That looks a really amazing place,Chris. Looking forward to read all about Dracula’s place tomorrow. Will you be at FP today? Haven’t got my copy of Strange Tide yet.

  4. Ness says:

    Makes the salt mine I visited on the border of Austria and Germany seem positively pedestrian.

  5. Matt says:

    Amazing, Thank you for posting this wonder for us all to share.

  6. admin says:

    Not sure there’s an underground city in Bucharest; it sounds a bit unlikely!

    Sorry to have missed you, Jo – I was indeed signing at Forbidden Planet but did sign a book for you.

  7. Jo W says:

    Very disappointed not to see you Chris, I had even got ‘im indoors with me too! Oh well maybe some other time:-( Btw the copy of Calabash you signed for me- I have already read it three times! as it’s my favourite non b&m.

  8. Steve says:

    Hi Chris
    I was motivated to google this topic now.
    I guess this is what I was told about, it obviously got distorted chinese whispers style but a core of truth.
    http://abcnews.go.com/International/life-tunnels-inside-underground-world-bucharest-romanias-sewer/story?id=27200275

  9. agatha hamilton says:

    Fabulous pictures of salt mine, but how awful about the horses.
    I think Steve is right about the underground city in Bucharest. Hundreds, perhaps, rather than thousands but certainly lots of homeless and drug addicts, with quite a number of children too.The Channel Four News programme about it is still there online, if you Google ‘Underground homeless in Bucharest’.

  10. Helen Martin says:

    I wonder about the horses. I had heard that the pit ponies in Nova Scotia coal mines were blind but later found out that it wasn’t so. They used lanterns and such and periodically brought the ponies up to the surface. Perhaps they did the same in Romania.

  11. Wayne Mook says:

    Wonderful looking place, puts the salt museum in Northwich to shame.

    Wayne.

  12. davem says:

    what an amazing place!

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