The last day with the car. Kinda bittersweet, I suppose. I love the freedom of it, the adventure. But as much as I love Romania, I feel my time here coming to an end. Giving up the car is just the first part of making that real. My plan was to leave at 7:30 for the hour and a half car ride to Turga for my one adventure of the day- Salina Turda…the Turda Salt Mines. They opened at 9. Fate stepped in, in the form of the airbnb host showing up about 20 minutes late (my fault) and a couple of wrong turns that required some backtracking (google’s fault), so I ended up arriving about 45 minutes later than I planned. The drive from Sebes to Turda was nowhere near as glorious as all of the other days. Not a single place where I wished there was a turnout for a photo op. It was all main roads, very industrial for quite a ways, then just big open farmland. Eh. The least exciting of all the drives I have done over the past week, but considering all of the awesomeness I have seen, I can’t complain!
I pulled in at 9:45. Um, apparently this is a SUPER popular place on Monday mornings, because I literally got the last parking spot in the lot!Everyone else was having to park up the road a ways. There were even huge tour groups here- both school kids and adult tourists. Dang!
Went in and paid my 35 lei for entrance and parking (like $9). There were signs about a free audio guide app you could download on your phone from google play at izi.travel. Super cool, and there are places all over the world on the app!! I’m keeping it! Ok, with audio guide downloaded, it was time to head into the mine. And honestly, I had ZERO idea of what to expect. First, you descended a ton of stairs (FYI: Romania is not the place to be if you have mobility issues, just saying…). It got colder and colder as you went down. I am deathly afraid of even the thought of being cold, so when I researched and heard about people saying it was “chilly”, I decided to wear my ski pants from my Iceland/Scotland trip to stay warm. Those, a tshirt, and my rainjacket in my day pack. Well, apparently I have acclimated to cooler climates, because even though the mine is a steady 10-12 C (low 50’s F) year round, I never had to put my jacket on. Regular pants would have been fine.
Got to the bottom of the stairs, turned left, and said out loud, “What in the WORLD?!”. It was that shocking! This huge tunnel called the Franz Joseph transportation galley. It’s 917 m long ( over 1/2 a mile!!)- most of which was carved in the mid 1800s. After the mine was closed in 1932, it was used as a bomb shelter for the people of Turda, and then for cheese storage!! HA! Now it’s the main hallway for tourists to access the various parts of the mine. The tops of the walls are unbelievably smooth- with a marbled look to them. The bottoms of the walls are crusted with salt crystals. One little Australian boy was running his hand along it and stuck his fingers in his mouth, proclaiming it to be “really salty!”- much to his mother’s dismay.
Different tunnels and room branch off of the main galley. One is a medical treatment room, which is kinda interesting. You could see the patients inside through the glass (no tourists allowed), but I didn’t take pictures because, well, seems like that stuff should be private. Another path led off to a little room with some old mining tools and a staircase. I headed down. And OH. MY. GOD. There was this MASSIVE elevator shaft going down into the Rudolph mine!! You could either go down the stairs, or down the elevator. The line wasn’t terrible, but longer than the 4 minutes it said it would take to use the stairs, so I opted for stairs. To get to the stairs, you had to traverse an INSANE balcony thing that was about 17.395 miles long, barely attached to a wall, and about a zillion miles above the mine floor below. Fear of heights kicked in, and I basically scooted down the side with the wall, which was nowhere near far enough from the edge of the balcony for my liking. Made it to the stairs- 13 floors down. My knees said, “Screw you lady, we prefer the elevator.” about halfway down, but at that point I had no choice. Turned a corner and could really see the mine for the first time (since I refused to get near the balcony wall earlier). HOLY CRAP!! There was a FERRIS WHEEL down here!!! Made it to the bottom, and there wasn’t just a ferris wheel, but ping pong tables, pool tables, a playground, bowling- and an amphitheater for concerts….SO COOL!! You could see the salt stalactites on the ceiling- they grow about an inch a year and fall off when they reach about 3 meters (9 FEET!!).
I walked around a bit, and found another balcony. What the….???!!! There was another huge drop with a LAKE AT THE BOTTOM OF IT!!! Come to find out, this was the Terezia Mine- the oldest chamber where salt extraction started way back in 1690! You had two options to get to it. Elevator or stairs. Knees said, “You know what you better choose, bitch, or we are going to take you out.” Sigh. Luckily the line wasn’t long, and I only had to wait about 10 minutes (only 4 people per trip). Once down, there was a bridge to a little island made of salt waste, and you could rent boats. Mining stopped here in 1880. The walls and ceiling (120 m high!!) were just spectacular. Went to head back up, and the line for the elevator was about 25 people deep. At 4 people per trip, that was going to take forever. Knees were hating down, but might be ok with up. I decided to risk it. Holy heckle majeckle these stairs and the platforms between them were SO NARROW and steep!! People were coming up and going down, and you’d have to wait on the tiny platform in between flights because two lanes of traffic wouldn’t fit on the stairs. Then, people would have to squeeze by you. As we kept going up and up and up back to the Rudolph mine, people were huffing and puffing and making silly “I’m going to die” noises. It was kinda fun and we were all in it together. Breathlessness and exhausted muscles translate into every language. 😊
Made it to the top (barely), and from there, I was back in the Ruldoph mine (with the ferris wheel). Which meant I still had a hell of a long ascent to get back to the top! I opted for elevator. This one took 7 at a time, and I only had to wait for 2 cars. (video).
I headed back down the long Franz Joseph galley, and visited some of the other rooms. One was the extraction/trolley and the winch room. So the salt from the Rudolph mine was placed into huge buffalo leather bags (interesting, huh?!), and pulleys brought them up to this room, where they were put into trolleys to be sent to the surface. The trolleys were horse powered- literally! And it’s super sad. ☹ One or two horses were hitched to each arm of the winch. There was no electricity in the mine until 1910, so in the late 1800s when the winch was built, the room was only lit by torches. The horses would go BLIND after about 2 weeks of being in the mines, because when they were taken outside, their eyes couldn’t adjust to the sunlight properly! HORRIBLE!! After about 6 months, the horses were no longer able to work at maximum capacity and were “retired”. I hate to think what that meant….
There was another mine that you couldn’t see down into, but the marbling on the walls was just spectacular. From there, I headed back to the main galley and walked all the way to the end, where it dead ended. From that point, you could see the old original exit of the mine waaaaaaay down a tunnel. And that was the end of my mine tour. This was a really interesting stop, and I’m so glad I did it! Quite unexpected and unusual, for sure!!
A short hour long drive brought me to Cluj-Napoca- my final Romanian destination. I found Autonom and dropped off the car. Super easy!! From there, it was just a .8 mile walk to my airbnb. With the pack and the freaking ski pants, I won’t say it was the most enjoyable walk of my life, but I lived! I turned into the courtyard where my airbnb was, and LOOK WHAT IS LITERALLY RIGHT NEXT DOOR TO ME!!! Dear Coincidental Universe, There’s a point where you run the punchline into the ground. I’ve got it. Enough. Love, Mary.
Now, I will say, I wasn’t expecting much out of this airbnb. It was $15 a night for an entire private apartment. Yes, you read that right. $15 for an ENTIRE PRIVATE APARTMENT. I was spending 2 nights here. Imagine my surprise when I opened the door to what is now my most favorite airbnb in all of Romania!!! It is SO CUTE!!! There’s a nice little desk with a chair, a kitchen with a microwave (I was beginning to think those hadn’t made it to Romania yet, as it’s the first one I’ve seen!), a little fridge, and a sink. A cute bathroom where the toilet and shower are all just one room, except it’s big enough that they feel separate. A set of bunk beds downstairs, and a little loft with another twin bed. And not stark and plain like most of the places I’ve been in- this one is really decorated so cute with art and knick-knacks! The building is old- really old. From the literature that is in the room about it (in Romanian), it appears to have been built in 1597!! LOVE IT!!! There are even some exposed original interior stone walls which give it such a historic feel. Plus, it is literally right in the middle of the old town! The cathedral is right across the street! Seriously, the location, size, amenities, fact that it is all mine, and is only $15 a night- holy fuck, I’m moving in permanently!!
First order of business was food. I had only eaten a pepperoni stick and a granola bar all day- and the last meal was lunch at about 1pm yesterday- 24 hours ago! Walked to Carrefour and got a loaf of bread, a couple of bananas, a bag of chips, a candy bar, and 2 Dr. Peppers. $3.75. As I walked through the city, I was really digging the vibe. It’s very different than the other cities I’ve been to. A much younger vibe to it- a little more Westernish with more of a progressive feel. Tons of cafes and such. Super cool place. If I had to live in Romania, this is the city I would choose. Came back to the bnb to start work and…..NO WIFI (insert scream 😱). Something was wrong with it, the host is in Serbia and won’t be back until tomorrow morning. Oh well. Good excuse for a nap. I will have a LONG day of work ahead of me tomorrow, plus my very last Romanian adventure. I can’t believe my time here is almost over. 😢