A Travellerspoint blog

March 2017



rain 12 °C

The Wieliczka Salt Mine is located in the town of Wieliczka about 20 minutes outside of Krakow. It operated in the 13th century and produced table salt continuously until 2007, At that time it was one of the world's oldest salt mines in operation. The mine’s attractions include dozens of salt carved statues and a number of chapels.

It was fortunate I had planned this 4-hour tour for today because the weather was crap. It rained on and off most of the day. Of course, I knew nothing of that in the 2.5 hours that I was underground. The tour takes you to 135 meters underground (appx 440 ft). Normally, you descend into the mine by stairs, 480 steps followed by another 320 however because of the back log of guests our giant tour group had to take the mine shaft which is normally only used for the ascent. Personally, I would have rather done the stairs even before I saw the elevator. At no point does anyone ask you if you are claustrophobic or explain that you may stop midway, only that it will be a quick 14 seconds to the base of the 480 steps. I have never been so close to 8 other strangers. You are literally jammed in, they push on your arms and legs to close the little doors. It was way more than 14 secs and when we stopped completely in the dark, I had a quick moment where I wondered if I would panic. We all sort of figured that the 3-layer elevator might have to let people out in steps and we were right. It was definitely longer than 14 seconds. We did walk the last 320 steps which were on nice staircases and an easy walk so I am not sure what all fuss is about. On the way up they told us it would take 45 seconds but that went really quick and we lucked into only having 8 people so I only had to touch my neighbors not cuddle up. I have to wonder how many people who walk down panic when they see the elevator up. It is crazy so there has to be some who just can't do it. It was well worth the visit despite the bit of disorganization. It was really interesting when light was put behind these grey salt figures and they became translucent. Here’s what we saw below.


They had one room where a machine took your picture and emailed to you. This is mine. I think it looks like I was using the toilet and was suddenly surprised someone was taking my picture.


On the return, I got dropped off at the main square where I had some lunch, some mulled wine and planned my afternoon.

I visited St. Mary’s Basilica which was lovely but I am not one to loiter in such places. Did you know that Poland is a deeply religious country with 92% of the population being Roman Catholic?


I also visited the Cloth Market. A beautiful building filled with shops. Most sell amber, the native gemstone of Poland but I bought none.


I then made my way to the music academy where I planned to have coffee on the rooftop café but it was closed. I was very disappointed. At this point it was pouring hard so I decide to give in and make my way back to the hotel.

Here is the indication for a unisex bathroom in Poland? I am told that there are lots of these and locals say that many a romance begins in the queue for the toilet. Sometimes, if the bathroom is not unisex, the symbols are split. Would you know where to go?


Tomorrow I fly to Dublin for a week of meetings. I have enjoyed Krakow way more than I expected. I could easily spend more time here. I didn’t make it to the castle or any museums. The city is very clean, people are friendly and most speak some English. Most of the tourists I met were from the UK and I have several servers tell me I was their first Canadian. I am certain I am not the only Canadian to visit but surprised that we are not up there since Canadians enjoy Europe. I was asked more than once if I was afraid of Donald Trump being so close. It is very cheap for a European country. I could have a large meal with wine and water for $10. A little more in the main square. The two drives outside the city looked lovely and I feel like Poland deserves a proper visit. I’ll be back.

Oh...and of course I am the circle. I didn't need any more reminders that I am round.

Posted by curlygirl 13:03 Archived in Poland Tagged mines salt krakow Comments (2)



semi-overcast 14 °C



Today has been a difficult one. After a sobering experience visiting the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp, I returned back to my room only to learn of the tragic passing of a dear friend and colleague. I mention Tom here because besides work, we shared a love of travel and Tom was a devoted reader of my blog. Like me, he loved the unusual, trying new foods and meeting new people. He only retired in January and set off almost immediately on an adventure to Guatemala. I know I sound like a broken record when I say just how grateful I am for the things I am able to do but I really am. When you hear things like this and see what I saw today, the reality that life can be short hits home. I will miss you Tom. So, it is with a heavy heart and a whole lot of gratitude, I share a little of my day.

Today I took a tour to Auschwitz and Birkenau (Auschwitz ll) located about 60 kms from Krakow. This was the largest of the camps and over 1.1 million people lost their lives there. Although Auschwitz l opened in 1940 as a camp for Polish political prisoners by 1941 the first exterminations had taken place. Auschwitz ll became an extermination center (death camp) and the final solution to the Jewish question.

Auschwitz l

The sign at the gates to Auschwitz, pictured above, reads "Arbeit Macht Frei" or "work sets you free". This is the first of many hypocrisies at the camp. The prisioners who worked 11 + hour days quickly learned that the only freedom was death.

I am not going to include the history of the camp. You can research that yourselves but here are a few pictures and comments from my visit.

click here for a link to the history

The camp is filled with photographs from when it was opened. I was most bothered by those of the children who were often ripped away from the parents or murdered immediately because they were not strong enough to work.


Cans of Kyklon B, about 11 cans would be used in the gas chambers for one group of prisoners. This was not an easy death, most suffered for 30 minutes before dying


There were many brick barracks at Auschwitz l but not all housed prisoners. There were barracks that stored all the valuables belongings to the prisoners. These were known as Canada barracks, because Canada was viewed as a land of riches. This was something I had never heard before.


Glasses piled high


Suitcases with the owner's names so they could quickly find them once released. One of many deceptions by the guards.


Shoes, as high and as far as I could see.


The most disturbing display room for me, contained a glass wall, behind which was 2000 kgs of woman's hair, braided, matted, piled high. Every part of the prisoner was used. Hair which was cut on arrival and after gasing, was used to make mats and fabrics. I was not allowed to take pictures here but here is a link where you can see it.
Click here

The walls are filled with pictures of prisoners. The nazis documented well and each picture show the date of birth, arrival and death. it was shocking to see that some lived only months.


The wall where prisoners were shot.


As difficult as I was finding the tour, I couldn't imagine how this this group felt.


The barbed wire fences were also electric


The home of the camp commander. So close to the gas chamber and ovens (used after gasing), that he often had human ash on his windows.


Gas chamber and ovens


Auschwitz ll - Birkenau


This camp was massive. There is no way to describe or photograph it, you simply have to go to appreciate the magnitude of this one camp and its atrocities . I was overwhelmed. Most of the Jews that were killed here were from Hungary and Poland. They began shipping them in from Western Europe as well. Here at the unloading station, where 75% of the arrivals went right to the showers to be disinfected, aka, the gas champers, were a group of Jewish men. They were huddled around the cattle car while their guide explained how their ancestors would have been treated. A powerful moment.


The huge memorial for all who suffered with a plaque in 22 languages


As the Germans learned they were losing the war, the began to destroy the evidence, including the gas chambers and ovens at Birkenau.


The barracks here were made of wood as it was faster and cheaper to build. The conditions were terrible and worst than at Auschwitz l


Actual drawings found in this barrack for woman and children


It has been a brutal day. So many lessons to be learned, yet so many not.


Posted by curlygirl 13:35 Archived in Poland Tagged auschwitz birkenau Comments (6)



overcast 9 °C

Taken from a rooftop cafe.

Let me start by saying that Krakow has quickly become one of my new favorites. What an incredible city, that while filled with a very dark history, has been left almost completely intact. It has a “softnesss” about it that makes it feel warm and welcoming. Soft is an odd word to describe a city but it keeps popping to mind perhaps because of the language, spoken quietly, amazingly empty streets, softly painted walls and whisking willows. With its 10 universities and thousands of students it has a real bohemian feel, I love it here.

I spent the good part of my day with a local photographer, David who originally hails from the UK but who followed his heart, and now wife to Krakow. This is a fairly new habit for me, finding a photographer to show me the sites, not so much for the instruction but for the experience of seeing a city through someone who also enjoys seeing it through a lens and, more importantly, has the patience and understanding that non-photographers often don’t, to wait while you have the shots you want. David did not disappoint. He holds a wealth of information about the city, knows where to get the best shots and can point you to the best restaurants and cafes. We enjoyed a few coffees in unique cafes along the way from the tops of tall buildings to an old Jewish home. It was great and he was quick to offer advice and answer questions on anything photography. It wasn’t until after we parted, me, with even more things on my “to do” list that I realized just how late in the day it was.

Here’s the link to David’s site in case you have the opportunity.


We covered quite a bit of ground. Starting in the Old Town and making our way back through the Jewish Area including a visit to see part of the remaining ghetto wall. Here are some highlights from our time together.

The main square.


Exploring courtyards and a church with amazing stain glass windows


More sites, including the Krakow dragon that refused to blow fire for us


The place to get the very popular polish pizza, Kapiekanka


A café in an old Jewish home


More from the Jewish area


I liked this rooftop


The bridge by day


One of the few buildings with bullet holes


The chair memorial by day. It is hard to find much information on this site but David believes the chairs that sit back on represented those that turned their backs on those living in the grotto. And what a classroom. Many students sat and listened quietly to their history lesson.


The old ghetto wall which was cruelly made to look like Jewish headstones


David also suggest that I visit the “new” (starting in 1800) Jewish cemetery so as soon as I left him, I went directly there. I did not expect to have such an emotional response. Maybe having just seen the grotto wall made it hit home. It was beautiful but sad. One of the workers there explained in broken English how the Germans destroyed the cemetery using headstones as mortar for roads to the camps. Today, only partially rebuilt (and in need of serious repair), some of the headstones that could not be linked to their gravesides are imbedded in the new walls surrounding the graveyard. I think what struck me most was how huge it was, and this was not the only Jewish cemetery and yet, there are less than 200 remaining in the city today.


From there I wandered around, sat in a café where I had pierogi and hot raspberry beer. Both local, delicious and cheap. I think it cost about $5. I was just about settled on going back to my room for the evening when I realized that my time here was short so rest was not an option. Instead, I headed back to the old town and took in a classical concert in the old St Paul and Peter Cathedral. It was well worth it even though the church was freezing.


We even got a performance outside


On the walk home, after reaching 30,000 steps on a very full day, I figured I would add one more Polish tradition to my day, and grabbed a sausage for the walk home.


Posted by curlygirl 15:31 Archived in Poland Tagged jewish krakow ghetto Comments (4)



sunny 12 °C

I arrived in Krakow right on schedule despite the Canadian snowstorm that threaten to complicate the travel. I was pleasantly surprised not to need a coat at all here until the sun started to go down when it got quite chilly.

I was completely beat so was delighted to learn my room was ready. North Americans are not often so lucky when arriving early into Europe. Some suggest it is better to stay awake but I find I am useless without a little sleep. Still, I had to force myself to get up after a 2 hour snooze.

I elected to take a 2.5 hour walking tour of the area I am staying in called the Kazmierz District which was once the center of Jewish life in Krakow before being destroyed during World War 2. Thanks to Steven Spielberg, who filmed Schindler’s List in the area, it has since been revitalized. Although of the 60,000 Jews who lived here before the war there are only 160 remaining. We learned that many of the Jewish restaurants are owned and run by the Polish and are not Kosher. And of the 7 synagogues that were in the area, only 2 are still used for worship.

Here are the highlights of the evening with some text robbed from the internet.


This is the  Jan Karski bench - Karski was a member of the Polish underground army, known to the history books as the "man who tried to stop the Holocaust." During World War II, Karski smuggled himself into the Warsaw Ghetto and Nazi concentration camps with the express intent of witnessing and recording the horror being perpetrated against the Jews, in order to report it to the West


The Isaac Synagogue, built in the early Judaic-Baroque style, was opened in 1644, and was a gift to the city from a wealthy Jew, Izaak Jakubowicz


These stairs were used in the filming of Schindler's List, to represent the ghetto which is too modernized now.


We walked over this amazing bridge on our way to Schindler's Factory and the Jewish Ghetto.


The Jewish Ghetto was occupied from 1941-1943 before residents were killed or shipped to concentration camps. Near where the Ghetto once stood, is a large square containing the "Empty Chairs Memorial". The chairs scattered across the square face the concentration camps and each chair is said to represent 1000 Jews killed. Some say the chairs represent the belongings of those moved to the ghetto, and chairs because they were often carried by the children. There are a few chairs with their backs to the ghetto, these are said to represent those that did not accept what was happening to these people. One of the those people was Dr. Tadeusz Pankiewicz. He was the only non Jewish person to live inside the ghetto. He convinced the Nazis that he should keep his pharmacy there to help prevent illness form spreading to the city. He saved many lives.


We wandered on to Oscar Schindler's factory where he saved 1200 Jews. This is now a museum and the faces of those he saved peer through the window panes. we did learn of some inaccuracies in the movie and that Schindler was no saint but also that he and others risked their lives to save many who would have been otherwise lost. As always in difficult times, the great humanities can be found.


It was a short day but I covered quite a bit. The city has a voice that speaks clearly of its history. I heard it and felt it immediately but there is also a warmth that has me looking very forward to the next 3 days.

Posted by curlygirl 14:15 Archived in Poland Tagged krakow Comments (3)



sunny -30 °C


Sometimes I really question what I have done to deserve such an awesome life. I have been blessed with so many amazing opportunities and this has certainly been one of those. I can’t say that Northern Canada was even on my bucket list (I hate the cold) but when I got invited to spend 3 days on the company jet, testing out our new technology, with stops in Iqaluit and Whitehorse, I couldn’t say no. Honestly, I think I was more excited for this trip than I have been for any in a very long time.

Recently, 10 satellites were launched (with many more to follow), that contain the technology to allow controllers to see aircraft everywhere. Until now, this could only be done using radar so this is huge and will completely change how we do business, especially in remote and oceanic airspaces. The purpose of our trip was to test this new technology.

The other neat thing about this trip was that we were bringing along 2000lbs of hockey equipment for kids in the northern communities. This gear was donated and sorted by Nav Canada employees and coordinated with the local hockey organizations who will later distribute it to various communities.

Our trip began in Ottawa, where we picked up the company jet (who doesn’t want to say that?) and met our crew. We had TJ and Carl in the front and Eric, the flight engineer monitoring flight activities in the back. His large display allowed us to see when we were under the coverage of the satellites. We also, fortunately, had our own mechanic, Craig. Steve was the technical expert who has been working on this project for years and we couldn’t have been happier for anyone than him when we found out everything was working brilliantly. The rest of us played no part in the actual test but were all quite interested in the results and the experience because it will greatly impact our future work.


Our trip was not without events. Before departing Ottawa, we had a technical issue which caused us a slight delay and put us just behind schedule. A reboot took care of this and we were on our way, curled up in the 6 comfy seats on board, with a pile of yummy snacks in the bins. Kirsten’s fear of hunger was quickly alleviated. The flight was about 3.5 hours and was perfect until we reached Iqaluit when Eric came back to tell us that we were going to have an “abnormal landing” but that everything would fine. We would be landing without flaps so we might come in a little fast. The crew was so great that none us had any concerns for our safety despite the fact that I was pretty sure those “flaps” thingies were rather important. The landing was fast, and a little noisy, but otherwise perfect. Apparently, we still had half the runway left when we stopped. Our only fear was that we might not be able to continue.

Although, they crew were confident that the aircraft was fixed, they were not confident in taking it further north. We thought everything was a bust until we learned that they were sending the other company jet to Iqaluit so we could continue on. Yahoo!

Our stay in Iqaluit was short, arriving around 8pm and departing at 1:30pm. We made the most of our time. After a quick dinner of Arctic Char in the restaurant and a stop by the bar, we all went to bed to rest for a morning of exploration.

The bar...


A headless rabbit?


The crew was very busy, unloading the hockey gear, transferring all the testing equipment and snacks from one airplane to the other and getting ready for the next leg. While Rob did a site visit at the airport, the rest of us bundled up and headed out in the -29 weather for a stroll about town. A couple of us got to go up in the tower for some great views, including the two Nav Canada jets, a rare site, on the ground and the transfer of hockey gear.


Here are a few shots from that stroll. It isn’t easy to take your time to get the shot when taking of your mitts hurts. I would have loved to had a different lens on when the dog sled went by, or even better, been closer but at least we saw it. It couldn’t have been a better day with lots of sunshine and no wind. Even though my eyelashes froze, I was not cold.


We departed on time, for our 5-hour flight to Yellowknife for fuel. During the trip, we all took turns in the cockpit for the landings and departures. This was a real treat that rarely happens post 9-11. It is always valuable to see things from another perspective. The landing in Yellowknife was mine and it was awesome although it was at times a little eerie. I was a little disoriented seeing only vast whiteness contrasted against bright blue sky. This landing was perfectly smooth despite another flap issue when they didn’t completely extend. Yup, new airplane, similar issue. The mechanic felt the temperatures were playing havoc with the flaps. After some testing, we continued on to Whitehorse, a short 90-minute flight.


Unfortunately, the flaps once again caused some concern on landing. That’s when the crew decided that it required more investigation and that the aircraft would be grounded, leaving us with the option of a few more days in Whitehorse or on a commercial flight home. We chose the latter. Although we didn’t get to see Whitehorse, or the northern lights, we received a warm welcome from the Nav Canada staff and enjoyed a lovely dinner together.

One might think that this might have turned out to be a stressful trip, nothing could be further from the truth. The flight ops teams were professional and honest with us and because of that we were all very relaxed. They took the issues seriously and investigated thoroughly and when the problem needed further attention, they grounded the aircraft. We couldn’t help but chuckle at how bizarre it all was but someone did comment that it wasn’t a trip for anyone with “flapxiety”. The crew said it was a new experience for them as well. We even laughed when on our last commercial flight into Ottawa, the pilot told us not to mind the noise outside because it was just a large truck helping to manually start the engine. An “abnormal departure” perhaps? Could it be us?

But alas, after a long day, we are all home safe and sound. We are excited about the results of our test and richer for having experienced something so special and unique. I think I can speak for the entire team when I say, the company jet is the definitely the way to travel. Now to convince someone that I should be flying around with these guys all the time. Hmmmmm


Posted by curlygirl 18:29 Archived in Canada Tagged north whitehorse yellowknife iqaluit Comments (6)

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