The Wieliczka Salt Mines In Krakow, Poland

Day 6, Saturday, August 31, 2019

We had a quiet day today.  I rested and did some blogging and Bob checked out the train station and where to buy groceries.  He had a great idea, to use our empty carry on suitcase to haul our groceries. So mush easier than carrying heavy bags.

Day 7, Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Wieliczka Salt Mining Tour is on the agenda for today.  It is a twenty minute drive and we arrive early so we sit in a nearby park where it is cooler until it is time for our tour.  It is going to be 31° today, so going into a mine where the temperature is a constant 17° seems like a good idea. Immediately upon entering the mine we descend 54 flights of stairs, 380 steps down to the first level of the mine which is 64 meters deep. This photo is looking down the crack between the flights of stairs…and we were already almost halfway down when I took this! There are dioramas showing some of  the old mining techniques and machinery. These men are lifting ‘salt logs’ which weighed between 200 kg and 2 tonnes. The first shaft was sunk in 1280 and salt is still mined here today. The salt was formed 13 million years ago by an inland sea. The salt preserves the logs that are used for reinforcement. These are newer ones but we see others that are hundreds of years old. These sculptures are carved out of salt by the miners in the 20th century. These figures illustrate the legend of how the salt mines were discovered in Poland. Horses were used in the mines from the 16th century until 2002. Up to 350 horses worked and spent their whole lives underground. Interestingly, they did not go blind being in the darkness most of their lives. These horses operated a machine that moved the salt logs from one level to another. There are nine levels and 2 km of shafts and tunnels but we only visit about 1% of the mine. There are white seams of almost pure salt in some places.  Most of the salt mined was between 80-90% pure.  There are some strange creatures living in this mine. Stairs go down and down and down…there are 800 steps that we descend in all! Apparently gnomes make good miners! Looking down one of the long tunnels that we are not allowed to enter. Wow! This is St. Kinga’s Chapel. It is entirely constructed from the salt in the mine. Most of the stairs on our route are made of wood, but these two staircases we walk down are made of salt.The miners built over 40 chapels In the mine. It was very dangerous work so they would pray before their shift that they would be safe and then they would offer thanks before they went home. This representation of da Vinci’s last Supper is carved in salt, as are…  all the sculptures… the main altar. Even the chandeliers are made of salt crystals!

The floor looks like stone but is salt worn smooth by the millions of visitors to the mine.

An underground lake with scaffolding and stairs high above.

Another of the mine’s inhabitants!  This guy is a bit scarier than the little fellow we saw earlier:) This chamber connects the two levels of the mine and is 35 m. high. Because the roof is so high it needed to be strongly reinforced with all these high timbers. Another underground brine lake. The water in these lakes is 33% salt. Ocean water is only 3% salt. Luckily we do not climb this set of stairs! They disappear in to the darkness at the top of this chamber. One of the many long tunnels we walk through. At one time visitors rode boats through this part of the mine and were treated to a fireworks display 90 meters underground!  Today the mine has over 1.5 million visitors a year so it is impossible to still offer this experience. There is an underground banquet hall and restaurant. Another of the chapels we visited. A close up of the mine walls. We were invited to lick the walls, and taste the salt. We only licked our fingers and then touched the wall so we could taste the salt. I didn’t relish the thought of actually licking the walls!This enormous chamber is 135 meters below ground on the third of nine levels. The entire mine occupies about a 5 km x 5 km area. The ceiling here is 36 meters high and a Guinness World record was set here for an underground hot air balloon flight!

I was hoping to sketch underground but there just wasn’t the time, so I made notes instead, but I did sketch one of the tourists before we went underground.

On our way back to our car, these comical characters caught my eye, but there just isn’t room in my suitcase. 

Hilltop View of Florence

Day 67, Friday November 10, 2017

The Piazzale Michelangelo gives panoramic views over Frienze. We can see the bridges over the Arno River…The Duomo…and some of the ancient town walls. There is a copy of David here but it doesn’t have the same impact as the original.I love the feet on these old lampposts on the Piazzale. We visited this spot on our first trip to Firenze one hot summer night long ago.

Fall has officially arrived.We explore the streets in the Oltrarno area on the south side of the Arno River. There are lots of interesting little shops and art studios. We also see a lot of interesting street art in this part of Florence.The Ponte Vecchio is now the home of Firenze’s jewelry shops

We visit this little book binding shop…and see these very large albums in another shop window. I am so glad I bought my sketchbook in Venice. I haven’t seen another one with good drawing paper.We cross the Arno admiring the reflections on our walk to the train station to find bus to take us home.There are lots of interesting windows along the way.. and a garage that parks its cars one on top of the other!We were also lucky enough to see a murmuration of Starlings near the Santa Maria Novella train station.  It was getting dark so I didn’t get the best photo but there were thousands of birds flying above us, swirling, swooping in intricately coordinated patterns.  They were also very noisy as they settled into the trees for the night!

Cremona Italy

Day 52, Thursday October 26, 2017

Thursday we stopped at Cremona on our way to Milan. Bob wanted to visit the Mouseo del Violino which tells the story of five centuries of violin making in Cremona including the violins of Antonio Stradivari. I wasn’t sure it would be all that interesting but I did enjoy it as well. Bob was surprised and pleased to discover an exhibit on guitars as well. This guitar was made by Stradivari in 1679, and it is the only one of his guitars that is still playable of the five remaining today. The frets are made of sheep gut tied around the neck of the guitar. This guitar has five double strings instead of the six strings of modern guitars.There was a room full of instruments, and when we punched their number into the audio guide we heard the instrument being played. It was a really nice feature, and we listened to several of the violins and these violoncellos, some of which were from the 1600’s. I took this photo for my daughter. She has a cello, but it isn’t quite as fancy as this one from 1639 made by Piero Galbani. This is the Cremona Duomo and its bellower, which is said to be the tallest Medieval tower in Italy. Unfortunately both were closed so we didn’t get a chance to visit either of them.There are still several violin shops near the Duomo, in the same locations as in the 1600’s. Here is one of the shop windows we pass on the way back to the car.All the side streets are paved with the old cobble stones and marble paving stones .We arrive in Milan about 3:30 and it took forever to find a place to park our car.  The free parking for our bnb was on the street. We ended up parking bit further away and then moved our car closer later in the evening when there was a space available. We get settled into our Airbnb. and we are both rather tired and happy to stay put for the rest of the day.

Day 53, Friday October 27, 2017

I had a much needed ‘jammie’ day and Bob checked out the metro and got us tickets to the Milan Duomo, which is one of the largest Gothic churches in the world. We wanted to see Da Vinci’s Last Supper which is known here as Cenacolo Vinciano. That is actually the reason we added Milan to our travel itinerary but I totally forgot that someone told me we needed to reserve tickets online well in advance. Well, they are all booked up until sometime in late December! I guess we will have to try to return some day if we want to see it.

I finished a couple more journal pages.

Teatre del Liceu, Casa Batlló and Strange Plants

While we were walking down La Rambla on our way to the Gran Teatre del Liceu my eyes caught site of some very interesting packets of seeds for sale at one of the many sidewalk vendors. We both had quite a chuckle when we took a closer look at these unusual seed packets.  However, be warned, these are rather X rated plants! imageBarcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu was founded in 1847 and is located on La Ramba, which is the centermost boulevard in Barcelona. It is very popular with tourists and locals and is always crowded with people enjoying the sights.  We have a short tour which includes the Vestibule, the Hall of Mirrors and the Auditorium.  Our guide explains about the cheapest seats, in the galliner which translates literally to the “henroost” and we buy tickets for Monday night which will be our second last night in Barcelona.  The tickets are only €15, we certainly cannot afford the €325 seats!  Imagine paying $1,000 CAN for a night at the opera!

This historic theatre has a very interesting history that includes two fires, the latest occurred in 1994 and completely destroyed the Auditorium. There is a good short video and more information about the Gran Teatre del Liceu here.image

After our tour, we walk several blocks to one of Antoni Gaudi’s incredible buildings, Casa Batlló.  We have tickets to go inside, €22.50 each, expensive, but we really enjoyed the visit.  FullSizeRender

I took lots of pictures but then found this video that shows almost the same photos as those I took, so I will include the link to the video.  Watching it made me feel like I was back there walking through the building.  I have also included a second video which is a more fanciful walk through Casa Batlló, but it does give a sense of walking through the rooms.  The little balcony at the very top of the building, it is the same one we stood on to take this photo.FullSizeRender_2

Did you notice that the building looks like it has been made from skulls and bones? The “skulls” are the balconies and the “bones” are supporting pillars.FullSizeRenderThe building was designed by Gaudí for Josep Batlló, a wealthy aristocrat. Señor Batlló lived in the lower two floors with his family and the upper floors were rented out as apartments.  Today there are still private individuals living in the apartments.  Imagine living in such building, and imagine having hundreds, or even thousands of people touring through your apartment building every day! There were several photos of the interior with its original furnishings, which I found very interesting.FullSizeRender

We climb up to the roof with its crazy chimneys and its famous ‘Dragon’ spine and great views over the neighbourhood rooftops.FullSizeRender

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By the time we finally see everything it is getting dark outside and the Casa Batlló is illuminated with coloured lights.FullSizeRender_4

There are many interesting buildings on this street including several shops with beautiful window displays.Image-1

We also notice many more police on the streets than when we were in Barcelona in September, no doubt a result of the terrorist attacks in Paris. I don’t know if I will ever get used to seeing police with so many weapons. the picture is blurry as I zoomed in from a distance.  I discovered they do not appreciate tourists taking photos!FullSizeRender_3

As we walk back towards La Rambla we come across an area with lots of food trucks so we have supper, enjoy the Christmas lights, and watch all the people. The streets are packed with hundreds of people out enjoying the evening.FullSizeRender_2


The side streets are lined with motorbikes and scooters, row after row of them.  They are a very practical mode of transportation in a city that has next to no place to park cars.FullSizeRender_3

A crowd has gathered around a huge Christmas tree and before long a group of young carollers arrive and the lights are turned on.  FullSizeRender_5 Image-1

Hundreds of Swarovski crystal snowflakes decorate the tree! We stay to listen to the carollers and we both start feeling rather Christmassy!FullSizeRender

On the way home I had to stop in the Mobile World Centre as there were some great dinosaur displays, it seemed to have something to do with a new Samsung phone? The centre is open to the public and showcases the latest technology, applications and innovations in the area of mobility but I was really only interested in the dinosaurs!FullSizeRender


My Last Full Day In Paris

I decide to go back to the Louvre today to do some drawing but on arriving I discover that the first Sunday of the month the museum is open to everyone, so it is absolutely packed, wall to wall people!  Certainly not conducive to study and drawing so I head over to the Eugene Délacroix museum on the Left Bank instead.

On the way I stop in at Saint-Germain-Des-Prés, the oldest church in Paris.  There are marble columns inside that date from 512 AD.  The church has been repaired and enlarged over the centuries and is an example of Early Gothic and Romanesque styles. The church as I saw it today was mostly built in 1163 but it is once again in need of repairs and restorations.

DSC02558This is the view from the north west corner and the sculpture of a head in the bottom right of the picture is by Picasso.


The view from the front door.  This church was beautifully painted with many stained glass windows high above the church floor.


The pillars and columns are covered in painted designs…

DSC02536 and I also loved the pillar’s beautiful bases.
DSC02517I was surprised to see that one of the stained glass windows had a small part that opened.  It was very high up, so I have no idea how they get it opened and closed.


A bust and chandelier were nicely silhouetted against this window.


The colours are incredible.  Stained glass windows need light to show off their beauty.


This picture is a bit dark, these cathedrals are always quite dark inside, but it does show the windows that encircle the church.  Just around the corner from the church and down a little side street is the museum I am looking for.


Here is the entrance to the Musée National Eugène Dèlacroix’ which contains his home and studio.  One of the fascinating things about Paris is the way a door will open onto a courtyard or garden and offer a glimpse into a secret place.  You just have no idea what might be behind one of those big old doors.

DSC02570This is a palette that Delacroix is thought to have given to Henri Fantin-Latour who, like Délacroix prepared his painting palette with great care.


Dèlacroix’s studio had many of his paintings and lithograph prints and in the house there were many lithograph prints with their original stone printing plates.  He had the studio built to his specifications, with huge north windows and skylights.


Here is a view of the studio from its private garden. The garden has been recently restored, under the supervision of the gardeners of the Tuileries and due to the generosity of a donor named Mr. Kinoshita.  There were lists of the plants purchased and the work carried out in Délacoix’s archives so it has been faithfully restored, and is a beautiful calm oasis in a busy city.  His home is in the building on the right of the photo, it was quite large and well appointed.DSC02573A view of the garden looking from the studio.  I decide it is time to think about heading home and walk from here towards the Louvre, as I want to stop at their bookstore and a couple other shops nearby.


There are some sights that are very definitely Parisian.  Do you notice all the parked cars?


I have no idea how the drivers here manage to park in such tiny spots, or even how they manage to get out of them, but they do!  It is quite something to watch.


I pass some very interesting looking shops, but as it is Sunday they are all closed so I take some photos through the windows.  Too bad, or maybe good, as I am sure I would have found some fascinating item that I would have wanted to bring home.


All sorts of curious and interesting things.


This window was intriguing, especially in light of all the figure drawing I have been doing.


I snap a couple last photos and head home to get packed and ready for my flight home tomorrow.


Me and the Mona Lisa!

Here are my metro drawings from the last couple of days.imageimage

The Louvre, Galeries Lafayette and Printemps

I decide to go visit the Louvre again on Saturday.  This is a view of the enclosed courtyard at the east end of the building.  It is hard to comprehend just how big this museum is, it covers almost 15 acres.

DSC02417The Louvre was originally a fortress built in 1190, but it was rebuilt in the 16th century to be a royal palace which continued to be expanded over the years. The Louvre became an art museum in 1793, when Louis XIV moved to Versailles. It is now the largest museum in the world.

The Louvre contains 35,000 works of art on display, divided into eight departments: the Near Eastern Antiquities, Egyptian Antiquities, Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities, Islamic Art, Sculptures, Decorative Arts, Paintings and Prints and Drawings.

It is impossible to see all of this museum in one day.  Even walking through all its galleries in one day would be a challenge, never mind actually stopping to look at the art.  Many of the paintings are very large, as is The Pentecote, 1732 by Jean Restoutst.  There weren’t many people in this room so I was able to set up my little gorilla pod and take my own picture.


It is easy to be mesmerized by the art on display but I also found it interesting to remember to look up and to look past the art work to see the palace itself. Here are some photos that remind us that the Louvre was first and foremost a royal palace, and what a palace!.


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The Apollo gallery.  I love the red walls and remembered this room from our last visit eight years ago.


This is the Grand Gallery!  and the picture below is about halfway down this long room.  If you double click the photo to enlarge it and look closely you can just make out the statue above the heads of the people in the picture above, and then the Gallery continues way past the statue!

DSC02466In a side room off off the Grand Gallery is the painting most people come to the Louvre to see.  La Joconde, more commonly known as the Mona Lisa.


It is behind bullet proof glass now, and is pretty much always surrounded by hordes of people, most of whom are very surprised, and sometimes disappointed,  at the rather small size of this very famous painting.


This is Eugene Delacroix’s The Death of  Sardanapalus, just one of many familiar paintings. After seeing these paintings in my books for so many years it is wonderful to be able to stand before the actual works.  I spend about four hours here and then head off to visit a couple other Paris landmarks.

First, The Galeries Lafayette, this incredible dome is located in the main store, which has nine floors and covers an entire city block.  There are two other stores, connected by walkways, each of which also covers a city block!  This place is enormous, and very crowded with shoppers.



A view looking down onto the perfume, makeup and fashion accessories floor.

DSC02478The shoe department covers one entire floor.  The floors are divided into ‘mini stores’ where each designer has their own displays and sales people. There are so many people shopping that the escalators are absolutely jammed with people all the time.  I find It  totally overwhelming, there is no way I would be able to shop here, and after taking a few pictures I leave.

I head down the block to Printemps, thinking that it might be a bit smaller and easier to look around.


… but it is just as big and almost as busy. Here is the floor map of Printemps, again three stores connected by walkways, each store a city block long and wide.


I am definitely not a shopper!  I spent less than an hour in these stores and that was more than enough for me.

I find a little sidewalk cafe and stop for a much needed meal and a pot of tea.  This mural is on the building across the street.  The guy in the corner was my very charming French waiter.


On the way to the Metro I stop in to visit a little church, Saint-Louis D’Antin but there is a service taking place so I don’t want to walk around and just snap a photo from the entrance.  Even the small churches are very beautiful.


Here are just a few of the goodies I saw on display today.  They look scrumptious, but not for me…  I did have one raspberry tart today at the Louvre.  It was the only time I ate something that I shouldn’t have on this trip.  It is really almost impossible to find desserts that do not have gluten, egg or dairy.  Strangely, I didn’t feel deprived, or really want to eat bread, cheese or pastries.  I know if I eat these things I don’t feel well and I think that knowledge takes away the temptation, but I did enjoy looking at the displays.




Buses and The Champs -Élysées

I decided to try taking the bus today instead of the metro so I could see more of the streets of Paris.  The bus map is a little intimidating, and rather confusing, but I am starting to figure it out.  Wednesday’s life drawing class is in the evening, and although I am feeling quite comfortable walking about by myself in the daytime I don’t really want to be out at night, so no drawing class today.

I took the bus from my place to the Pont Neuf right beside the Louvre, popped inside for a quick visit to la toilette, (more on toilettes later…) and then walked towards the Tuileries.


Looking towards one wing of the Louvre.


These are the beautiful gardens just west of the Louvre.  They even have an off leash area for dogs at the end closest to the Louvre.  I can’t believe how many dogs, and all the big dogs that people have in this city.

imageI stopped for lunch at a cafe in the park, and then continued on to the far end of the Tuileries which is Place Concord.  This is a huge square with an Egyptian obelisk in the centre, flanked by two identical ornate fountains.



There is so much to see here that it is hard to know where to look.  Sometimes I just stand in one spot and slowly rotate, every direction I look brings some new amazing sight into view.


The end of the Tuileries and the entrance to Place Concorde, with the Eiffel Tower thrown in, as though there isn’t enough to look at here.

Soon I am walking along the Champs-Élysées and realize that Autumn is almost here, the leaves are beginning to change colour.  It has been sunny and warm every day since I arrived, temperatures have been between 21 and 25 every day, so it feels very much like summer.  I couldn’t ask for better weather.

imageThe parks here are so very well maintained, and the flowers everywhere are magnificent.


There is an art exhibit along the street.


imageMany of the photos moved me to tears.  War seems so very senseless.

This is the Grand Palais National Gallery, I check it out but it is a 30€ entrance fee!  I don’t know what the exhibits are, I’ll have to see if it sounds worth such an expensive entrance fee.


One of the things I love about Paris are the incredible details, if one remembers to look.  It is so easy to be overwhelmed by the grandeur of all these buildings, but when one looks closer there is almost always more to see..

imageAnd then even more to see.  I think this  beautiful mosaic frieze is probably not even noticed by many tourists.


Across the street is the Petit Palais, and it is free!  It is a beautiful building full of  beautiful art.


Checking out at a Rembrandt painting, image


Taking a photo of the floor in the Petit Palais, it is all beautiful mosaics.

I decide I will come back here another day but want to continue my walk.  I do stop for a much needed pot of tea in the museum cafe. It is a bargain at only 3€ and they are happy to supply more hot water to refill my pot.  I do a few quick sketches of people while sitting in the cafe, and then head back out towards the Arc de Triomphe, along the very busy Champs-Elysées.


Yes, I was standing in the middle of the street to take this picture….but on a cross walk. The tree lined paths soon give way to very expensive shops.  I walk into one of the shopping Galleries to have a look around.


Again, remembering to look for details..

imageAnd then there are the shop windows…image

Notice the price for the tin of macaroons, 52€!  I think there were 25 little macaroons in the tin.

There is a McDonalds on this very fancy street of shops!  Bob and I stopped there for tea when we were in Paris several years ago, so I decided to stop and go sit upstairs overlooking the street just as we did before.

I finally make it to the Arc de Trimphe.  It is in the middle of a very busy traffic circle so there is an underground tunnel to get to it.  I was going to go to the top for a fee of 9.50€, but it was getting late and a bit hazy so I decide to save doing this for another time.

imageThere was a remembrance ceremony happening so I stayed to watch for a while.  It seemed as though family members were placing flowers in remembrance, not sure though.  There were a lot of dignitaries and important looking people there too.  This picture gives a good idea just how big this monument is.

Something must have been going on nearby because there were lots of sirens and seven or eight big Gendarmes paddy wagons type of vehicles came flying by, all in a row, along with several other police vehicles.  I wonder what it was all about?


I find my way to the street with my bus stop and take a bus back to the Gare de L’Est, and then walk home.  I am pretty tired, but had an interesting day.

I took so many more pictures, but I have to stop somewhere…..