Monday, April 27, 2015

Porto: Casa de Musica, Portalegre tapestries, Palacio da Bolsa

This morning we took the Metro to the Casa da Musica, an ultra modern concert hall with perhaps the best acoustics in Europe. Nearby is the Rotunda Park dominated by a 45-metre tall column commemorating the Portuguese, British and Spanish victory over Napoleon in the Peninsular War.

We carried on a little further to the renovated former Bom Sucesso market to see an exhibition of modern wool Portalegre tapestries. For many years the best woollen tapestries were exclusively French or Belgian. But beginning in the 1950s the Portuguese established their own tradition, now world famous. We saw some beautiful examples, some telling the story of Porto. Although the museum was quite small, I don't think that I will ever forget these wonderful tapestries.

After another huge lunch of grouper and sea bream with mounds of gratin potatoes, all for only €4, we had to walk. Heading back downhill towards the water, we were going to visit the Palacio da Bolsa, the old stock exchange built over the ruins of a thirteenth-century convent.

The interior of the Palace, only finished in 1910, was magnificently decorated by several artists. The huge, impressive central courtyard is covered by a metallic, octagonal dome with glass panels, built after 1880. The lower part of the dome is decorated with the painted coats-of-arms of Portugal and the countries with which Portugal had commercial relations in the 19th century. To the back of the courtyard, a sumptuous stairway, built in 1868 leads to the upper storeys.

Several rooms of the Palace - Tribunal Room, Assembly Room, Golden Room - display original furniture and allegorical paintings. We saw the office of Gustave Eiffel who designed one of the famous bridges over the Douro.



The highlight of the Palace is the Arab Room, built between 1862 and 1880. Inside it could be mistaken for a royal palace, and in fact is modelled after Granada's Alhambra Palace. It is now "the grand reception room" of the city where heads of state and other luminaries are received. The decorations include sayings and blessings from the Koran, a little strange perhaps as the room was built for the Portuguese queen at the time, a devout catholic! However, the room was stunning.

The Chamber of Commerce still has its meetings here, and most of the rooms, including the Arab Room can be rented for special events.

We took our final walk along the front at Ribiera before once again boarding the funicular to avoid the long climb back up to the old town. Porto is a lovely city that many people are discovering. I hope that it doesn't get spoiled by tourism.




Sunday, April 26, 2015

Gardens, Gollies and Grappa

It was warm and sunny, a perfect day to visit the botanical gardens. We walked most of the way but eventually hailed a cab. There were no buses running as all the drivers were at a meeting. The garden had a beautiful layout but seemed to be suffering from austerity measures, much in need of weeding, pruning, and general cleanup. It was a nice walk but we decided to visit the other "romantic" gardens as the locals call them at the site of the Crystal Palace.

This was once home to Portugal’s very own version of Britain’s construction of the same name. Like the original Crystal Palace, the Porto version did not survive, although it lasted longer than its counterpart. In 1956 it was replaced by the current construction, a huge, run down domed pavilion, surrounded by the leafy vegetation of the expansive Crystal Palace gardens. It was hard to believe that it is a leading entertainment venue. The gardens are a melting pot of exotic trees and plants, fountains, ponds, statues, animals such as strutting peacocks, walkways, mirrors, chapels, viewpoints, and tree-lined avenues. We saw lots of rhododendrons in bloom, camellias, pines, ginkgos, and lime trees.

There was an art gallery on the site with an exhibition about racism that included quite a bit of modern art. My favourite was the golliwog tree, which may not be politically correct but it was lovely, made up of all kinds of gollies.

After more wandering around more narrow streets with little galleries and local craft shops, we headed back down to the Douro waterfront, where we caught one of the old trams for a ride out to the waterfront promenade at Foz. I ended up standing behind the tram driver since the tram was jam packed. It was quite a ride. This woman took no prisoners: old ladies, cars and vans shot out of the way at her approach and the ding ding of the bell. I had forgotten how jarring a tram ride can be. It is fine on the straight but as it shifts ever so slightly it sends major jolts through your body.

However, we arrived intact and after a drink in one of the seaside cafes we started our walk along the promenade by the river. It was very interesting with fisherman sitting by their boathouse playing cards, while others were mending nets. We were at the mouth of the river and watched as some fishing boats went by the breakwater and out into the Atlantic. After a very long walk we arrived back at the tram museum just in time to take another tram ride up the long hill. I was glad to avoid that walk.

Dinner took us to a local, family run restaurant. Immediately, some lovely bread and a rondelle of local cheese were placed on the table. It is only afterwards when you get the bill that you notice that this cost €6. I didn't mind as I thought the creamy cheese was excellent. Once again I ordered the lovely, fresh dorado. After our meal we were offered a liqueur. It always seems churlish to refuse so I always ask for a small one. An antique glass container with a spigot was placed on the table and the drinks poured. Of course the glasses were both full. I took a little sip.....homemade grappa. Sometimes I can drink it but this wasn't one of those times. Seamus drank his. There were no plant pots, nowhere to get rid of my drink. The owner asked if there was something wrong with it. As I was quickly trying to explain something, Seamus downed the lot. What a player. I was so thankful. This led us to having an even longer after-dinner walk tonight. It had been another twenty-kilometer day.



Walking tour reveals grand and not so grand buildings


The next morning we set off on a short walk along Santa Caterina Street to the old market, Mercado do Bolhão, a traditional market of fruits, vegetables, fish and meat. It is known as one of Porto's most emblematic places but we could smell the fish before we entered, a bad sign. The actual market was a big open space surrounded by a wrought iron balcony. The strange thing about this hundred-year-old market was that the central part was open to the elements, so stalls had to be covered with awnings. The produce didn't look very appetizing as most things were a bit wilted. Other stalls were selling tourist tat. Upstairs there were more fruit and vegetable vendors and some permanent butcher shops. Much of it looked vacant. Certainly, locals weren't flocking there to buy anything. It was a quaint spot but not really worth the visit. I wonder what will happen to it?

We continued our walk through large squares and narrow, cobbled streets to Livraria Lello near the University of Porto. It's a famous old bookshop with an Art Nouveau exterior. There were hordes of people inside and you really couldn't move but it was lovely to see with an amazing interior and spiral staircase. It wasn't very big but you could have a coffee or glass of port. I'm not sure that you could browse here as is was so crowded. However, it was lovely to see this shop that is over one hundred  years old and considered one of the most beautiful bookshops in Europe. Lonely Planet has classified it as the third best bookstore in the world.

Outside once again we meandered through the streets with lots of little shops, jazz clubs and restaurants. Since it was lunchtime we started looking for somewhere to eat and ended up sitting outside at a restaurant filled with locals. This is always a good sign. I ordered from the Portuguese lunch menu that didn't come in English but I knew that I had ordered grilled grouper with something. Sometimes you just have to take risks with the food and hope for the best. What a lovely surprise when my food arrived. It was a huge fish accompanied by a bowl of something thick and delicious that tasted of wine. After a quick consultation with the waiter I found out that this dish was called Açorda de Marisco, or Portuguese Shellfish Bread Stew. This wonderful, traditional dish was made with stale bread, lots and lots of white wine, cilantro, tomato, onion, shrimps and mussels. All of this for just €5. The one thing that I haven't mentioned is the wines from the Douro Valley. The reds are very tasty and not too strong. Some of these wines are now known as the best in the world.

After all the food we needed to walk. Once again we followed the cobbled streets, with a variety of shops and restaurants, downhill. The buildings were always interesting, some in very good shape while others were abandoned and in ruins. In fact there were quite a few of these buildings in Porto. Apparently many had been inherited by families who couldn't agree on selling or upkeep. Sometimes there will be one remaining tenant in the building and no one wants to buy because of the tenant. The owners of our guesthouse had bought the first part of their building from a family of twenty people. They were concerned about another nearby abandoned building owned by thirty people. They had even written the town about settling what was to happen with the building, something the town has the right to do. It is six years later and still nothing has happened. As we walked around we found the strange mixture of buildings always very interesting.

Finally we arrived at the Ribeira, or Riverfront. We wandered past lots of restaurants on one side and the river with the old port boats moored alongside. Looking up was one of the six bridges across the river to Gaia on the other side. Finally, we reached Funicular dos Guindais our transportation to the top of the hill, since by this time we had no wish to walk up the steep streets of Porto.

When we got off the funicular and were waiting for an old fashioned tram, there was a group of first-year students being put through their drill by a fourth-year student dressed in his Harry Potter black outfit complete with cape. The students were having to lie on the ground and stand up and sing and clap. Of course I took pictures and suddenly I was surrounded by the students, who had been told to sing a song to me. I don't know what the song was but it was all in good fun even if a bit alarming to begin with.

By now the city was beginning to make sense to us and we could see how close things were. We walked down a street that may have been a bit like Diagon Alley with its twisting cobblestones, little shops and strange mixture of fine and derelict buildings. It was here we spotted the dingy looking Voldemart store. We were headed for the ornate thirteenth-century Sao Francisco church. Outside were lovely views over the city.

Our day ended with more nighttime exploring on foot. In fact we walked just over 20 kilometers today. And it was all very interesting.

 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Bus tour includes obligatory port tasting

On our second day in Porto we clambered back on the yellow bus, this time following the ‘historic’ route through Porto. Perhaps the best part was along the waterfront with its fishing boats and restaurants before crossing one of the six bridges across the Douro to the town of Gaia. This is a very important spot as it is the centre of the port trade. By port, I mean the port you drink. Sandemans, Taylor's and Cockburns figured prominently just to name a few. Along the front were wine tasting ‘caves’, restaurants and some of the vessels once used to transport the port barrels. Larger, motorized versions of these boats now take tourists for river cruises.

We picked a spot right on the water to have our lunch. Looking back on Porto it can only be described as picture perfect. This time I had dorado — sea bream — served once again with cabbage, potatoes and rock salt. Not to complain as the fish was very good, although I don't like crunching on rock salt.

After thoroughly exploring the waterfront we headed up a very long hill to the Cockburn's Port Lodge or Caves as the Portuguese call it. We were ushered into an area of huge French oak barrels, where the port is aged. The smell was amazing. Depending on the type of port, after eighteen months it may be bottled or transferred to smaller barrels. Some port remains in the barrel for twenty years. During this time the vintner taps the port and dates the tasting date on the outside of the barrel. Our tour finished with a tasting of two kinds of port. One was quite nice while the other was a bit strong for my taste.

Now it was time to head back to the guest house for a much needed nap. 



Porto is a feast for the eyes and the stomach

It was an early arrival in Porto- the capital of the north and Portugal's second city. Our very friendly van driver pointed out some attractions on the way to our guest house and gave us our first Portuguese lesson, “obligado”, which means thank you if a man says it. A woman would say “obligada”. He explained that Porto itself is quite small with around 300,000 inhabitants but the whole area is comprised of five towns that make up a population of over 1.8 million.  It overlooks the  Douro river estuary, and its historical center was awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1996.

We checked into our lovely old guest house in the historic part of town. What a magnificent view we had over all the rooftops with their Old World charm. It was time to go exploring. We meandered through a square that looked across to an old church that was decorated on the outside with lovely blue ceramic tiles. This was something we were going to see a lot of. The main street, Santa Caterina was filled with pedestrians. There were lots of small shops and coffee and cake shops something that we would come to

rely on, especially with all the walking we were
doing.

Now it was time for lunch.The Francesinha is a cardiologist-unapproved local sandwich of ham, mortadella, beef, sausage and cheese topped with an egg and a warm tomato-beer sauce. All this is served with chips. Our host had told us where to find the best Francesinha in town. The working man’s snack was in much demand but after a short wait we were sitting at a table waiting to be served. The Francesinha is a huge meal and I managed to eat less than half of it. My dining partner polished his off with gusto.

We continued walking along the main street before heading downhill to a vast square, where we picked up a yellow tour bus. This was a good way to get to know the area.  We saw houses with red-tiled roofs tumbling down the hills to the riverbank, prickly church towers dotting the skyline, mosaic-patterned stones lined the streets, and flat-bottomed boats called rabelos plied the lazy Douro. We passed many historic sights that we would visit later. The drive along the Douro River through Foz, a big seaside area, right out to where the Douro meets the Atlantic Ocean was quite beautiful. There were many wide, golden beaches and a few hardy souls had even had a swim.

Fish is on every menu in Porto. For dinner I had grouper, something we don't see on our Spanish menus. It was served with boiled potatoes and watery cabbage doused in rock salt. The fish itself was lovely. The rock salt was something we were going to encounter a few times even when you asked for no salt.

J. K. Rowling lived in Porto when she started to write the Harry Potter books. It is said that she modeled the Hogwarts garb on the traditional dress of the local fourth-year university students. On our after dinner walk we saw several groups dressed in their traditional garb of black suits with skirts for the women and pants for the men, collar and tie and black capes. It is a tradition at this time of year that these students go out and entertain in the town. There was lots of singing and dancing and even a theatre where the med students were performing. A few days later while walking down a rundown lane we passed a store, Voldemart!

We finished our day off with a walk down to the Sao Bento train station built in 1916. The concourse is quite magnificent with various scenes from Portugal's history depicted in beautiful azulejo (blue) tiles.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Asparagus festival and a perfect Spring day

We have had a few days of beautiful, more normal weather in the Port with clear blue skies, lots of sunshine and no winds. Even better, the asparagus festival that had been cancelled several weeks ago was rescheduled for today. Yesterday all the tents were set up for the displays. This is the best festa of the year and we were looking forward to it.

The bake shops, butchers and seafood shops figured predominantly today selling food highlighting asparagus. We each bought five tickets for €3 to exchange for little samples of food. The selection is amazing. There were breads with asparagus toppings, anchovies, mushrooms and other goodies. Our butcher was busy barbecuing sausages with asparagus and hamburgers. There were huge pans of paella and fideua, which is like paella but with noodles. Muscles, clams and shrimps were being cooked on barbecues but best of all was the stall with wild boar — sanglier — stew. This cost two tickets but oh my it was worth it to eat the lovely tender sanglier cooked with bay leaves, mushrooms, onions and some wine. This came with a little glass of quite strong, rough red wine. It was delicious and very filling. We bought a couple of jars of wild boar pate from this stall. There are lots of wild boar right here in the hills but people here don't seem to eat them. It is never on restaurant menus.

There were other stalls with local wines and beer, soaps and lotions, natural remedies, nautical things and clothes. We wandered around a little more and compared notes about the winter with our Canadian friend who owns a shop on the front. We agreed that winter months are to be avoided because it is so quiet.

We sampled more food, sausage right off the barbecue, shrimps with a lovely garlic sauce and for dessert some beignets, little sugary home made donuts. Needless to say we didn't need any lunch. After a coffee in the Nautica overlooking the marina, we decided to take a little trip to the next village, Selva del Mar. Selva is much older than the Port. It is where the fisherman used to live long ago. There are seven old watch towers that have been incorporated into the architecture so that you don't even notice them. Some have flats in them while others are in ruins. It was a lovely walk through the narrow, cobbled streets and along the river. Once home we sat outside and enjoyed the sun at last.










Saturday, April 11, 2015

Krakow's rich history in newly opened underground museum

At last it was sunny in Krakow. However, we weren't going to take advantage of the sun for the first part of our day since we had decided to visit the Krakow Underground Museum under the Cloth Hall on the Main Market Square. We were four metres under the surface of the square to explore the recently excavated medieval merchant stalls, and to experience the city’s entire history - from its first settlers right up to the death of Pope John Paul II.

We followed a trail that wound through some 6,000 metres of remarkable multimedia exhibits displayed in what is essentially an archaeological site. Relying heavily on touch-screens and holograms, highlights include a fascinating look into life before Kraków received its charter and the market square was laid out, and the remains of an 11th-century cemetery replete with 'vampire prevention burials'  — Tip: “chop off the head off the corpse”. There are plenty of artefacts among the virtual exhibits, including coins, clothing and other earthly remains. The part I liked the best was the short, subtitled documentaries covering different ages of Krakow's history. We sat in little stone chamber-like rooms for each one. A lovely, old Polish gentleman chatted to the characters and narrated the tales of the time. One thing we noticed here and in other museums was that very little is said about the post war communist period. It was almost as if it didn't exist, although we could have visited a soviet era industrial town.

Once outside again, we crossed the square to visit St. Mary’s Basilica, a very busy spot. In the early 15th century one of the towers was raised to 80 metres and made into a watchtower for the city. It is from here that the hejnał mariacki - the city's famous bugle call - is played every hour. One of the city's most enduring traditions, the tune ironically breaks off mid-melody in honour of the mythical trumpeter who was shot in the neck while belatedly warning the city of Mongol invaders.

Inside the basilica was very impressive with the altarpiece, stained glass windows of the nave, and the blue, starred ceiling. The magnificent wooden altarpiece with pivoting panels actually opens and closes. It depicts the death of the Virgin.

The Poles are very religious, and as it was Easter the church was crowded with people praying, kissing the head and torso of Jesus on a cross that was lying on the floor. There were also many like us just visiting. We had seen people in the Square with little baskets covered with white linen cloths with sprigs of boxwood sticking out. We knew that they were an Easter tradition. Here in the church was a huge table covered in a white cloth where locals were leaving these baskets for the poor. Nuns were taking some away but the table was soon covered again.

In Poland, blessing of the baskets is known as święcenie, a practice dating to the 15th century or earlier, and one which is still maintained by most families in Poland on Holy Saturday. The baskets can be filled with bacon, Easter bread, butter, a candle, cheese and ham. We did go into another smaller church right behind St. Mary's where another table was also piled high with these baskets.

Outside the sun was still shining so we left the square for a walk in nearby Planty park. Centuries ago, Krakovians built a wall to protect their city. By the 19th century, it was no longer necessary, so locals tore down most of it, filled in the moat, and planted trees. Today, this delightful and people-friendly green belt stretches two and a half miles around the perimeter of the city.

After another not very good meal, we wandered over to the Jagiellonian University, where Copernicus once studied. Unfortunately, we didn't see the inside as it closed early but we were able to walk around a balcony and admire the beautiful courtyard.

Back in the Main Square, throngs of tourists and locals wandered around the many stalls; food vendors did a great trade. Wherever we looked were beautiful buildings and lined up along the roadway were majestic horse-drawn white carriages that were taking passengers for rides around the old town. It really is a stunning place.

For us there was just time for a final coffee and tasty crepe Suzette in the Wentzl, our favourite coffee shop on the square, before saying good-bye to Krakow and heading for the airport.






Friday, April 10, 2015

Restored pharmacy was a witness to a tragic period

After leaving Schindler's factory we had a cold walk to Bohrerow Square, which has quite a turbulent history. During the time of the ghetto it was a place for people to socialize and escape the crowding of the tenements. Ultimately, it was the scene of mass deportations, beatings and executions. Following the final liquidation it was strewn with furniture and luggage. During the communist era it was used as a public toilet and a parking lot. In 2005 it was laid out with seventy very large metal chairs to symbolize departure and absence, a memorial to the victims of the Krakow ghetto.

We had come to the square looking for the Tadeuz Pankiewicz's Pharmacy known as the Pharmacy Under the Eagle. It was lovely to see the old fashioned pharmacy with its displays of herbs and medicines recreated to look as it did in former times.

When the Nazis created the Jewish ghetto in Podgórze, this pharmacy was at the very heart of it. Deciding to stay, Pankiewicz and his staff were the only Poles allowed to live and work in the ghetto and over the two years of the ghetto's existence it became an important centre of social life as well as aid in acquiring food and medicine, falsified documents and avoiding deportations. Pankiewicz and his staff risked their lives in many clandestine operations while bearing witness to tragedy through the windows of the pharmacy as the ghetto and its 15,000 inhabitants were ultimately 'liquidated.'

I liked opening the chests and cupboards of the pharmacy to see old photos and artefacts.  Though comprising only five small rooms, it was well worth the visit.

Back in the cold once again with glimmers of snow, we started walking back to town with a brief stop for lunch in a little local restaurant. For the equivalent of $7 CAD we had a bowl of minestrone filled with vegetables. Our next dish wasn't quite how we expected it but it was fine with a side of cooked cold red cabbage like coleslaw accompanied by macaroni with mushrooms and a mild mushroom sauce. There was a cherry drink and a crepe filled with jam for dessert. I couldn't eat it all. Generally, we have found food very inexpensive even in better restaurants. Outside once more it was too cold to walk and we took a tram back close to the Main Square for less than $1.

Once again we went to an art house movie in the evening. This time in a 16th century building located on the Main Square. I suspect the building was probably flats at one time. We walked up the four flights of stairs that were worn with use over the years. This time the movie was in a large room with about sixteen rows but it just looked like a movie theatre not a drawing room.

At our evening meal we noticed a group of business people at the next table. The boss handed out  pieces of egg to the guests, which they ate before even seeing the menus. The eggs were accompanied by a speech. This is part of an Easter ceremony that usually happens on Easter morning when the egg is blessed at church. It is the symbol of life and eating it is believed to guarantee good health. Everyone exchanged wishes and they ate a big meal. Twice we sat beside fairly large groups in restaurants and hardly knew they were there as they ate and spoke so quietly, very different from Spain.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Oscar Schindler factory now a museum

No visit to Cracow would be complete without a visit to Oscar Schindler's enamel factory, our destination today. The famous factory has been turned into a modern museum devoted to the wartime experiences in Krakow under the five year Nazi occupation during World War II. The museum at 4 Lipowa Street lies in the middle of an industrial district.

The story popularized by the film Schindler's List becomes the framework for narrating the story of Krakow under the German occupation. All that remain of the original factory are the entrance gate, the original lobby's arrangement, various bits of machinery, and Oscar Schindler's original office with a plaster map of Europe with German geographical names.

Roughly a sixth of the museum’s permanent exhibition is dedicated to Oskar Schindler, his factory, and the fate of its Jewish workforce. The rest shows the anxiety in prewar Krakow, the German invasion in 1939, Krakow as the capital of Poland under the Nazi occupation, the sorrows of everyday living in the occupied city, family life, the wartime history of Krakow's Jews and how they were gradually eliminated from the life of the city,the resistance movement,  the underground Polish state, and lastly the Soviet capture of the city.

The museum was laid out starting with life in Cracow in the prewar years. Through the use of  original photos and film of family and street life as well as sound and light effects we experienced the life of the city. We listened to the sounds, walked down cobbled streets, commuted in an historic tram, peeped into a period apartment, visited a photographer's shop, cafe and hair salon. It gave the city an element of realism. The video recordings in which Krakow's residents recount their personal life stories  and the multimedia presentation left you in no doubt as to the terror of life at that time. It showed how the Jews were moved first to a ghetto and then to the even worse Plaszow Concentration Camp.

One the most moving displays was a room with piles of the enamel bowls and pots made at the factory, encased in plastic. You could walk inside to see the names of all of Schindler's factory workers.

In late 1944, in the face of the Soviet Red Army's advances Schindler convinced the German authorities to let him locate his munitions business and its workforce to a branch of Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp in Bohemia’s Brunnlitz. About 1,200 Jewish prisoners from Krakow survived there to be liberated by the Soviets on May 8, 1945.







Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Ancient salt mine an unexpected wonder

Today we travelled 14km southeast of Kraków to the Wieliczka salt mine, first discovered in the 1300s. In those days salt was a very valuable commodity, essential for preserving food. We descended down hundreds of steps to begin our tour of a section of the mine, some 22 chambers connected by galleries. We were in for a fascinating trip. The mine is a labyrinth of tunnels — about 300km —distributed over nine levels, the deepest being 327m underground. Everything in the mine was rock salt.The floor looked and felt like marble but even it was carved from rock salt. The walls were mainly a grey colour. Right away we could see that we were in an eerie world of pits and chambers, everything within its depths carved by hand from salt blocks.

The Wieliczka mine is renowned for the preservative qualities of its microclimate, as well as for its health-giving properties. An underground sanatorium has been established at a depth of 135m, where chronic allergic diseases are treated by overnight stays. Our guide kept telling us to breathe deeply: “No bacteria can live in this environment”, she said, “the air is pure”. There is even a salt lake containing 320 grams of salt per litre. I wonder what floating in that would be like?

The guided tours took in three upper levels of the mine, from 64m to 135m below the ground, an eerie landscape of pits and chambers. Some have been made into chapels, with altarpieces and figures while others are adorned with statues and monuments. The miners prayed at the chapels before and after their shifts. The mine closed in the 1990s when less expensive means of obtaining salt became available.

The showpiece of the tour is the ornamented Chapel of St Kinga, a church measuring 54m by 18m, and 12m high. Every single element here, from the crystals in the chandeliers to the altarpieces, is of salt.  There are various religious carvings  around the walls, such as a depiction of the Last Supper. The temple was started in 1895 with only one man working on it. Two others also worked on it by themselves. This remarkable achievement was completed in 1963. About 20,000 tonnes of rock salt had to be removed. Since then a statue of Saint John Paul II, who is much revered in Poland, has been added.

What an interesting tour. We had walked down hundreds and hundreds of steps in the mine, some wooden, some carved from the salt. Fortunately, we were whisked up to the ground in a miner's cage.

Feeling quite good with breathing all the pure air we decided to go to a movie near our hotel. The theatre was housed in what was formerly two mansions. We paid the equivalent of $6 and climbed up a majestic staircase to our little four-row theatre, in what was probably a bedroom at one time. The room was hundreds of years old with antique bookcases and an old lamp at the front of the room. Luckily, the seats were proper cinema seats. A perfect environment to see a New Zealand vampire movie!

Walking back around the square we stopped in to a jazz concert held in a basement bar. It was fun with people of all ages from many countries as well as local university students in attendance. Tired of some of the stodgy food we had had, I ordered a peanut butter and banana sandwich. I didn't think I could go too far wrong with that. The astonished server said that in her two years working there, I was the first to order that sandwich. All I can say is,  it was pretty good.