Poland: The Wieliczka Salt Mine

One of the most spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Sites I visited this year was the Wieliczka Salt Mine near Krakow, Poland. It was founded in the 13th century to mine the rich deposit of salt. Salt mining stopped in 1996 when the low price of salt on the world market made it too expensive to mine and the mine was slowly flooding. But miners did more than just extract salt. They left behind them a breathtaking record of their time underground in the shape of statues of mythical, historical and religious figures.  Part of the salt mine became an art gallery, chapels, cathedral, and underground lakes. Today, Wieliczka Salt Mine is one of the most visited National Monuments in Poland.

For safety reason, less than one percent of the mine is open to visitors, but even that is almost four kilometers in length. There are 20 chambers to visit and 800 steps to climb of which 350 at the beginning take you down into the mine. You can’t just visit and wander around on your own. All of the visits …

Latvia: A Walk in the Forest

On a recent trip to the Baltic, I had the chance to visit the Ethnographic Open-Air Museum of Latvia, one of the oldest and largest open-air museums in Europe. It’s located on the banks of Lake Jugla and just 30-minutes drive from downtown Riga. The museum was established in 1924 and had collected 118 historical buildings from all over Latvia. Information as to when and where the building was built and when it was added to the museum is posted on each building.

On a beautiful clear day, with blue skies and fresh air in abundance with temperature in the mid-60s Fahrenheit, I expected a few visitors around, but there seemed to be no other visitors but our group. Which is strange since there were lots of tourists in the Old Town, Riga about eighteen kilometers away.

After the museum entrance, we entered the first building - a barn with a collection of ancient wooden carriages on display. But the information posted on the building describes it as Roadhouse Pub built in the district of Ba…

Riga, Latvia

I was excited to arrive at the architecturally bejeweled town of Riga, the capital city of Latvia called the Paris of the Baltic and designated as the European Capital of Culture for 2014. Our guided tour of the city was not scheduled until the next day. After a quick change of clothes, I walked to Vermanes Park across the hotel and spent my free time observing the locals. On the benches of an open concert stage, I saw young men stretching and using the benches as an obstacle course for their late afternoon workout (I’d guessed). Glad that I was not tempted to get ice-cream from the bright pink colored ice-cream place around the corner, offering tubs of ice-cream and cookies before dinner because I was looking forward to having Latvian food for dinner. In the short time I spent in the park, I found Riga to be a lively, beautiful and very safe-feeling city.

I then met up with the group and walked to “Alkimikis” brewery/restaurant, housed at an old wooden building but with a modern int…

Vilnius, Lithuania

I spent the last few days traveling across the Baltic, to the towns of Tallinn, Estonia; Riga, Latvia, and Vilnius, Lithuania. These Baltic states have one thing in common; an Old Town, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. I saw the greenest forest as we traveled from Latvia to Lithuania. Towering trees, conifers and pine trees covered the roadsides. But approaching Vilnius the road widened and the city was dotted with grey concrete-block apartment buildings or townhomes. We passed high-rise and commercial buildings before reaching the town center where our hotel was located.  My arrival in Vilnius coincided with the biggest street festival. Since the festival was not on my itinerary, I asked the locals and vendors what was going on. I was told that it was some kind of international festival where people from different countries bring their crafts and food to sell. And there began my adventure in Vilnius walking the small cobbled street alive with food tents, tables, and chair…