This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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Snowy Polish patchwork blanket

snowyfieldsLast night I came home from Zurich. This morning I am going back down again, to Vienna. One could ask why I did not just stay in Zurich and fly directly to Vienna. Because: 1) I would not have been able to accompany my mother (in business class). And 2) I would not have been able to see this artsy snowy patchwork blanket that is Poland on a February morning.

(Yes, still posting with a terrible backlog. But keep reading, you will see wonderful photos of the most girly pretty city in Europe).

(Above Poland; February 2017)


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Eye of the sea

Morskieoko-6After journeying uphill for hours there it was: Morskie Oko, or the Eye of the Sea. According to legend, the lake has so much fish because somewhere in the fathoms lies a hole that takes the brave diver through a tunnel all the way into the Mediterranean sea. I saw schools of baby trout swimming around. Some brave baby trout. The Adriatic is a long way away from the tail of the Carpathian mountains.

Morskieoko-5Morskie oko is emerald green, and even in the shallow shore waters it clashed with cornflower blue toes. Important detail to the esthetic photographer – although who cares when the sun throws sparkles in the water?

Morskieoko-7(Morskie Oko lake, Tatra Mountains National Park, Poland; July 2015)


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The sisters who went for a walk and ended up on a mountaintop

Sarniaskala-1“Instead of a proper hike, would you please just recommend a nice, leisurely walk?” we asked the tourist guide in Zakopane. “Sure” he said, “this one is nice, flat terrain. Takes you straight along the stream in the Dolina Bialego valley”.”Sonds wonderful and easy”, we said.

How wrong we were. The terrain was not flat: it was all uphill. It was not easy: often it was climbing a dirt wall, or loose stones. And yes it was straight: up the mountain. In 34 degrees Centigrade and scorching sun the leafy stream valley brought little refreshment. At each crossing we conferred: “turn around?” “Nah, let’s go a little further, it is pretty here, and we have as much water as we need.”

Instead of that nice, leisurely walk we ended up climbing the Sarnia Skala peak and the rocky outcrop you see on the top photo. That photo was already from halfway up.

They say the process is more important than the outcome, but reaching the goal is a sweet moment – especially if the goal is a surprise.

Sarniaskala-3(Tatra Mountains National Park, Poland; July 2015)


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Borders are a human invention

Kasprowy-6It was a warm night after a hot day in Zakopane. Just before sunset. And there was a cable-car, and a second cable car, and finally a mountaintop, with gorgeous ski bowls awaiting the winter’s snow, now all green with grass sprinkled with little furry bluebells.

Kasprowy-4Up on that mountaintop was a line drawn in the minds of human beings. They had decided that one kind of people lived to the left, and another kind to the right. But there was no real line in the mountains. Only futile attempts at hammering short stocky poles into the ground between the rocks.

Kasprowy-5Somehow it made a big difference to people on which cliff they sat. Because one cliff meant you sat in “Poland” and the other one placed you in “Slovakia”. To the goats and the hoverflies a bluebell was a bluebell, regardless of which side of the slope it grew.

As I sat with my feet in Slovakia and my behind in Poland, I thought of the seemingly innate human desire to separate. Borders are drawn for those beings who feel the necessity to own, to limit, and to classify. Borderless is chaos to most people and unity to most animals. Borders require straight lines, defined areas, and natural separations such as this mountain. Perhaps mother Nature, who saw the big picture, thought it a good joke to create a planet that was round?

Kasprowy-2(Kasprowy Wierch, Poland / Slovakia; July 2015)


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Zakopane style

Zakopane-1“Zakopane, isn’t that the town with the ski jump? Is it in Poland?” This question encompassed all my knowledge about the historical Polish ski resort my sister wanted to visit. I looked it up on the map one week before departure and noticed we would be going into the Tatra mountains, towards the Slovakian border. Not sure I even knew that Poland HAD a border with Slovakia.

There may be many people as ignorant as I in Europe, but the Poles sure do know Zakopane. We joined the humongous crowd milling on Krupowki street, dazed, thinking we arrived at a festival day. “No, it is just a regular Saturday”, said the friendly hotel concierge. Indeed. And out on the hiking trails it was a regular Saturday traffic every day.

But if one manages to look past the crowds at the buildings in Zakopane, one is in for a surprise. The local style dominated in the early 20th century, born by the artist/architect Witkiewicz, who mixed Art Nouveau with folk carpentry. Zakopane-6Oh, the attention to detail! Each door post must have at least one flower carving.Zakopane-2And each house must have custom-made furniture.Zakopane-3And today the Zakopane style still inspires – for example to build hobbit houses such as this B&B. Only in Zakopane.Zakopane-4   (Zakopane, Poland; July 2015)


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The rock salt palace

Wieliczka-5 I thought Wieliczka would be just a salt mine. Kilometers upon kilometers with dark passages. Dirt floors and railways and pickaxes and helmets. Little did I know that there would be chapels underground, with huge statues of kings and religious motifs. Little did I know there would be lakes with bridges over, and boats ferrying guests into underground grottos. I had no idea that royalty held balls underground, 300 years ago. And that you could make crystal chandeliers out of rock salt.Wieliczka-6Wieliczka salt mine is not a salt mine but a crazy work of art, carved by people throughout its 700 years of existence. Some people were bored (and loved to make gnome statues and pigs). Many were afraid, and made chapels with altars and religious reliefs in which to pray. And the royalty wanted to show off, so they arranged excursions and dances and dinners 130 meters underground, on floors that looked like they were tiled but were in fact rock salt carved to look like floor tiles.

Beside the heydays, there were gas leaks. Explosions. Cavings-in. Accidents with heavy lifting. People died. Horses spent 20 years deep down and died without seeing the sunlight again. There is a reason for the chapels and religious statues. But we got out of there in a wink of an eye, with a tiny, unlit, modern mine elevator. So many before us were not that lucky.Wieliczka-3(Wieliczka, Poland; July 2015)


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Wawel castle

Wawel-1How formidable Wawel castle looked like on the outside! Walls after walls, high up on a hill, as if nothing could ever get past it. And yet, when we did find a gate and wandered in, there was splendor and grandeur. It was as if each generation of rulers and architects had wanted to cram in another tower or another cupola just to leave a mark – regardless of whether the style fit or not.

But who cares about architectural pissing contests when there is Chopin’s music in the courtyard? Who cares about the battles and the intrigues, when there is a plastic (?!) piano and sweeping crystal-clear reveries floating among the pillars and porticoes?Wawel-2(Wawel castle, Krakow, Poland; July 2015)