Lopata Park in the Carpathian Mountains

Kam'yanka waterfall, Lopata Park, Skolivski Beskydy National ParkSkolivski Beskydy National Park is 100 km south of Lviv, and a jewel of nature in the Carpathian Mountains. Mountain lakes, mountain streams, and mountain waterfalls abound. This is Kam’yanka Waterfall, which can be seen as you ascend Mount Lopata.

Kam'yanka, Skolivski Beskydy National ParkMount Lopata was the site of a 1944 battle for the liberation of Ukraine. From July 6 to July 15, 1944, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army fought a battle against German and Hungarian troops on the slopes of Mount Lopata, and won a victory. This is a monument in the village of Kam’yanka, in honour of the members of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and soldiers of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) who came from the village.

A Dubious Achievement

Qualifying Miles and Segments with Air Canada 2015I’ve qualified for Super Elite status again. This week, I crossed the 100,000 mile threshold of miles flown with Air Canada and its partner airlines in the Star Alliance in 2015. I’ve also crossed the 95 segments threshold, so I qualify on that criterion. I consider this a dubious achievement, as to get here I have spent over 11 days (280 hours) sitting in airplanes in the air, gone through 21 different airports, and flown a distance more than four times around the world. There’s still almost two months of flying to do in 2015 as well. They give me a fancy black luggage tag, though, to put on my trusty carry-on roller-board, so it’s all worth it!

The Golden Age of Air Travel – the 1970s?

Pacific Southwest Airlines stewardess uniforms, 1973Most people talk about the Golden Age of air travel as being the 1930s, the era of the China Clipper flown by Pan American Airways. For its self-consciously futuristic style, I’d like to put my oar in for the 1970s. Discount airlines brought air travel to the masses, along with groovy gear like what you see here. These are stewardess uniforms from 1973, from Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA). They’re on display at the SFO Museum, the airport museum in San Francisco. Violently-coloured mini skirts, a “comm badge” swoosh brooch, and go-go boots — with these, a PSA “sky waitress” looked almost as cool as Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek.

Honeymoon Island, Florida

Honeymoon Island, FloridaFrom time to time, I find myself working in places like this. After teaching a computer class near Tampa, Florida, I drove west until I hit the Gulf of Mexico. This is what I found. Honeymoon Island State Park is an oversized sandbar, really, and a quiet retreat that is favoured by locals and given a miss by tourists. The State of Florida protects it as a nature reserve, but as long as humans keep off the fragile dunes we are welcome on the narrow beach and in the warm waters of the Gulf. It’s tough for me to complain about work travel when what you see here can be one of the side benefits.

До побачення, Україна :: Until we meet again, Ukraine

Ukraine and Lviv flags

Ukrainians are good people. I don’t just mean my relatives, who were exceptionally kind and welcoming. Perfect strangers went out of their way to make visitors to Lviv oblast feel at home. I was flattered about my attempts to speak Ukrainian and my mistakes were ignored. Seats were offered to us on buses and in museums and galleries. I learned how Lviv does more than its fair share taking in Crimean and Donbas refugees fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The people of Lviv are proud but not boastful of their city and region, and the fellow-feeling they show in their everyday lives does them enormous credit.

This spontaneous and genuine concern for others, for the greater good, is present in ample measure among my relatives who I met for the first time. My second cousin is serving in the Ukrainian army, defending his country. His health has been damaged from the conditions of trench warfare, facing the onslaught from the Russian army in their recent winter campaign against Ukraine in Luhansk and Donetsk regions. He and his family suffer from the lack of support from the Ukrainian government and its nominal allies in the West. But these wonderful Ukrainian people stand up and do what’s right, because that’s simply the way they are.

Слава Україна! Glory to Ukraine!

Golden Rose Synagogue, Lviv: Destroyed

Golden Rose Synagogue, Lviv, destroyed 

The Golden Rose Synagogue was the oldest Jewish temple in Ukraine, until it was destroyed by the Nazi Germans in 1943. It was built in 1582, and was known as “Golden Rose” after the daughter of the founder. In the early 17th century it was expropriated by the Jesuits, and then ransomed back to the Jewish community at a price of over twenty thousand guilders. After the Nazi Germans invaded in 1941 they vandalized Golden Rose Synagogue and in 1943 they destroyed it completely. What you see in the photograph is my mum standing in front of the hoarding around the empty site and fragmentary remains of the temple.

 
Synagogue Square, LvivGolden Rose Synagogue was part of a complex of buildings. A house of study, Beth Hamid-Rash was built in 1797, and what became the main Jewish temple, the Great City Synagogue, was built in 1801. Nothing remains, except an open square.

Lviv, at the crossroads of Europe

Town Hall, Rynok Square, LvivLviv is at a natural crossroad in the center of Europe. It is on a height of land that is a watershed: north is the drainage basin of the Vistula River to the Baltic Sea; south is the Dniester River and the Black Sea. Land routes go west to the Great Hungarian Plain and east to the Steppe. This natural advantage has made Lviv a trade hub, and a wise choice for city founders King Danylo and his son Lev in the 13th century.

Pictured, first, is the town hall in the middle of Rynok Square. The Square is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as by some miracle every building on it has survived, despite invasions by Turk, French, German, and Russian armies.

Potocki Palace, LvivPotocki Palace was built in 1890 for Count Alfred Potocki, vice-regent of the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria. This was when Lviv was an eastern provincial capital in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Today, Potocki Palace is a part of Lviv National Art Gallery, and houses a small but representative collection of European paintings, including a few ‘undiscovered gems’ that have toured in exhibitions.

Soviet Russian political prison on Lonskiy Street, Lviv

Пам'ятаю ... заради свобода :: Remember ... for the sake of freedom

The USSR invaded Poland on September 17, 1939, joining its ally, Nazi Germany. Lviv (then known as Lwów) was a part of Poland, and was occupied by Soviet Russians. The prison on Lonskiy Street had been used by the Poles to hold and interrogate political prisoners, mostly members of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists. Its use was taken over and expanded by the NKVD (predecessor of the KGB, predecessor of the FSB) to also include Greek Catholic believers.

Cell for those awaiting execution by Soviet Russians, Lonskiy Street prison, Lviv
 

This is the cell for Ukrainian political prisoners who were awaiting execution by the Russians. They were kept in this tiny cell for up to two months, before they were shot.

Soviet Russian prison on Lonskiy Street, Lviv, 1941

When Nazi Germany attacked the USSR in 1941, Stalin ordered that every Ukrainian nationalist who could be found in the occupied territory of Galicia be shot. At Lonskiy Prison, 1681 men and women, from the ages of 13 to 70, were massacred by the Russians over a few days in June. This photo was taken for German propaganda, and shows the people of Lviv looking for their relatives among the dead.

Remember … for the sake of freedom.

Lonskiy Prison was not for criminals, but for prisoners of conscience. It was an equal opportunity hell, inflicted on Ukrainians by Poles, Soviet Russians, Nazi Germans, and then Soviet Russians again, from 1919 to 1989.

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Wieliczka Salt MineWieliczka Salt Mine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located to the south of Kraków. My photo shows a huge vaulted chamber where salt had been mined. The timber framing prevents collapse. The chandelier is made of salt.

Salt mining began at Wieliczka in the 13th century. The origins of the salt deposits go back 136 million years to the Miocene Era, but the story of it’s foundation in legend is more fun. A Hungarian princess, Kinga, was betrothed to Boleslaw the Timid, Prince of Kraków. Before leaving for Poland, she threw her engagement ring down the shaft of a salt mine in Hungary. Once in Kraków, she asked miners to dig a pit. They came across a rock of salt, and when they split it in two they found Kinga’s engagement ring.
Chapel in Wieliczka Salt MineOver a period of 70 years, starting in the 1890s, a succession of three miners carved a chapel out of one of the chambers. They worked after their shifts, and it is today a consecrated church and popular for weddings. The carvings along the walls show scenes from the life of Christ. The tableau to the right of the side chapel is the Slaughter of the Innocents and above it is the Nativity.

Rock salt mining stopped at Wieliczka in 1996 and now an evaporator produces a small amount of salt from the water pumped out of the mine. Tourism is the big business now, to see one of the oldest continuously operating salt mines in the world.

Wawel Royal Castle, Kraków

Wawel Royal Castle, KrakówIn contrast to Warsaw, the city of Kraków survived the tumult of the 20th century relatively intact. What survives in Kraków are layers upun layers of history, going back a thousand years. For example, the Gothic basilica named for Saints Stanislaus and Wenceslaus, pictured here, is the third on the site of Wawel Castle mound. Kings of Poland are buried here, and this is where they were crowned, even after the capital was moved to Warsaw in 1596. The last owner of Wawel Castle was Poniatowski — Stanislaw II August — the last King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, before the Third Partition in 1795. The last resident of Wawel Castle was the Nazi mass-murderer Hans Frank, Governor-General of the ‘General Government’ of the Third Reich, which had its administrative centre in Kraków. The Frank children rode bicycles through the chambers of Wawel Castle while their father sealed the Jewish ghettos in Poland and then carried out the ‘Final Solution’ extermination of Poles who were Jews.