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A letter from Michael Cohen

29 Apr

Hi, I’m sorry for the mass e-mail (I know, we all hate them) but it’s the only way I could think of to get this news out to all my friends. So please, take a minute and read the attached one page letter from me. It’s a pdf file and it’s really from me, but if you’re not sure if you should open it, call me at 508-561-9700 and I’ll tell you it’s OK. Thanks so much.

Warmly,

Michael

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A letter to my friends.pdf

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Shades of gray.

26 Oct

*This blog now lives at http://www.gonesplorin.com  Please update your bookmarks*

When we last left you we had made it to Austria.  The final leg had us visit the edge of the Alps with it’s soaring peaks.  We tried to drive the breathtaking Großglockner-Hochalpenstraße (say that 3 times fast!), a road that takes you high into the alps but since our Audi A3 didn’t have winter tires we were not allowed to see what was just beyond this spot.MSC-OCT2015-EUR-1917

From there is was a short ride to to Zell am See, a lakeside summer/winter resort.

Yes, she loves the mountains, even a poster!

Yes, she loves the mountains, even a poster!

and then Berchtesgaden, Germany to see Obersalzberg which was Hitler’s home away from Berlin during the war.

Marci enjoys a beer at a cafe in Berchtesgaden before heading up the Obersalzburg

Marci enjoys a beer at a cafe in Berchtesgaden before heading up the Obersalzburg

The tunnel that Hitler drove into to reach the elevator at Eagle's Nest

The tunnel that Hitler drove into to reach the elevator at Eagle’s Nest

Eagle's Nest was a tea house built by Martin Borman for Hitler's 50th birthday. It is said Hitler visited only a handful of times.

Eagle’s Nest was a tea house built by Martin Borman for Hitler’s 50th birthday. It is said Hitler visited only a handful of times.

And finally to Salzburg.  If you haven’t been, add it to your list.  The home of Mozart and “The Sound of Music”, Salzburg is another of Europe’s great cities divided by a river, but much smaller, more manageable and beautiful.  Yes, they have a bridge with locks, too 🙂

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And as I sit writing this final entry, we are home.  Back in our United States of America, in so many ways a sanctuary that most of the word cannot fathom.  What we have spent the last month learning is that even those issues that seem to black and white from the comfort of our couch in Boston are indeed very complex.

The rise of the Soviet bloc after WWII brought with it a communist society that we could never live under, but we heard, first hand, about how democracy has ruined the lives of those who were cared for and now cannot fend for themselves in a country that cannot afford to take care of them.  We saw, first hand, homes of innocent Germans (were there any?) that were destroyed by Allied bombers as the war in Europe drew to a close.  And we met people who have lived with ethnic fighting, neighbor vs neighbor and countries changed names, changed borders and changed allegiances.

Montenegro

Montenegro

Croatia

Croatia

Hungary

Hungary

Slovakia

Slovakia

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Czech Republic

Czech Republic

Austria

Austria

Germany

Germany






These are the flags of the nations we traveled though.  We were fortunate, too, to meet the people of these nations.  People that have stories.

We are reminded that the people of a country are not the government of the nation they live in.  The impact of the wars, the instability and the mistrust of hundreds and perhaps thousands of years of history can be seen on their faces.

It has been good for us to see, and be reminded that the world is not as simple as we may prefer but instead comes in many shades of gray.

Until next time…

Prague and more….

20 Oct

After the last one, I think you deserve a little light reading and viewing.  Here are some snaps from the last few days in Prague, Cesky Kumlov and our current stop, Hallstatt, Austria.

We found a Cuban bar in Prague. There we found some Cuban rum. And we found some new friends.

We found a Cuban bar in Prague. There we found some Cuban rum. And we found some new friends.

And Marci found a hat after the rum.

And Marci found a hat after the rum.

One of the loveliest views I encountered in this very lovely city.

One of the loveliest views I encountered in this very lovely city.

Another moment.

Another moment.

The old jewish cemetary in Prague was in use from the 13th century until the 18th. There are 10,000 graves chock-ablock

The old jewish cemetary in Prague was in use from the 13th century until the 18th. There are 10,000 graves chock-ablock

Prague, too, is for lovers.

Prague, too, is for lovers.

Prague street scene.

Prague street scene.

Yes, a new way to get a foot massage!

Yes, a new way to get a foot massage!

One of Prague's side canals.

One of Prague’s side canals.

The Lennon Wall in Prague

The Lennon Wall in Prague.  Shot with my iPhone.  I love my iPhone camera!

M&M at the Wall

M&M at the Wall

A view of the ancient Bavarian town of Cesky Kumlov.

A view of the ancient Bavarian town of Cesky Kumlov.

Overlooking Lake Hallstatt and the epnymous town below from up atop the Salt Mine in Austria

Overlooking Lake Hallstatt and the epnymous town below from up atop the Salt Mine in Austria

Hallstatt drops right down to the lake. Just beautiful.

Hallstatt drops right down to the lake. Just beautiful.

The picture-perfect Hallstatt town square.

The picture-perfect Hallstatt town square.

Marci happy in the mountains!

Marci happy in the mountains!

They were clearly expecting me.

They were clearly expecting me.

Up at the Salt Mines in Hallstatt

Up at the Salt Mines in Hallstatt

In Hallstatt, the catholic church has this beautiful cemetery with hand tended gardens at each gravesite. Remarkable.

In Hallstatt, the catholic church has this beautiful cemetery with hand tended gardens at each gravesite. Remarkable.

We’ll have one more post as we near the end of our glorious trip.  We love hearing from you.  Thank you!

Terezin.

18 Oct

Marci had selected a few audiobooks for our drives on this trip.  The primary one is called “Prague Winter”, written and read by Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State, and born in Prague.  The book does a remarkable job of teaching, through the story of her family’s life, the Czech experience leading up to and during Word War II.  One of the main arcs is the story of Terezin.

The tribute to the mass graves at Terezin.

The tribute to the mass graves at Terezin

Terezin turned out to be the perfect place for Hitler’s transition camp for Czech jews and later, jews from all over Europe.  Built in the late 1700’s by the Austrian empire, Terezin is located just south of the German-Czech border in an area that was primarily German speaking before the war.  We spent the day at Terezin yesterday with Pavel Batel, an excellent and knowledgeable guide.

For three years, over 150,000 jews were brought to Terezin.  Upon liberation in 1945, there were just over 20,000.  The majority stayed at Terezin for a few weeks to a few months before dying of disease or torture, or being transported to an extermination camp, primarily Auschwitz.

Train tracks into Terezin were added after the Nazis discovered jews talking to locals during the 3 kilometer walk to the train station when being transported to Auschwitz.

Train tracks into Terezin were added after the Nazis discovered jews talking to locals during the 3 kilometer walk to the train station when being transported to Auschwitz

The Nazis called it Theresienstadt.  It was paraded before the world as Hitler’s gift to the jews.  When it was built it originally served as a giant fortress with a town inside where up to 7500 soldiers would live.  It also had a prison.  For Hitler, the town served as the jewish Ghetto where as many as 50,000 jews would be forced to live at once.

The entrance to the Ghetto.

The entrance to the Ghetto

More would come.  More would go.  Czech jews were told that they were being permanently resettled in this jewish town, with their own apartment and spa services.

A street in Terezin.

A street in Terezin

The reality, of course, different.

At first glance, the ghetto looks like a lovely Bavarian town.  And as designed, for just over 7,000 soldiers, it was.  But put 8x that many people with little water, food and sanitation, and the ghetto became a typhoid infested, death trap.

Living quarters.

Living quarters

Still, the jews of Terezin found ways to live.  Some jews bribed the Nazis to be able to create the Hidden Shul.

“Hidden Shul”

But rules were strict, and changed often.  If the rules were broken, the offender was sent to the prison.

Entrance to the prison at Terezin

Entrance to the prison at Terezin

In the prison, jews were deprived of all basic human needs.  They were locked in cells, beaten, and worse.

Up to 40 jews would be locked in a cell. Many did not even have a window.

Up to 40 jews would be locked in a cell. Many did not even have a window.

They would be marched through the labyrinth of tunnels only to be shot or hanged at the other end.

There are 30 km of tunnels in the prison fortress

There are 30 km of tunnels in the prison fortress

As the world began to hear rumors of Nazi activities, the International Red Cross was dispatched to Terezin for a look.  The Nazis delayed the visit for several months while they staged a perfect “show” for the Red Cross inspectors which consisted of well dressed, well fed, happy jews choreographed into a show that completely fooled the inspectors, though some say they saw what they wanted to see.  To complete the charade of how well the jews were treated, the Nazis prepared a fake cemetary to show how well they treated the jews, even in death.

Fake cemetery created for the Red Cross visit

Fake cemetery created for the Red Cross visit

In this park in the center of Terezin, a bench sits empty as jews were not allowed even to walk into the park.MSC_8615

Nearby, this old tree was surely witness to the horrors that occurred all around it.  If only the tree could tell us its stories.MSC_8617

Visits like this shed light on the atrocities that our people experienced during the Nazi reign in Europe.  We must tell the stories so that we do not forget what people are capable of.  Yet, there have been other human tragedies, and still others go on even today.  Can you be part of keeping the light on?

A single bulb lights where jews lived in Terezin.

A single bulb lights where jews lived in Terezin.

Budapest.

14 Oct

The Communist Gray skies could not extinguish the beauty of this magnificent eastern European city, though surely it tries.  A paradox of the senses is Budapest.  IMG_3675On the one hand it is truly beautiful to look at.  The ornate and opulent Hapsburg era Parliament building and cathedrals are just the most obvious examples, and the Buda Palace all take your breath away.  But as you get ready to once again inhale, you are frozen by the stories of Hungarian complacency and feigned innocence and death and destruction during WWII and beyond.  We have spent two days in this city, which I would recommend to all, and perhaps to spend a total of four, all while learning about Hungary’s rich but tormented history in the last 150 years.  No history lesson here, but suffice it to say that, as several tour guides have remarked, “we could have done more.”

It is a walking city and despite the continuous rain we’ve had, we’ve managed to put a few miles under our soles.  The Danube River (replete with Viking River Cruise boats) separates the hilly Buda with the Buda Castle and the President’s Palace from the flat and architecturally rich Pest side.  Hence together BudaPest.  Several bridges connect the sides with the most notable the Chain Bridge just at the center of touristic District V connecting to the Castle.  As most notably in Paris, many european bridges have become full of small padlocks placed by lovers to signify their commitment.  The appurtenances of the Chain Bridge are too thick to affix a lock to, but, as always, love finds a way.IMG_3682

A bit further down river, on the Pest side, is a tribute of a different kind.  During the harsh winter of 1944 into 1945, 9 months after the Nazi’s occupation of Hungary began with out a single bullet fired, just one of the means of disposing of jews was to line them up on the banks of the Danube and shoot them into it late at night.  Occasionally someone survived to tell the tale of this practice and in 2005, a memorial consisting of sculptures of shoes was erected at the river’s edge in tribute and memory.IMG_3686

Such small but meaningful tributes dot the city’s landscape.  Here, a statue of Miklos Radnoti, a Hungarian jewish poet who, when sent on a death march toward a concentration camp with no way to write, is alleged to have penned his final poem in his own blood.IMG_3687

Perhaps the most fascinating, and for me troubling, of the memorials is the one the Hungarian government put up last year.IMG_3685

It depicts the broken columns signifying both the death of so many during WWII including jews, and the angel Gabriel looking on innocently as the Nazi eagle swoops in and wreaks havoc.  This point of view of the Hungarian non-responsibility has been widely criticized by the people and there is a protest memorial directly in front of the government one.  These are not my pictures as the weather was too bad while we were there, but you can see the proximity of the two memorials I hope.  It is a small victory for truth, but an important one.M10

While it may be more than you are interested in, here is a document posted at the memorial with the “other” point of view.

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Lest it all sound too depressing, this is a great city and we have enjoyed ourselves immensely.  The food is delicious, english is widely spoken and it is very easy to get around.  (Uber is here!)  There is also a very funky section with “RuinPubs” that are older buildings infused with artsy bars with lots of things are people to look at!  I will recommend a wonderful tour guide named Orsi and can be reached at veghorsi@gmail.com

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Tomorrow we head to Vienna just for one night and then to Prague on Friday.  We’ll see you from there!

Truffle Alert! Truffle Alert!

11 Oct

After returning safely to Split from our Splendid Sailing Sojourn it was off to Istria!  Istria is a small peninsula that has been occupied by Italy, Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia and now Croatia and NO WONDER!  There’s gold in them thar hills…yes the black and especially the white variety and ohhhh are they yummy!  We made our way to Rovinj in the rain, yes a long wet driving day. But no matter, the old city looked great with the glistening limestone alleys.IMG_3650

And this morning it was up early to head to Montovun, and ancient walled city that we toured as the clouds began to part.

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We had arranged for a Truffle Hunt of the finest kind: experienced hunter, awesome dog, just us.  And off we went.

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Anita has been hunting truffles for over 30 years and is third generation Istrian Truffle Diva.  Vera, a six year old German Pointer with a very wet tongue has been at Anita’s side for five years.  Together they are awesome.  The outfit is called NaturaTartufo.  Remember it if you ever want this experience of a lifetime!

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Within minutes, our first black truffle.  Then a bit more hunting, a bit more slipping in the mud and then…EUREKA!

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A veritable trove of truffles, a fountain of fungus, a plethora or pestilence, an over abundance of over indulgence.  We had hit pay dirt, most literally.

By the end of just over an hour, we had found truffles indeed and more than expected, thanks to Vera the truffle tracker.

After a lunch of fresh white truffle encrusted scrambled eggs and truffled ice cream and truffled brandy (are you hungry yet?) it was off to, what else?  The truffle festival!

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After we had our fill, just a final visit to the walled city of Istria to pay respects to the birthplace of our favorite Indy car driver.

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Until tomorrow then…

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Sailing in the rain…

7 Oct

Some singing too, of course!  We’ve arrived in Komiza after a day in Hvar and a good soaking sail.  Here are a few snapshots culminating with tonights stormy sunset.  More tomorrow!

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