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O Canada

5 Aug

I always feel a breath of fresh air when I come to Canada and this trip is that and so much more.  We are in Banff National Park.  It was Canada’s first national park and wow is it gorgeous.  Lots of photos in this post and it will kind of be a “best of” of what we’ve seen so far, which is only 2 days.

So let’s get started.  It takes a bit of doing to get here.  Up at 4:30am for a 6:30 flight to Montreal, connect to Calgary on a tight connection, get the rental car and make the 2.5 hour drive.  We arrive at Lake Louise at 3:30pm Mountain Time.  First we must learn the name game…  Banff is the national park and is also the town.  Lake Louise is a lake and also a town.  Things can get confusing.

First, the lake.  It is gorgeous, with turquoise water, ringed by huge mountains and yes, glaciers.

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I don’t think any photos do it justice but suffice it to say that most people drive up, take a photo and leave.  Ridiculous.  The first thing we did was to hike the Plains of the Six Glaciers trail.

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We walked to the end of the lake, about 2 km (we are in metric land), and then up up up. About halfway to the glacier Marci was in the mountains, in the snow, and in her glory.  After going up about 4 km we reached the prize…the Six Glaciers Tea House…it’s a thing, ok?

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After tea and chocolate cake we went back down down down to the shoreline of Lake Louise.

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After lunch on Day 1 it was time to take a drive to find the Takakkaw Falls.  Just a short hike in and we came upon this beauty.  I happen to love waterfalls.

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By 5 we had 2 hikes in and we were tired.  So it was time for cocktails, and around here sunset is at 9:30 so a lovely late dinner and we retired.

Today it was up early to visit Emerald Lake.

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How about that?!  But even better, we grabbed a canoe and went exploring in to the nooks and crannies of the turquoise shoreline.

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A lovely and relaxing hour on the lake and we were back on the trail for another hike.  You might think my wife is trying to kill me, and I wasn’t entirely sure until she tried to push me off the edge into a massive whirlpool long the Kicking Horse River.

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Fortunately I held on, pulled myself back onto the trail and made it to a tasty lunch of Alberta beef burgers at TrufflePigs restaurant.  This afternoon another hike, this time to the Wupta Falls.

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Another beautiful spot.  If you get the feeling that there are lots of mountains, glaciers, aquamarine lakes and rivers, and that the place is just gorgeous, you’d be right.

Our last full day is tomorrow and we will drive north for more beauty.  Wednesday to Vancouver and I’ll post again then.

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Auschwitz

29 Jun

I’m sure there’s not a better word that can evoke terror.  Just try walking through it.

We did. And while I will try very hard not to make this morose and hopeless, the fact it that just walking on the ground that they walked on, just entering the doorways that they entered, just stepping through the gate emblazoned with the false promise each of them read is so debilitating that its very hard to keep this light.

Maybe I’ll start with what my wife wrote on Facebook yesterday:

It happened therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say” -Primo Levy

… no words for what this place looks like or the endless horrors that occurred here. It is beyond me how people could be so unimaginably cruel to each other. Remember before the war the men and woman that killed and tortured these innocent souls had regular jobs like farmers, bakers , cooks. Being here makes you realize how easily it could happen again.

Beware of the signs, they are all around us . Knowledge is power. Teach your children, teach your friends. Get involved. Never forget.

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The photographs were all taken yesterday.  It has taken me the day to put my fingers on the keys to share some thoughts.  So much goes through your mind as you walk.  How could they do this?  Why is it so big?  What did it feel like to be there?  How could I have remained hopeful?  Could I have remained hopeful?  What would I have done?

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Much is either as it was, or restored to as it was.  In the barracks, the beds…

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the facilities…

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the places they might put you if…

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But it’s when you walk the grounds and see the guard towers, the barbed wire, and imagine the constant berating by the soldiers, the lack of food and water, that’s when it hits you.

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Once you come in, they will never let you leave.

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And we come here to bear witness, to tell others that what happened was not inconceivable.  It was not committed by a brutal race of people.  It happened, not very long ago, for reasons that the ages will have to determine.  But it happened.

You stepped through the doorway thinking you were taking a shower.

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And they did not just kill you, or let you die.  There were so many, where could they put them?  Where would they find the room?  This is how.

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And then you are gone.

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Budapest, through a different lens

26 Jun

For longtime readers of this space, you will find it a bit unusual that we are travelling on a ‘group trip’.  If I were telling this to you in person, I might even demonstrate the ‘half-quotes’ with a little smirk.  But for this trip it is not only appropriate, but worthwhile.  Escorted by our temple’s Cantor, we are accompanied by about 20 of its members through three important eastern European cities to learn about their histories’ from a Jewish point of view.

To some, this may not be important, and even segregationistic, but to me it is not. The story of our people interests me, the activities surrounding the murder of over six million people during the war remains something I believe we must constantly study and discuss, and there is much to learn, and re-learn.

Our journey will be limited. First Budapest, a city of great beauty, warm people and a sinister Jewish story.  Then to Krakow, Poland where we will visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, the death camp (just think about that phrase for a moment, not a tennis camp or space camp…a death camp).  I will also endeavor to find my grandmother’s home town of Działoszyce, Poland, where she lived until the age of about 16 when she departed, alone, for America in 1917. And finally to Warsaw, the location of the Warsaw ghetto uprising when a few hundred Jews, armed with some pistols, stones and courage defied the Nazi army for a few days because they just wouldn’t go down without a fight.

I promise some new photos and reflections from each location, and I will try to make each entry enjoyable to read, even if the subject matter isn’t always.

This is my second time to Budapest so rather than review the city again, I’ll refer you to this previous blog entry.  Today though, I’m in Budapest in a different way.  The first thing that came into consciousness as we walked through the old section where the synagogue still stands, is a notion that we all take for granted.  That idea that family stories, traditions, recipes, photos get passed down from generation to generation.  Like my grandfather did for me, and maybe yours for you.  But the Jews of Budapest don’t have grandfathers and grandmothers to pass down stories from.  The Jews of Budapest they are writing their own stories now.  Just one of the reasons why is the story I’ll tell you now.  It refers to what happened after the Nazis left Budapest.  By the winter of 1944, the end of the war was near (it would be over in March 1945) and the Nazis needed resources on the western front.  As they departed Budapest to redeploy, they left in charge a Hungarian force known as Arrow Cross.  It had just been a few months since the Nazis had actually established a Jewish ghetto in Budapest, the last one they created in fact, but when they left the Arrow Cross in charge there was a new sheriff in town.

It was winter and in Eastern Europe, that means cold and windy along the nearly frozen Danube.  The Arrow Cross took the opportunity to march about 20,000 Jews from the ghetto between December ’44 and January 1945 and line them up at the edge of the river, facing the water.  Now remember this was near the end of the war and supplies were getting scarce.  Among the Nazis it was well regarded that a Jew wasn’t worth the cost of a bullet, so the frugal Arrow Cross tied Jews together, two at a time, so that with one bullet they could kill one and drown the other.

In they fell into the frigid water.  First two, then two more, and two more until there were 20,000 fewer Jews.  This action was memorialized by sculptor Gyula Pauer and filmmaker Can Togay in Shoes On The Danube Bank.  Here it is as it looked today.  Standing in silence as the water rushes by it does take me back to a time I hope we never see again.MSC-D850-Budapest-June2019-9226-Edit

 

 

 

 

Paris is, well, Paris.

23 Jun

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Before I tell you how spectacular Paris is, can I have just a teeny tiny rant?  France’s national airline, Air France, lost our luggage and took three days to find and return it.  Yup, three days.  I could go on, but really, wouldn’t you rather see this?

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London has it’s Eye and Paris has The Big Wheel, or le Grand Roue, which has come and gone couple of times.  This is from the tippy top in one direction and…

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this is from the other direction.  In fact, the Sacre Coeur you see here, in Montmarte, is very near where our apartment was in the IXme Arrondisment.  It’s one of my favorite areas of Paris, but really, every area is my favorite area. It’s Paris.

We’ve been here since Wednesday and are leaving tomorrow for Budapest.  We have eaten, walked, shopped (especially when you have no luggage, shopping is survival, at least that’s what Mraci says) in the beautiful Paris warmth and sunshine.  It’s springtime and that means everything is in bloom and the city is alive.

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Of course, Paris is a photographer’s heaven so I did take a few photos I’ll share.  We spent one entire day walking the VIme Arrondisment and found ourselves in Luxembourg Gardens in the late afternoon for the quintessential Parisian scene.

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By the way, late afternoon is about 8pm.  Sunset is at just before 10 so the day just goes on and on.  Cocktails at 8:30, dinner at 10?  Works for me.

There are a few things, though, that are the same all over the world.  Get on the subway and all you see is this.

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What did people ever do before cellphones?  Oh yes, read the paper or maybe even a book.  What’s a book?

Of course, when she thinks I’m not looking…

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Something new in many cities around the world, and fast entering the US and these electric scooters.  They are positively everywhere!  So today I downloaded the Lime app and tried it.  They are fun!  And fast!

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And yes, this guy has his suitcase with him.  I’ve seen two people at once, bags of groceries, you name it.  On these speedy little scooters.

Here’s a moment in the Tuilerie Gardens.  A guy was making bubbles and the kids were loving it.  It was good to see them playing outside.

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A stroll through the Marais for falafel is always in order.  Not everyone was enjoying their day like we were!

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Maybe he was just lonely.  Paris is for lovers, after all.

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And finally, my favorite moment of our time here, of course, at the water’s edge!

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A revoir Paris…and to you for now.  Back in a day or two.  If you have friends who would like to subscribe, please forward to them and as always, thanks for joining us!

Time to Catch Up.

13 Jun
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Hello, yeah, it’s been a while. Not much, how ’bout you?

If you recognize those lyrics, you aren’t getting out enough.  I know, it has been a while.  In fact, I think we were somewhere near the Hochalpenstrasse last time we talked.

And before we get underway with our next adventure, that starts next week…  we have some catching up to do.

So, here’s your speed blog through the last couple of trips.  As you scroll down we’ll visit Viet Nam, North Carolina, Oman (where?), and Cuba…oh, and under Cuba.

Viet Nam

Most of the time you see it as Vietnam, which it isn’t, actually.  Viet Nam is the two words that refer to the people of the area (Viet) and the area itself which south (Nam) of China.  Both are Chinese words.  We spent a month in a country that I was apprehensive to go to, but came to love very quickly.

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We went from the far north, with my foot touching the line of the Chinese border, all the way to the south in the Mekong Delta.  Just typing that brings back too many memories of watching Walter Cronkite, but wow is it beautiful today.

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We ate delicious food.  We met wonderful, kind and gentle people.  And immersed in a lot of history.  Not all of it good.  The Vietnamese people are hard working, clever, and doing their very best to build an economy that is, well, building.

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And Marci was very generous to allow me to drive around aimlessly for three days to get the perfect photo of a rice field.  What a patient partner!

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North Carolina

It was just me and the horses.  No that’s not the opening of a bad porn novel, it was four really fun days in the Beaufort area of NC to photograph the wild horses of Shackleford Banks and the Rachel Carson Reserve.  If you love horses, this is your vacation.  Here are a few images from that trip that I love to look at.  I hope you do too.

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Oman

In almost four weeks and from one end of the county to another, I’m not even going to try to do justice to the wonderful experience there.  Mountains and deserts, bedouins and a Royal Palace theater, seaside and rock slides, Oman has it all.  And a sultan that pushed out his dad in 1970 and has plowed all the oil money he discovered into building a modern society.  People at home say “where is that?” and “why would you go there?”  Here’s why.

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A neighborhood mosque in Musandam, adjacent to the Straits of Hormuz.

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Following the leader in the low desert.

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Living in a screen saver in the high dunes of the Empty Quarter.

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Marci has the entire Omani army in the palm of her hand.

Cuba

And I’m just back from my third trip to Cuba.  This time I spent most of it underwater in the Jardines de la Reina, the Gardens of the Queens, some of the most pristine reef systems in the world.  Living on a dive boat for seven days.  Beautiful above…

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And below.

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And how do you know the reefs are so healthy?  Two ways.  The beautiful colors, and the constant presence of apex predators…and you know what that means.

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And if those teeth aren’t big enough…

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So there you have it.  You’re up to date.

Next week, a new adventure begins.  Watch this space and invite your friends to come along.  We’re gonna have fun.

Shades of gray.

26 Oct

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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!