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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.

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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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Miles on land and sea…

5 Oct

We have a little catching up to do!  We left Dubrovnik on Saturday after finding the Hole in the Wall.  Of course, on the other side was a card game that looked like it had been going on since the 50’s! MSC_8343

We also visitied the War Photos museum and seeing the images from the 1990-92 war that broke up Yugoslavia in to the sovereign republics that include Croatia.  It’s a remarkable story that is worth learning about if you are so inclined.IMG_3592  We headed north to Mali Ston, the oyster capital of Croatia and a lovely fishing village. IMG_3594 By nightfall we reached Split and got aboard the s/v Wild Wind, our home for the week.  Our first stop was the beautiful village of Stari Grad on the Island of Hvar.  A picturesque exactly as you would expect.MSC_8391  I was lucky to find this gentleman repairing his fishing net.  Kind of him to allow me to photograph him working. MSC_8377 The wifi is spotty so we’ll post when we can!  Thank you for the comments, we love to hear from you.  We don’t get much news from back home and on one here has mentioned Donald Trump!

Dubrovnik

2 Oct

This is a tough one. There’s just no way I’ve found to photograph this drop-dead-gorgeous walled city so that you can see why you want to drop everything and go. Now. Dubrovnik was bombed for over a year and was devastated.  Twenty years plus later it is a beautiful, albeit touristy, destination that will take your breath away. What you walk around on looks like this.  

 
The pedestrian-only main boulevard looks like this.  

 
The narrow alleys look Ike this.  

 
And overall it looks like this.  

 
But in fact it doesn’t look anything like any of these. I think you’ll just have to go to see for yourself. And you should. Marci agrees! 

 More to come as we head up the coast tomorrow. 

A Quick Update…

1 Oct

Good morning!  Before leaving Montenegro we made a short and lively stop in Perast. I might stay here next time do if you are planning a visit, take note!

  
We crossed the border into Croatia and headed to Cavtat for a lunch of oysters and local fish (sorry I don’t take pictures of my food!) and just settling in to our hotel in Dubrovnik. Here’s your first glimpse from our balcony


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