A Travellerspoint blog

September 2018

Warsaw - Tragedy upon tragedy

sunny 35 °C

Leaving the Wolf's Lair we drove south toward Warsaw, we were booked into a cute little hotel right in the centre of the city, in the town square.
Entering Warsaw there were crowds of people everywhere and police were redirecting traffic with large sections blocked off. We drove around and around trying to find a way in, with Patience our GPS starting to become very frustrated with our apparent unwillingness to follow her "very wise" instructions. At one stage we found ourselves driving down a narrow lane with crowds of people teeming towards us, giving us dirty looks!!
We eventually found a way out and managed to walk through to our hotel.
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The city was celebrating as it was soldiers day, remembering 100 years since Poland had gained independence from the Bolsheviks at the end of WW1. It was also a celebration for the Ascension of Mary. Poland is very strongly Roman Catholic and the churches were all packed with priests delivering their message via loudspeakers which spilled over into the crowded streets. It was wonderful wandering around the old streets with all the open air restaurants, performers and buskers. I think it must be compulsory for children in Poland to learn the piano accordion and most of them were in the streets.

The story of the old city in Warsaw is inspiring. During WW2 the polish resistance defied German occupation and in 1944 they gathered together what arms they could and launched an attack on the occupying soldiers. With their limited resources they managed to hold out for 88 days eventually conceding, with some surrounded taking their own lives while others managed to escape to the forest. On being told of the uprising Hitler was furious and insisted that the entire city was destroyed, he wanted it to no longer exist and merely become a mark on a map. Photos of the city after the destruction looked like Hiroshima. Yet with grit and tenacity the Polish people determined to rebuild their city and make it just as it had been before, using old photos and architectural drawings they managed to achieve all this whilst under Soviet occupation. The story for the insurgents after the war was tragic, they were viewed by the Russians as 'traitors' and German conspirators, they were pursued, deported and executed, such a burden of grief in the struggle for independence.
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Along with this tragic history there is the equally tragic story of the Warsaw Jews. Prior to WW2 Warsaw was 2nd in the world only to New York as having the largest Jewish pop, about 30% of Warsaw was Jewish. Along with the occupation of Poland the Nazis rounded the Jews up into a walled ghetto with unbelievably harsh conditions, after a period of time the transports to Auschwitz began with 1,000s being marched daily to the railway station and loaded into cattle trucks. The Germans as always, kept such accurate records and the date with the exact number of Jews transported on each day is on the public record. Being ever practical they would aim to load 80 people into each carriage but would then add another 20 to cover the inevitable loss of 20 deaths per carriage in transit.
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Eventually the remaining Jews decided that they would rather die fighting than become powerless victims and they rose up to resist their oppressors fighting to preserve independence, many were killed but some escaped to either join the partisans or try to hide amongst the polish people with false papers. We were able to visit some of the remaining parts of the wall and in one section there is a gap filled by an inscription that tells those looking that the brick from this spot is now in the Holocaust Museum in Melbourne.
We left Warsaw with admiration for the Polish people and for all they have overcome; and yet their grief did not end in 1945 as they then lived under brutal Soviet occupation until 1990 with the emergence of Lech Walesa and Solidarity.

Very hot in Warsaw but so much to see and find out about.
Update on my SAMSONITE suitcase. After a string of emails back and forth with ' Matthew' , the customer liaison officer he informed me that from inspection of the photos that it was obvious that the damage occurred internally!!!!! And their 10 year warranty only covered damage to the outside of the case as a result of faulty manufacturing!!!!!! As you may well appreciate I forwarded Matthew a polite appreciation for all the effort he had put in!!!!!!

Posted by Seniorcitizens 08:59 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

Cycling in the Netherlands

sunny 27 °C

After a "teary" farewell to 'Patience' our rental car at Warsaw airport we were ready to fly to Amsterdam, a major debacle at the airport. Poor planning on behalf of the airlines led to fairly angry reactions from passengers that nearly led to blows in a couple of cases.
Picked up a new rental at Schipol airport, and met John's brother, Keith who directed us back to his place in Delft. We set off the next day with Keith and Gerda to Groningwen in the North East corner of the Netherlands. Keith had organised a couple of bike rides through the local countryside following a well-prepared set of pathways through farmland and small villages, it was a lovely way to see the country and so relaxing stopping for cake, coffee or beers.

We came across some amazing rock collections called Hunabeds which archaeologists believe were burial sites for the stone age people from over 6,000 years ago. The rocks are not local to the area but it is believed that they travelled there in glacial movement from the Nordic countries.IMG_20180821_150856.jpgIMG_20180821_103105.jpgIMG_20180821_163835.jpgIMG_20180821_184737_1.jpg

At one spot we came to a wide canal where we needed to cross on a tiny ferry. along with the four of us another couple came along too. This craft was tethered to a cable that took it across the canal, and the three men took turns winding the handle to gradually pull us across the water.
We also saw storks nests (actually we had been seeing them all through Eastern Europe ) but this time with a stork nesting in it. The nest is built of sticks, about the size of a large sunhat and it balances atop a tall pole.

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We also visited Westerbork a Dutch concentration camp during WW2 where Dutch Jews were sent to before being transported to one of the many extermination camps. Anne Frank was one of the inmates there. There was an excellent museum and then a bus trip to what is left of the campsite. Gerda's uncle was executed there during the war for listening to 'illegal' radio broadcasts, he was 24.

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From there we headed off to Goes, south west Holland and John's sister and Jim and Myjanda's wedding.

Posted by Seniorcitizens 10:14 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

Wedding Bells

sunny 24 °C

It took us not quite 3 hours to drive from one corner of the Netherlands to the direct opposite , NE to SW to family in Goes, a great time to catch up with everyone while celebrating Jimmy and Majanda's Wedding on August 24th.

Shared family meals, helped with some setting up at Majanda's family's farm where the wedding was to be held and a catch up also with Brenton who had flown from Australia to be at the wedding too. Lots of excitement at Peter and Sonia's as they shared all the fun they had preparing outfits, caught up with Metha Jim's sister who was 'Best "person" and also MC ing the celebrations and with their other sister Trudy who we had not seen for nearly 16 years. Truly wonderful.
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The wedding was at 3pm at Majanda's farm, in Holland you have to have a council wedding prior to the ceremony, they completed this on the Monday and then had a celebrant perform the ceremony under a tent at the farm. Everything was decorated beautifully in what we would call a 'Barn or Rustic theme', we sat on hay bales as the celebrant told the story of their relationship (all in Dutch) but we had thoughtfully been given copies in English by the celebrant and were able to follow on.
When you receive a wedding invitation in Holland special invites are for close friends and family, who attend the ceremony then enjoy a meal together and this is followed by a party where many more friends and wider family attend. There were about 40 guests for the first part with about 160 for the party. The ceremony itself was lovely, very personal and therefore very meaningful for the couple. The only legal requirement for the celebrant to affirm a legal marriage is to hear each of the couple say "yes". In Australia there is more that is required by both the celebrant and the couple to make it legal.
John was asked to propose the 'toast' (in English) which was a lovely honour too. All went extremely well and the happy couple were indeed very happy.
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The party was held in a large barn that was decorated with massive pieces of farm machinery, but with all the other decorations it looked amazing, there was a 7 piece band and friends and members of Jimmy's football club had been obviously working on plans for 'payback' with some hilarious performances. Another tradition at a Dutch wedding is toward the end friends hoist the bride and groom on their shoulders which could be quite problematic considering the guests have been celebrating quite energetically for the last few hours. We had great fun.

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The following few days were given over to family and recovery!! And we made plans with Sonia and Peter to travel together first to Amiens in France to see the Sir John Monash Centre opened April 25th this year and then on to Heidelberg and Munich.

Posted by Seniorcitizens 11:19 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

A salute to Sir John Monash

sunny 28 °C

Called into see Jimmy and Majanda as we prepared to travel south with Sonia and Peter.
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I had watched the dawn service at Villers Bretonneux on the April 25th this year and heard about a new museum that was being opened to honour the contribution Australian soldiers led by John Monash had made as they helped liberate Amiens and Villers Bretonneux from the last ditch effort made by the Germans in the Ludendorff offensive.
Australians and the achievements they made in turning the tide of the war under the strategic guidance of Monash continue to be remembered, The Australian Flag is prominent, the school in Villers Bretonneux built with money raised by Victorian children in the wake of WW1 still bears prominent Australian symbols.
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We had travelled to cemetery in Villers Bretonneux 5 years ago and it had been quite overcast but as we arrived here this time the sun was shining and where there had been open fields behind there was now built the museum quite discreetly. The museum was extremely well done like all modern museums we have visited and we downloaded an app on our phones to follow along with the story. Whilst it only takes a small space it is very comprehensive. there were plenty of Australian visitors, some wearing wattle or poppies, really the only thing missing was the scent of eucalyptus, though we did wonder a bit about the "heroics" of the Australians in the presentation and felt that it may be a bit one-sided. They did make a significant impact and tactics that Monash implemented were definitely innovative and continued to be used in WW2.
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Amiens is a lovely city and we enjoyed a visit to the Notre Dame Cathedral (yes there are quite a few of them) in the evening when they have an amazing light show displayed on the facade.
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Also came across a bike race through the streets, well supported and very impressive
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Next day Heidelberg.

Posted by Seniorcitizens 04:32 Archived in France Comments (0)

"Goose-stepping" through Bavaria

rain 16 °C

Drove from Amiens toward the German border following the same path the Allies took just on 100 years ago. The many accounts of the battles we had read about at the museum became clearer as we appreciated the actual distance between sites and the changes in the ground levels, seeing the high ground where the Germans had managed to entrench themselves and the line that the Australians followed.

Our first goal was Heidelberg, one of the only German cities to avoid the devastation of bombing during WW2. It was first established in the 12th century and in the 1300's became the home of one of the first European universities, it is still considered a University town. Bavaria was one of the principalities that would, in the late 19th century, form into Germany. Like all the medieval towns we have visited, Heidelberg has a lovely old town with lots of people outside enjoying their beer in the town square, it just creates a very easy going atmosphere. Also just like every old town it has its castle dating back to the original town in the 1100's and then added to every century or so by subsequent princes. A little like a legoland of every significant architectural period for the last 1000 years. It also housed a wonderful museum of apothecary through the ages AND the world's largest wine barrel.
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A wander through the old shopping precinct became a little like a strategic plan to distract Sonia when ever we got too close to a shop selling Christmas decorations.

From Heidelberg we travelled to Munich, the mountains continuing to become a more prominent feature of the landscape as we travelled south, the houses and villages were all exactly in the style I had imagined, but which I thought might have been disappearing but it all looks just like a set for a movie about 'Heidi'. Munich was heavily bombed during WW2, it was also the birthplace of Hitler's 3rd Reich.
As we travelled the weather really set in and it rained almost non-stop. Stayed in another Air B&B with Sonia and Peter and whilst it was very nice it was seriously underequipped, no kettle, crockery etc.... We had to buy plastic plates and bowls.

We agreed on a compromise about visiting German castles, of which there are many, I said I would be happy with one really good one, so we agreed on Neuschwanstein, the castle which became the inspiration for the disneyland castle. It was built by Prince Ludwig II, who appears to have been an incurable romantic, heavily influenced by the stories and operas of Richard Wagner in the 2nd half of the 1800's . It was built to reflect a medieval style but after having visited many medieval structures it was apparent there was a significant gap between actual medieval design and imagined medieval. The rain poured as we queued for tickets and tried to get up the hill in a horse drawn wagon and, to be fair, if you manage to find a picture of the castle on the internet you will have seen as much of the outside as we have. The entire castle was shrouded in mist and unless you stood no further than about 2 metres from the castle walls it just disappeared into that mist.
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We did manage to see inside but it is only on an organised tour, very large, and you race through the few rooms you are allowed to visit fairly hurriedly. It is also forbidden to take photos. We did see Lake Schwansee where allegedly Prince Leopold II (aged 40) and his psychiatrist's bodies were found very shortly after a number of 'officials' had met together to discuss Leopold's fitness to continue in his role. One reason being his excessive building budget! The mystery surrounding their deaths continues to this day.

The following day Sonia and Peter headed back to the Netherlands (and sunnier weather) while we visited Dachau; the first and test design for 100's of concentration and extermination camps during WW2 . Being in the Western part of Germany Dachau was more effectively preserved than the camps that had remained behind the 'Iron Curtain', it was established first in 1933 (just after the Nazis took power in Munich) to house their political prisoners, of whom there were many. It was also a work camp predominately for males, and whilst it did have gas chambers and crematoria, these were for prisoners too ill to work. Even so they were still going constantly, day and night. The treatment was horrendous and it was run by the SS whom our German guide kept reiterating were not the smartest (he was a little ruder).
Whilst the camp housed many guards as well as prisoners there is no focus on the life of the guards as the memorial is for the victims solely.
Since the 1960's there has been an emerging wish to honour the victims which has progressed in stages with the language slowly reflecting the reality of what really happened. Holocaust denial in Germany is a crime taken seriously with average sentences of about 5 years and he told us that this is not just lip-service.
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We also went on a walking tour of Munich to see the significant sites in Hitler's rise to power and the events that occurred during that process. Listening to the accounts you could not help but reflect on the politics of fear and how people in power manipulated and limited liberties whilst protecting a 'more comfortable' life for them. It is not the big grabs for power, but the gradual increase in regulations, fuelled by emotional rhetoric that gave the Nazis such power.
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Posted by Seniorcitizens 11:14 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

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