A glimpse at Auschwitz

I’m stuck trying to figure out what to write about now, but it’s kinda the opposite of writer’s block. I have too much to say about everything I’ve experienced in the past few days and I don’t know where to start or how to weed it down to keep it interesting for you!   Do I go back and finish gushing about Budapest, or do I move on and try to catch up to my current events??!?  Dilemma….

Ok.  Current city stories it is. 

I have just finished almost 3 days in Kraków, Poland, and am feeling refreshed and energized again.   I decided to come here on the advice of a friend specifically to see Auschwitz.    And like I’ve said before of other monuments, this is both awful and awesome to experience.   Rather than regurgitate everything and risk losing you in a dusty history lesson I’ll just try to convey a few of my emotions.

Flowers laid at the entrance
Arriving by rail to the camp, most were optimistic it was only a temporary displacement
Suitcaes packed in a more hopeful time
Always surrounded by double fences, barbed and electric
Faces of concentration camp prisoners

3 levels of beds, often with 8 people living on every level. These barracks house 700-1000 people each
Cobwebs and reflections of history

We saw the gas chambers and furnaces that were used, viewed photos and read accounts of the ruthless way more than a million people were lead to their death.  I learned so much more from this day than I hadlearned from school and movies, and being here experiencing the emotional impact still in the air is exactly why I think everyone should try to see this once if possible. 

This day at the concentration camp museum was certainly the main event for my time in Kraków, but it wasn’t the only one.  I saw a salt mine that has been used for centuries, and witnessed the art and ingenuity that people are capable of.  I met some really great people and spent a couple days just seeing the sights of the town as we found them. 

Salt carvings deep within the salt mine
Canadians!

Next blog post is already late even before this one is officially posted…..    Stay tuned for what I see in Warsaw!

Budapest!

I have so much to catch up on after 4 days of sightseeing in Budapest that it’s almost a bit daunting to start this post.  I guess if last time I had Pretty Prague this would be Beautiful Budapest… Ha, maybe not my most clever line but it’s so fitting I can’t resist!   Here’s a quick peek first:


 One of the first things I set out to find after I arrived was a Holocaust monument I had read about.  In 1944-45 Hungarian Jews were forced to line up at the edge of the river, step out of their shoes and set all valuables inside.  Then were fired upon and left to fall into the river.  I still can’t understand how humans could do this to each other…   Shoes on the Danube, a simple memorial of bronze shoes created in 2005, left a mark on my soul.

Being here, on a spot that these incomprehensible acts took place, made me so much more aware that this was real, not just distant stories from history and another world. 


After paying my respects here I made a very deliberate effort to notice the great things around me, and that quickly was easy to do with so much to take in.   Budapest is full of pedestrian friendly avenues and these are packed with cafes and parks.  Everywhere I went the sun was shining, birds were chirping and people whistling a happy tune.  (Or maybe not that last part…)

The city is also a little quirky, but really, what else could you expect from a place that that has been inhabited “since pre-history times”?  Entirely by accident as I was walking around I found the entrance to the labyrinth that was used as a prison for Dracula – the real Vlad Dracul; a Houdini museum; Sputnik and soviet communism shops and tours; and Ruin Bars.  It’s a whole thing here where PopUp bars are opened in abandoned buildings right in the middle of residential neighbourhoods.  Somehow it really works!


And CASTLES! Everywhere I turned I’d see another one!!  While that might not be technically true, as a Canadian without much to compare it too, these are castles in my vocabulary. I’ll admit, it was enough to wake my inner princess…. I was tempted to find a ball gown to put on and a dragon to slay!


Honestly I’m a little surprised Budapest wasn’t completely overrun with tourists like I had grown accustomed to after Barcelona, London, Amsterdam and Prague.   I kinda think Budapest is better! But let’s keep this our little secret for a while longer…. 

So Pretty, Prague

Pretty Prague. It would have been easy to stay here longer, but I’m on a roll and want to keep moving before my next bout of inertia hits.   
This capital city really is impressive, though, and the old architecture has been beautifully preserved leaving it easy to see all the intricate details of the baroque and gothic buildings. I learned from another blog that most of Prague was spared from destruction during the wars, and I could feel the history charge the air as I strolled through the city. Walking under the gargoyles I imagined some of the ancient Czechs as pretty fearsome people, judging by the art that remains today….. I should clarify here that I differenciate that from modern Czechs – they were lovely. The hostel owner told me “you’re safe here. I’d let my mother walk any street at 3am! Someone may try to steal your wallet but definitely no one will hurt you.” 

Threat of death guarding the old castle
See? Fearsome ancients here

Beyond the breathtaking sights (that we’ll get back to later) there is the food. The air around the plaza was sizzling with enough aromas to make me wish I could eat quadruple the meals I was actually capable of. One snack I did indulge in was a fresh baked pastry cone spun in cinnamon sugar and almonds and filled with ice cream. Ah-maz-ing! I didn’t even care for a second that it likely contained my calorie quota for 3 days! 

Fresh pastry cone baked over open flames for the Trdelník
My Trdelník treat

And some of my Prague experiences seemed straight out of a movie casting call:  1) Have dimly lit restaurants play “Rah Rah Rasputin” and early 90’s pop hits from tinny speakers.  2) Fill the scene with burly men wearing colour-block neon track pants, and give everyone a beer stein.  3) Place some women with up-to-the-minute modern designer wear in for contrast.    

I’m sorry to perpetuate stereotypes, but it was all so fabulously fun that I couldn’t help but notice. Of course there is so much more to culture here than that. Please know no offence intended! 

Maybe I’ll just get back to how pretty the city is, and end it with my visuals of Prague.


Until next time, 

Ali 

Starting the second round

It’s a good thing I like airplanes so much. A few days after crossing the Atlantic to come home and recuperate from my first month of travel, I make the same flight back again to set off on another expedition.  That’s about a 9 hour flight each time for anyone curious.  I used to joke that I make a terrible passenger because I’m so used to walking and standing in the galley during flights, but I think I’m getting the hang of it!  

I don’t know about a ‘good’ passenger, but I sure was a lucky passenger this time.  I somehow ended up with my own middle row to myself all the way to Gatwick, and I took full advantage of those 3 seats to stretch out – ignoring the looks being shot my way from the less fortunate around me.  And unknown ahead of time, I also had friends (plural!!) on the crew working the flight who came to chat with me when they had a spare minute so those 9 hours evaporated before I knew it. 

That luck ran dry after I arrived in London though (…knew I shoulda shared the row! There’s my karma) as I ended up spending another 9 hours trying to get from the London Gatwick airport over to the London Heathrow airport and onward to Prague.  After 3 train transfers, 4 flights too full for me to get a seat, 2 times cancelling/rebooking/cancelling again the third leg of my journey I finally was able to leave London, but with a new plan.  Standby travelling on passes is great but sometimes this happens.  Roll with it all with a smile, fake as that grin may need to be!   Maybe it was all fitting, because in my exhaustion my small spacey smile and glassy bloodshot eyes meant I could fit right in with the crowds in Amsterdam! Ha!   Sorry, couldn’t resist that bad joke…

The next morning I checked out of my airport hotel and made my way to central Amsterdam to wander around with my camera.  I had the whole day to see what I could see before boarding my overnight bus to Prague.   Here’s what I saw. 


—  I call that black & white compilation “sitting and smoking and me the creeper.”    I have more of those shots if you feel like seeing them! 😏 — 

Famously London

Here’s the sentence I want to use to start this post: I was out with a major movie star last night!   And here’s what I’ll need to write instead to keep this from being a work of fiction: I was out and I saw a major movie star last night!  I guess that’s still okay on its own, but it doesn’t have the same oomph as what I wish I could write… I can imagine a whole scene where said star was so impressed with our table and the way we would have smiled hello and just let her enjoy her evening that she’d end up chatting across her table with us and before long we’re all laughing at stories of co-star antics on set….  Could’ve happened….  Here’s the real version.  I was with four others at a bright and airy little pub in a London neighbourhood when I noticed Amy Adams was sitting just behind me.  I was the last in my group to realized a celebrity was there, but the only one that could recall her name.  Unfortunately, despite our attempts at discretion she noticed us noticing her and before we had a chance to show her we’d leave her alone, she and her husband finished the last of their beer and left.  I feel really bad for spooking them away – sorry Amy! – but I can understand.   So it may have been brief, but a legit brush with fame is fun anyway.  Immediately after our table was all swapping celebrity stories and since I’d only just met this group I got to pull out my old “I hung out with Jackie Chan” stories again.  All 5 of us had  met famous people before, and clearly my own social status has been upped a notch or two now just from those few hours out! Ha!

And speaking of famous people, earlier that morning as I was walking a few blocks from my hotel I passed the house Alfred Hitchcock used to live it. (I tried to take a picture befitting of his genre)  London is great for that, so much history and culture that’s strutted out for the rest of us.

Former home of Hitchcock

While we’re on photos, here are a few more images from my 2 days in London.  I have really been on an “over processing” kick lately with my pictures….. It’s probably just a fling, but fun for me while it lasts.

All over the map

Turns out that while aimless travel has a certain appeal, there are also drawbacks in not knowing what to do next.  I can see how sometimes it would be better to have a plan in place.  Or a half plan.   I don’t love having to admit this because I’ve spent a lot of time lately cozy in my mild smugness of being so wildly free, but I promised myself I’d be completely honest in the blog so there it is. 

It seemed so easy while I was in Morocco, but now in hindsight I realize that my options were pretty simply laid out for me with the dimensions of the country.  Tourists generally make their way through the country going South or North with a few side steps thrown in for good measure.  Yes, I created my plan on the fly each day, but I was basically following a variation of the typical tourist trail. 

My travels in Morocco
And then I arrived in Europe and had the whole continent in front of me, full of more incredible places than I could see in several lifetimes…..   Suddenly I had a harder time choosing where to go.   I told a friend I’d met in Tangier that I was going to Portugal, and after one day of travel in that direction I changed my mind and went the opposite direction, retracing some ground, all the way to Barcelona.  Not my brightest move maybe. (Definitely)     
After Barcelona, I found myself buying a train ticket to France.  Some of you might remember having conversations with me before I left where I said I would be avoiding France, absolutely-for-sure not going to set foot in that country, and yet here I am.  Looks like this trip is turning me into a little liar – sorry!   Could have avoided all this falsehood by just having a teensy plan in place… Here’s something else about me: for inconsequential things like this I don’t bother getting too bogged down in regrets.   So here I am in France, and I AM SO GLAD I CAME!!  I love it here! 

Average doorway in Montpellier
This bottle of deliciousness was only 4€!
I have a new love of alleyways
Montpellier, France
In a happy coincidence, it turns out that I know TWO different people within a short distance from me; strangely enough both are aircraft engineers that I met through work.   I was able to spend a day exploring Nimes, an old Roman-style city nearby, with Sam and Sam’s rental car. If you ever find yourself in the area you HAVE to go check it out!   We had such a great day wandering charming French towns, snacking on crepes and Brie cheese, and people watching on a beach (much less creepy than it may sound I promise!)   
A Roman amphitheatre in France
Ancient Roman temple in Nimes, France
We’re both shutterbugs
Aigues-Mortes Castle where Louis IX set off for the crusades
Aigues-Mortes castle and modern life
Wine, because it’s France
Le Grau-du-Roi beach

Seen in Spain

I have a few days I missed posting anything to my blog and my entire time in Spain that I need to catch up on, so I’ll back track a little now.  This is going to be a photo post, as even though I had snippets of stories I wanted to share during my days in Spain, right now isn’t the best time for them. 

Euros tossed in donation to the cathedral
Love the sunshine… and the camera…
Flamenco dancing for tourists
Spanish alleyway cafes and homes
Barcelona from above
La Sagrada Familia
Detailed carving on a door
Packed full of tourists, still worth a visit
A different view of the famous La Sagrada Familia
Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf

Not much to show for such a stunning country, but I guess I was too busy enjoying it all during my quick few days to remember to document it with my camera.    And there’s soooo much left I want to see – but I love having a reason to return one day!