Thursday, August 11, 2011

Wiped Out

Dudes.  I took, like, 80 pictures today.  That's got to be some sort of record for me.

Also:  exhausted.  Started with a walk to the Estates Theatre (where Mozart premiered Don Giovanni).  Our guide told us photos were not permitted but he didn't care what we did when his back was turned.  So, I snapped this when he looked away:

Then, we started the Architectural (walking) tour at the Municipal House, which is an art nouveau number that looks something like this:

It houses a main concert hall, a few restaurants, and a bunch of small "salons," used for anything from political meetings to music recitals to dance lessons.  Although the rooms fell into disrepair during the Communist Era, they have been painstakingly refurbished (and, in some cases, downright recreated).  Each room was more beautiful than the last, and this was where my camera really got a workout.  I ended up being unable to capture the essence of the rooms, so I chose to focus on details.  Here, for instance, is a small photo collection of the chandeliers in the different rooms:

OK, ok, here's a whole room.  This was a "ladies' salon," apparently used for drinking coffee.

The building was created right around the dawn of electric lighting, so some of it was a Celebration of the Light Bulb.  You can sort of see this in the "chandelier" in the main concert hall.  To wit:  there isn't one.  Just a glass window for natural light (with a bit of stained glass for detail) encircled by individual lights.  It gives it an almost circus-like feel.
We then walked over to the Old Town Center, and this time took in the rooms inside some of the historical buildings there.  Continuing on the ceiling theme, here is a Renaissance ceiling -- that's wood it's made of:
 Then we went under the main buildings.  The Old Town Square in Prague is built on old Romanesque buildings (dating, oh, 11th or 12th Century) -- think of it as the Older Town Square.  Smells musty (and smells like it has always smelled that way) and looks kinda like this:

Finally, we came back to the hotel (and crashed).  Tonight we had our farewell dinner in Lobkowicz Palace.  What we hadn't known is that the Lobkowiczes have the largest private art collection in Europe -- a part of which we got to tour before dinner.  (Had I known, I probably would have crossed 100 photos today.  In addition to some cool paintings from Artists You've Heard Of, they also had stuff in Mozart's handwriting, the largest set of Delft dinnerware (anywhere, I think) and various other collections.  Very impressive.)  After walking around the Lobkowicz Palace Collection, we then got fed, and I am way ready to crash again.

(So far, to my mother's relief, it looks like a no-go on the AK-47 tomorrow.  But I'm so wiped, I'm not even sure I'll be able to remain vertical on a horse for a couple hours, much less aim an assault rifle.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Photos from Prague

We may have hit the part of the trip where I just take lots of pictures.  There isn't much to say here -- just some awesome stuff.

We started this morning by going up to Prague Castle, which is (allegedly) the largest castle (in Europe or the world, I forget) but only if you're counting the gardens as well.  Still, it's big.  Here's one of the guards in front of it (and one of the buildings).

Most impressive building inside the castle is the cathedral, a gothic number named for St. Vitus.  Here are exterior and interior.  It's something like the third-largest gothic cathedral in Europe.  Whatever.  It's gorgeous.

As we walked through it, our guide explained a lot of the history of Prague -- religion played a big part in the history, and we were able to learn about the place through the stained-glass windows, the saints honored there, and the rulers who claimed the place (and built, or didn't build, parts of the cathedral).  To the extent I have anything even remotely profound to say about today, it's this:  in the course of walking us through the cathedral and telling us the history of Prague, our guide noted that, during World War II, the Germans had plans for Prague in that (based on certain historical facts), the Germans had a claim that Prague was a German city.  Of course, Hitler also wanted to exterminate all the Jews and deport all the native Czechs.  And when our guide told us this, and mentioned Hitler's name, I sorta got squicked out, because this is a house of God, and it just felt wrong to mention his name in there.

Also in the castle was this long hall used for jousting.  Indoors.  (Mom always said, don't knock someone off his horse in the house.)

The castle, being up on a hill (like all good castles) had a nice view of the city.

Then we went to a monastery, home to some Norbertine monks and (rather more importantly) home to a really beautiful (and quite old) library.  You've got two rooms, the theological and philosophical.  They look like this:

Any book would be proud to be in either of these rooms, but the walnut walls of the latter just can't be done justice with a photograph.  But I tried:
That's about it.

(Then, we went and spent money.  I bought some Bohemian paper.  Because I am a geek.)

I have an Architectural Tour tomorrow -- gotta make sure there's still room on my SD card.  That's the last day of the tour itself.  We've got one extra day in Prague, and I'm on my own for that one, so am trying to find something to do -- I've largely overdosed on beautiful things to look at (and certainly will have after tomorrow) as well as Jewish history, so I asked the hotel concierge to find me something different -- maybe something a little active.  Apparently "active" is the magic word; he immediately brought out the brochure with 16 tours/activities ranging from tandem skydiving to playing a round of golf.  It's a bit complicated because there's only one of me, and most of these tours won't take just a solo traveller (without an additional 100% single supplement), so I'm at the mercy of whatever other travellers in Prague sign up for.  I'm currently confirmed for a nice horseback ride through Bohemian countryside in the morning and, er, they'll let me know tomorrow whether I can go shoot an AK-47 in the afternoon.  :)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Word About Hotels

I apologize for not taking photos of my hotel rooms (other than the wacky safe location in the room in Warsaw).  But the room in Warsaw wasn't particularly impressive.  What I hadn't realized is that, on this particular tour, the room quality would improve with each successive city.  With the result that my room here in Prague is better than at least one apartment I've lived in.

Vienna was no slouch either, although, there, we're talking "old world elegance."  My room had a chandelier, for crying out loud.  And, although they were small, five closets.  (I imagine putting one ball gown in each.)  It was all elegance and beautiful mouldings (and, honestly, I've no idea why there was what appeared to be a cup holder next to the bidet, but I'm sure it made perfect sense a hundred years ago).  It was clean, but not pristine -- there was a certain beigeness to all the whites that says "come on, there's years and years of use here; we can just shine up the top layer."  Gorgeous, though -- don't get me wrong.

We drove to Prague today where, upon checking into my room, I declared, "I'm not giving it back; you can't make me."  The hotel is very new -- everything is absolutely pristine, full of totally modern tech I need a Caltech graduate to explain to me.  (The phone has a screen with a menu.  The PHONE.)  And the room is huge -- more like a suite, with bedroom, bathroom, living room, entryway, and kitchenette.  I have two TVs.  There's a chandelier in here too, but it's surrounded by a cylindrical black shade (yes, a shade on a chandelier) which makes it look all cool and modern.

If I wasn't in Prague, I'd never leave the room.

Of course, I am in Prague, and after having had a 90-minute orientation walk (which took two and a quarter hours), I now feel (vaguely) oriented.  (Enough to wander off on my own in the vague direction of the nearest "Laundryland."  Which is not the Disneyland of laundromats.  But at least I found the damn thing.)  I'm confident that I can find Old Town Square all by myself, and I'd put the chances that I can make it from there to the Charles Bridge (via the uncrowded "shortcut" our guide taught us) as high as 75%.  We've got two days of touring ahead of us -- actually, two mornings of touring and two free afternoons (I see shopping in my future, and perhaps a museum or two).

I have Friday to myself.  My parents are taking a tour out to Terezin and I am opting out, due to being (for lack of a more sensitive way of phrasing it) Holocausted-out.  (I'm even opting for an Architectural Tour of Prague rather than a Jewish Heritage Tour on Thursday -- the synagogues are already starting to blend together.)  Which means I've got a day to fill in (or around) Prague.  Anybody got any ideas?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Religion Break in Vienna

This morning, I took in the Jewish Heritage Tour (or whatever they called it), although, as it turns out, we saw only one synagogue but two churches.  This is simply a matter of geography (and population) -- when you're dealing with a largely Catholic country, particularly one with a history of overlap between Church and State, you can't walk very far without running into a church.

I wanted to give you a lovely photograph of St. Stephen's Cathedral, but it is undergoing a major renovation, so you can't really capture it in a photograph.  Here's the spire, though, which I think screams "Viennese."

Now, we did see (and go into) one of 12 (now existing) synagogues in Vienna, but it doesn't present a photo-worthy facade.  Indeed, it was designed to blend in, on a side street.  It is the one synagogue in Vienna that wasn't burned in Kristallnacht in 1938, for (as we were told) three reasons -- two of which had to do with location (the third was that it contained records of the Jewish community, which the Nazis could use).  But since the synagogue was so physically integrated into the community, it could not be burned without burning neighboring buildings.  Moreover, the synagogue was about a block away from this:
That's a medieval church -- the oldest in Vienna (or Austria -- I forget) -- and the Nazis did not want to risk it.  So, the synagogue has the church to thank for its continued existence.

Now, current Austrian attitude toward World War II is a bit ... I don't want to say dodgy, exactly -- but our tour guide said (with a laugh) that Austrians will try to convince you that Beethoven was Austrian and Hitler was German.  Aha ha ha.  (Read:  OK, yes, Hitler was Austrian, but we'd rather not claim him.)  The official line (certainly the official post-war line) was that Austria tried to characterize itself as a victim -- in that Hitler's annexation was something Austria didn't want.  Our local tour guide, however, said that this was a crock (and don't we all remember 250,000 Austrians cheering Hitler when he took to the balcony at Heroes' Square?)  Sure, there was opposition and a Resistance, but Austria wasn't the victim it tried to whitewash itself as.  (Pretty much every tour guide we've had has said that the one country which was done the best job of stepping up and admitting responsibility is Germany.)  We were also told, however, that things have been changing; Austrian children are learning about the Holocaust in schools, and Austrian relations with the outside Jewish world are improving (relations which certainly took a hit during the Kurt Waldheim presidency).

I digress.  In 1900, there were something like 200,000 Jews in Austria; now, there are about 10,000.  120,000 left, and 65,000 died in the Holocaust.  Here's a Holocaust memorial in Vienna (unlike the one in Hungary, you can't miss it -- of course, unlike the one in Hungary, it is simply a memorial to the dead, and not any admission of participation).

The concept here is of a library that you can't enter.  The doors cannot be opened.  The books are all stacked the wrong way -- we see the pages, not the spines -- and the idea is to mourn all of the cultural contributions of which society has been deprived by the murder of 65,000 Jews.  I dig it -- it's a way of universalizing the loss.  It isn't just the families of the 65,000 who are impacted, or the Jewish community of Austria, but society as a whole which has been deprived of the richness that these lives might have brought.  The books not written, as it were. 

The synagogue itself had its own Holocaust memorial -- those granite blocks are inscribed with the names of the 65,000.
It reminds me, in its way, of the Vietnam Wall Memorial in D.C. -- because 65,000 names are an amount you can inscribe -- it's a number you can get your brain around.

(And then I took a look at the data -- there are under 60,000 names on the Vietnam Memorial.  Which means that more Austrian Jews died in the Holocaust than American service men and women who died in Vietnam, and I find this terribly depressing.)

Good thing we've got a Mozart and Strauss concert tonight.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Vienna, Day Two

Oh happy day!  Due to some "misunderstanding" (of no further description), we're told that we won't be charged for internet usage in our rooms.  Hoo-ray!  All keys are where I remember them, and I can upload photos.  Oh, netbook, how I've missed you.

We started this morning with some sightseeing.  There are many spiffy buildings in these parts, in different historical styles, but the one we got off the bus to see was the Hundertwasser Haus -- an apartment building in a distinctly modern style.

The entire facade was fairly impressive, but what I liked best was how that bit on the left was in the traditional old school style, and it looked peeled back to reveal Hundertwasser's design beneath.

We then went to the Museum of Fine Arts, where we saw lots of paintings -- but you get no photos here because no photos were allowed, and this wasn't really my favorite type of art anyway.  Interesting, though, that the curator of the museum displayed paintings in different ways -- she did one room where the paintings were displayed as they'd been originally -- virtually covering the walls, rather than each by itself in its own little area.  The curator also chose to display some modern art alongside the old classics.  It was a bit jarring, at first, but I actually thought it works.  Why do we have to sort art by time period?

Then, it was on to lunch -- preceeded by a display of strudel-making (or, more precisely, the "Apfelstrudelshow."  Lunch (schnitzel) was followed by consumption of the aforementioned strudel.  While strudel was being consumed, someone suggested that we should have taken photos.  It was a bit late to capture the strudel itself, but here I am, post-strudel-fest.

(Yes, that was my actual seat at lunch, and my actual strudel plate.)

Thereafter, we tried to walk off all of that food by touring Schoenbrunn palace.  We're talking about the summer palace used by the Hapsburgs.  No photos allowed inside, but here's the front and some gardens.

The rooms, many in the Rococo style, are impressive.  They ooze wealth, really.  It's good to be Emporer.  Crystal chandeliers, gold leaf on everything, original furniture intact, and many, many paintings recording the history of the Hapsburg family.  Lovely stuff.

We got back to the hotel just before the promised thunderstorms.  We'll have a short walking tour tomorrow morning (I hope the weather behaves) and some time to ourselves before our final night in Vienna.  

(I miscounted jeans.  The laundry situation may soon become dire.)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Slow down, you crazy child...

Hey, guess where I am.

(Or, more precisely, "Hez, guess where I am."  I'm in a lovelz hotel in Vienna.  No free wi-fi, but free use of a couple of desktops in the "business center."  Because this is my first time in this part of Europe using a computer that is not mine, it's my first experience with what I assume is a German keyboard.  Which switches the "y" and "z" kezs (dammit) around from their usual Qwerty setup.  This is not the easiest thing to get used to.  Also had a hell of a time logging in to my account at work, because I know that my password involves "whatever the hell is over the 8" -- and it definitely isn't the same thing that's over the 8 in these parts.)

The other downside about tzping (shit) from the business center is that I can't post photos.  Which isn't particularly troublesome todaz (aargh), as I didn't take any, but will probably grow to be a problem over our next two days in Vienna.   

Today was mostly a travel day.  We started from Budapest early - conveniently having our rest stop at a truck stop in Hungary which included a small souvenir store, so everyone (on every tour bus out of the country) could unload the last of their local currency.  (I gave my parents the last of mine; adding to theirs, mom was able to buy a small jar of paprika.)  Then, we went across the border for lunch in Bratislava, Slovakia.

We had been in Slovakia on the way to Hungary, but didn't see much of the place.  This time, we had a speaker tell us about the history of the country and its economy, followed by a short tour of Bratislava, and some free time.

Things I learned about Bratislava and initial impressions of the place:  Modern Bratislava is a young city.  Which is really bizarre because it has a medieval castle, a Plague monument, and most of the other trappings of a standard European city.  Here's the thing, though:  Slovakia became an independent country very recently.  It was only 1993 when Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia -- and, when they had been a unified country, Prague had done most of the heavy lifting from the "capital city" point of view.  So, I mean, with Bratislava as the capital of a shiny new country, all of a sudden it has to host all necessary government buildings.  Not only that, but Slovakia didn't have a ton of income potential at the time of the split, and has recently undergone a bunch of dramatic economic reforms (our speaker didn't specifically identify any other than the institution of a flat tax) and has very quickly developed a positive income-producing economy, with a ton of manufacturing and tech going on.  The Slovakian people are (rightfully) very proud at how they turned their economy around and have one of the best rates of GDP growth in the EU.

While Bratislava has a lot of old architecture, it also has a lot of new stuff.  Our tour took us down what appeared to be a main street of sorts (opera house at one end, some embassies along the way), and it seemed very new.  Planned, even.  There was, for example, a long thin fountain running down the road, spanned by a cute little bridge -- it was supposed to be evocative of an old castle moat.  And it was pristine.  Adorable.  Every few blocks or so there would be some sort of whimsical statue designed to get your attention (often accompanied by a whimsical street performer designed to get your coins).  Everyone on our tour thought Bratislava was just a charming place -- I agree, although the cynical part of me wonders how it will be in a few years, if perhaps Slovakia fails to weather the current world-wide economic ... issues.  I don't know how to put it exactly -- it's just that the current version of Bratislava looks like one that has been calculated to be a perfect little European city -- with a good balance of old and new, sidewalk cafes and street performers, and a stage set up for free concerts.  And a little voice in the back of my head asks what it will look like when the shit hits the fan (as shit so often does).

And then it was back on the bus and on to Vienna.  (Thanks to the free wi-fi in the Budapest hotel, I downloaded the Billy Joel song for the occasion.)  I haven't seen much of Vienna -- we just had a couple hours between arrival and dinner.  I spent it buying a watch battery (do watch batteries always crap out on vacation, or do I just notice it more then?) and aimlessly wandering a main shopping street in Vienna.

Initial impression of (main shopping street in) Vienna:  I get this.  I put my earphones in, cranked up the tunes and bopped along the street, something I haven't really done since London.  I didn't feel a need to take in the street noise, or that I'd be missing something if I didn't have all five senses focussed on the act of walking in a strange city.  Vienna, or at least this particular bit of Vienna, is familiar to me.  It's like Oxford Street in London, only with a few differences:  (1)  about half the signs are in German; (2)  the street is totally closed off to traffic, so it is totally pedestrians only (which allows for street performers); (3)  there is a massive, impressive, crazy ornate cathedral (which, if you polished it up, would look like the world's biggest wedding cake) at the other end of it (I'm pretty sure the tour is going there later, so there should be photos for whenever I can post again); and (4)  there are about 12 guys dressed like Mozart trying to sign the tourists up for some Mozart-related thing.  But, basically, I can do this.  It's a European Pedestrian Shopping Street -- I understand its tempo and can fit into it.  

I bought some stuff -- nothing particularly interesting, but it involved my first purchase (slightly off the touristy pedestrian shopping street) in a market where locals shopped and I couldn't count on the salesperson speaking English (she didn't).  But there were nods and smiles and I know what a price in Euros means, and everything went off without a hitch.

This was just a first impression, based on one street -- I expect I'll have a different impression of Vienna once I've seen a bit more, but, right now, it feels more like the Western European cities I've visited than the others in Central Europe.

(Oh.  And the dinner?  Totallz tastz.)


Friday, August 5, 2011

The Last Day in Budapest

It's almost overkill, really.  Today, we had a tour of the Hungarian Parliament building, which (in terms of beautiful design) looks suspiciously like the opera house and Cathedral -- this is not accidental.  Still, it's all kinds of stunning, and here are a few pictures of it:

Lovely, innit?  This is actually only one wing of the Parliament building -- there's another one just like it.  Hungary used to have a bicameral legislature, but now has only one house.  (They kicked the former "upper" house -- the one that was nobility -- and now only the house of elected representatives is in business.  So the Legislature does all its work in the other wing, leaving this one open for tours.  Convenient.)

Some of the night-time shots I took from the Danube were of the Parliament building.  Here it is in daylight from across the river:
And, here is the view to the left from where I was standing (on the Buda side of things) when I took that picture:
There are seven turreted ... well, stone yurts is what I think they called 'em ... that go by the name of Fishermen's Bastion.  Never actually used for defense, but they give you a terrific view of the other side of the river.

We had the afternoon free, so my mom and I went over to the House of Terror.  It's a building that is now a museum, but was once the headquarters of the Hungarian Arrow Cross (read: Hungarian Nazis) and, once the war ended, home of the Communist terror organization (during Soviet occupation).  Not a happy place -- "House of Terror" is not an overstatement.  While most of the museum is educational (what went on during the first decade of Soviet occupation of Eastern bloc countries might have gotten a sentence in my High School History textbooks, if that), everything is displayed very evocatively.  The entire basement floor of the museum is a recreation of the prison/torture cells which had been located in that very building.  Pretty intense stuff.

While the museum has a memorial to the victims of those who used the building to perpetrate evil, perhaps my favorite part was the "Perpetrators' Gallery," (located at the very end of the museum) which included names and photographs of those responsible.  I quite liked this.  It's one thing to talk about the names of the guys who put the tyrannical policies in place, but I really like the idea of identifying each and every son of a bitch responsible.  ("Just following orders," my ass.  You torture someone, you end up on the wall as a victimizer.)

I did not take any pictures.  I have here a related photo.  On the topic of memorials to victims, I was generally very impressed with the memorials we saw in Warsaw -- even the ones I haven't posted photos of had a silent eloquence.  The one memorial to Holocaust victims in Budapest (or, at least, the one that I saw) is this:

It's kind of subtle (and not at all easy to photograph from a tour bus).  Members of the Arrow Cross party rounded up Jews and shot them, letting their bodies fall into the Danube.  The victims were forced to take off their shoes before being killed -- and this memorial is 60 pairs of actual-sized bronze shoes.  (Including men's, women's, and children's shoes.)

The more I look at it, the more I like it.  At the same time, though, it sort of accentuates something our tour guide said -- there's a certain amount of Denial going on in Hungary.  In comparison to what we saw in Poland, I agree.  When we were on our initial tour (with Rafal) in Warsaw, my mother talked the post-War period as one of Soviet Occupation, and Rafal immediately corrected her -- he said that they were not occupied; their leaders were Poles.  Admittedly, they were a puppet government controlled by the Soviets, but the people running the place were decidedly local.  I don't mean to suggest here that the Soviets treated Hungary in exactly the same way they treated Poland -- there were some massive differences.  But, even when I was in the House of Terror, I got the feeling that Hungary was saying "Nazis were responsible and Soviets were responsible," without clearly saying, "Hungarian Nazis and Hungarian Communists were just as complicit."  Hell, our tour guide had to remind us that Hungary allied itself with the Axis powers in World War II.  While there is no doubt that the Hungarian people suffered a hell of a lot, there's a certain reluctance around here to admit that a lot of the suffering was caused by other Hungarians.  (Again, thank you, Perpetrators' Gallery).

I digress.  The point:  I think the shoe memorial is reflective of the whole attitude here.  The memorial is there -- but it's small, and you can easily miss it.  It doesn't grab you and say, "Look at the atrocity committed here!"  It just says, "If you look for it, we're acknowledging that an atrocity happened here."  In this way, I think the small size of this memorial is the loudest thing about it.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Pictures from Pest

Today was See Beautiful Buildings Day in Pest (tomorrow, we cross the Danube and do it again on the Buda side).

First, the Opera House:

Then, the Basilica.  (Also Cathedral.)  St. Stephen (Istvan).  Lovely place:

I included the detail of the image so you can see (almost) that it's a mosaic.  Only my zoom lens could tell for sure; from the ground, it looks painted.

I always get a little weirded out taking pictures in a church -- because it's somebody's house of worship and they don't really need tourists walking through it with guides and cameras and all that stuff.  But pictures were pretty much encouraged in St. Stephen's.  And, you know, when in Rome Budapest....

Actually, the weirding out part sorta reached a zenith at St. Stephen's, as you can go in back and check out the relic -- in this case, the (actual) hand of St. Stephen.  I don't believe I've seen an actual religious relic before, so I went with the group to take a look.  Here's the thing:  photography was allowed (although not with flash) but there was a little light inside the glass case which would stay on for a certain amount of time if you point a Hungarian coin in.  Our tour guide handled the actual payment -- but it basically came down to, "Plop in a quarter and see the relic!"  (Or, since the place was crawling with tourists and it didn't look like there was anyone in that little chapel for actual religious reasons, "Plop in a quarter and see an actual dead man's hand!")

I want to be clear here -- it wasn't that hand that weirded me out, it was the paying to see it.  I'm not a Catholic, but it seems to me that a relic of a saint is something that ought to be treated with respect, not displayed like a carnival side show.  So, yeah, I declined to take a picture; the whole thing just seemed wrong.

Then, continuing in the See Beautiful Buildings Tour of Pest -- and, from the Turnabout is Fair Play Department -- we actually went to a synagogue, where (for once) I'd see a house of worship of my own faith turned into a tourist attraction.  I had mixed feelings about the experience, but they were based largely on the fact that the synagogue in question (Dohany) is sort of a restored relic of a bygone era, and not the center of a vibrant religious community.

First, the good news.  It's awfully pretty.  As synagogues go, it is beautifully designed and decorated.  (It looks a bit more like a church than a traditional synagogue.  There is a reason for this -- the architects were not jewish, so modelled it on a church.)  It's also huge -- the second largest synagogue in the world (the largest is in New York).  Can seat about 3000, when you include the galleries.  See... pretty:

OK, here's the depressing bit:  Before World War II, the Jewish population of Hungary was something like 800,000; after the war, it was 200,000.  600,000 people wiped out.  A word like "decimated" is a dramatic mathematical understatement.  (In fact, Hungarian Jews were the largest group killed at Auschwitz.)  While current numbers are hard to get hold of (because it is now illegal in Hungary to ask people to identify their faith), there's an estimate of between 100,000 and 160,000 Jews in the whole country.  This particular synagogue is still active, but, on a regular basis, is used to a small fraction of its capacity.

It is also a memorial.  I already showed you the mass grave of Warsaw Ghetto dead; there is also a mass grave of Budapest Ghetto dead -- and it's in a garden area beside this synagogue.  The Budapest Ghetto was fairly unusual in that it was only in operation for a number of weeks near the end of the war (I think the guide said seven) before it was liberated.  Still, nearly 3000 people died there.  They have been buried in 24 mass graves in this little garden -- the few tombstones around each plot have been placed there when family members were able to identify the dead; most of them are unknown.  Still, it's an oddly beautiful place.

The last thing to see at Dohany ... and I regret I did not get a good picture ... is a section (in another garden) honoring Raoul Wallenberg and other so-called Righteous Gentiles who saved the lives of Hungarian Jews during the holocaust.  There is a large stone engraved with a list of the names of people who saved many, and four more stones engraved with the names of people who saved just one person or family.  And there are a lot of names there.  We talk about people like Wallenberg and Carl Lutz who saved tens of thousands, but it's important also to honor those who risked their lives to save just one other life.  Dohany does that, and it's a beautiful thing to see.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Pictures

(Either Picasa is my new best friend or the world's biggest pain in the butt.  Let's find out.)

I mentioned this earlier.  THIS is where they put the safe in my Warsaw hotel room.  Can't say a whole lot of planning went into this particular design.

This next pic is of one side of the Old Town Square in Warsaw.  For some reason, it made me think of Epcot -- I mean, this is how Disney constructs an old European town square -- and it actually is the old town square in Warsaw.
Next up is the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial.  It has two sides -- a side to memorialize the victims, and a side to memorialize the young fighters in the ghetto uprising.  We saw plenty of statues and memorials in Warsaw -- they really know how to make a monument there.
That's the side for the victims, obviously.  Our tour guide told us that the stones used for the memorial had conveniently been brought there by the Nazis, who had wanted to use them for a victory monument.  Using them in this way is a sort of "Fuck you!" of which I wholly approve.

The next shot is my sister admiring the side remembering the fighters in the ghetto uprising.
And if the memorial isn't depressing enough, our tour also stopped at an old Jewish cemetery in Warsaw.  They had some symbolic graves there for holocaust victims.  When I was looking around for a stone to place on one of those graves, I saw this clearing...
 ... except it isn't a clearing.  See those white posts at the far end (marked with a black stripe)?  They're marking off the area.  It once served as a mass burial pit for the people who died in the Warsaw Ghetto.

In retrospect, I gotta say that this hit me a bit harder than Auschwitz did (or rather, it hit me how I expect Auschwitz would have hit me, had we seen the crematoria or the sites of mass burials).  I was standing there on the edge of a pit in which countless, nameless bodies had been thrown.  And something green was trying to grow there now. 

On to happier photos.  Here's a tower from the outside of the old town of Krakow.  I expect a princess to be held captive in there.
 And a series of shots from the Danube dinner cruise.  Budapest at night is just one beautiful building after another.  (And, at some point in the future, I may actually know what each of these buildings is.)

(Yes.  Picasa is perfectly suited to this task.)