Tour de France – Night of Terror

It’s July And We All Know What That Means, Don’t ‘We’?

Well I do!  It’s the one month in the year I’m glued to the television taking in the four to five hours of Tour de France coverage.  Yes, four to five hours a day of the greatest sporting event in the world…life can’t get much better.  Each ‘stage’ of the twenty one day event takes several hours to complete as the cyclists ride in excess of a hundred miles a day, sometimes over the high mountains of the Alps and Pyrenees. The usual comparison to other endurance competitions is that of running a marathon a day for twenty one days in a row….that would be unheard of.  Many of the athletes who compete in the ‘Tour’ (as it’s called by those who follow it) don’t look like athletes at all, more like anorexic bean poles barely able to walk up a flight of stairs.  But don’t let their twig-like appearance deceive you; these guys have unreal power and more stamina than any other athletes in the world.  On one stage of the Tour it’s not unusual for the cyclists to burn in excess of 10,000 calories, and though they consume huge quantities of food most wind up losing weight during the three week event.SU-PHOTO-JPEG

Athleticism aside, what makes the Tour even more amazing is that it’s attended by more spectators than any other sporting event in the world…..and it’s free to attend.  Some travel miles and miles, over oceans, to view mountain stages while some spectators walk out their front door as the Tour passes through their town or village.  The spectacle preceding the cyclists is similar to a rolling circus.  Many spectators dress like Americans on Halloween on the off chance they’ll get their five seconds of TV time.  On the big mountain stages fans camp out for days before the race buzzes by, a multi-day party waiting for a few seconds to see these amazing athletes.

But it’s not just the French that come out to view the Tour; fans from all over the world travel to France to see this amazing event.  And you know what….everyone gets along.  The Belgians (some of the most enthusiastic fans) get along with the French, and the French welcome the Americans, and the fans from Eastern Europe share a drink with fans from South America….and on and on.  Yes, there’s a shared interest, but more than that the Tour de France is similar to the Olympics; countries that were once enemies, or still may be, put aside their politics and peacefully compete in an athletic endeavor.

It’s in this spirit that makes the most recent terrorist attack in Nice, France that much more disturbing.  Amid the international background of the Tour this terrorist attack seems that much more unreal.  How do a group of people get to such a desperate place in their evolvement that they view the rest of the world as ‘the enemy’?  Why do holiday celebrants in Nice pose a threat to the daily lives of radical militants from ISIL?  How does a country of individuals let themselves be influenced by a government of terrorists and butchers?  We shouldn’t be surprised; it happened in Germany last century as it has happened before and no doubt will happen again, as is it now.

It’s so difficult to comprehend getting to a place in one’s life that blowing yourself up in an attempt to kill others is your best life option.  But that’s what happens when your life choices have become so limited.  Lack of education, food, medical care, equal rights and most importantly self esteem make people carry out unimaginable acts.  As we sit in our comfortable homes secure that even in the worst of circumstances we will be taken care of by family, friends or our government, those who don’t have that comfort become susceptible to powers who offer basic human needs to promote their ideology.

I have no answers.  So in the midst of all the terrorism these past years I take comfort that the world’s biggest sporting event has continued unchanged for over a hundred years.  Athletes show up and compete.  Fans show up and cheer.  People all over the world turn on their televisions to watch.  People have a shared interest and get along.  But evil powers still take advantage of the weak….when will the tide turn?

 

Book Review: A Lucky Life Interrupted by Tom Brokaw

Streams and rivers are like life – they have a source and destination. They have stretches of calmness in turmoil. No day on the river is ever exactly the same, as it is not in life.”

The above quote is from Tom Brokaw’s 2015 book  A Lucky Life Interrupted, a memoir of the author’s fight with a rare form of blood cancer.  I was inspired to read this book after listening to a short radio interview with Mr. Brokaw.   The author’s laid back delivery describing his life changing diagnoses along with the host’s enthusiasm for the book compelled me to pick up this slim volume and see what it was all about.

The book is divided into sections, each of which titled with a season of the year.  In this way the author is able to chronicle his progress from diagnoses to treatment to remission to maintenance.  Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the blood that responds well to treatment but is as of yet incurable. Once under control Brokaw describes maintenance similar to that of a diabetic.  Diagnosed at the age of 73, an age when most of us are slowing down (not Brokaw), was a shock to the robust and active author.  Not only was his a demanding profession (and continues to be), he has been a very active, life long athlete and outdoors man; hunter, fisherman, cyclist, adventurer.

I must admit that fifty to sixty pages into the book I was starting to feel this was a vanity piece, impressing readers with all his famous friends and top notch doctors from hospitals on whose boards he sits.  I almost stopped reading.  But continuing on I found this wasn’t boasting from this usually modest man; it was his way of saying that cancer can afflict anyone, anytime, rich, poor or otherwise.  He points out the advantage someone in his socioeconomic position has over the other ‘99.9%’….yes, 99.9%.  The book explores three distinct themes all set to the backdrop of Brokaw’s extraordinary (and lucky, as the title suggests) life.

The first theme, while not the most immediate in the book but one that hits home for me, has to do with aging.  As a very active person myself, I felt a close kinship as Brokaw writes about the slow down of our bodies.  Active people are acutely aware of their bodies, strengths, weaknesses, aches and pains. Are we able to participate in activities at the same level we did five, ten, fifteen years ago?  This physical breakdown occurs very slowly so it’s difficult to assess, except we often compare ourselves to the younger people with whom we participate in activities (in my case younger cyclists).  So while we still may be able to ‘hang’ with the guys 25 years younger it takes more effort, plus instead of being at the head of the pack we’re finishing toward the middle or rear. That, and recovery takes days instead of hours.  I accept this knowing that at least I’m in the pack!  Some of us slow down at a younger age than others, although I ride with guys ten to fifteen years older who have yet to slow down significantly….it’s all relative to our own physiology.

The most significant theme of A Lucky Life Interrupted is management of one’s illness, in Brokaw’s case cancer.  While lucky in that multiple myeloma is treatable for most, it still takes a big effort to get under control and then maintain.  Again, he freely admits that he’s in that very, very small minority that has the money and resources for the best treatment.  How many among us would be able to afford the $500 a day for one pill (indefinitely) if our insurer decided not to cover that cost?  And how many of us sit on the board of the Mayo Clinic where some of the finest oncologists in the world practice.  Again, Brokaw is not bragging, he’s just accepting his luck but at the same time describing how we each need to be our own advocate, plus we each need to have an advocate, or he as calls it ‘ombudsman‘, in our court.  He’s passionate about having a team not only of doctors but someone outside the ‘system’ for whom one can use as a sounding board for all the advice coming at you;  a friend who has been through a tough illness or disease, a doctor not associated with your treatment….anyone who can disseminate all the information from doctors and nurses who usually don’t communicate well with one another.   Read this part of the book carefully; hopefully it’s information you’ll never need but if you do it’s good to understand.

The book is a history lesson too.  Brokaw compares historical events to the healthcare industry; Reagan’s stance on the reforms in the USSR; “trust but verify”.  The 9/11 attacks on the US similar to the way cancer attacks the human body.  But he writes most elegantly about World War II, a subject that he has written books, comparing his luck at surviving cancer while so many in that conflict, notably the Normandy invasion, lost their lives at such young ages.  It sounds strange for a memoir about ones survival from cancer, comparing it to historical events from the last hundred years, but it works.  This is a worthwhile read I believe many of you will enjoy no matter your age.  Enjoy!

 

 

Introducing FreeWheelingTraveler.com

FreeWheeling logo copy 2Wow….just checked the date of my last blog post….I’ve been slacking!

Not really.  I’ve been working on my new website for the past couple months and I just launched it.  The website is called FreeWheelingTraveler.com, a forum for independent travelers.  On the site I post travel stories from around the globe, include a great reading list of travel related books, a page of travel resources that are tested and proven, plus a primer on how to get started on your own independent travels.

What I like best on the website are the travel stories, and the first featured story (if I may say so myself) is outstanding.  The author, Megan Sullivan, titled her story After Being Diagnosed With Cancer, I Traveled to the 7 Wonders of the World In 13megan Days.  Hers is a great story with a fantastic accompanying video….please check it out HERE.

Megan embodies the very essence of FreeWheeling Travel; she works hard in order to have the time and money to create her own incredible adventures.  While not all of us are willing to live on that edge, Megan’s life story may help you find your own ‘edge’.


In addition to Megan’s story there are several

others from travelers who have created their own adventures; Rich Wolf travels to Africa and Southeast Asia, Roger Strauss searches for the best beer in Dublin while Ron Feinberg describes his tour of Prague’s Jewish Quarter.


Have a story you’d like to share?  A great photo from your latest trip?  A favorite travel book or guide or a stunning photo from your travels?

I’d love to include it on the FreeWheelingTraveler.com website.  Click HERE to connect….everything will be considered.  As David Foley writes in Ashes to Ashes;

why we travel – to witness the ‘unreal’, to take in the extraordinary ordinariness of a way of life we could never have imagined ”.

FreeWheeling logo copy 2

 

 

 

Still Time To Pledge for Wednesday’s Challenge…

Thanks to all who have already pledged….it is truly appreciated.  And here’s a re-post of my original blog:

CORBIN’S LEGACY DAY CHALLENGE

On Wednesday, April 6, Corbin’s Legacy, the organization established in memory of my corbinniece who died from breast cancer early in 2015 at the young age of 31, is holding a fundraising challenge.  Corbin’s Legacy Mission Statement describes its goals;
1: Assuring no elementary school child goes without lunch, or is embarrassed, because their account is too low or depleted.

2: Assisting elementary school children with basic school and healthcare needs that they otherwise would not have.

On Wednesday, April 6, Margaret and I will be on our bikes cranking out as many miles as possible.  Please pledge 50 cents, $1, $2, $10, $100 per mile for our combined mileage on that day (in case of inclement weather we’ll reschedule later that week). Or if you’re afraid we’ll each ride a double century pledge a set amount…either way it’s the kids who benefit.  Please complete the form below to make your pledge.  One-hundred percent of your donation dollars go toward helping kids throughout the U.S. with their school needs described above.  If you know someone in need click HERE for more information.

facebook-flat-vector-logo-400x400Corbin’s Legacy is a 501C3 public charity.  All donations are tax deductible.

The Challenge continues…..

Thanks to all who have already pledged….it is truly appreciated.  And here’s a re-post of my original blog:

CORBIN’S LEGACY DAY CHALLENGE

On Wednesday, April 6, Corbin’s Legacy, the organization established in memory of my corbinniece who died from breast cancer early in 2015 at the young age of 31, is holding a fundraising challenge.  Corbin’s Legacy Mission Statement describes its goals;
1: Assuring no elementary school child goes without lunch, or is embarrassed, because their account is too low or depleted.

2: Assisting elementary school children with basic school and healthcare needs that they otherwise would not have.

On Wednesday, April 6, Margaret and I will be on our bikes cranking out as many miles as possible.  Please pledge 50 cents, $1, $2, $10, $100 per mile for our combined mileage on that day (in case of inclement weather we’ll reschedule later that week). Or if you’re afraid we’ll each ride a double century pledge a set amount…either way it’s the kids who benefit.  Please complete the form below to make your pledge.  One-hundred percent of your donation dollars go toward helping kids throughout the U.S. with their school needs described above.  If you know someone in need click HERE for more information.

 

facebook-flat-vector-logo-400x400Corbin’s Legacy is a 501C3 public charity.  All donations are tax deductible.

The Challenge Is On

CORBIN’S LEGACY DAY CHALLENGE

On Wednesday, April 6, Corbin’s Legacy, the organization established in memory of my corbinniece who died from breast cancer early in 2015 at the young age of 31, is holding a fundraising challenge.  Corbin’s Legacy Mission Statement describes its goals;
1: Assuring no elementary school child goes without lunch, or is embarrassed, because their account is too low or depleted.

2: Assisting elementary school children with basic school and healthcare needs that they otherwise would not have.

On Wednesday, April 6, Margaret and I will be on our bikes cranking out as many miles as possible.  Please pledge 50 cents, $1, $2, $10, $100 per mile for our combined mileage on that day (in case of inclement weather we’ll reschedule later that week). Or if you’re afraid we’ll each ride a double century pledge a set amount…either way it’s the kids who benefit.  Please complete the form below to make your pledge.  One-hundred percent of your donation dollars go toward helping kids throughout the U.S. with their school needs described above.  If you know someone in need click HERE for more information.

 

facebook-flat-vector-logo-400x400Corbin’s Legacy is a 501C3 public charity.  All donations are tax deductible.

The Kindness of Strangers

Train travel in Europe is a wonderful way to get from city to city or even country to country.  The train system is old but upgrades to tracks, plus high speed trains, keep it a great way to travel. Even with the advent of very cheap regional airlines, some of which are more akin to traveling by Greyhound bus with wings, we prefer trains.  Most trains, even the old ones, have a charm that no bus could offer.  Being such an old system means it’s an extensive system; you can get just about anywhere albeit you may have to change trains more than a couple times for long distances between countries. But the convenience of traveling by train far outweighs any downsides; no TSA-type security (you just hop on board); dining cars with decent food and great conversation; most stations are located in the city center so unlike airports it’s easy and quick getting to your hotel; there’s always a TA (travel assistance) office, plenty of ATM’s, shops and restaurants.  It’s just a fun way to travel.

We here at home could benefit from a national train system but, since long distance travel started over a hundred years ago, we’ve focused on traveling by car and our rail system just never developed.  Too bad; train travel can be convenient, can cut down on excessive emissions and encourage more people to explore their country.

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Madrid train station

Trains and train stations in Europe run from the classic to the run down.  We’ve been to huge, beautiful train stations in major cities such as Paris, Madrid and Milan, to stations that have a small old building and a couple tracks.  Some of these small stations can be quite beautiful such as the one in Toledo, Spain whose interior walls and floor were made of elaborate tile work.  The train station in Madrid, huge and classic, had a man made pond in its center that is home to hundreds of turtles, perhaps at first a good idea but who knew turtles multiply like rabbits.  The Amsterdam train station is hectic and used by so many commuters that attached is a massive three story bicycle parking lot that was jammed with bikes when we visited.  The train station in Milan was absolutely gorgeous; beautiful, classic architecture befitting a museum or opera house.  The train stations we visited in Vienna were more like shopping malls with train tracks running through the center.

042014_8073
Gare du Nord, Paris

041314_7810There can be some kinks in this form of transportation, most often when traveling from country to country because each has their own system.  We’ve had some interesting experiences while traveling by train.  Recently we were traveling from Budapest to Vienna and found that those on our train traveling within Hungary had a reserved seat and those on the same train traveling international (as we were) were not assigned seats.  We found ourselves in a coach that was about half and half so international travelers had to keep moving from seat to seat.  And then there was the time in Le Spezia, Italy outside of Cinque Terra; they kept changing the track number for our train which had us running up and down stairs and through corridors, schlepping too many pounds of luggage….think Keystone Cops.  Italy also has train strikes every so often, but you know when they’re coming so you just need to plan accordingly.  And then there was the time traveling between villages in Cinque Terra where we were almost crushed by the mobs of tourists; the train was only an hour late (Italy is the only country we’ve traveled by train that isn’t punctual; all other countries have departure and arrival times down to the minute).

On our recent trip to Eastern Europe we had a most interesting train related experience.  We were traveling between Prague and Warsaw, quite a long distance.  I decided to splurge  purchasing first class tickets for the long journey.  In hind sight we should have taken a commuter airline, but who knew the events that would transpire.  Our train departed Prague about 2:30 in the afternoon and was scheduled to arrive in Warsaw about eight hours later.  We had already contacted our Warsaw hotel with our travel plans so they’d know we would be checking in late in the evening.

We were on the first class coach in a six-seat room all to ourselves; comfortable, new leather seats, climate control…it was nice.  All was going well.  About two and a half hours after leaving Warsaw the train stopped in the middle of no where.  We waited and waited for word from train staff about the delay.  No one seemed to know what was going on.  After a half hour or so we were told that there was a mechanical problem with the train.  Another half hour and we’re still sitting with the Polish countryside as a backdrop from our coach window.  Finally we’re told that the problem was actually with the track, not the train itself.  Apparently the cold temps had done something to the tracks….seemed quite suspicious to us as it wasn’t that cold.  After a few more minutes the engineer appeared telling us the train was going to split apart, half continuing its route within the Czech Republic and our half continuing on to Warsaw.  That was fine, but (this was a big BUT) we were on the wrong end of the train and would need to change coaches to continue our journey.  So we bundled up, retrieved our luggage and were escorted to the very rear of the train into a first class coach which was nowhere near as new and comfy.  Oh well, at least we’d be on our way.

Soon the train was moving.  It was a bit strange, almost creepy, that it appeared we were the only passengers in this coach….it was empty.  Of course one starts to have sinister thoughts of kidnap and intrigue; here we are on an empty train, it’s night, we really had no way of knowing where we were, no train employees….it was eerie.  We had no choice but to stay the course and, after what seemed like an eternity, to our great relief we finally arrive at the Central Warsaw train station.

Here it is midnight in a strange city and a deserted train station.  We knew we would have to take a taxi to our hotel but had read about unscrupulous taxi drivers who took advantage of travelers just like us.  But luck would have it there was actually one other passenger on our coach.  As we exited the train our fellow passenger, a middle aged man very nicely dressed, asked in perfect English but with an obvious Polish accent where we were staying .  I pulled up a street map on my phone with our hotel location highlighted.  He studied the map for several seconds and then asked how we intended to get there.  He had a very skeptical expression when I told him by taxi and he immediately said ‘follow me’, and we promptly followed his command.  We walked through the empty train station, out to the taxi stand where our new friend had a brief conversation with a taxi driver.  I thought he was merely instructing the driver where to take us and not to rip us off. At that point I remembered we had no Polish currency to pay for the taxi (planned on hitting the ATM at the train station) and asked our friend if the driver would take euros….he said not to worry….OK?!?  Like two obedient sheep we loaded our luggage, got in the back seat while to our surprise our friend got in the front.  Now I understood what was happening; it was a well planned plot by these two Poles to kidnap a couple Americans hoping for a big ransom…..how could I have been so blind as to not figure this out hours ago when our train was first delayed.  These people were sneaky!

But alas, it was nothing like that.  Our well dressed Polish friend was actually escorting us to our hotel making sure nothing sinister happened.  On the short drive there he mentioned something about his being a member of the Polish Parliament.  A few minutes later we’re standing in front of our hotel, our friend refusing to take any money for the cab ride and wishing us happy stay in Warsaw….what a kind act.  Although the temperatures were in the low twenties we were warm from such generosity.  Once we finally woke someone in our hotel to let us in we settled into our room not believing how such a long drudge of a day ended on such a positive note.

Next morning we finally pulled ourselves out of bed not knowing if the events of the night before actually happened or could we both have had the same dream.  To confirm that it wasn’t a dream we got on our iPads and did a Google search for the Polish Parliament and, lo and behold, there was our friend, a full fledged member of that institution.  All we could say is “wow, what are the chances”?!?

I’ll end with this poem, perhaps a bit sappy, but appropriate;                                                     “My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I’ll not be knowing,
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.”
Edna St. Vincent Millay, The Selected Poetry

Want to read more about the art of train travel check out Paul Theroux, an author who has written extensively on this subject.

Paris '09_0121
Waiting for train to Versailles in Paris

 

Eating Our Way Across Eastern Europe

“The best routes are the ones you haven’t ridden. … Turn down lanes you’ve long seen but never traveled. Get lost once or twice, then double back to where you started and try again. Live like this and you come to see unknown territory not as threatening, but as intriguing.”
–Mark Remy

IMG_1016
Margaret and her giant schnitzel

The above quote is our philosophy when it comes to travel, especially when it has to do with food; Peter, as we’re exiting a patisserie; ‘oh wait, I think I see another patisserie up the street’, Margaret; ‘where? where?’.

It’s this philosophy that took us to Schnitzelwirt, a Vienna restaurant frequented mostly by locals.  Their specialty is, obviously, Wiener Schnitzel (a very thin, breaded and pan fried cutlet made from veal).  Not being much of a meat eater meant Margaret would be the one to try this traditional dish, and it was quite a dish.  Served on a large plate that barely contained its girth, this was one big schnitzel!  Add to this a side of sauerkraut and creamy beets, you’ve got a recipe for a slow walk back to our hotel.

In Krakow we found another restaurant, and although a bit touristy, it served an equally giant and delicious Wiener Schnitzel.  But this restaurant also offered other giant items on its menu, in this case beer.  Everywhere we visited in Eastern Europe had excellent beer and this Krakow restaurant didn’t disappoint.  The beer was light in color but with a full bodied taste.  We ordered two, the small one for me.  Now it may look small comIMG_2127pared to the beer on the right, but mine was about 16  ounIMG_2128ces.  The big one was a full liter of beer, that’s over 32 ounces…..and yes, she finished the whole thing (took a while).  Talk about a slow walk back to our hotel!

One of our great pleasures while traveling in Europe are the plentiful casual cafes that seem to be on every block of every city we visit.  The great feature of these cafes is popping in for a quick coffee or drink any time of the day.  You can stand at the bar or take one of the small cafe tables.  One of the best characteristics of these establishments is the laid back atmosphere; sit and enjoy as long as you like.  And unlike most restaurants in the states the noise level is low allowing for real conversation to happen.  We’d pop into a cafe at least a couple times a day, and considering the cold temperatures we sampled many cups of rich, creamy hot chocolate, usually along with a shared pastry or slice of cake.IMG_2019  The photo on the right is from the Kafka Cafe off the Old Town Square in Prague.  Crazy expensive prices due to the location, but that didn’t really matter; the hot chocolate with a shot of Bailey’s was just what the weatherman ordered.  And there were other hot chocolates on this trip, so many that it became a quest to find the best in town.  On our first full day in Prague (New Year’s day) we were walking toward the Prague Palace where we spotted a tiny cafe on the ground floor of a large building.  Sign out front just said ‘Hot Chocolate With Rum’.  The place was tiny; no tables, just enough room for about four people.  But the owner prepared a mean hot chocolate made with steamed milk from one of those huge espresso/cappuccino machines found at every cafe, bar, restaurant and gas station in Europe.  Even though this hot chocolate was served in a paper cup it was still one of the best we sampled in three weeks.  And whipped creaIMG_2106m? always real, never canned!

I could go on and on about our meals in the Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Poland (where generous dinners including a bottle of wine totaled only thirty-five to forty US dollars….easily $125 in Atlanta); the traditional Polish sour soup that helped Margaret relieve the symptoms of her cold; the cheese platter while listening to a  jazz quartet on Prague’s Jazz Boat cruise; the lunch in Budapest at a restaurant that’s been serving coffee, hot chocolate and amazing desserts for generations (we walked out of there buzzed on a sugar high….it was awesome!); the fantastic pierogi’s stuffed with a variety of delicious fillings we indulged in all over Poland  (I loved the goose meat stuffing….ate a giant plate of them); the roast duck in Prague and Warsaw was lean and tender; in several countries the beet root side dish consisting of tender shredded beets cooked to a creamy consistency (if you like beets you’ll love beet root); Mediterranean delights such as humus, marinated salads, baba ghanoush (eggplant dip) and pita at Hamsa Cafe in Krakow’s Jewish Quarter; the Sacher Tort at the cafe in the famous Sacher Hotel in Vienna; where does it end?!?

Well it finally did end the day we returned home, got on the bathroom scale and went on a diet.  Was it worth the 4-5 pounds gained; absolutely!  Would I do it again; no doubt! Will Margaret once again tackle a giant schnitzel; I think so!

In conclusion I can say that indulging in great food is a pleasure, but only in comparison to the wonderful people you meet while traveling.  Food and travel is the great equalizer; we met and conversed with some of the finest people while dining; it’s something all cultures have in common, a love of food.  As the great chef Julia Child said;

“People who love to eat are always the best people”.

Dessert as art
Dessert as art
Beet Root
Beet root, sauerkraut and potato
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Traditional Polish sour soup
Sacher Torte
Sacher Torte
Delights from Hamsa Cafe
Delights from Hamsa Cafe
Pierogi
Pierogi

Fate? Luck? Divine Intervention?

I could have been born a squirrel in a tree in India in the year 1284….fate? luck? Divine Intervention? God’s will?  Or I could have been born in Hungary or Poland in 1924 and suffered through some terrible years.

In all probability someone born during the Age Of Enlightenment may have felt the same as we do today. How lucky to be born in a time of such advancement during which modern technology, as it was, made life so much easier than in past generations. The same could be said of people and societies throughout the time man has occupied earth.  And although we think we’re living in the greatest technological age, a hundred or two hundred or a thousand years from now people will look back and wonder how we were able to get by with such primitive technology.  But what of those born in a time when none of these advances mattered, where geography and politics were not so kind, where surviving from one day to the next is your full time job? 

These thoughts were on our minds as we toured Auschwitz and Birkenau, the notorious Nazi concentration death camps outside of Krakow where a million people were murdered.  These thoughts crossed our minds as we toured the Warsaw Uprising Museum which displays in graphic detail the total destruction of that city.  And it crossed our minds as we toured the purposefully claustrophobic galleries at Budapest’s Terror Museum, which graphically illustrates the deplorable living conditions, death and destruction its occupiers imposed on Hungarians, Hungarians who complain to this day that their government continues to deny their alliance with Germany in WWII, while that’s exactly what they did, to the detriment of its citizens.  How lucky we are to have been born in a country that has never been occupied by a more powerful neighbor nor attacked by hostile forces, that only wages war far from our shores, that allows us freedom to do as we please?  Do we consider this as we impatiently wait in traffic, angry that we may be late getting to Starbucks?

The history Margaret and I learned while traveling through Eastern Europe was definitely enlightening.  While we thoroughly enjoyed the culture and scenery, we were also profoundly moved by the tenacity of the locals we met.  For most, even though they personally didn’t live through the worst of times such as WWI and WWII or the holocaust, it was only a handful of years ago that Poland and Hungary were under Soviet rule, recent enough to have a clear memory of it.  It surprised us to learn of a recent phenomenon; young Poles learning from parents and grandparents that, although raised in the Christian faith, they are actually Jewish.  People denounced their religion in order to stay alive and are just now learning the truth, many returning to their original faith. 

But life goes on and we can only wish that we learn from history, and as humans not to commit the same mistakes.  Does it look like that today?  A resounding NO, but one can only hope that one day we will.  In the mean time Margaret and I will keep traveling, learning and experiencing cultures other than our own, and continue to be thankful we were born in a time and place where daily survival is not a full time job. 

I promise my next post won’t be so ‘heavy’.  Food and drink is always front and center when we travel (I gained five pounds on this trip) and Eastern Europe didn’t fail to deliver!  More on that soon….

 

Site of Birkenau crematorium
Memorial, Birkenau crematorium

 

To learn more about the experience of visiting a Nazi concentration camp click HERE for an excellent post by a good friend and journalist who visited a few years ago.

 

 


 

 

 

Happy (Belated) New Year

Here it is February 1st and I’m just getting around to a New Year’s blog…how pathetic.  But it’s not like I’ve been slacking, except for the last week.  I had good reason; after three weeks of intense traveling through Eastern Europe and two long, long days of missed flights, unscheduled airport layovers, a restless nine hour overseas flight, I needed at least a week to reboot my brain and body.  Travel takes a toll, but it’s a worthwhile toll.

Spending New Year’s eve and day traveling was a dream come true for me, although I didn’t know it until it was actually happening.  Mine is not a depressive personality, I’m normally optimistic and upbeat.  But for years New Year’s Day has made me feel depressed, melancholy.  Is it the prospect of an entire new year unfolding all at once?  Or a let down after a great year?  I really don’t know what it is, but I can attest to the fact that on January 1st I don’t want to be around people….no phony socializing over black eyed peas and greens for me.  Just let me be in my own little world and I’ll muddle through the day.  And after a couple days of muddling I’m ready to get on with the New Year.  But this year was different; we were a world away from home in a new (for us) exciting city and I had not an iota of the usual New Year Day melancholy….I didn’t have time, what with the barrage of new stimuli.  It was great!

In a future post I’ll talk in more detail about our incredible trip, a trip we both place near or at the top of our list of favorites. This adventure offered a history lesson we’ve not experienced when traveling, plus the European culture we both love.  But I will include some notes I jotted down on our long journey home when events of the three week holiday were fresh.

The U.S.A. seems like the entire world, like the center of everything, but it’s not. There’s a big world out there. We’ve met highly intelligent people from around the globe who are not always aware of what goes on in the U.S…..not even on their radar. They’re not ignorant, they have lives that don’t center around ours.  And if you were asked about their country you may not be able to locate it on a map let alone understand their culture, politics, likes and dislikes. As Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
I’m aware I preach about travel often in my blog and many may get tired of it.  But I do it because of my (our) love of travel; the experience is life affirming, simple as that.  And if I can influence a reader to plan their own adventure I’d be very happy.
I wanted to include just one photo out of the hundreds I snapped on our vacation. I chose the one below because it represents the rich culture we experienced.  It was a cold night in the old town district of Krakow, Poland and we happened upon this beautiful centuries old church that had nightly classical music concerts.  The church wasn’t heated and about twenty music lovers braved the cold.  The lights were dim, the music echoing through the enormous chamber, the audience wrapped in winter coats each lost in their own meditative state of serenity…it was a magical moment, one we won’t forget anytime soon.  Happy New Year to you all…..
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