Archive for November, 2010
A Tale of Two Cities – Buda & Pest
That’s right. Budapest is actually two cities, Buda and Pest separated by the Danube River. We arrived via the night train at 8:30 in the morning and checked into our hostel called Lavender Circus (cool name for a cool hostel). In fact, this hostel is the best one we have stayed in so far. We were greeted by a friendly Italian named Andrea who fixed us a fresh pot of Italian coffee and then proceeded to sit us down over our cup of java and explain in detail (with maps) everything we needed to do, see and eat. We have never gotten such great treatment and it was a fantastic way to adjust to the city after a crazy night train. For some reason whenever we said “night train” we would sing it like the song “Night Train.” I don’t even know who that song is by or any other lyrics, but I know the “night train!” part.
We then checked into our awesome room – see pics. Lavender Circus was a fitting name for sure! We grabbed a bite and then headed out for our 2PM walking tour. European cities have come up with this great concept called Free Walking Tours. They have them in most cities and it has been the best way for us to get to know the city. They are led by energetic and passionate people who are paid purely on tips at the end of the tours. We had a Hungarian girl who said her name in American would be Ursula. She had a bubbly personality, laughed a lot at her jokes, and only knew one English adjective – “funny”. She used it whenever she meant interesting, important, exciting, or if it truly was humorous. At first we were a bit confused, but in the end it just added to her charm.
Auschwitz – “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.”
It is hard to put into the words the experience that we had at Auschwitz. We went with an organized tour group and the seriousness of the moment began immediately upon departure. During the 1.5 hour ride to the camp they showed a documentary film on Auschwitz and Birkenau. Halfway through the video, the lady sitting next to Haley vomited and I had to look away several times. Sorry to be so graphic but it was one of those experiences you don’t enjoy at the time, but you recognize as vitally important to your growth as a human being. It is a hard thing to blog about.
We had been to Dachau – a large concentration camp in Germany, before but this was much worse. Auschwitz was the main extermination camp for the Nazis and over 1.1 million people lost their lives there, 90% of them were Jews. It was a cold day, so it impressed upon us even more how horrible it would be in such poor living conditions. Prisoners were only allowed to use the bathroom twice a day and each time only for 30 seconds. The average life expectancy at the camp was 3 months. It was horrible to see the bunks they slept on – with up to 8 people in each wooden bunk with just a bit of hay. We walked into a gas chamber and the impressions we had of the fear and horror those people felt is mind boggling. The prisoners were told to strip and remember where they placed their cloths. This was done by the Nazis to deceive people and reduce the fears before they were led into the “showers” so as not to cause a riot. We were really cold and to I kept imagining what it would have been like to be barefoot.
It is hard to comprehend how people could do that to people. As thousands of people would arrive at the camps, doctors would decide with the flip of a hand which people were deemed fit to work and which were deemed “useless” and doomed to the gas chamber. Are you under 14 or over 60? Are you pregnant? Do you have any handicaps or disabilities? Do you have any children that are under 14? More than 75% of the people on each train immediately went to the gas chambers. How could the Nazis do this?
The stories of survival and even self-sacrifice were amazing. We learned about Father Maksymilan. Whenever a prisoner tried to escape, the Nazis would take 10 people on his cell block and put them in a room to starve to death. Father Maksymilan volunteered to take the place of a young man with a wife and 3 children. He died after 11 days, but the man he gave his life for went on to not only survive the camp, but live until he was 95 years old.
Schindler’s List, Schindler’s Factory
We did a walking tour of the Jewish Ghetto in Krakow. We saw several spots in the city that were used during the filming of Schinder’s list and our tour ended with the actual factory that Oskar Schindler owned during World War II. At the start of the war, 65,000 Jews lived in Krakow. Today, Krakow is home to only 200. Jews on Schindler’s List and their descendents are greater in number than all the Jews who live in Poland today.
We saw a photo of Izaak Stern who was played by Ben Kingsley in the film and saw the plague commemorating the work done by Oskar Schindler with the Jewish inscription from the Talmud, “Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.”
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Worship Music Half A Mile Underground (Video)
In the main chapel of the Wieliczka Salt Mine, we were able to take in a quick musical and light performance. They said that people even get married in this chapel and we got a brief glimpse of how amazing that would be.
A Church Made Out of Salt??
Yes it’s true and we saw it. Just outside of Krakow, there exists the oldest operating salt mine in the world. It is over half a mile underground and the miners who worked there spent much of their lives in it, rarely emerging into daylight. To pass the time, they began carving statues, paintings, chandeliers, and even an entire chapel – making it not only a mine, but also what could be considered Europe’s deepest art gallery. The chapel took them 70 years and it has to be the most beautiful churches I’ve seen. It was just fantastic to think that these miners wanted to spend their free time building a place of worship. There is even a painting of The Last Supper carved out of the rock salt.
Largest Square in All of Europe & Pics
Rynek Glowny in central Krakow is the largest market square in all of Europe and is ranked as one of Europe’s “most gasp-worthy public spaces.” Poland was not on the original itinerary Haley and I had decided upon and thus had not made it onto the list of countries our Eurail Pass covered. We had thrown together the plans in Santorini to add Krakow and gone through all the pains of coordinating the train travel. It was all worth it when we stepped into that square. Even more so, it had been raining and/or overcast for over a week and we hadn’t seen the sun or sky much, but on our second night in Krakow the sky began to clear and the moon light shown down on the square. It made for great photography and left me thinking Krakow is a must see for anyone traveling in Eastern Europe.
You can see our best of Krakow photos at
Do You Know When & Why Thanksgiving Was Made A National Holiday?
In 1789, following a proclamation issued by President George Washington, America celebrated its first Day of Thanksgiving to God.
In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln made a proclamation setting aside the last Thursday of November as a national Day of Thanksgiving.
Then, in 1941, Congress permanently established the fourth Thursday of each November as a national holiday.
Read more on the origins of Thanksgiving here
Read Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation here
It is incredible to think that Abraham Lincoln called for a day of thanksgiving in 1863 – in the middle of the Civil War and just 4 months after the Battle of Gettysburg! No matter your circumstances, take time to give thanks to God for your many blessings.