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  • Day46

    Krakow

    May 29, 2016 in Poland ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    Yesterday’s trip to Auschwitz highlighted the atrocities within the concentration camps, but what about those that happened right in the heart of the city? Evil wasn’t always hidden in secluded places. We took a walking tour from Krakow Old Town to the nearby Jewish district of Kazimierz. This district was used to film scenes in Steven Spielberg’s movie Schindler’s List. The Jews were later exiled to a nearby district, Podgórze, which became known as the Krakow Ghetto.

    The Krakow Ghetto was fortified by walls to keep its tens of thousands inhabitants trapped, and out of sight from the rest of the city. There was notably a Polish Roman Catholic pharmacist, Tadeusz Pankiewicz, who insisted on running his pharmacy within the ghetto walls. He would go on to help countless Jews up until the ghetto liquidation.

    There is a section of the ghetto wall that still stands today. It now has a plaque on it in memory of those that perished within those walls. Did you know that Roman Polanski lived in and luckily escaped the Jewish Ghetto when he was a little boy? He got away by jumping into the Vistula River. His mother was unfortunately killed at Auschwitz. He turned down the offer to direct Schindler’s List as it was too painful for him.

    At the end of the walking tour, we visited the Schindler’s Museum which is located at Schindler’s old factory. Whilst it didn’t have a lot of information on Oskar Schindler, it was overflowing with information on how the Holocaust came to Krakow. Well worth a visit if you’re in Krakow.
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  • Day45

    Auschwitz, Poland

    May 28, 2016 in Poland ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    Today we would devote most of the day to learning more about one of the biggest concentration camps run during WWII by the Nazis. As can be expected, this post will be quite depressing; but the atrocities of war and mankind cannot be forgotten, lest they are repeated. Skip ahead if this topic is too difficult to visit for now.

    Auschwitz was initially built in 1940 to house Polish political prisoners but the SS thought it could provide the Final Solution to the Jew problems; by problems, they mean the existence of Jews. As the number of inmates grew, so did the camp. In 1941, Auschwitz II (Birkenau) was constructed just 3km away from Auschwitz I. This second camp was a lot larger and held approximately 100,000 prisoners by August 1944. There were 4 crematoria and gas chambers in this camp and this was where most of the mass killings were carried out. We visited both camps.

    Jews from all over Europe were sent to Auschwitz by the thousands each day. By the time they arrived in Auschwitz, they would have spent days, if not weeks, without food or water. Naturally, a large number died during the journey. The ones that made it thus far were assembled outside of their train cars. They were told to leave their suitcases but to write their names on the cases so they can be retrieved later on. They were then separated into two groups. Healthy and able men were herded into one group and marched into the camp. The others, mainly women, children, the ill and old, were told to walk to another entrance into the camp.

    The latter went into a room in the basement of a building which looked like change-rooms, where they were told to undress and remember the number on the hooks which they’d hung their clothes on so they can pick them up afterwards. They were to take a shower after their long journey. Naked and scared, they went into the next room which resembled a large bathroom. There were showers hanging from the ceiling; it was all going to be ok. They really were going to have a shower! The Nazis were methodical and brutal. The showers were never connected to a water supply. They were installed to alleviate fear in the Jews so as to prevent any resistance or panic. After the doors were firmly closed, SS guards poured a toxic substance called Cyclon B into the chamber through special openings in the ceiling. Within 15-20 minutes, they were dead.

    Genocide was not enough for the SS. After the gassing, gold tooth fillings, rings, earrings and hair were removed from the bodies. They were then taken to the incinerators on the ground floor. The ashes were used as fertilizer, and for filling in nearby ponds or river beds. Why hair, you ask. They sold the human hair to German firms for tailor’s lining (haircloth).

    The healthy men that escaped selection for the gas chamber were put through extremely unsanitary and unimaginable living conditions. They were subjected to beatings, slave labour and starvation. It did not matter if a Jew died – he was dispensable. If you want to read more about life in the concentration camps, I highly recommend a book written by an Auschwitz survivor, Primo Levi, called “If This is a Man.”

    When the Nazis realised that they were losing the war to the advancing Red Army, they blew up the crematoria and gas chambers to conceal their criminal activities. They left the sick to die in the camp while tens of thousands Jews were forced to march to another camp to be further utilised as slave labour. Without food or proper clothes and footwear, most did not survive the Death March.

    It was a very sobering day for us. And most of you are probably asking why we even went to Auschwitz. Apart from the fact that Flora has been morbidly fascinated by the evil that was the Holocaust since learning about it at the age of 15, we feel it is important to see up close what Man is capable of. Why did none of the SS soldiers who opposed the mass extermination of lives carry out their orders anyway? Only by attending these grounds can you get some understanding of the terror that the place and regime held. It was either kill or be killed. 1.5 million Jews died in Auschwitz alone. This number is likely to be a lot higher as most Jews that arrived at Auschwitz were never registered before they were sent marching to the gas chambers. There are hundreds of other such concentration camps, though perhaps not on as large a scale as Auschwitz. Such evil must never see the light of day again.
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  • Day43

    Gellert Hill and Thermal Bath, Budapest

    May 26, 2016 in Hungary ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    No visit to Budapest is complete until you’ve been to one of the city’s famed natural thermal baths. Lucky for us, the Gellert Thermal Bath was within walking distance from our accommodation, just on the Buda side of the Liberty bridge, at the foot of Gellert Hill. No better way to soothe our tired feet from hours of walking on end.

    We had previously gone for a run up Gellert Hill to see the city from up the top. It is definitely worth the climb. We did, however, get weird stares from the people getting off the tour bus at the top.

    Today was all about relaxation. The Gellert Bath is architecturally stunning. It is actually a Turkish bath built between 1912-1918 which was damaged in WWII and subsequently rebuilt. According to literature from the 13th century, the warm spring water has healing powers stemming from its rich minerals content. This bath, and other baths in Budapest, are used to treat degenerative joint illnesses as well as many other ailments.

    The hot baths range from 35-40 degC. As we learnt, it is more than just warm. The thermal baths are decorated beautifully with mosaic tiles to give you the feel that you’ve gone back centuries in time. It was very therapeutic indeed, if you don’t think too much about the little black floaties in the water. Don’t ask too many questions.

    This thermal bath is unique as it has a wave pool. Yes, one of the outdoor pools turns into a wave pool for a few minutes every hour, much to the delight of squealing patrons such as ourselves. We thought we would spend only a couple of hours here before getting bored, but we surprised ourselves. You can easily spend an entire day going in and out of the all the different pools plus relaxing by the poolside.
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  • Day40

    Budapest

    May 23, 2016 in Hungary ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    We crossed the border into Hungary and arrived in its capital city, Budapest. Budapest is bisected into Buda and Pest by the River Danube. Our initial accommodation was in the Buda side but we had a slight issue with the host double-booking us so we had to move to another one of his apartments on the Pest side of the city. Despite the inconvenience and losing a few hours in the day, we were pleased that this apartment turned out to be a huge upgrade. We were in the heart of Pest and within walking distance to everything we wanted to see.

    First, let me tell you a little bit about this city’s amazing history. Towards the end of WWII in December 1944, the Red Army launched a siege against the German-held Budapest, known as the Siege of Budapest. The Red Army sent more than one million soldiers to cut off Budapest from the rest of the German and Hungarian forces. What ensued was one of the bloodiest campaigns of WWII.

    With the Red Army encircling Budapest, tens of thousands of soldiers from the German and Hungarian army, as well as more than 800,000 civilians, were trapped within the city. Adolf Hitler decreed that Budapest was a fortress city and was to be defended to the last man. Food shortages were common and the extreme cold froze the Danube, effectively ending the covert delivery of supplies via barges at night. As a result of this 108-day siege, 320,000 Red Army soldiers, 125,000 German-Hungarian soldiers and 105,000 civilians died.

    Afterwards, Budapest lay in ruins, with more than 80% of its buildings destroyed or damaged. All seven bridges spanning the Danube were destroyed. Walking through the Old Town, you would never guess that this city endured such atrocities. Now rebuilt, the buildings are simply astounding. We were flabbergasted when we saw the city and even more so when we explored it.

    The architecture, trams and general vibe of the city reminded us so much of Melbourne. We started with the Market Hall right by the Danube. Its sheer size was impressive. Inside, vendors sold everything from vegetables and meat to souvenirs and clothes. Everything was priced just so for us tourists. Being the tight arses that we are, we weren’t interested in getting ripped off so we walked around once and left.

    We soon discovered that the food in other parts of the city was a great bargain (Flora does a happy dance). We gathered that the Hungarian diet included lots of meat and, boy, did they look delicious. Food was the cheapest we had seen in Europe so far and they definitely don’t skimp on the portions here! We had one of the best dinners here for a steal, right in the heart of the touristy area. We also caught up with Aunty Tina and Uncle Rob in Budapest. What were the chances of bumping into family on the other side of the world!

    After walking aimlessly through the beautiful buildings in Old Town, we went for a walk along the Danube. Just before we got to the Parliament House, we came across a moving sculpture in memory of the Jews that were killed in the Danube. 60 pairs of cast iron period-appropriate shoes were fixed onto the Pest side of the Danube banks. Under the Nazis, a number of Budapest Jews were forced to take off their shoes along the Danube banks before being shot into the Danube.

    Only a short distance away, the Parliament House that had been destroyed during the Siege of Budapest had been rebuilt. It is absolutely the most beautiful Parliament House we have ever seen anywhere in Australia or Europe. Budapest also offered free walking tours of the city but we sadly missed out as we found out about it too late. We explored the Jewish Quarter on our own but it would have been so much better having a local explain its history. We ended up in a Jewish food market, keen to taste their delicious looking burgers and hot dogs. Unfortunately, the photos on their menu looked a whole lot better than they tasted, which was not too different from cardboard.

    On our last night in Budapest, we decided to go back to the Danube to take some night shots of the bridges. For our first time doing night photography, I think the photos turned out better than expected.
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  • Day38

    Kupari Bay of Abandoned Hotels

    May 21, 2016 in Croatia ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    On one of our evening runs up a local hill, we spotted a deserted bay. From the top, we could see at least 3 large hotels that had been clearly built to capitalise on this beautiful bay, but where were all the people? We found a disused path that was now overgrown with plants and ventured closer towards the building closest to the hill. From this path, we came close enough to peer into the rooms through the broken windows. There were no signs of the hotel being in service for a long time.

    Our curiosity piqued, we jogged to the bottom of the hill which opened up into a large space which probably served as foyers for the hotels. With the sun setting over the Adriatic Sea, we went back to our accommodation and did some research before exploring any further.

    Today, we returned after a day out in Dubrovnik Old Town to cool off in the quiet bay. There was still a road to these hotels, although it wouldn’t see much use these days. There were a few people on the pebbled beach, saved from throngs of tourists probably because it is only accessible by car, some distance away from Dubrovnik Old Town, and it’s little known. The water was refreshing and exactly what we needed after a full day on our feet. Although it was peaceful, it felt somewhat unnerving knowing that people were likely injured or even killed in these hotels during the Croatian War of Independence.

    Our research revealed that this abandoned bay was called Kupari and it was known to have one of the best beaches in the country. In the 1960s, Kupari was revamped to include a luxury holiday resort for the military elite of the Yugoslav People’s Army and their families. It was made up of 5 luxury hotels and, once their doors opened to tourists, became desirable as a European summer hotspot in the 1980s. The rich from around Europe visited each year right up until 1991, when the war broke out. Artillery was aimed at the hotels, blowing out windows, walls and roofs. In the years after the war, looting and plundering of valuable furniture and fittings were rife.

    What’s left today are mere shells of the hotels’ glorious past. Artillery damage on the hotel walls is still evident, a reminder of the time when hell visited this slice of paradise. One hotel in particular had an entire section of roof collapse into its second floor. Trees and climbers had taken root in some places, turning this once luxurious hotel into a literal concrete jungle. Some rooms still had carpet on its floors and wallpapers peeling off the walls. There were also inevitable signs of vagrant settlement in some areas, although no one was home when we walked through the hotels.

    The damage was clearly too much for any investor to commit to restoring the hotels to their former glory. It would be more economical to bowl the buildings over and start again. In the meantime, this little bay is safe from tourists for a little longer.
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  • Day38

    Dubrovnik City Wall Walk Part II

    May 21, 2016 in Croatia ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    More photos from the city wall walk.

  • Day38

    Dubrovnik City Wall Walk

    May 21, 2016 in Croatia ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    We had explored the city inside the walls fairly extensively. Today, we were excited to walk along the city walls encircling the Old Town for bird’s eye view of the city and the ocean beyond. It took us a few hours to complete this 2km walk as every few steps we took presented a new opportunity for a National Geographic award-winning photograph.

    In some sections of the city walls, there were openings where locals and tourists alike could escape the hustle and bustle of the city, onto the rocks below and even into the cool waters of the Adriatic Sea. There wouldn’t be many places in the world where you could wear your bathers into the city, have a dip, before returning through a hole in the wall.

    About halfway through the walk, we came across cafes where we stopped to have some refreshing juice and a local beer. There was one other place we needed to see before we retired our feet for the day. We headed outside of the city wall and along a little bay, towards a towering structure atop a hill – the Fortress of St Lawrence.

    This fortress is more famously known as the Red Keep in Game of Thrones. This is where Cersei concluded her walk of shame. Yes, we might be Game of Thrones addicts, but we highly recommend this city wall walk even to normal people. In all honesty though, you should probably watch Game of Thrones.
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  • Day37

    Dubrovnik Old Town Part II

    May 20, 2016 in Croatia ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    More photos from Dubrovnik Old Town.

  • Day37

    Dubrovnik Old Town

    May 20, 2016 in Croatia ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    Oh woeful weather. It had not stopped raining since we left Split for Dubrovnik yesterday. Today we slept in and waited for a break in the weather. We were keen to explore Dubrovnik. We first stopped at Srd hill, behind the Old Town of Dubrovnik.

    Srd hill played an important role in Dubrovnik’s history. Dubrovnik (as with the whole of Croatia) used to be part of Yugoslavia. When Croatia declared its indepence in 1991, the Yugoslav People’s Army waged a war against Croatia, known as the Croatian Independence War. During this war, a small platoon from the Dubrovnik army used the fort on this hill, which provided them with a good vantage point. This fort is now a war museum. It still bore tell-tale signs of the destructive war it endured on its outside walls. Large gouges in its walls from being sprayed by enemy artillery have not been patched up.

    There was a lot of misplaced confidence that the Old Town would not be touched by enemy fire as it was a UNESCO heritage site. This was a fatal error for so many of its residents when the enemy bombardment destroyed much of the town. It had since been rebuilt and restored to its former glory. We had the afternoon to explore Old Town and quickly decided it’s worth spending the day tomorrow here.

    Yet another Old Town, I hear you say. I assure you that no matter how many Old Towns you have visited in Europe, you would still be in awe of this one. A fortified wall completely encloses the old city, making it the perfect venue to shoot many scenes for Game of Thrones, especially those of King’s Landing. With the help of trusty Google, we turned the day into a hunt of actual Game of Thrones film sites.

    We also found a popular bar through an opening in the city wall, perched on a small cliff. In summer, patrons could jump off a rock landing into the azure waters below. Aaron really wanted to give it a go but it was rather cold and the clouds had done their best to block out the sun for most part of the day. Definitely bucket list material!
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  • Day35

    Brac Island

    May 18, 2016 in Croatia ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    With the poor weather of late, we didn’t want to commit to a full day on a little boat touring the islands. It was very expensive and there was a good chance that the seas would be rough. After talking to our friends, the Colombian couple, we decided we’d join them for a day at Brac island. At least if the weather turned, we would be able to find shelter on the island.

    The ferry ride was lovely. The sun was out, as promised by the weather bureau. We then had an hour-long bus ride to the other side of the island where the best beach was. Yep, it’s not a small island! We got to the bus station and the bus was already full, with the next one not leaving for another 2 hours (!!). There were already people standing in the aisle. The bus driver assured us that after the next stop, there should be seats available. All four of us got lucky.

    The beach was a further 15-20 mins walk from where we got off the bus. Was this beach worth the arduous journey? The short answer was YES! There were lots of people sunbathing but it wasn’t hard to find a spot for ourselves. The clouds threatened to hide the sun but it never did the entire time we were on the beach. Swimming in the sparkling water was magical. The only downside was the constant stream of small boats that brought more and more people onto the beach every 10 minutes. We were told by locals that in the summer, it would be nearly impossible to find a spot to lay your towel. Crafty people would get up at 5am to lay their towel on the beach and reserve their spot, before going back to bed. Sounds a bit ludicrous, if you ask me.

    Before long, we had to pack up and have a late lunch. We had another hour of bus ride before catching our evening ferry. There was no way we were going to be standing on the bus again. We were 30 mins early and there was already a crowd gathering at the bus station. It took a lot of defensive skills on our part to prevent losing our spot to overzealous people when the bus door opened. It had been a wonderful day but we’re glad we didn’t have to do this again tomorrow.
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