Thursday, August 11, 2016

Auschwitz and the dark past of history

Saturday we visited the concentration camp Auschwitz. This is such an important part of history and a place that every single one of us should visit if possible. It makes you shiver to your very core and certainly does not leave your soul untouched. It is hard to take in the vastness of suffering that happened here. A visit here feels even more important considering the times and changes we are living in right now.

"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it"

The weather was gloomy this day with grey skies and light rain. It just felt fitting considering being at this place. I would not have wanted sun and blue skies, that  would have felt wrong. We have all read about all of this in our history classes and heard about the horrific stories that happened here but actually being here and walking in the very same footsteps of all of those that lost their lives at this place made a huge impact on me. It all became so real in a different way. 

Auschwitz was just another concentration camp at the time of World War II. There were hundreds of camps just like this one all over Europe. What makes Auschwitz stand out today is the fact that it is quite intact. It is one of the few concentration camps that was not destroyed totally after the Germans realized they had lost the war. The gas chamber and the burning ovens are still intact here and can be seen. In most other places the concentration camps were destructed and as many documents as possible were also destroyed.

These are the brick houses were the prisoners lived. Each house was called a block and had a number. Each block could house up to a thousand people! There were massive problems with over crowding. People could not be killed fast enough, which is such a horrible fact.

Words that never should be forgotten.

We had an amazing guide. He must have told the same stories a million times over and over again but he still told us like it was the very first time he shared this important message of history with us. Auschwitz is also something that can be visited all year around. Coming here in winter when the snow is on the ground and all is quiet around and there are much less visitors will give you a whole different feeling he said. That I can imagine. What we were able to see during our 3 hours here was only a small fraction of what is here to see. Longer visits are available of course. However, I myself could not imagine spending days or a full week here in order to see it all. It would just be too hard, to depressing, too difficult.

 The Auschwitz camp soon became too over crowded so then the new camp Birkenau was constructed a few kilometers away. The advantage here was the vast empty field areas that could be used and the direct access of the railway. Thousands of people were unloaded here each day. Their fate was decided in seconds by a single commanding officer. No one really knows how many lives were lost here as most people were never registered, never got a space or a striped set of clothes. Most of them were directly transported into the gas chambers. Only those who were strong enough were selected to work in the camp and they often only lasted a few months up to a year. As soon as you were too weak, too sick or worked too slow you were discarded so that someone new and stronger could take your place. In order to have a chance of survival you needed to be lucky enough to get placed in doors doing some kind of work and you also needed to be able to get hold of extra food. Regular prisoner would quickly get weekend by hard work, starvation and disease. 

One of remarkable things was that each camp only required a minimum of German soldiers and officers in comparison to the number of prisoners. This was possible because the Germans were very careful never to cause or create panic of any kind. The only good in this world of terrible cruelty was that the vast majority the people that died here never knew what was about to happen until the very end when the gas was already spreading around them. They were all told and believed to the bitter end that they were going to be transported somewhere else. They were allowed to bring belongings and suitcases. The mothers were never separated from their babies and toddlers in order not to create unnecessary panic.

These were the chemical gas pellets that were dropped into the gas chambers that then reacted with air. The ones standing close enough to were the pellets were dropped died in an instant. Most people would die within a maximum of 20 minutes.

 The faces, the fates of history lining the many walls.

There were some parts and places where photography was not allowed due to respect of the victims. There was a room full of hair. Piles of hair covering an entire room. The hair was shaved off and used in German factories to make fabric and blankets.

 The contrast between the beauty of the summer fields with all the wild flowers growing here and the barbed wire symbolizing the cruelty of it all. The contrast between good and evil is so present here. How can pretty flowers grown in a place like this? That is a thought that crossed my mind as I walked around here.

We had a long and intense day Saturday. Our next trip was to the Salt Mines. We drove back with the group to Krakow, a drive of about 1.5  hours. Some people were getting back to the city and their hotels and others like us were continuing a long to The Wieliczka Salt Mine.

 These crystal chandeliers made of salt were very cool and impressive.

The Salt mine was a remarkable place. Everything around you is made of salt. If you would lick the floor or walls it would all taste salty. Vast rooms like this one were created with altars, art, statues all carved in the salt stone.

Even if the Salt mine was impressive in many ways I found the tour a little too long and I would rather have spent more time at Auschwitz or have taken time to walk around the Jewish quarters of Krakow or visited Schindlers factory. 

I was impressed by all that Krakow had to offer and the charm of the city itself. I can highly recommend a visit here. I feel inspired to discover more of eastern Europe after being here. I realize I have my own travel and destination pattern and it was so refreshing to try something totally new and different. My friend stayed on an extra day in order to visit Warsaw, however she came back and said she was not that impressed. It was more of a regular big city. Krakow is one of the cultural jewels of Poland. It was the capital of Poland up until 1569.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Weekend in Krakow, Poland

This weekend I spent in Krakow, Poland with my friend K. I had never been in Poland before and was captured by the charm of Krakow. A beautiful city with plenty of interesting history and culture. We flew with Easy Jet, a flight taking a little over an hour from Basel. We arrived in Krakow early afternoon and thus had the entire afternoon and evening to explore the city and walk around.

We stayed at a hotel close to the main square within the old town district. We saw many of these handsome horse carriages passing by. Loved how the women driving  were wearing beautiful old fashioned folklore dresses. 

Everything seemed to happen around the main square. This was a place bustling with life lined by restaurants and cafes. The yellow umbrellas was a smaller part of an open market area.

More pictures from the main square. This building in the center held smaller shops with various souvenirs.

Bubbles are always popular and pretty and a fun thing for kids.

A detail about Krakow was that there were so many beautiful churches around town.

We walked up to the castle and monastery that was located up on a hill. An impressive building that was very majestic.

Krakow is a city rich in both history and culture. It is a city that did not get heavily bombed during the world wars thus offering a large amount of older buildings from the turn of the century. 

A symbol and souvenir of Krakow is the dragon. The den and dungeon of the dragon is according to myth located below the castle.

The river Wisla flows through the city. All the larger boats are docked and stationary as the bridges do not open allowing only the smaller boats to pass under. 

A beautiful city and a clean city. We did not have time to explore all parts of it. My friend K stayed for an extra couple of days as she also was going on to Warsaw and thus had time to explore the Jewish quarters of Krakow where Schindler's factory museum can be visited. The movie Schindler's list was also filmed in Krakow.

The Communist era also played a major part in history here. Some of the buildings and huge ad signs from that era in the 80:ties when communism had its stronghold here are still very much present. Overheard a guide telling a group about how difficult it was to get hold of various food items during that time. People would queue for hours and days to try to get extra items. Everything was on ration and people would get 2 kg of potatoes per person and week. The only thing that could always be found in supermarkets would be mustard and vinegar.

A local specialty were these Bretzel kinds of breads. Baked, twisted and sprinkled with seeds. There were sold like this in almost every street corner. We passed by this man that was playing music using glasses filled with different amounts of water thus giving rise to different tones. He was really skilled.

More of the beautiful horse carriages and the lady drivers in their pretty outfits. 

The main square bustling with life also late in the evening. 

Fell in love with these pretty flower wreaths. Wished I could have brought one home. I was travelling only with my backpack and I don't think they would have made it. It was actually a mix of both fresh and dry flowers. I am sure the flowers would still continue to look really pretty dry.

Our hotel was located on a quiet side street about a five minute walk from the main square. A perfect place to stay. We had a big spacious room and breakfast was included.

Something I discovered was how wonderful it can be to make a weekend trip like this with a friend. A totally different trip compared to what I would have done had I travelled with C. It is fun to sometimes experience things on your own and travel with others. A great thing to develop a deeper friendship.

We were also curious about the Polish cuisine and therefore tried two different Polish restaurants on our two evenings. I would say the Polish cuisine is partly influenced from Russia with their own version of red beet soup that we tried. In the dairy section of a store you can easily finds plenty of different kinds of Kefir and the Russian Smetana. Another dish we tried was Dumplings with various fillings that were really good. The Polish cuisine is otherwise quite meaty offering various kinds of meat, potatoes and cabbage.

The following day we had a busy program with a day tour both to Auschwitz followed by the Salt mines. That will have to be another blog post. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Hello Augusti

Första augusti har kommit och passerat. Vi närmar oss redan första helgen i denna sista sommarmånad. Den sköna sommaren fortsätter här i Basel. Jag måste säga att detta har varit bästa sommaren hittills sedan jag flyttade hit för ca 3.5 år sedan. Även om juni fick en ganska regnig start så har resten av sommaren varit fin med relativ lagom go värme. Jag har fått bada, sola, vandra i alperna, paddlat och flutit nerför kristallklara Aare floden, grillat och njutit av ljuva sommarkvällar på altanen. 

Dessa vackra solrosor fick jag av C förra helgen för att han vet hur mycket jag tycker om just solrosor. Blir alltid glad av att se solrosor.

Emellanåt har det kommit riktiga sommar åskväder där regnet har piskat ner. En av dessa kvällar blåste det så mycket så vårt grillskydd som ni ser här blåste av och ner till grannen under. Jag fick ringa på och förklara att vårt grillskydd förmodligen låg i deras trädgård för det hade blåste av kvällen innan. Det gjorde det mycket riktigt.

Men efter regn kommer ju alltid solsken.

Nu när vi har en extra frys i källaren är det en lyx att alltid ha isbitar tillgängligt och redo. Nu har vi plats för att både göra och förvara is som vi inte riktigt hade innan. Något av det godaste och mest läskande jag vet en varm sommardag är limevatten. Helt beroendeframkallande.

Våra Qumkvats mognar i solskenet. Något som också börjar mogna som vi smått börjar få skörd på är våra egna hemma odlade körbärstomater. Såååå otroligt goda.

Vi beställde ny soffklädsel och den har nu kommit och vi har satt på den. Lite nervöst över hur smidigt det skulle vara att sätta på den men det gick hur smidigt som helst. Det känns som vi har fått en helt ny soffa. Så fin och fräsch. Vi valde ett tyg som var lite mörkare än det vi hade innan. Tidigare hade vi en sandbeige nyans, denna är lite mer mossgrön i tonen. Väldigt fin nyans och vi är helnöjda. Men nu är det chokladförbud i denna soffa.Funkar inte att äta choklad i soffan har vi lärt oss. Även om man tror att man är försiktig så är det alltid så att man spiller småbitar som sedan smälter och blir fläckar. 

Får passa på att önska er en trevlig första augusti helg redan nu eftersom jag flyger till Polen denna helg med en kompis. Vi tillbringar helgen i Krakow och har fullt program där. Ska bli jättekul. Känns spännande med en oväntad resa och stad som denna. Jag har aldrig tidigare varit i Polen. Min kompis K frågade mig i juni om jag ville hänga med henne dit och jag nappade. Krakow ska tydligen vara en fin gamal stad så det ska bli kul att tillbringa en weekend där.

Trevlig helg! Vad ska ni hitta på denna första helg i augusti?

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Swiss National Day Weekend

Had a fab and awesome weekend celebrating the Swiss national day which is August first. We had made plans with friends to go tubing along  the Aare river from a small city called Thun down to the capital of Bern. This is one of the most beautiful rivers with crystal clear turquoise water and with views of the snowy peaks of the alps in the distance. 

As the weather forecast promised the best weather for Saturday we picked that day. It is a full day event that takes about 5 hours to float a long the river with the current from Thun to Bern. You bring drinks and something to eat and BBQ. Tradition is to make a stop midway. Make a fire and grill some sausages. 

This is a popular tradition and there were many people at the starting point. It is all very organized where there is a pumping station. You pay about 4 dollars to get to use the pump which is a fast way to inflate your boat. Everyone is using these kinds of rubber boats of various sizes. We had bought one for this year.  A smaller boat that fit the two of us perfectly. But there are boats for 4 persons or more also.

Then you cruise, float and paddle down the river like this. Hanging out with friends having a good time in the sunshine, enjoying the beautiful views. There are parts where you have to paddle more actively and parts where you can just float a long the current in a more relaxed way.

Here we pulled the boat to shore and stopped for lunch. Later when we eventually reached Bern we then took the train back to Thun to retrieve the car that was parked there. Then we were back in Basel around eightish in the evening.

Sunday evening on the 31:st Basel city celebrate with fireworks. It is a great show that everyone can enjoy for free. The city lights up fireworks a long the Rhine river on two big boats. It is a show that goes on for 20 minutes. The fireworks are sponsored by various companies as well as the city itself. A long both sides of the river people line up. There are drinks and food stalls, live music and all kinds of things going on.

On August first the neighboring communities have their very own firework shows. We live in Allschwil and they have their own firework show. Monday is a public holiday for everyone. We had a nice long weekend. In the evening we were invited over to one of the couples that we had done the river rafting with for some BBQ. They have rented the cutest little house in one of the neighboring suburps of Basel but still within bikning distance from the city. We had the most perfect view of the fireworks that Binningen was doing. Those fireworks were actually more impressive than the ones that we had watched at the city the night before. 

An awesome weekend with friends, fireworks and lots of celebration has come to an end.