Monday, April 11, 2011

Lovely Day for a Guinness

Heya lads and lassies! Just finished a fun weekend in Dublin with my friend Lisa who came to visit from CT.   She really lucked out - we had gorgeous weather.  It was a great excuse to do some of the touristy things around town too...

Guinness Storehouse was cool - Lisa wanted to go there "just to get some pint glasses," however, since they wouldn't let us just go in the gift shop we were forced to buy tickets and drink some beer and get brainwashed...

poetry, really?  isn't that kind of a stretch?

city view from the gravity bar at the top 

Next stop was Kilmainham Gaol (jail) - pretty interesting tour.  We learned all about the Irish fight for independence from the English, and this is where many Irish political prisoners were executed.

center of the jail

memorial outside the jail to the 14 irish leaders who were executed for fighting for irish freedom. Streets, train stations, bridges, and buildings all over the city are named after these guys. 

guinness trucks are a pretty common sight in Dublin.  They look like oil tankers to me - always get a laugh when i see several drive by at a time. 

We went to Johnnie Fox's pub for some dinner / entertainment at their famous "Hooley Night" show.  Apparently it's the highest pub in Ireland, and you have to take a shuttle bus about 30 minutes through winding roads up a mountain in the countryside to get there.  It was a pretty great crowd - and lots of singing on the bus on the way back home at the end of the night... :)  

 the inside of this place was all decked out in antiques, old pictures, pots and pans hanging from the ceiling - really cute place.  you could probably hang out here for hours just looking at all the decorations!

the two loveliest ladies in the pub 

 here's some pics / videos of the band and the irish dancing - they were actually really good!

I taught the bartenders there how to make my famous green minty drink - i wonder if it'll end up on their list of cocktails... the bus ride home was really fun too - everyone was singing "nah nah nah nah, hey hey hey...goodbye" everytime someone got off the bus at a different stop!  I'm sure the bus driver was relieved to be done with his shift once everyone had been dropped off.

Sunday was another gorgeous day - perfect for just relaxing and walking around town.  We spent a few hours looking at artwork all around Merrion Square (out every Sunday), and I actually ended up buying some beautiful paintings for my apartment - so now my place finally feels cozy like home.  :)

After 4 nights in Dublin I think Lisa will sleep very well when she gets home to her hubbie. :)  Yet another amazing weekend here in Ireland - and now back to the grindstone until the next one.


After touring Auschwitz-Birkenau in the morning, I met up with my friend Sara in Krakow (we play soccer together in CT).  Sara's been living in Poland (Wroclow) for about 4 months, and has about a year left there for a work assignment.  We ended up driving to the Wieliczka salt mines to do a tour.  Here's some pics from the mines - everything including walls, ground lighting fixtures, statues - made of salt.

salty gnomes (which reminds me, i still haven't seen gnomeo and juliet!)

huge salt church 130 meters underground - still functioning for mass, weddings, worship, etc...i wonder if they use saltines instead of wafers...

After we were all salted out, Sara and I found a tiny restaurant with authentic Polish cuisine.  The meal started with bread and lard with chunks of stuff in it:

for the main course we each had a pork knuckle (they had 15 different varieties of pork knuckle to choose from!)

and perogies...

the seats in the restaurant were covered with big wooley blankets

After dinner we found a bar with some live music - and discovered that Bob Marley is a legend everywhere!

some artwork we encountered on the walk back to our hotel.

today's headlines:

Our last day in Krakow we did a bike tour of the city.  Our guide, Phil, gave us and 2 other girls (american) a great tour of the city and its surroundings.  Coincidentally the 2 other girls are studying abroad in Dublin!  Here's some pics I took along the tour:

Main square in city center

random guy walking a lamb

mom & pop rock band

the residence of Pope John Paul II.  He's extremely popular in Poland as it was his birthplace and the country is 95% Roman Catholic.  You can spot pictures and statues of him everywhere!  Our guide told us that when he died, it was a very sad time for the country.  Two rival soccer teams that often had violent clashes between the fans actually refrained from fighting for an entire week out of respect for the pope - something that had never happened before between the two teams.

the "priest factory" where hundreds go to study the priesthood.

this was the center of the Jewish ghetto where SS soldiers lined everyone up and made selections as to who would be allowed out of the ghetto to work in Oscar Schindler's factory.  The chairs are a memorial to all the people who underwent the frightening inspections and were forced to move into this cramped area of the city, leaving their homes behind.

The walls surrounding the Jewish ghetto were actually designed to look like tombstones - a cruel message from the SS soldiers to all those trapped inside.

outside Schindler's factory - memorial plaque reads "whoever saves one life, saves the world entire."

Statue of man's best friend. :)

The Wawel Castle 

The bike tour was really great - we had an awesome guide who took us on a great route.  The weather was beautiful that day too - around 70 degrees!! :)  Took a flight home that evening and got up early the next morning for yet another week at the office...Not bad being able to go to Poland for a weekend! :)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


This past weekend I went to Krakow, Poland.  The first place I visited was the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest concentration camp with the highest death toll during WWII (1.5 million lives).  To see the site of such massive hatred and suffering with my own eyes was a very emotional experience.  This post is solely focused on my visit to Auschwitz, so just a warning in advance that the pictures I'm sharing will be very unsettling and some graphic.

I woke up at about 5:30am Saturday morning to catch the train (about 90 min) to Oswiecim, the town where the camp is located.  The ride was very eerie - the train route was very quiet and desolate, and unsettling thinking that this was one of the routes that prisoners on their way to the death camp took not more than 60-70 years ago.

Here's the station:

The museum site itself is actually split into 2 concentration camps.  The first, Auschwitz I, was built initially to imprison and exterminate Polish prisoners.  However, the Nazis soon began to deport prisoners from all different populations to the camp, mainly Jews, Soviet POW's, and citizens of various occupied European territories: Hungarians, Romas (gypsies), Czechs, Yugoslavians, Frenchman, Austrians, and Germans.  This first camp held up to 20,000 prisoners at a time.  Upon arrival at the camp, the prisoners were already exhausted from the trip which was often 7-10 days cramped into a train without food, and many prisoners were already dead.  Those who survived the brutal trip were forced off the train and into the camp entrance, often beaten along the way.

 Upon arrival, SS guards stripped prisoners of all their personal belongings and valuables, including eyeglasses, prosthetic limbs, cookware, shoes, toothbrushes, makeup brushes, etc...  The items were all organized together and intended for future use or sale by the Nazis.  Hair was cut off the heads of women and girls and packaged to be shipped off to factories to make cloth or other textiles.  When the Soviet's liberated the camp at the end of the war they found 7 TONS of human hair that had not yet been shipped from the camp.  One of the most disturbing exhibits was an entire mountain of this hair - enough to fill several large rooms. It really gave a sense of the massive scale of this horrific operation.

exhibit of childrens' shoes 

One of the main causes of death in the camp was starvation - prisoners were barely fed at all and forced into excruciating work, many died while working, or of rampant disease, or of starvation.  The women pictured below weighed about 130-140 pounds before arrival; and only 50-60 pounds when the camp was liberated.  They were the lucky few who actually survived.

Others suffered and died of cruel experimentation.

This is the "death wall" between two of the barracks where SS guards shot or hung thousands of prisoners, often for no reason at all, and in front of the other prisoners. Prisoners could be murdered for helping a fellow sick prisoner, obtaining extra food, taking breaks while working...pretty much for anything at all.

More barracks.  There is now a barrack for each of the populations who fell victim to the Nazi death camps, so you can learn more detail about the sufferings of specific ethnic groups.

Childrens' drawings...

Appalling humiliation of a female prisoner who had just given birth.

Photo of SS soldier murdering a mother holding her child.

 Prisoners were tortured through backbreaking labor, flogging, spending hours even days in tiny "standing cells" too tiny to sit down in, and hung by the wrists causing shoulder dislocation for hours.

 barbed wire electric fences kept prisoners from escaping.  some committed suicide by electrocution.

The gas chamber at Auschwitz I where thousands of prisoners were murdered.  After death gold fillings from the teeth of prisoners were extracted and melted into blocks for future usage, in addition to any remaining hair.  

After a year the SS forced the prisoners to build a second camp 3km away - Auschwitz-Birkenau II, which held up to 100,000 people at a time and became a gigantic factory of death - 75% of each new transport of prisoners was immediately sent to the gas chambers here (including 100% of all children and elderly), while the remaining 25% were seen fit to work.

Birkenau is 425 acres - you can't even see the other end when you're standing on one end. This place is absolutely huge and makes you realize how massive this operation was.  The most haunting thing about this camp was just how mechanical it all was - it was really like one big assembly line of death, a place of pure evil.  How anyone could commit these crimes and torture another human being like that is beyond me.  It made me sick to my stomach seeing all this with my own eyes.


The camp stretched beyond those trees in the background, and was at least twice as wide.

 Unloading dock where 3 out of 4 prisoners and all children and elderly were marched straight to the gas chambers.

Drainage ditches the prisoners dug themselves.

One of many pools / pits where dead bodies were piled; and often burned in the open air because they ran out of room in the crematoriums.  Babies were thrown into the burning pits alive.

The Nazis tried to hide their crimes by blowing up all the gas chambers with dynamite just before the liberation.  All that's left is the remains.

 The air still smelled like ash at Birkenau - very haunting.  I saw lots of ant hills like the one here that looked to be made of ash as well - probably from ants digging it up from underground.

Pools where ashes were dumped.

At the very end of the train tracks you can barely see the tower of the main entrance.  And the camp went almost as far back in the opposite direction.

I didn't know what to expect before visiting Auschwitz, but it really gave me a different perspective about the crimes committed during the war by seeing it with my own eyes.  What was done was absolutely devastating and my heart breaks for all the men, women, and children who lost their lives and families.   I still don't understand how something like this was allowed to happen, how all this was even possible. It's beyond me. But I hope that humanity can learn from this tragedy and never allow this to happen again.