September 25, 2006

Krakow

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The Market Square

Friday
How are we going to feel about going to the country that forced our grandparents to leave over 100 years ago? How would we feel about visiting Auschwitz voluntarily? These were the questions that kept running through our heads after Nina and I had booked the four day trip to Krakow. We knew straight away that it was going to be a journey full of anomalies – we were going to overlap Rosh Hashana – the Jewish New Year and we were going to where distant cousins had met their untimely deaths at the hands of the Nazi regime.

We arrived in Krakow and were ensconced in our comfortable hotel by 3.30pm and, as it was Friday, decided to go to the Jewish quarter in Kazimiertz immediately. We commandeered a friendly taxi driver, George, who dropped us off at the Temple Synagogue just minutes before it closed. Of the eight main synagogues in the area only two or three are still consecrated and only one conducts services. By 6.30 we had reached the final one on the tour, which by coincidence was the Remuh synagogue where the service was shortly to begin and we decided to stay and participate in the Mincha (afternoon) service. If I had any conscience about the way I arrived and encroached upon the local community, this was assuaged by the arrival of a group of Israelis who expressed feelings very similar to ours. The rabbi arrived looking very impressive in his high fur hat and greeted his congregants with a warm “Shabbat Shalom” individually with a hand shake. One of them asked quite loudly in English – “How is the best policeman in New York?” Was this really his previous calling?

After leaving the synagogue we went to a nearby restaurant, the Ariel, where we had a typically Polish Jewish meal and were entertained by a Klezmer trio. All of this and we were still less than twelve hours out of London!

Saturday
This morning we went on a walking tour of the old city and the private apartments of the Wawel Castle. The main square in Krakow is the largest square in Europe but is very deceptive as the market building in the centre almost divides it into two. One of the attractions of the town is the fact that there are a considerable number of students, the university being quite famous. We saw the clock strike the hour there and acted just as tourists are expected to!

After lunch we visited the Wieliczka Salt Mine and we both said that this was one of the most incredible experiences we have ever had. We only went down three levels but after descending over 800 steps we were quite exhausted and blessed the fact that we were to come back up again by the lift. The “Cathedral” at a depth of over 200 metres is beyond description. The walls floor and chandeliers are all made of salt and salt crystals! The salt is black which is created by various impurities, but it can be sculpted like rock. The walls of the cathedral are carved with many religious reliefs and the floor is carved into a regular tiled pattern. Marriages are even held here.

We were so shattered after this trip that we decided to eat in the hotel that night, but at least the restaurant served a very good meal.

Sunday

To the Memory of Laitsche Bursztyn (Frankiel)
16 July 1914 – 7 August 1942

Today we went to Auschwitz. That sentence alone says it all. I do not know why we felt we had to go there but it was by way of being a catharsis. We did it as a penance for the fact that our lives never touched the horrors that were perpetuated there. This was the most evil place we have ever been to. I found it impossible to take more than one or two pictures as I felt I was encroaching on the memory of those millions of martyrs. I can only salve my conscience by dedicating this paragraph to the mother of my dear “sister”, Claire. We both shed tears at various points on the tour, but none more for me than at Birkenau at the sight of a posy in remembrance on that dreadful railway line.

Dearest Claire, if what I write gives any offence to you, please forgive me. I felt that I had to pay my respects, and this was the only way I could. Both Nina and I had you in our thoughts the whole time we were in that dreadful place.

I can write no more about this trip. Dear readers whoever you are please finish this item in your own mind with thoughts of those no longer with us.

picture album

Posted by jeff at 11:45 PM | Comments (2)

September 13, 2006

Wilton House

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Wilton House

Another day trip from U3A, this time to Wilton House near Salisbury. Perhaps this time a mile too far in a day, as we encountered traffic problems on the M25 and it took 4½ hours to get there and 3½ to get back. Eight hours on the coach for a five hour visit. That apart it was well worth seeing. The Earl of Pembroke, the owner, has an amazing collection of paintings, including works by Rubens, Lely and Van Dyke. Our visit also included a private tour of the parts of the gardens not normally open to the public. We at U3A are truly privileged! As usual I have opened a picture album.

Posted by jeff at 11:01 PM | Comments (0)

September 09, 2006

La Belle Normande

We returned last night from 4 glorious days in Normandy. Once again the trip was organised by Annette for the U3A. We were based in Rouen for the three nights from Tuesday to Thursday and the only problem was that we all felt that the name of the hotel “Comfort” was an oxymoron! No drawers or shelves and only three hangers in the open fronted closet. The beds were comfortable however.

We had the benefit of a great driver and courier in Mick and Sue and all credit to Yorks Travel for co-operating with Annette in the planning and execution.

We visited five different gardens, and I am pleased to be able to provide links to their websites. On Tuesday morning we found ourselves at the Chateau de Mesnil Geoffroy to be met by the "Princess Kayali", who immediately informed us that we were 30 minutes late! At the end of the visit whislt relaxing in the gardens we were informed that the gardens were closed and we would have to leave! I'm sure I have been thrown out of better places than this!!! What a contrast the afternoon visit was. We went to Le Bois des Moutiers to be greeted and guided by the owner, Antoine Bouchayer-Mallet. The fact that he was tall and handsome had nothing to do with the doting looks he received from the ladies!

On Thursday our two visits were to Monet's garden and house at Giverny and the gardens at Le Clos du Coudray.

Friday morning saw us at the Chateau de Bosmelet where we were shown around by the , real this time, Baron Robert de Bosmelet. An English educated true French nobleman. After tihis visit we were off to Abbeville for lunch and then back to Blighty.

As usual, I will leave the pictures to tell the rest of the story.

Posted by jeff at 06:16 PM | Comments (0)