Monday, May 31, 2010

Simple Suisse Dinner

Hi, I am still in Geneva, Switzerland right now. I’m using Geneva as my base and truth be told that I am a bit disappointed why I didn’t book my hotel somewhere in Lavaux, or Lausanne, or even in Vevey instead. Geneva is quite boring and not particularly pretty; well, it’s all about the money here.


What Geneva is all about - the Swiss banking secrecy, it is all about the money here. Swiss Francs are really colorful!

So just quickly want to post my only ‘Swiss Meal’ in this entire stay. I don’t know but I seem to be drawn to Italian restaurants every time I am hungry!

I did not want to try fondue because I don’t want to wake up dehydrated in the middle of the night in my hotel room. Raclette was tempting and I saw the ‘portion’ on the menu which was perfect. Need to taste just a little bit of Swiss fare in this trip, so I ordered a small portion of vegetarian raclette.


My very simple Swiss dinner! Just a portion of Raclette - bread and boiled potato (inside that red basket) dipped on the melted cheese with cornichons on the side.


The Suisse Specialty restaurant in Paquis, Geneva, and guess what? Almost all the diners were foreigners, haha. That doesn’t sound positive to me!

I also ordered green salad and (dried) Vaudois sausage on the side (sorry no foto). Vaud where the sausage is from is another canton in the Lake Geneva region, its capital Lausanne. The wine was Swiss, pointed out by the waitress, nothing spectacular though. She quickly rattled the name of the wine in French and while I (try to) cling on to every French word she said, she was too fast for me! You see I am trying to learn some French words—Oui, Merci, L’addition, s’il vous plait! Haha. Anyway, I am guessing this wine is from Lavaux, Lake Geneva’s wine growing area, also a UNESCO world heritage site.

Travel Period: May-June 2010
Destination: Geneva, Switzerland

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Long weekend break

Hi there--Bonjour! I am off for a looong weekend in Central Europe (Geneve)—looking forward to enjoying the charming villages, learning a new culture and tasting the local fares. All I am wishing is good weather and I so hope the forecast will change because I can’t change my flight and hotel booking now.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Concentration Camp: Auschwitz I

Auschwitz I is now an open-air museum and a UNESCO world heritage site. The once concentration camp is free for everyone to visit, however I would strongly recommend taking a local guide because it will make the visit smooth and meaningful. The guide can give a recap of the history and some interesting tidbits that are not heard of from TV, as well as this will save time from being all over the place because the guide knows the important museum buildings to visit.

The Nazi’s are unbelievably the most organized mass murderers that ever walked on planet earth. The Nazi slogan for this Holocaust extermination project—nothing must be laid to waste. Every bit of every belonging of the Jews was recycled, from shoes to eyeglasses to pots and pans. Even their hair (hair was said to be cheaper than wool) were shaved off and packed, ready for shipment for reselling, and to my shock—their ash remains as well! To be used for farm fertilizer. Inconceivable!


Arbeit macht frei means 'Work liberates or sets you free'. This sign was stolen early this year in January but was later recovered. The sign on the foto is a replica while the original is kept safe somewhere.


The buildings in the concentration camp, they are now museums housing the remnants of the Holocaust from shoes and bags of the victims to their hair. Right foto is the execution wall.


Halt! Stoj! Stop! That is our passionate and somber Polish tour guide, and the right foto is a Nazi watchtower.

I think the most moving and most distressing for me to come to terms with were the hair and the baggage. I saw this vast mountain load of hair behind the glass windows. They looked like wigs, and because I could not believe that they were real hair from the Holocaust victims, I forthrightly asked our guide if it were really, er—real. He replied looking at me as if I am an undesirable alien that just landed from Pluto—this isn’t Hollywood. Ugh, I felt so darn stupid for even asking the question.

And the suitcases… they have names on it, real names of the victims inscribed with their addresses and the countries they come from. I saw a good number of them with ‘Nederland’ on it which was a bit of a confrontation I must say knowing that there are persons behind those names, and that they are dead. They were murdered.

160,800 Dutch Jews were annihilated in Auschwitz as per the document behind a glass table says. I copied these while taking notes on my mobile phone but I didn’t take any fotos inside the buildings as a respect to the victims. As well as Jews from Estonia, Letland, Greece, France, Norway, Belgium, Denmark, Lithuania, Bulgaria, England, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Croatia, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary, Spain and Austria were murdered mercilessly.

Cyclon B chemical was used in the gas chambers to annihilate the Jews, and the Gypsies as well and other prisoners of war, mostly Russian soldiers.

Some of the rules in the concentration camp are that if 1 escaped 10 are to starve. Father Maximillian offered his life when 10 people were put to starvation by the Nazis. These people were released but Father Maximillian died in behalf of them.

There is also a ‘standing prison’ fitted for four people. The prisoners work by day and in the evening they are sent to the standing prison—it is actually a very tiny chamber and if there are 4 people in there, they of course will have to stand for the whole night. Most often these prisoners die from exhaustion.


Left foto is where the prisoners are gathered for the daily roll call.


Left foto is the guard house of the Nazi soldiers holding the roll call. High voltage wires can kill, they are all around the concentration camp, of course now they do not carry voltage anymore. Right foto is where the first commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoss was hanged after sentenced to death by the Polish Supreme National Tribunal in 16 April 1947 (see the wooden platform at the back of the signboard).


The crematorium on the left, the only in tact gas chamber that survived after the war. Vorsicht, hochspannung, lebensgefahr (Deutsch) -- Voorzichtig, hoogspanning, levens gevaarlijk (Dutch) -- Caution, high voltage, perilous (English).

Over 800 Jews and Prisoner of War tried to escape Auschwitz, unfortunately 300 were caught and executed.

Soviet soldiers suffered the most. They were given half the daily calories the Jews were given which are minimal already, not even half of the standard daily calories required, as well as they have to do hard labor for 14 hours a day. The Nazis made sure the Russians soldiers are exhausted so they can’t plan any uprising.

Auschwitz I was killing 5 to 6 thousand people every day. The bodies were burned afterwards and cremated. A group of brave Jews who found a camera while sorting out the belongings of their comrades took fotos of these atrocities. The fotos were smuggled out of the concentration camp by non-Jewish workers and even got to Britain, however nobody really believed and acted. It was too late.

Ash remains of the Jews were used for farm fertilizers. Nothing was laid to waste.

The Crematorium faced capacity issues and because of this Auschwitz II – Birkenau and Auschwitz III – Monowitz were constructed. Auschwitz III – Monowitz was bombed by the Nazis, to cover their evil deed, however they were too late, Auchwitz II - Birkenau fell into the hands of the Russians. The Russians freed the prisoners and were shocked to find out the scale of the atrocities that happened in this concentration camp.

More fotos here: Auschwitz I - Poland
Read the sequel here: Concentration Camp: Auschwitz II - Birkenau

Every May in Europe, the heroes of the Second World War and the millions of victims are remembered.
.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Waffles, Strawberries, Chocolates and Cream

Sigh. I can’t just let go of Brussels for now...


Belgian Street Food: Yummy strawberries and bananas, dipped in three chocolate choices: dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate.


Vendors on every corner of the street in Brussels selling yummy waffles... plump strawberries dipped in chocolate—dark, milk, white, choose whatever you want... and even though I don’t really particularly love eating them as I can’t stand too much sweets, I am happy to say that I am content witnessing other people gobble them up with gusto, as well as breathing in to that ‘waffle-ing’ aroma wafting in the air. Mmmm.... !

Ooohh, yummylicious waffles! Have a feast, they come in different varieties.


Here is moi, while waiting for our table for lunch. I stole this foto from my paparazzi friend in facebook hehe.


Brussels just smells so yummy, but that goes to any Belgian city I think. When you step into the Centrum, the dominant and lingering syrupy odour of waffles instinctively whisks you away to gastronomy land and the next thing you know you are loading a chunk of calorific waffle into your mouth. Haha that quick! The yummy things are that desirable and contagious. Makes you want to eat the whole country or bring it home with you.

Unfortunately I am on a diet =(

Travel Period: May 2010
Destination: Brussels, Belgium

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Zinneke Parade in Brussels

I was In Brussels this weekend and saw the every two years event, ‘Zinneke Parade’ only by coincidence. Haven’t really done my research that well because Blondine and I just planned to eat mussels then go for a little shopping. When we were finally ready to shop, we were caught off guard, the streets were barricaded by a mob of enthusiastic spectators and we were bombarded with colorful confetti flying all over the place.


The Zinneke Parade in Brussels. An artistic social event by the multicultural communities of Brussels.

The parade started at 3PM and it went around Brussels Centrum passing through the Grote Markt/Grand Place, the beautiful main square of Brussels. Theme of the parade was ‘A Table’ (Aan Tafel in Dutch, which is also the same phrase when calling everyone at home to the table to eat).



Too bad, because of the parade Blondine and I were not able to shop!

There will be more fotos and stories of Brussels coming soon but will try to finish my Poland entries first.

Travel Period: May 2012
Destination: Brussels, Belgium

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Kazimierz, the Jewish Ghetto of Krakow

Poland I would say is the cradle of the Holocaust. There is no other country in Europe that lost so many Jews and suffered the most than Poland. The country was torn apart during the Second World War and they were not only under the Nazi jurisdiction, but the Slovaks and the Soviet Union as well.


The Nazis have concentration camps all throughout Europe, from Norway down to Italy. Italy (Mussolini) and Spain (Franco) were allies of Germany and have cooperated well with Hitler. These concentration camps range from being labor camps to transit camps, prison camps, collection points, sometimes ghettos and lastly, extermination camps. The Nazi design was to have Poland pigeonholed for the build and execution of extermination camps. You can just imagine the atmosphere in the country during that time—the thick aroma of death was everywhere. People feared for their lives as well as for their loved ones. I’ll expound more about this in my Auschwitz entry soon.


When the Nazis invaded Krakow, they quickly moved all the Polish Jews to Kazimierz, a neighborhood just outside Stare Miasto. Below you will see fotos of present-day Kazimierz.

Although Kazimierz might have changed through the years, I can personally feel the ‘ghetto’ ambiance here. That stale lingering accent on the air, it’s not sickening—in fact it is surprisingly charming and friendly. Kazimierz has its own magnetism, decrepit yet full of character and charisma, kind of a bit hard to explain you know. I’ve been to the Jewish ghetto in Prague, Josefov and that place doesn’t really remind me of a ghetto, whilst compared to Kazimierz—Kazimierz come across more authentic, like life just picked up after the war. Maybe I am dismembering the details too much. You’ll have to see it for yourself and feel the place.


Left foto is Jozefa street in Kazimierz and on the right is a corner cafe terrace along Estery street right across the Nowy square.


Those plaques up on the wall I find quite charming. On the right foto, at first I thought it was just the usual graffiti art that proliferates in every ghetto, and then I saw Maxwell House (terrible coffee).


This is Nowy square. On top is an antique market and below are produce from the local market in the square and the trader's hall, once a slaughterhouse, now renovated, those windows are food stalls and pretty much a local favorite.


Kazimierz - more snug scenes of the neighborhood here.


More of the Jewish quarter here, you can see Hebrew written on doors and walls, and a close up foto of the infamous Star of David.


The Kupa Synagogue circa 17th century, the venue of the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow and foto on the right, Yidishland exhibition in Kazimierz.


Left foto on the corner of Bartosza leading to Szeroka square which is on the right foto where all the lively and colorful cafe terraces convene.


Moi in Szeroka square having espresso coffee and Zubrowka vodka shot and of course my view to the square and the cafe terraces. It was a beautiful day.


Left foto shows a map of the Jewish Heritage Route; middle foto is a white grand piano on Wolnica square, these grand piano sculptures are scattered all over Krakow; on the right is the biggest Catholic Church in the Jewish ghetto, Bozego Ciala.


Here are Jewish trading stores preserved as they were 65-85 years ago.

More fotos here: Kazimierz, Krakow, Poland

Kazimierz is also the location of the infamous ‘Schindlers List’ (1993) movie. I didn’t get to see the factory because it was located in a different area and I was too lazy to walk over there, instead I parked myself on a café terrace in Szeroka square and enjoyed the beautiful sun, an espresso and 2 vodka shots of Zubrowka. Now that is life. I will try Belvedere and Chopin next time. Interestingly, while reading about vodka, I’ve come across a list of best rated vodkas in the world and I was surprised to find 2 Dutch brands among the Eastern European brands and 1 Swedish on the top 10 list!—Ketel One Vodka and Vox Vodka. I didn’t know the Dutch are into vodka?! Hmm, I better go to the alcohol store and check them out =0

Roman Polanski as well once lived here as a child during the Nazi occupation. I’ve watched his ‘The Pianist’ film (2002) set in Warsaw—ah, another lovely place to visit soon. That film is just outstanding, rightful for the award.



Travel Period: May 2010
Destination: Krakow (Lesser Poland), Poland


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