The British Invasion (….in Malta)

I can’t believe we’ve made it to Malta.  Finishing up this trip means that we only have one small jaunt left before we move back to the States.  It’s really starting to sink in.  Malta is a small island a hop, skip, and a jump away from Italy, sitting just south of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea.  As the title of this blog suggests, it is crawling with Brits, which I don’t mind because it means I’m not the whitest person by the pool.  :)  In all seriousness, though, the people of Malta are the best English speakers I have heard outside of an English-speaking country.  (They speak Italian pretty well too!) I guess it’s probably because they didn’t gain independence from the UK until 1964 and as one of the hotel’s waitresses put it, it’s mandatory to learn the language in school.  (I might add that it’s mandatory to learn a lot of things in school, but Malta must really take the English-learnin’ seriously.)… [Read More]

Boldog Karácsonyt (from Budapest!)

Shoes on the Danube - Holocaust Memorial

Last year, we were invited by some Olmsted Scholars from the class of 2012 to celebrate Christmas in the High Tatras Mountains of Slovakia.  We had such a good time that we decided to continue the tradition and organize a Christmas trip for 2013.  This year, Bobby and I traveled to Budapest, Hungary to meet up with five other scholars and their families.  We spent four nights in the gorgeous capital city, taking in the Christmas market, seeing the Chain Bridge and Holocaust Memorial, visiting the famous Szechenyi thermal baths, hiking up Gellért Hill, and gathering for nightly meals with our Olmsted friends.  Although we are always slightly bummed we can’t spend the holidays with our families (….until next year!), it was really nice to share Christmas with a fantastic group of people from our military family.

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The Baltic Rim: Latvia

This guy was collecting the seaweed along the coast

Next stop in the Baltic region: Latvia!  Once again, our Latvia travel and cultural knowledge of its people was next to zero.  Although it is one of the least populous countries in the European Union, we were pleasantly surprised by its capital city, Riga.  Because of its phenomenal Art Nouveau architecture, the historical center of Riga was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and we were not surprised to find out that the city will be a European Capital of Culture in 2014.  The people of Latvia, however, suffered along with the rest of Europe during World War II.  Just southeast of Riga, in Salaspils, the Third Reich constructed a prison and work camp.  In addition to the German Jews who perished during the construction of the camp, about 2,000 to 3,000 people died at Salaspils due to illness, heavy labor, and inhuman treatment.  Additionally, it’s estimated that one half of the children at the camp died due to outbreaks of typhoid fever and measles.  After the war, 632 corpses of children of ages 5 to 9 were discovered in a mass grave at the concentration camp.  Today at the site there is a gut-wrenching monument composed of over-sized statues protecting their children or dragging themselves forward…. [Read More]

Warsaw Uprising

Just outside the city walls

Unlike Krakow, Warsaw was not occupied by the Nazis with the intent of turning it into a German state.  Instead, 84% of the city was destroyed by German and Russian bombing raids, heavy artillery fire, and planned demolition campaigns during the course of World War II.  Approximately 1,150 sorties were flown by a wide variety of aircraft over the skies of Warsaw, effectively cutting the city off at the knees.  After the conclusion of the bombing campaigns, German troops planned to take over Warsaw, but they were met with resistance from the Polish Army.  Dubbed the “Warsaw Uprising”, the Home Army consisted of anywhere between 20,000 and 49,000 soldiers.  This constituted the largest single military effort taken by any European resistance movement of World War II.  Unfortunately, they received little help from the Allied Forces due to the fact they were surrounded by both German and Russian forces.  American and British planes did drop relief packages with arms, food, and warm clothing to try and help, but unfortunately, they were eventually put down.  Those that could, escaped, while tens of thousands of their fellow citizens perished under a ruthless Nazi campaign of reprisal.  … [Read More]

Occupying Krakow

Old City walls

Poland’s history forever changed on 1 September 1939 when Nazi Germany invaded its western border.  On 6 September, the troops of the Third Reich reached Krakow and the city was quickly established as the capital of the Nazi’s “General Government,” a colonial authority under the leadership of Hans Frank.  In less than a week, the city of Krakow was officially occupied.  The Germans dismantled many statues in Krakow’s historical center, they “Germanized” street names, set a curfew for the Poles, and within six months, created a Jewish Ghetto.  Today, most of Krakow has been returned to its former glory – street signs are once again in Polish and some of the important monuments were rebuilt, but pieces of Krakow’s brutal past still linger.  To commemorate the city’s history, a portion of the Ghetto wall still stands and nearby, the city commissioned a new memorial to honor the Jews who perished within its walls.  Oskar Schindler’s (from the famed movie Schindler’s List) factory still stands in the same place, although it now serves as a (wonderful!) museum explaining the occupation of Krakow.  Bobby and I spent three lovely days in this wonderful city – walking the streets, visiting its museums, and eating some pretty spectacular Polish fare.  … [Read More]

Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camp

Train tracks dead-end in Auschwitz-Birkenau

Where to start?  Last year, Bobby and I visited Dachau Concentration Camp and it was a sobering experience.  However, our trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau was even more horrifying. It is commonly said, due to the robust rail network built by Nazi Germany, “all roads led to Auschwitz.” It became the number one extermination camp for Jews, Poles, the Roma community, homosexuals, the elderly, young children, and political prisoners during World War II.  The Third Reich shipped the Jewish population, specifically, to Auschwitz from as far south as Corfu, Greece and as far north as Oslo, Norway.  80-100 prisoners were put on each boxcar with little room to sit, next-to-no food, and just a bucket to use the bathroom, for sometimes up to three weeks before reaching their final destination.  Many passengers died during the hellish journey.  For those that lived, the second they stepped off the train they were met by the head SS doctor.  In an interview lasting four seconds, he would give a simple “left” or “right” with the turn of his thumb, effectively granting life or death.  Those directed to the left were immediately put in the gas chamber.  Those put to the right, the “lucky” ones, were condemned to hard labor, until they were no longer fit or worked to death.  In all, 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz from 1940-1945; 1.1 million were Jews, 140-150,000 Poles, 23,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviet POWs, and 25,000 prisoners from other ethnic groups.  An estimated 1.1 out of the 1.3 million people who entered Auschwitz died inside the gates and approximately 90% belonged to the Jewish community.  … [Read More]

Our 2nd Italian Anniversary

First night on the water

I know I’m a little late, but September 6th marked our 2nd Italian anniversary.  This means we have passed well over the halfway point of Bobby’s Olmsted experience.  Wow!  I’d like to highlight some of our favorite travel spots we were fortunate enough to see this year (see our first year favorites here). First though, we’d like to reiterate to the Olmsted Foundation how incredibly grateful we are for this amazing opportunity.  We never thought we’d get travel like this as a couple, nor have the chance to learn a second language while experiencing the culture first-hand.  We can’t express our gratitude enough – thank you, thank you, thank you!… [Read More]

Landing Ship Tank 325 – A Floating WWII Memorial

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Currently, I’m spending some time in the States visiting family and as luck would have it, a very cool Navy ship docked near my hometown.  The USS Landing Ship Tank 325, based out of Evansville, Indiana, takes summer cruises up the Ohio River each year, and it just so happened that I was at home when it made a stop in Ashland, Kentucky this weekend.  The LST-325 is a decommissioned Navy ship that was first launched in 1942 during World War II.  It is the type of boat in the famous beach scenes in Saving Private Ryan (where troops storm the beaches of Normandy) and Flags of Our Fathers (about the landing at Iwo Jima).  The boats can beach themselves and then tanks can exit directly from sea to land.

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A Weekend in Berlin

Old Eastern Bloc car breaking through the wall

Berlin has been on my “top places to visit” list ever since we moved to Europe.  We had the opportunity to spend a weekend in Berlin with our friends the Senkowskis (OSC ’12) and it exceeded all our expectations.  At first glance, we were impressed by its size, its large public transportation network, and the accessibility to international food. (Chinese, Middle Eastern, Indian food anyone?)  Although it is a very trendy city with its modern art and architecture and hipster-clad 30-somethings, it is also deeply rooted in history.  There may well be a WWII museum on every corner.  I found the juxtaposition between new and old refreshing; it seemed as though the city embraced its past, but aimed to make a splash in the future.

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Eagle’s Nest – Berchtesgaden, Germany

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Kehlsteinhaus, or “Eagle’s Nest,” was built as a retreat for Adolf Hitler’s 50th birthday present.  Constructed on Mount Kehlstein in Berchtesgaden, Germany, the chalet-style house served as an extension of the larger Obersalzberg complex, which also contained houses for Hitler’s top henchmen, SS offices, Hitler’s tea house, and several strategic bunkers.  Although almost all of the Obersalzberg complex was destroyed, the Eagle’s Nest survived.  Today, the Eagle’s Nest continues as a restaurant built around the original red marble fireplace that Mussolini gifted Hitler. … [Read More]