In the Marais with Martine

We took advantage of the Paris Greeter again and just as before, it was well worth it.  If you have some time and really want to get to know an area, I cannot recommend it enough.  The personalities of the greeters are unique, but the common link is that they all share a passion for their area.

Today we met Martine at the St. Paul Cafe and walked through the old Marais.  She grew up in the area and with her Jewish heritage, had many stories to share about the occupation.  More information will come about that in a post purely about the occupation.  On the walk, I felt as though I saw the city as it was in the 16th century.  Check out the gallery below to see some sights we saw and click the images to get more background information.

Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam

Anne-Frank-HouseEveryone always comments on their claustrophobia in the Annex that Anne Frank and seven others lived in during the Holocaust.  The challenge for me was trying to comprehend how someone could survive in such little light . I felt the darkness was symbolic of the dark times.  I can’t imagine staying inside for 25 months.

Visiting the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam can be an emotional experience.  So many are familiar with the story of the young girl growing up during the Holocaust.  As I walked through the museum, I wished that the rooms could have been recreated to look like they did while she was there.  It would have helped me understand the size, and how confined it would have felt.  There is power in seeing the table where they would have had whispered conversations, or beds where they slept through fearful nights.

In the museum, you wind your way through each of the areas as you learn more about her life.  You see photos of celebrities pasted on the wall.  She wrote in her diary, “I have transformed the walls into one gigantic picture. This makes it look much more cheerful.”

Another hall leads you to a room with videos.  I was impacted by an interview with a survivor.  She was a friend of Anne’s on the other side of the fence.  There was a moment in the interview where she reflected on whether or not Anne would have had the strength to survive if she had known that her dad had survived.  Could the power of hope have saved her?  I think it would be nearly impossible to survive in a world where all hope seems lost.

One image that struck me was of Otto Frank.  The photo was taken after surviving the concentration camp.  In this Day-2-2postcard you see Otto Frank with the weight of knowing he was the sole survivor of those that resided in this room for two years and one month.  How troubling for a father.  Mies Giep was a savior for the families during the war, and I think she was for Otto after the war.

If you are interested in visiting the museum, I highly recommend purchasing tickets ahead of time.  Otherwise, you will be spending more time outside the museum than in.  If you’d like information, please visit the official site.

artwork from l'orangerie

L’Orangerie in Paris

Europe 2011 1154The former orange shelter located in the Tuilleries Gardens is an Impressionist treasure.  If hearing names like Monet, Renoir, or Picasso conjure interest, then this is a great museum for you.  The collection cannot compare in size to the collection at the Musee D’Orsay, but the works are well worth the visit.

The feature exhibit is Monet’s Water Lilies.  As you walk in, light grazes over the blurred scenery.  A calming sound plays as you walk through the appearance of the lilies throughout the day.  It is easy to imagine a blinding Monet working on this canvas, but as the light changes in the day, moving on to that canvas.

Beyond the lilies, you can also see other Impressionist works.  While in the museum on my last visit, there was a special exhibition on Gino Severini.  I was first introduced to Severini at the Peggy Guggenheim museum in Venice.  Since then, I have been a big fan.  Unfortunately, we could not take pictures in that exhibit, so I have no images to share.

If you want to enhance this experience even more, take a day trip out to Giverny to see where Monet worked and found inspiration.

Visiting Dachau

MemorialSometimes the sites we see while traveling do not have a positive memory.  Although it can be challenging to enter these places, it is important to go.  Visiting a place like a concentration camp brings knowledge that is crucial to pass down.  Dachau was my first concentration camp.  It may sound odd to say this, but I have been wanting to see a concentration camp for a long time.  This time period in history is intriguing to me, and I always want to know more.  Perhaps I feel that if I can dissect what happened, then I can pass that on to my students to help prevent a tragedy like this from happening again.

Dachau is not an extermination camp like Auschwitz.  It is more of a working/reformation camp.  Dachau began with the goal to reeducate those against the Nazi party.  Journalists, priests, and others were sent to be brainwashed of their own beliefs.  If they did not change, then they did not leave.  Many times they did not leave anyway.  Later, the other groups came.  Jews, homosexuals, and gypsies were a few that could be found in Dachau.  Each was given a symbol to represent who they were.  Most of us know the yellow star, but other symbols were used to show different groups.

A key component of genocide is dehumanizing.  As the prisoners entered they were told they were nothing and had no worth.  The verbal abuse along with the physical changes would tear down the people.  The gates state, “Arbeit Macht Frei” which means work will set you free.  For many, the only freedom that work provided was death, and the ability to leave this world.

If you want to visit a perfectly preserved concentration camp, then this is not the ideal one.  It remained a refugee camp after the war and was then torn down.  They have laid out concrete foundations to show the placement of the barracks. There is one set of barracks that have been recreated to show what it would have looked like.  The beds changed over the duration of the camp.  By the end it was like an endless row of bunk beds.  These beds were made to hold 50 people, but at times they held over 400.  I pictured all of the eighth graders in my school fitting, and it just didn’t seem plausible.  Prisoners would avoid getting up in the night because they would lose there spot and have to lie on someone.

The crematorium is a challenging area to get through.  As you walk in, you see the different sections.  There is a gas chamber located inside, but it was not used for mass killings like other camps.  It was eerie to see the gathering and disrobing room.  As the people would take off their clothes they would enter another room labeled, “Brausebad” which means shower in German.  I wonder how many knew about this deception at the time.  Beyond that you will come across a room used for disinfecting the articles of clothing after the prisoners had removed the items.  In the crematorium you also find the incinerators which seem to still have ashes clinging to the walls.  The final room you come into is where the dead bodies were housed before they were burned.  Our tour guide said that the room was full when the camp was liberated.

The museum really opens the window into what happened at Dachau.  There is a meaningful combination of text and images The medical experiments were horrendous.  Some were given embolisms while others were injected with malaria.  Some even had different air pressures tested on them with tragic results.  There are images from the museum that still flash in my memory as I remember my visit.  One of the most powerful sites at the camp is the memorial.  The sculpture depicts prisoners jumping into a hot fence to escape their suffering.  Some could not endure the pain any longer.

Have you ever visited an infamous place that has left you more informed and wanting to know more?

Traveling to Europe for the First Time

Canal-6You’ve got your passport ready for its first European stamp.  Perhaps you’re feeling a little nervous about the unexpected elements that come with traveling abroad.  Although you may be experiencing some fear, it really is not so different from visiting other states.  With some knowledge going in, you will be a pro as you step onto my favorite continent.  Here are some things you may want to consider before you go:

Electrical

Not only are the outlets visually different, but the voltage is different as well.  We’ve lost some hair dryers and straighteners because of this.  Another thing to consider is the difference between European countries.  If you are traveling to England and France, you will notice a difference.  To cover all of my needs in one shot, I use the Travel Smart by Conair.  Then, I don’t have to worry which adapter and converter I need, it is all together in one convenient package.

If you know that you will be traveling to these countries again, you may want to consider purchasing the necessities over there.  My aunt and I share a hair straightener that we bought in Paris.  It is something I use everyday, so the small investment is worthwhile since I don’t have to worry about my straightener going on the fritz.

Currency

Most countries in Europe use the Euro, but not all.  Make sure you research what currency you will need.  I typically go over with about 100 Euros and then I get the rest from ATMs.  This seems to be the best deal.

Besides having the right currency, you might want to consider where and how you spend it.  This past summer I realized that Switzerland is really expensive.  I bought minimal items there and only purchased souvenirs that were quintessential Swiss.

LanguagePiano Man at the Cabaret

English is spoken widely across Europe, but you shouldn’t go in expecting everyone to speak English.  Make sure you take some time to get the basics down.  Even if you are in a major city, and you think someone might speak English, start by saying hello in their language and asking if they speak English.  This is a courtesy that is appreciated.  Some key phrases you may want to work on are:

Hello/Goodbye

Toilet

Do you speak English?

How much does this cost?

Where is…?

Please

Thank you

Weather

Rain, wind, snow, hot, cold.  You name it, they’ve got it.  You can sometimes experience almost every type of weather on one trip.  Look up the climate for the areas you will be visiting, but only take this as a suggestion.  I have been to Paris when it is steaming and frigid (all in the same month).

Decide if a rain coat is best for you or if an umbrella will do the job.  I’m an umbrella kind of gal because I can stow it away easily.

Water

I drink tap water.  I have never been sick from the water in Europe.  I generally buy a bottle of water and refill it throughout the day.  Obviously this is a personal preference, but know that the water is about the same quality as we experience at home.

One fun thing to try is the water with gas.  We have it here in the states, but it is much more popular in Europe.  If you ask for a bottle of water they will respond with gas or no gas.  Give it a try if you never have.  The Europeans love it.  I am starting to appreciate it.

Tired Transportation

Getting around Europe is much more practical than getting around the US (especially without a car).  Flights are affordable, high speed trains make trips quick, and public transportation within cities makes every sight accessible.  Make sure you know what kind of public transportation is available.  I like to cut out the metro map from the guidebook to carry with me.  Be cautious though since they do change.

One thing you may want to prepare for are strikes.  I’ve noticed it most while traveling in Italy, but it is a way of life for them.  Luckily, they typically post strikes in advance so you can plan accordingly.  As with any cities public transportation, be prepared for issues.

Politics/News

Reading up on the political news is both smart and a safe move.  It is important to know if tensions are building between the country you are visiting and another group.  It is also important to understand how the public handles politics they disagree with.  It is possible that you may be in town when there is a demonstration or riot.  Know what to expect.  Our government has a great resource to check before you go: International Travel Information.

History

I love American History, but European history is so rich and multifaceted.  Their history extends millennia before we were a country.  Read up on a little bit of the history.  Determine what is most intriguing to you.  Perhaps you find the ancients fascinating.  If so, make sure you visit the sites containing this history.  Maybe you get a kick out of the military.  There are museums for you.  Europe is so full of history that it is probably impossible to know it all.  Going in with some basic knowledge of the history allows you to delve into what will mean the most to you.

ArtThe Thinker

I approach art the same way I do history.  I try to have a grasp on the different styles and how they have evolved.  Then I figure out what style I enjoy the most, and make a point of visiting places that support that style.  Art is history, so for those of you that don’t typically enjoy the art scene, view it as visual history; a form of storytelling.

Safety

I will speak about this more in the future, but make sure you are thinking about it.  When I say safety, I am mostly referring to pickpockets.  Violence does happen in Europe, but the main crime you might experience is theft.  Consider purchasing a money belt or buying a bag that is anti-left.  I love the PacSafe bags.

–What are some things you wish you new about Europe before you went?–