Day trip to Rotterdam

After a great three days in Amsterdam, Noah and I wanted to take a day trip to another city in the Netherlands. Rotterdam was an easy day trip and offered some interesting sights related to architecture, so we thought this would be the perfect destination! Trains from Amsterdam to Rotterdam run frequently, so getting there from the Amsterdam Centraal Station wasn’t too much trouble. Unfortunately, the express train we had planned to take was cancelled (surprise surprise!), but the local train only took about 15 minutes longer, so it wasn’t too much of an inconvenience.

IMG_7285

Adventurin’…

IMG_7286

Rotterdam is known for its unusual and modern architecture. The city was basically entirely destroyed in World War II, so the entire landscape shows a very ‘new’ look, and it seems that the remodel opportunity was used to have some architectural fun. Architecture is an interest of Noah’s, so he was especially excited to see the city. We used an app (Rotterdam Info) to guide us on an architecture walk through the city.

The first stop…Rotterdam’s Centraal Station – this was easy since our train from Amsterdam arrived there!

IMG_7287

Rotterdam’s main train station, this building was revamped and reopened to the public in March 2014:

IMG_7291

Right near the train station were several other interesting buildings including Groot Handelsgebouw, an enormous business center that covers a building block of 720 x 275 ft. Also, this is the style that once symbolized post-war reconstruction in Rotterdam:

IMG_7292

Delftse Poort are high-rise office buildings just across the street from Centraal Station that immediately give the city a metropolitan feel. These buildings are an imposing 495 ft. tall and have a mirrored facade:

IMG_7293

De Calypso is a colorful building with sloping walls. Inside are apartments, offices, shops, and, naturally, parking:

IMG_7296

And, to make things even more fun, there’s an oddly shaped church attached to the end of De Calypso:

IMG_7299

The Westersingel canal (a primary canal in Rotterdam that runs from Chinatown to the Museum Quarter) has interesting sculptures dotting the pathway along the water. The name for this route is Beeldenroute Westersingel (Westersingel Sculpture Route). There are 17 sculptures featured, created by artists from around the world:

IMG_7300 IMG_7301

The end of the sculpture walk brought us to an odd (and apparently somewhat controversial) statue. The statue’s official name is ‘Santa Claus.’ but it is known at the Buttplug Gnome (hence, the controversy as to whether this type of statue should be displayed by the city). It is supposed to be making a comment about pop culture.

IMG_7302

Moving right along…SHOPPING!!!

IMG_7304

Lijnbaan, the busiest shopping street in Rotterdam, was the first pedestrian shopping area in Europe. There was a large mix of stores including popular American brands I recognized as well as smaller boutiques:

IMG_7305

Just off of Lijnbaan is the City Hall building. There’s a street running under the center of the building!

IMG_7306

Interesting window shopping continued at the Beursplein, also sometimes called the ‘shopping trench’ because it is a below street-level pedestrian shopping area:

IMG_7308

Walking through the Beursplein led to a momentous occasion…my first Swatch! Noah is a big Swatch fan, and I finally let my envy of his cool watches get the better of me:

IMG_7309

The Grote of Sint Laurenskerk (often called Laurens Church) was built sometime in the late 15th or early 16th centuries and is the only surviving late-Gothic building in the city. Today, the building is used not only by tourists and churchgoers but also for concerts, lectures, and other large events:

IMG_7310

After all this sightseeing, Noah and I were hungry for lunch and excited to stop for a bite to eat at one of the most interesting buildings we saw…Markthal:

IMG_7312

Markthal (Market Hall) is a recently-opened indoor food market with shops, stands, produce vendors, restaurants and more. Of course, I would love this sort of food market no mater what, but the building itself is part of what makes this place really interesting. The building is built with apartments and offices forming a partial oval around an open-air center area. In this picture, the internal area extending from the large central window is the open-air market while the exterior ring is office buildings and apartments:

IMG_7316

Inside…food, food, food!

IMG_7317 IMG_7319 IMG_7320 IMG_7323 IMG_7318

From the inside, the ring of offices/apartments looms high above all the action, and the dividing wall is decorated with flower images:

IMG_7321

Here is a view to the outside from the center of the market:

IMG_7322

So neat!

After lunch, we looked at a couple of the other neat buildings in the immediate vicinity. Directly across the street from Markthal was Bibliotheek Rotterdam, Rotterdam’s public library:

IMG_7315

Also across from the Markthal are the iconic cube houses:

IMG_7324

These houses were designed by an architect named Piet Blom. His vision was to make the houses look like trees and have the complete unit appear like a forest.

IMG_7326

One cube house is a small museum of sorts where visitors can go inside and see what it would be like to live inside one of these houses. From the inside, the design seemed like a pretty inefficient use of space to me, but it was fun to get a view from within! Here’s a peek out of the attic window:

IMG_7328

Our last adventures of the day were to walk along the Nieuwe Maas (the large river running through Rotterdam) and to visit the Het Nieuwe Instituut.

IMG_7329 IMG_7334

The wind next to the water was incredible. I literally thought I might be blown away, so we didn’t spend too long there before seeking cover on a different walkway. The Het Nieuwe Instituut is a contemporary museum about innovation. Unfortunately, our visit was a bit disappointing because half of the 4 exhibits were closed or not completed. There was a fairly detailed exhibit on 3D printing though….if that’s you’re thing. 🙂

Other posts from the Amsterdam Trip

Travel day and hotel
Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, and Keukenhof Gardens
Canal Cruise, Museum of the Canals, and the Old Jewish Quarter
Anne Frank House, Amsterdam City Museum, and Oude Kerk

 

Anne Frank House, Amsterdam Museum, and Oude Kerk

While I was able to get advance tickets to the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum, there were no online advance tickets available for the Anne Frank House. From the website, it seemed as though there are only a small number of advance-purchase tickets available to the Anne Frank House for any given day and they sell out well in advance (I didn’t see any tickets available until late May!). Since this is one of the most popular attractions in Amsterdam, I knew we would should expect some high waiting times in line (and, in the days prior to the visit, I saw long lines snaking around the blocks near to the museum).

The House opened at 9:00am, so Noah and I got to the line at about 8:30 – there were already over 100 people in front of us (yes, that is the line snaking up the block and curving to the right):

IMG_7250

Within the next half hour before the museum opened, the line increased to a few hundred (I couldn’t even see the end!):

IMG_7251

Holy cow – this was quite the line! We waited close to two hours in line before getting into the museum…good thing I brought my book! Inside the House, no photos were allowed, and it was very crowded. Basically, everyone walked through the rooms in a line, reading the information on the walls and looking at some of the artifacts on display. It was definitely a worthwhile visit, and I found it particularly interesting to see who was in the crowd of visitors. The Diary of Anne Frank is the Holocaust book that has achieved the greatest degree of worldwide popularity, and as such it seems to have become a symbol and point of connection to the Holocaust within communities and people that might not generally have much in the way of Holocaust education and exposure. As someone who has had a higher degree of Holocaust education (and especially after my Heritage Seminars trip to Poland in January), I found it very interesting to see the difference in people and feeling at the Anne Frank House.

After the museum, Noah and I visited the Amsterdam City Museum. This museum is enormous – something we unfortunately didn’t realize until we were already there. The museum includes a ‘DNA’ exhibit where visitors can learn about the basic history and ‘makeup’ of Amsterdam:

IMG_7254

Beyond the DNA exhibit, there are exhibits on art, culture, and social movements throughout essentially all of Amsterdam’s history. We were disappointed we didn’t realize how large and thorough the museum was before going because we timed the visit in such a way that we were tired after only an hour or so there – I felt like it could have taken half a day at least to see everything!

IMG_7255

Before too long we left to rejuvenate with lunch at the Luxembourg Cafe (my burger was great!):

IMG_7256 IMG_7258 IMG_7259

A complete pick-me-up wasn’t complete though until post-coffee. Coffeecompany is a chain around Amsterdam, and the swanky looking interior caught my eye:

IMG_7262

It turned out this was a very nice coffeeshop – high quality espresso, freshly brewed coffee for each order, and some interesting espresso drinks (like a more authentic version of the flat white – Starbuck’s new menu addition). I ordered a regular coffee which was brewed in front of me using an aeropress:

IMG_7260

After coffee and lunch, we did some sightseeing around Dam Square. Dam Square is in the center of the city and derives its name from the fact that it was at this location that the Amstel River was dammed and, thus, Amsterdam was created – originally, Amstelredam. Today, the square is bordered by some pretty impressive buildings. Most namely, the Nieuwe Kerk (Amsterdam’s principal church when it was built in the early 15th-century):

IMG_7264

And the Koninklijk Paleis:

IMG_7263

This building’s current name (Palace), however, is slightly misleading because the building was originally built to be the city’s town hall and didn’t have any royal occupants until the French occupation of the city (1795-1813).

From Dam Square, Noah and I ventured further into the city center to see the Oude Kerk and have a peek into the Red Light District. The Oude Kerk is one of the city’s most beautiful churches…and it happens to be right in the middle of the Red Light District. The church has been here since the mid-13th century and became something of a pilgrimage site after there was a purported miracle that occurred here. The story of the miracle is as follows: a dying man took communion here and threw up his Host. When it was thrown up, the cracker was thrown onto a fire, but it didn’t burn up. The un-burned cracker was then put on display and people would come to see it – hence, pilgrimage site.

IMG_7265

The church was quite impressive, but I felt most of place’s spirituality was dampened through distraction from the rest of the environs:

IMG_7151

After the Oude Kerk and Red Light District, we walked to Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s largest green area, to relax and stroll around a bit before dinner:

IMG_7269 IMG_7271

On Saturday night (two nights before), Noah and I had tried to go to Moeders one of the [few] Dutch restaurants recommended in our guide book. Unfortunately, when we got there we were told that they were totally booked. I called later to make a reservation and they didn’t have any availability for two days (!), so I made a booking on the only available night. If difficulty to get a table corresponds to quality of food, then this place must be pretty good!

The environment at Moeders is a lot of fun (the name means ‘mothers,’ and the walls are covered with pictures of peoples mothers!

IMG_7278 IMG_7279

Noah ordered a fish special and I ordered vegetarian hotchpotch – a Dutch dish made with mashed potatoes, veggies and cheese:

IMG_7282 IMG_7281

We shared a dessert called ‘Dutch delights’ that had small samples of a few traditional Dutch desserts: spiced biscuit ice cream, small pancakes, and custard with fruit curd.

IMG_7283

Yum!

Coming soon…a recap of our last day in the Netherlands and a trip to Rotterdam!

Other Amsterdam Posts

Travel day and hotel
Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, and Keukenhof Gardens
Canal Cruise, Museum of the Canals, and the Old Jewish Quarter
Day trip to Rotterdam, architecture tour

 

Amsterdam Canal Cruise, Canals Museum, and the Jewish Quarter

The second full day in Amsterdam was just as busy as the first! First thing in the morning, we went to buy tickets for a morning canal cruise.

IMG_7191IMG_7199

Canal cruises – one hour boat rides along the canals – are very popular in Amsterdam and there are a lot of different companies you could go with. We decided to go with a company called Reederij P. Kooij, although I suspect most companies would offer a pretty similar program. The canal ride offered some interesting information about the city and some great views of canal houses:

IMG_7194 IMG_7202

And we got some interesting views of water homes:

IMG_7200

Overall, the cruise was fun but it was sometimes hard to see outside the window because it was raining and getting fogged.

After the cruise, we went to the Museum of the Canals – a fairly new museum that has an interactive exhibit showing how the city was built on swampy marshland (spoiler: by driving long piles – aka, huge stakes – into the ground) and how the current canal system was designed and came to be.

IMG_7226 IMG_7225

The museum was interesting and presented its information in an unique format that I thought was fun, but I don’t think this would be a ‘must do’ if you’re pressed for time in Amsterdam.

After the museum, we went for a quick lunch at the Amsterdam chain, Bagels & Beans:

IMG_7228 IMG_7231 IMG_7232

The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring and seeing the sights of Amsterdam’s old Jewish Quarter. In the eastern side of the city, the Jewish Quarter was the crowded and busy home of Amsterdam’s Jews since the 16th century. Historically, Amsterdam had been something of a haven for Jews escaping persecution throughout other parts of Europe. While equal rights and fair treatment were not completely extended (for example, Jews had to buy citizenship, couldn’t join guilds, and were forbidden to marry Christians), there was a degree of religious tolerance that wasn’t enjoyed elsewhere in Europe. At the beginning of the Nazis’ rise to power, the Jewish population of Amsterdam doubled (from 60,000 to 120,000) as it accepted Jews fleeing from Hitler. Tragically, Nazi forces eventually occupied Amsterdam as well and murdered almost the entirety of the city’s Jewish population. At the end of the war, only 5,000 (out of 120,000) remained alive.

Today, what was once the Jewish Quarters is dotted with various memorials, museums, and Jewish historical sites that remind visitors of the area’s former inhabitants. We started our exploration of the area by looking at a memorial statue of Baruch Spinoza, a Jewish philosopher and theologian whose progressive thinking placed him in conflict with community leaders of the time:

IMG_7233

Next to the Spinoza Statue was a memorial to honor the dead of the Jewish resistance. The black stone is inscribed with a quote from Jeremiah which reads, “If my eyes were a well of tears, I would cry day and night for the fallen fighters of my beloved people.”

IMG_7234

Next, we went to perhaps the two biggests current sites within the Jewish Quarter: the Joods Historisch Museum and the Esnoga.

The Joods Historisch Museum (Jewish History Museum) gives an overview of Jewish life in Amsterdam from the 16th century through the present day. While it had an interesting exhibit on the Holocaust, the museum focused on a broader picture of Jewish life, emphasizing the vibrancy and practices of pre-war life as well as the situation of the current Jewish community in Amsterdam. My favorite part of the museum were video interviews that visitors could watch relating to historical events and present circumstances experienced by Jews in Amsterdam.

IMG_7235

Close to the Joods Historisch Museum is the Esnoga – an enormous synagogue completed in 1675 for Amsterdam’s Sephardic Jews. The building in quite impressive…

IMG_7237

…and the mere fact that a building of this grandeur could be built for Jewish ritual life illustrates the relative tolerant tendencies in Amsterdam at that time. Inside, the building has wooden benches, beautiful chandeliers holding candles (there is no electric light), and large pillars supporting the building.

IMG_7238

The Esnoga synagogue sits within a larger courtyard that houses other rooms and services such as a smaller winter synagogue (with heat), a mikvah (traditional Jewish bath for ritual purity), a kitchen, and storehouse.

Something interesting that Noah and I noticed when visiting the Jewish museum and synagogue was that the security at these buildings was much less than what is typically found at other Jewish sites in Europe. For example, there was no security entrance at the Esnoga, and the museum only had one basic metal detector (vs. many other museums I’ve been to which include body and bag scans, proof of identification, etc.). We wondered if the relative leniency in Amsterdam was a result of non-violent attitudes towards Jews post-war as opposed to other places in Europe which have continued to deal with anti-Semitic acts and attacks from post-war even until the present day.

The last stop in the Jewish Quarter was the Auschwitz monument in Wertheimpark (a small, canal-side park). The monument was fairly simple – broken mirrors and an inscription reading, “Auschwitz – Never Again.”

IMG_7244

After a full day of exploring (unfortunately, often in the rain!) we were tired and ready for dinner. We went to a vegetarian restaurant near our hotel called Bolhoed. We ordered a tzatziki appetizer, bean/cheese enchiladas, veggie casserole, and a chocolate/peanut butter mousse for dessert.

IMG_7245 IMG_7247 IMG_7246 IMG_7248

And just for fun, we saw – in action – the way people get furniture upstairs in spite of the extremely small canal house staircases!

IMG_7249

Other Amsterdam Posts

Travel day and hotel
Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, and Keukenhof Gardens
Anne Frank House, Amsterdam City Museum, and Oude Kerk
Day trip to Rotterdam, architecture tour

 

Traveling to Amsterdam, staying at the ‘t hotel

Sorry for the break in blogging…I’ve been out of town! First, I was on a tiyul to the North with Pardes for three days (posts about that trip coming soon), and then Noah and I took a trip to Amsterdam for 5 days. We were extremely busy – rushing around to see lots of sites, visit museums, and enjoy exploring. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great during our visit to Amsterdam, and most days it was fairly cold and rainy. Nonetheless, we had a great time!

We left last Friday morning bright and early. Noah wasn’t feeling well so he tried to sleep during most of the flights.

IMG_7103

After a fairly full day of travel, we arrived to the Amsterdam airport shortly after 5:00pm.

IMG_7104

The Amsterdam airport is fairly unique in that it is very close to the city center. In fact, it takes slightly under 15 minutes to get from the airport train station (Schiphol) to the Amsterdam Centraal station in the Old City Center.

That is if the train is working….

IMG_7107

We waited for about 15 minutes by the tracks until someone came and told all of the would-be passengers that the train wasn’t running. After trying to figure out the bus system, we gave up and ended up taking a taxi into the city. The ride wasn’t too expensive though because two people behind us in line (a couple of travelers from Spain) asked if we wanted to share a cab!

I will say that the public transport train system in Amsterdam was pretty terrible from our experience. During our 5 days, we tried to use the train 4 times. 3 out of those 4 times the train wasn’t working (!!!) – something we discovered after buying tickets and spending time waiting around for the train. Fortunately, the train service desk was always very willing to give us a refund. Still, I hope our experience isn’t reflective of standard transit service, or I imagine it would be very frustrating to be an Amsterdammer.

After an unfortunately long amount of time, we finally made it to our hotel: ‘t hotel. Noah found ‘t hotel online while he was looking for a canal house we could stay in during our trip. The hotel is also a tea/breakfast shop, and the adorable sitting area greets you upon walking in the door:

IMG_7108 IMG_7109

Our room was lovely – fairly spacious with a hot water station and comfortable bed (although there was some pretty gaudy wallpaper). The only downside of the room was that there was very little lighting (hence why the pictures are blurry/dark). I will, however, take full responsibility for the mess. 🙂

IMG_7335 IMG_7336

To get to our room, we had to climb two extremely steep sets of stairs, a typical feature – we would soon learn – of canal houses:

IMG_7122

After dropping our stuff at the hotel, it was time to PLAY!!

We walked around and looked at some fun shops including this store which seemed to be one big, hot-food vending machine of sorts:

IMG_7110

We also stopped into a candy store and saw this funny display of American “candy:”

IMG_7117 IMG_7120

Eventually we went to dinner at an Indonesian restaurant called Puri Mas. Indonesian food is very popular/common in Amsterdam (Indonesia used to be a Dutch colony), and we read about the traditional rijsttafel dinner in our guide book. Rijsttafel is a Dutch word that literally means ‘rice table,’ and it’s basically a sampler dinner of sorts – small servings of different meat and vegetable dishes accompanied by rice. We ordered the rijsttafel dinner at Puri Mas and it was delicious (although some dishes were a bit spicy):

IMG_7111

Post-dinner included a little more window shopping and a walk through Leidseplein – a square in southern Amsterdam with lots of shops, restaurants, and entertainment. The area seemed to be very popular among tourists, and we spotted one of these pop-up urinals:

IMG_7114

Exactly as it sounds, this urinal pops up from the ground at night to provide a place for people to relieve themselves that is more pleasant (for others) than the ground. We also saw these warning signs all over the place telling people to be careful about what drugs they buy (apparently some people were sold heroin as cocaine and died):

IMG_7113

I guess the rumors about people going crazy in Amsterdam are true…

Not everything in the square was so edgy though…such as this Mini Cooper store:

IMG_7115

Eventually, we were exhausted from the early start to the day and headed back to the hotel for some sleep.

In the morning, we got up fairly early to have breakfast before our 9:00am pre-arranged ticket time at the Van Gogh Museum. Breakfast was provided at the hotel and included juice, yogurt, coffee or tea, and – Noah’s favorite breakfast! – bread and cheese:

IMG_7123 IMG_7125 IMG_7124

While good, the breakfast got a little redundant after 5 days…I sure missed my yogurt and oatmeal. 🙂

Check back soon for the first day’s activities such as the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, and Keukenhoff Gardens!

Other Amsterdam Posts

Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, and Keukenhof Gardens
Canal Cruise, Museum of the Canals, and the Old Jewish Quarter
Anne Frank House, Amsterdam City Museum, and Oude Kerk
Day trip to Rotterdam, architecture tour

Day trip to Tel Aviv

A couple weeks ago, I took a day trip to Tel Aviv with Pardes. The day focused on understanding the nuances and challenges of creating a secular Jewish city. Tel Aviv was instrumental in the formation of secular Jewish identity – and secular Jewish national identity.

The day started with a visit to the Shalom Meir Tower – Israel’s first skyscraper – where we viewed a replica of  Tel Aviv as well as looked at a small photo exhibit documenting Tel Aviv’s early years. When this tower was build in 1965, it was the tallest building in the Middle East!

IMG_6729

After the tower, we went to Trumpledor Cemetary and visited the graves of some of Israel’s most important historical figures.

IMG_6731

Some of the more significant figures included Hayim Nahman Bialik, a pioneer of Hebrew poetry who is now recognized as Israel’s national poet…

IMG_6733

…and Ahad Ha’am – arguably the most influential cultural Zionist. Even if you don’t know anything about Ahad Ha’am or cultural Zionism, you may know his most famous quote, “more than the Jewish people have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jewish people.” (particularly interesting and thought-provoking when you consider that Ha’am was not, in fact, a Shabbat observant Jew himself)

IMG_6734

After the cemetery we had some free time at Shuk haCarmel (Carmel Market) to walk around and get lunch.

IMG_6739

Noah and I grabbed lunch in the nearby Yemenite Quarter at a hummus eatery. The only thing on the menu: hummus with pita. There was a choice if you wanted hard-boiled egg on top (we said yes)! The Yemenite Quarter is full of authentic and filling hummus shops – some hole-in-the-wall style and others more of an established restaurant.

IMG_6737

After lunch, the group reconvened to head to Habima Theater for a private tour of the building (previous visit to Habima Square documented here). On the tour, we talked about the theater’s pre-statehood beginnings, pre-statehood. The theater officially started in Poland, but began touring in Israel on funds from the Soviet Union. Habima was the world’s first Hebrew-language theater, and many of their first tours in Israel consisted of performing on make-shift stages at kibbutzim. Now, the theater puts on all sorts of plays (still all in Hebrew). Here is the theater set up for a performance later in the day:

IMG_6741 IMG_6747

While at the theater, we also got some backstage looks at the costume department and storage room:

IMG_6743 IMG_6744

The tour made me really want to see a play at Habima…if only I could understand Hebrew well enough to know what was going on!!

The final stop of the trip was a much anticipated visit to Google Israel Headquarters:

IMG_6750

This place was seriously swanky.

IMG_6751

Naturally, everyone was wowed by the unlimited free drinks, espresso, and snacks in the lobby. After snack/drink time was over, we met with a couple of Google employees where they talked to us about the company, what it’s like working for Google in Israel, some of Google’s latest initiatives, and answered our questions. I asked if the emphasis on high tech in Israel leads to a more equal representation of women to men in tech fields than in the US. The response: yes, definitely.

Goodbye Google, maybe we’ll meet again…

IMG_6753

Visiting Sachne Hot Springs and Gan Garoo

First of all, I am excited to announce the publication of my new TRAVEL PAGE! It took a while to go back through previous posts, but all of my travel posts from both within and outside the United States are now collected and organized in one travel page – linked to from the Treasure Your Being home page. The full pages devoted exclusively to Minnesota and Israel, of course, still exist.

Second of all, a pop quiz! What tickles and gives you a pedicure at the same time?

Answer: FLESH EATING FISH!

But actually, if you visit the Sachne hot springs, be prepared to either keep your legs moving the whole time or get some gentle nibbles from small toothless fish that like to eat dead skin off feet (have you ever seen them in the buckets used for pedicures? it’s pretty nuts!).

After our morning at Mt. Gilboa, the group I was traveling with this past weekend went to Sachne.

IMG_6480

Gorgeous, right?!

Sachne is a collection of natural pools fed by thermal springs that keep the water warm year round.

IMG_6482 sachne

Swimming here was a lot of fun – and I’m not even much of a swimmer! We stayed for about 30 minutes and then headed to the nearby Gan Garoo.

IMG_6491

Gan Garoo was – you guessed it – a kangaroo park and petting zoo extraordinaire. When we got there, we walked quickly past a lizard, bird, and a koala bear exhibit, and made a beeline to the kangaroo park.

IMG_6502

I can’t verify, but one of the people who worked at Gan Garoo told us that this is the only place outside of Australia where you can pet a kangaroo.

At first, we approached with trepidation…

IMG_6506 IMG_6509

But things quickly warmed up between us:

IMG_6511 IMG_6516

The kangaroos were super soft and very friendly…especially when we bought some of the kangaroo food to feed them:

IMG_6543 IMG_6553 IMG_6558

After leaving the kangaroos, we checked out the rest of the animal exhibits. This included a visit to a goat petting zoo:

IMG_6577

And a visit with some parrots:

IMG_6582 IMG_6589

We were extremely surprised/terrified when the birds started swooping onto us as soon as we walked inside the parrot exhibit. I was expecting to feed them while they remained firmly in a tree!

Noah wasn’t such a fan of the bird contact…

IMG_6580

He was, however, a very big fan of this miniature construction vehicle. 10 shekels bought him an electrically-powered and joyous 5 minutes of moving dirt with this bad boy:

IMG_6598 IMG_6607

 

Visiting Lublin and Majdanek

My Heritage Seminars group woke up in Lublin after our second night in Poland. We spent the first part of the morning exploring some of Lublin’s sites. First, we went to the Old Jewish Cemetery of Lublin:

IMG_6155 IMG_6157 IMG_6158

The cemetery was situated just off some roads and residential areas, so it made for an odd juxtaposition to be in the very old (and mostly destroyed) cemetery but also to be able to look out and see normal life so nearby. Something that was emphasized repeatedly on the trip was how the Nazi’s war against the Jews was much more than a physical war – it was also a mental and emotional war. One of the most striking examples of this was that when Jewish cemeteries were destroyed during the war, the tombstones were often taken and then used to pave the roads in the concentration camps where Jews were kept prisoner. Using Jewish gravestones to pave roads was intended to feel belittling and dehumanizing.

Which brings me to…Majdanek.

Majdanek was the first concentration camp to become a museum and commemoration site – established as such in 1944. One of the unusual things about Majdanek (and perhaps coincidentally the reason for its speedy commemoration) is that it had a high percentage of Polish political prisoners who labored there. The camp first started operating in late 1941, and it was originally opened to be a labor camp for Soviet Prisoners of War. This purpose evolved to include many Polish political prisoners and also Jews. One of the unique features about Majdanek is that – unlike many other camps – it is not in an isolated area. In fact, it is within the boundaries of Lublin. Today, it is right next to some busy roads and residential areas. It was crazy to imagine the people living there giving directions to their house, “okay, so you drive straight past Majdanek and then turn left…”

The camp today includes a combination of commemorative art, restored barracks and other buildings, and a museum. At the entrance to the camp is this distinctive piece of commemorative art – to approach the sculpture one must go down into a narrow arrow with jagged stones coming in from all sides.:

IMG_6160IMG_6162

Approaching it really gives the impression of walking towards an ever-increasing peril with no escape – the artist did a good job relaying the message! Looking out at the fields of Majdanek, I was immediately struck by how vast the camp was. Compared to the relatively small area of Treblinka, it was abundantly clear that a camp needed to be much larger if people were there to work rather than only to die.

IMG_6163 IMG_6164

We entered the camp through the same gate at which men and women were separated after arriving to the camp, and we passed several guard towers along the way:

IMG_6165 IMG_6166

After being separated along gender lines, people who arrived to the camp experienced the infamous sorting process of who was fit enough to work and who would be killed immediately. Both groups made their way through this building:

IMG_6169

Those who were selected to live were stripped of their clothes, belongings, hair, and sent to this room where actual water came down from the shower heads on the ceiling. The water was often freezing cold and then boiling hot:

IMG_6170 IMG_6176 IMG_6171

The clothes of all the prisoners were disinfected in another room in the same building. The disinfectant used for the clothing was Zyklon B, the same chemical that would later be used in the gas chambers to kill people. The pictures below show empty Zyklon B containers as well as stains on the walls of the rooms where the chemical was used:

IMG_6178 IMG_6174

Those who were not sent to the real showers, were sent to the ‘showers’ – the gas chambers were referred to by this code name so as to decrease the likelihood of revolt. Those who were to be gassed were crowded into a small room:

IMG_6180

An SS guard would stand outside in a small adjoining room and dispense poisonous gas through metal pipes into the room. The SS officer would also watch the death of those in the room through a small grated window:

IMG_6182

Most of the people who died in the gas chambers were women, children, and the elderly, although men who were too sick or emaciated to work were also killed in this way.

After leaving the bath and gas house, we walked about 30 minutes towards the other end of the camp, stopping to take a glimpse into one of the barracks:

IMG_6185 IMG_6187

At the far end of the camp was another piece of artistic memorialization.The writing on the outside of the dome reads, “let our fate be a warning to you.”

IMG_6190

Inside the dome, are the ashes of prisoners cremated at the camp, collected when the camp was liberated in 1944.

IMG_6191

This was one of the two most disturbing sights for me during the entire trip (the other being a seemingly endless mound of hair at Auschwitz). I don’t know what I was expecting when I approached this mausoleum, but when I looked in and saw the above pile of ash, it was too much for me and I walked away immediately.

The crematorium, where these ashes were produced, is right next to the mausoleum:

IMG_6189

And, as a final reminder of destruction, there are also mass burial pits at this end of the camp next to the crematorium and mausoleum. These pits hold the bodies of Jews killed during Aktion Erntefest (Operation Harvest Festival), a ‘cleaning up’ operation in which about 42,000 Jews were killed in two days in November 1942. This was an attempt to wipe out those Jews who had not been killed by the three Reinhard camps.

IMG_6192

While this was another heavy day, I also experienced a lot of feelings of gratitude and appreciation. The silver lining, for me, of this type of trip is feeling an immense desire to treasure the good things in my life, the people I love, and the good fortune of my own relative safety in the world. Seeing sites like those described above makes it difficult to complain about little things or to not feel amazed at the good fortune and blessing of my own life.

Other Poland posts:

Warsaw
Tikocyn and Lupachowa Forest