trains > planes > automobiles

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

i love train rides.  i really, really do.
the super long train rides are my personal favorite.
and it’s extra fun when you have an entire compartment to yourselves!
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the end.

auschwitz-birkenau, part 3 of 3.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Before visiting, I didn’t realize that there are actually 4 parts to ‘Auschwitz’:  Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II, Auschwitz III and Auschwitz-Birkenau. 
DSC01467 Between all 4 camps, historians estimate the death toll to range between 2-4 million.  The exact number will, of course, never be determined.  Half are believed to have died in the gas chambers, the other half on account of the brutal working conditions and/or diseases that resulted from these conditions.  And of all 4 camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau was known was the deadliest of all.DSC01468In our wandering about the camp, I stumbled across this ‘block’, reserved for Polish women and children.  DSC01483
Historians report remarkable instances of resistance within the camps.  I think that is what fascinates me most of all; that within the closet thing to Hell on Earth, hope still lingered and a bit of faith still remained.
During the Holocaust, Poland lost 6 million citizens – aproximately 1/5 of its population.  3 million of those killed were believed to be Jews, while the other 3 million were believed to be Christians (predominantly Catholic).
I don't think I ever fully realized just how many groups outside the Jewish population were targeted by the Nazis.  Apart from Jews and Poles, the Nazis targeted the physically/mentally handicapped, homosexuals, Gypsies, Soviet POWs, and members of anti-Nazi political parties.  I found myself wondering: if the Nazis hadn’t been stopped when they had, what and who would be left of Europe, what and who would remain in the world?  Scary.
Obviously, seeing all 4 camps in one day would have been impossibly overwhelming.  I think that each camp warrants its own day or else you run the risk of sort of normalizing the magnitude of it all.  I would like to visit the other camps eventually.  I’d also like to visit the Majdanek labor camp in East Poland.   My Polish friend's grandfather spent 3 months there as an imprisoned Polish Catholic.  He still remembers the number of his barrack.

*Information on the general oversight of the ‘Polish Holocaust ‘ can be read here.   Other general info. on the Polish victims of the Nazi era can be read here.


Monday, August 29, 2011


why am i holding a donut on a train?  why do i look as though i got 3 hours of sleep and no shower?  oh, well let me tell you.

lindsay, kayla and i go to salzburg quite a bit.  i feel like i’m there almost every other weekend.  we stay at the same place each weekend.  it’s sort of a hostel….sort of not.  basically, it’s a secret connection we like to keep secret so that it will always be open for us when we return.

and it was always open.  it’s never been booked before.  i mean, this place isn’t even listed on, where most people go to book hostels.  but for some reason, when we decided to celebrate (celebrate, mourn – same difference) kayla’s and lindsay’s farewell in salzburg, we were informed our beloved lodging favorite was booked.  say whaaaaaaaaaat?!

we had no choice but to stay at a hostel called jufa hostel.  now, if you’re wondering if it feels like a slap in the face to stay at a shabby little hostel in a city you’ve done nothing but promote for the past 3 years of your life (and i know everyone’s wondering that right now), then yes – you are correct.  but until the mayor of salzburg (whom i’ve met, thank you very much) catches on and realizes that i deserve my own flat right in the middle of linzergasse, then i’ll just have to keep paying for temporary housing there (or staying with friends…which i sometimes do).

so, as i said, we booked a room. at jufahostel.


following our ‘last night in salzburg’ festivities, we walked home to our hostel, only to find that our key card would not open the door to our room.  we tried a few other rooms (thinking maybe we remembered the wrong room number) to no avail.  we informed the front desk of our troubles and he accompanied us back to the room, only to realize that lo and behold, the key card system was “kaput”.  this meant that he could not open any door, with any key (including the master key) in the entire establishment. 

aside from the fact that that probably violates a dozen and a half fire codes, we found ourselves exhausted, sitting in the lobby, waiting for the hostel maintenance to figure out how to let us into our rooms until three-thirty in the morning.

we were beyond annoyed at this point (and yes, you better believe i asked in more than one language if we could have a whole new room, only to be informed that it doesn’t matter what room we want/need, none of the doors can be opened) but we decided we’d take it up with the hostel manager who arrived in the morning, rather than lose even more sleep over it with the desk clerk, who made a half a dozen phone calls before some pseudo-policeman entered the building and manually picked the lock so we could finally access our room and go to sleep.  as he opened the door for us, he told us, “the key doesn’t work, so once you go inside, you stay inside”.  lindsay asked, “what if we have to leave the room in the middle of the night?”, as the bathrooms were across the hall – disconnected from the rooms.  it was as if someone had asked lucius malfoy, “but shouldn’t house elves have the right to carry a wand??!”.  this guy didn’t even bother answering the question before shaking his head and leaving us to our room (aka prison cell, at this point).

oh! and guess what else? we had booked an 8 bed female room.  this means that there are 8 beds in the room, only girls allowed.  that’s pretty simple.  well!  apparently, this hostel does not believe in walls.  because when we entered our room, we were, indeed, standing inside an 8 bed female room.  it just so happened to be adjacent to another 8 bed female room, with 90% of a wall separating the two.  my question is, how much extra money would it have cost the hostel for that extra 10% of the wall?  at one point does a person building a hostel, say, “hmmm….i really don’t think we can afford the top of that wall….let’s just leave it like that…”?  that’s what i want to know.

because thanks to that genius construction plan, we were awoken at 6:30 am (yes, 3 hours after we were let into our room) by the marching band of zoo animals in the room next to ours. 

we. were. livid.

realizing we had no plausible method of resuming sleep that didn’t call for 100mg of valium, we got out of bed, dressed, packed and walked to the dining hall for our free breakfast.  following the free breakfast, we approached the desk and asked for the manager. 

this was the first thing out of the manager’s mouth when he saw us: “we can’t do anything about the money”.  no “hi, girls, how are you?”.  no “good morning, i’m so sorry about what happened last night”.  no.  the first words out of his mouth were, “we can’t do anything about the money”.  whoever is teaching the lectures on customer service at whatever austrian university he attended is doing a great job, let me tell you.  then again, do you have to attend a university to manage a hostel?  probably not.  moving on…

i think what was most disappointing to me was that in that 3 hour cat nap of night’s sleep i’d gotten, i’d had dream after dream of me yelling in german at the manager – a foreshadow of the morning to come, i suppose.  but in that moment of me vs. the manager, i was so taken aback by his lack of tact, that i stared, mouth agape, before eventually casting a glance sideways at lindsay and kayla, whose faces, incidentally, mirrored mine.  and what was even worse than that was what he said next (!), “but i can offer you a free cup of coffee.  or a muffin!  or any other breakfast food”.

i wish someone had taken a photo of our collective facial expressions when he spoke those words.

obviously unimpressed and doing my best to channel the side of my father that has terrified everyone whose ever seen it (including myself), i said through gritted teeth, “yeah. we just ate breakfast.  for free.  the hostel serves free breakfast.  and we just ate it.  FOR FREE”.  smiling, he continued with, “well, for 20 euro a night, what do you expect…..we’re not refunding your money”.

so, dear manager, what i would like to say to you now:  do you know how many people email me each month asking for lodging recommendations in salzburg?  you’d be surprised, i bet.  maybe this story will only deter a handful of people from staying at your hostel.  and sorry, but i can’t do anything about that.  i can, however, offer you a donut. or a picture of me holding one.  scroll up to the top of this post, right click, and “save as”. in german, that’s “speichern als”.  you’re welcome!

i mean, really…in an age where social media rules the digital world, customer service has never been more important.  you know?

stay, don't go, never leave me, etc.

Friday, August 26, 2011

once upon a time, i lived in my favorite city in the world with 3 of my best friends!
then we all went home for a short time.
but then i came back!
and then…slowly but surely, the other 3 came back as well.
then caroline left. :(
but lindsaay, kayla and i remained.
a few months went by….
…and then lindsay’s and kayla’s ‘europe time’ ran out as well.
and even though they lived in rosenheim (which was a few hours away from me)
and i didn’t get to see them on a daily basis,
it still helped knowing they were just around the corner….sort of.
so, selfishly, i find it sad that they’re in america to stay.
and also rude.  they're the rudest.
but regardless of all that, here are some photos from our last night together.
we spent it in salzburg - where else?

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to lindsay and kayla,
thank you for making my dream of all of us being back in europe again come true
if only for a short while.
and if you both decide america doesn’t have what you need at the moment….
well, you know where i’ll be.  :)

there are few things i love more in this world than this girl and this milkshake

Thursday, August 25, 2011

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you’ve heard me say a million times that europe doesn't know what a milkshake is.

all this time i’ve been forgetting to mention: the european mcdonald’s totally knows what a milkshake is (strawberry, please!).  though i can really only speak for germany and austria when i say this…. oh, and these milkshakes don’t taste like a chemical cocktail, if that’s what you’re thinking.  such things are illegal here!  and for that reason, the euro mcdonald’s blows the american mcdonald’s so far out of the water.

lindsay, here, agrees with me…though she’s always been more of a mcflurry fan herself.

sometimes, self-timer shots just don’t work out the way you want them to.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

but i hope everyone is having a great wednesday nonetheless!
love, me and the silverware from felsenkeller (sbg, austria).

auschwitz-birkenau, part 2 of 3.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

After being forced to disembark from the trains, the newly arrived prisoners at Auschwitz – Birkenau were led to an open space, where SS doctors subjected them to a criminal selection. Those whom the SS decided to send directly to their deaths in the gas chambers were separated from those whom they considered useful for their purposes (who were allowed to remain alive a little longer). This was decided on the basis of the camp needs at the time, including the fluctuating need for slave labor and for medical experiments conducted by SS doctors.
When the Germans running Auschwitz got word of the impending camp liberation, they bombed the gas chambers and crematoriums. I find it so ironic that later, in their pleas of innocence, the Nazis so often stated that they acted out of the belief that what they were doing was 100% right and justified, yet upon first word that the Soviet Army was coming to liberate the camp, they made attempts to cover their tracks, so to speak. Staring at the crematorium ruins, below, I asked Piotr, “Did they really think this would hide what they had done?”. It’s fascinating to think how irrational one behaves on the brink of defeat. Although I suppose the explosion squelched plenty of incriminating evidence that could have been presented in court.
This barrack for prisoners was adapted from the field stable of the German Army. When used as a stable, the area housed 52 horses. When used as a barrack, it housed 400 prisoners.
Makes me claustrophobic just looking at it. Imagine sleeping there.
When I noticed that a toilet system had been installed for the prisoners, I was shocked. I asked, “Isn’t that a little too humane for the Nazis?”.
I was told that, had the prisoners been given no other option than to relieve themselves in bed (as the barrack doors were locked each night), there would have been too strong an outbreak of diseases from the spread of fecal bacteria, which, of course, would have weakened the Germans’ labor force. ....should have known better than to assume it was designed for humanity’s sake, right?

auschwitz birkenau

Monday, August 22, 2011

Before visiting Auschwitz – Birkenau, I expected an emotional experience, but didn't expect to cry.    I’ve visited concentration camps before, with friends who sobbed from room to room, in shock and disbelief of the horror that took place there, but for some reason, that has never been me.  I have just assumed that the thought of millions (millions!) of Jews, Poles, handicapped, homosexuals, etc. dying at the hands of Nazi monsters is almost too much to truly grasp, emotionally.

When we walked up to the camp grounds, though, we were all alone, without a fellow onlooker in sight.  We saw a lone train cart and approached the tracks.  These tracks were the very tracks upon which trainload after trainload of prisoners arrived.  This train cart was indeed one of many carts into which displaced Poles were pushed, kicked and shoved, after being yanked from homes to which they’d never return.  Knowing that perhaps a girl of the same age once stood here with the same ominous work camp stretched out before her – her fate very different from mine – was haunting.  Imagining that  prisoners once looked out upon this same horizon – not knowing exactly what was in store for them but most likely innately sensing the looming prospect of misery and death – made me shiver.  Already, I felt more emotional than I had felt at any other concentration camp exhibit, museum or memorial. 

And then I glanced down at my feet and noticed dozens of rocks covered in writing – various German words scrawled across white rocks in black permanent marker.  If I had to guess, I would have said a group of German students came here on a class trip and left these rocks behind; their small offering lined along the railroad tracks.  On one rock, I noticed the word “Freiheit” (freedom), on another “Klarheit” (clarity).  I read German word after German word and then noticed one in English.  Written in small black letters were the words, "I’m so sorry”.  For whatever reason, it touched me like nothing else and, silently, I began to cry.  And the weirdest part of all is that nothing else I saw that day moved me as much as that one little rock on the tracks.

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one of my favorite bavarian towns

Saturday, August 20, 2011

is rosenheim!

why do i love it?

1) it has some of the best pizza in the world (half of the reason it’s “the best” is because it is so huge).DSC01013

2) it has the coziest cottage of a cafe that you’ll wish was your own home.  kayla goes there, like, every day.  we once sat and talked there for 5 hours.

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3) the town square is one of the most charming i’ve ever seen (even after a rainstorm).

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a sunny day in salzburg

Friday, August 19, 2011

on days like this, there’s nowhere in the world i’d rather be.

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1) my favorite train ride in the world

2, 3) view from the mozart bridge

4, 5) the festung (fortress) – please don’t call it a castle!

6) sound of music everywhere

7) mozartplatz, me and kayla

a day in krakow, continued.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

something pretty noteworthy happened in krakow: i finally found a european city that knows what milkshakes are. 


right, so - like cookies, milkshakes are nearly impossible to find in europe.  half the time, the menu will say “chocolate milkshake” and when you order it, you find that it’s milk mixed with chocolate powder…also known as chocolate milk.  i stopped wasting money on these a long time ago, but it occurred to me in krakow that poland might be the one country to solve this milkshake mystery.  i happen to know that the milkshake was invented in chicago (don’t ask why or how i know this) and since chicago is basically poland (after warsaw, the city with the most polish inhabitants in THE WORLD is chicago), i took a chance, ordered a strawberry milkshake, tasted it and exclaimed, “they’ve done it! the poles have done it!”

then, about 5 hours later, i decided i hadn’t consumed enough dairy for the day and ordered a soft serve ice cream cone from a street vendor.  hate to break it to you, krakow, but…. stick to milkshakes.  ice cream cones (softserve, at least) are not your forte.  being an insanely charming city, on the other hand, is.
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