31 Aug 2019

Visby, Sweden 2019

Our final port of call on this summer's cruise was Visby. It  houses the best preserved medieval city in Scandinavia. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. 
A 2 mile long town wall circles the town center and has for over 700 years. 
The Main Square is peaceful and quaint.
The old church is quite huge and dominates the sightline.
The botanical gardens are beautiful.
Although it was OK for a quick stroll, we would have preferred that the ship skipped this port and overnighted in Stockholm (final destination and a great city) to allow time there without having to check into a hotel.

29 Aug 2019

Stutthof Concentration Camp, Poland 2019

Blog by Allyn Shulman

Not all travel is fun and games. Sometimes we visit historical places that are painful to see. Today was one of those days. This blog is not for the faint of heart.

Many of us are familiar with the names of concentration camps such as Auschwitz, Dachau, Treblinka and Buchenwald, but may not realize the extent of the Nazi actrocities.  It’s almost too much to bear.
Nazis actually established about 42,500 camps and ghettoes between 1933 and 1945. This figure includes 30,000 slave labor camps; 1,150 Jewish ghettoes, 980 concentration camps; 1,000 POW camps; 500 brothels filled with sex slaves; and thousands of other camps used for euthanizing the elderly and infirm.
Today I visited a Nazi German concentration camp called Stutthof, established in a secluded, wet and wooded area near Gdansk, Poland.  It was the first concentration camp created by the Nazis outside of Germany (September 2nd. 1939) and the last camp liberated by the Allies (May 10th 1945). 
After the German invasion of Poland in 1939, the Nazis classified Poles and Jews living as subhuman’s subjecting them to discrimination, forced labor and ultimately extermination at Stutthof.  A blue pole next to a bunk bed still exists with scratch marks from prisoners desperately leaving their last message. 
The camp was out of the way, where most people didn’t know about it.  However, a newspaper article in Sept 13, 1939 stated that it was a camp for traitors, murderers, and other state enemies.  That way, if someone escaped, they would find no sympathy unlike prisoners from other concentration camps. 
After the liberation, almost half a million shoes taken from prisoners and stripped of the leather were found. Our guide said these were just old shoes.  We gasped!  I told her that they're not JUST shoes.  Each one represents a beautiful lost life who deserves to be honored and remembered.
Prisoners were killed by shooting, hanging, starvation, torture, typhus because conditions were so bad, a creamatorium where they were burnt alive, lethal injection of phenol into the heart,  a gas chamber and other unimaginable ways.  
As I write this with a heart full of grief and humility, I cannot even comprehend the magnitude of what I am writing.  

Near the end of the war, as Allies got close to other concentration camps, the prisoners were moved to Stutthof.  Thousands of Jews from Auschwitz and other camps were brought there. They were imprisoned in the so called “Jewish camp” where they were decimated by hunger, disease and the stress of forced labor. 
Stutthof had a gas chamber with a maximum capacity of 150. When the SS had too many people to execute, they used wagons as gas chambers.
Before Stutthof was liberated, the surviving 50,000 mostly Jewish prisoners were sent on brutal excavation “death marches”. Already in bad condition, in the middle of a severe winter and half-starved, they were forced to march to the West. Those unable to walk were killed by German guards.  A lonely memorial sits at the corner of the camp bearing witness to the atrocities.  We must never forget.
One of the most gruesome discoveries was that the camp provided bodies for Dr. Rudolph Spanner to use in his experiments to produce soap using human fat. This "product" was called R.J.S. - "Reines Judische Fett" - which means "Pure Jewish Fat".
The fat was rendered from bodies collected at Stutthof and two other locations. The experimental factory outside Gdansk was a horrific sight for the liberators: human body parts were found in vats while everywhere there were pails of a flaky substance that was found to be human soap.
As we were driving back to the ship, our guide said that communism was much worse than Nazism.  The guests were shocked and offended.  I was outraged  In 1975, Elie Wiesel wrote: “there is a limit in evil beyond which comparisons are no longer relevant”.



27 Aug 2019

Warnemunde, Germany 2019

Warnemunde is a great seaside port, often ignored.  Many cruises stop here and advertise the port as Berlin. Granted Berlin is actually a great an important city, but three hours away. Since we have been there more than once, we opted to just walk around the port.
It was such a pleasant surprise. Every cruise we take seems to have a wonderful stop some place where we would never have chosen on our own. Warnemunde seems to be loaded with locals and many German tourists.
One place is cuter than the next. 
Then just a few blocks away, along the water, the hustle bustle stops and there is a wide open promenade with the ocean on one side and immaculate white homes with red roofs on the other. 
As is usual in Germany, they have both FKK (nudist) and textile (non-nudist) beaches along the way. 
I just wanted a german sausage for lunch. Who knew it would be two feet long.

26 Aug 2019

Copenhagen, Denmark 2019

Today was major for Allyn. Her absolute very closest high school friend, Mette Dam, was an exchange student from Copenhagen. Almost fifty years later, they were able to spend the day together today.

From the ship, we were able to walk to the iconic Little Mermaid sculpture.
We decided to spend some time on the Hop-on Hop-off bus to just take in the sights allowing the ladies to chat with one another.
The changing of the guard is fun to watch wherever it takes place.
Then we visited beautiful Tivoli Gardens for a traditional Danish lunch.

24 Aug 2019

Amsterdam, Netherlands 2019

Since we have done extensive Amsterdam touring over the years, we decided to take it easy today and mainly enjoy its loveliness.
Our one major sightseeing event was at The Hermitage Museum. It was ok but, in my opinion, not nearly as compelling as The Van Gogh or The Rijksmuseum. I was interested because it was connected with The Hermitage in St. Petersburg.
The Romanov portrait tableware, although gorgeous from the early 20th century shows how tastes were determined by the royal elite. That certainly changed. 50 years later the same factory was making Suprematist porcelain.
Although not at all a political commentary, we find the old stuff way more elegant.
Allyn got a kick out of the malachite table they had on display because it looks so much like ours at home.
We like ours better.
My favorite was 3Three Guys Pissing. (That is my name for it. I don't know the real name. Maybe it is Four Guys Pissing).

Most of our time was spent out and about in their beautiful waterways. Some call Amsterdam The Venice of the North because of its 1500 bridges and beautiful architecture.
Some of the houses can't decide whether to lean left or right.
Amsterdam is known for its 2,500 houseboats. FYI many can be rented via airbnb.
Since the houses are so narrow furniture cannot be carried up from the inside. In fact even walking up is a chore. Therefore hooks are installed on the outside to hoist things up.
Amongst all the beauty, it was chilling and important to cruise by the Anne Frank House so that we don't forget out history.