04 Sep 2019

London (Post Cruise) 2019 Part 3

Allyn and I decided to take it easy this final day of this summer’s Europe trip. That meant lots of walking visiting old places and new, just using the London underground for transportation, having a deluxe massage and finding a new wonderful dinner house.
The circled part of the map shows the London most tourists (including us) think of and visit when here. It’s not unlike thinking of New York as Fifth Avenue, Broadway, Museum mile, Central Park, some Wall Street, and combining the Whitehouse, Congress, Smithsonian, and some major monuments from Washington.
We decided to head to Canary Wharf and started with a massage that got the day off quite nicely.
From 1802 to the late 1980s Canary Wharf was one of the busiest ports in the world. During their last 20 years business declined until all the docks were closed by 1980.
Subsequently after a couple shaky starts it has become one of UK’s huge financial centers with over 14 million feet of office space. That is a bunch. With that comes beautiful shopping malls, restaurants and even wonderful outdoor spaces and artsy things. 
Canary Wharf factoids - 
   It housed London’s tallest building (now second tallest).
   The subway station is so big that that building could fit in it lying down.
   Average income here is over $120,000 annually.
   The name comes from the fact that an important dock here received major shipments from the Canary Islands.
   Coincidentally Canary Wharf is located on the Isle of Dogs and the Canary Islands are actually named after a Latin word derived from dogs because there were so many dogs there.
We headed back to Mayfair and walked the entirety of Old Bond Street. 
It is as elegant as ever. 
There are some facelifts going on.
Allyn stopped to visit with Roosevelt and Churchill.
And we even had time to stroll Regent Street.
Yesterday I searched for an elegant fish restaurant in a new (for us) neighborhood, I wanted to finish our trip with something really special for Allyn. I found Smith's (and crossed my fingers) in Wapping, an area I had never heard of.
This is what we looked at during our 10 minute walk from the subway station to dinner. I was a bit apprehensive.
As the London Docklands deteriorated, so did this area with their big warehouses left empty. During the 1980s the warehouses started to be converted into luxury flats. 
Now it is a quiet lovely neighborhood mainly populated by young professions and some notables such as Helen Mirren and Cher.
We walked into the beautiful restaurant and there was the Tower bridge right out the window. Wow were we surprised to see the water side after walking out on the restaurant terrace.
The service and food at Smith's was as good as the ambiance. Recognizing we were Americans they filled the water pitcher with ice automatically. Nice touch.
As usual, deluxe Dover sole in London is way better than at home.
To top the meal off, owner Mr. Greg Molen came over and chatted us up a while and even bought us a couple drinks. He said that he likes to make out of towners feel at home in his establishment.
We had to check out the view again after finishing dinner.
The building in the background is the Shard, which is now the tallest building in the UK. During our last trip to London we stayed there at the Shangri-La.
We finished the day, and the trip, with an  ice cream handmade right in front of us.

02 Sep 2019

London (Post Cruise) 2019 Churchill War Rooms

We had a super private tour of the Churchill War Rooms, where history was made. We were allowed access to the actual private rooms with the actual furniture, equipment and other items. Other tourists could only view from behind the glass.
This underground bunker allowed Britain's leaders to plot the allied route to victory during the Second World War. It is below Westminster and sheltered Winston Churchill and his war cabinet from the German bombing raids.
Fortunately they were not bombed because it was not really bomb proof.
During the war even the King and Queen as well as Eisenhower had to sign in of course.
The War Cabinet Room is where Churchill and his three Chiefs of Staff sat eyeball to eyeball and hammered out policy with help from the support staff. They met here 115 times during the War. 
In the map room they charted the various German positions daily. The holes in the wall show pin placement.
They also kept track here of their naval loses. Thing are left exactly as they were the day the war ended.
Although this was Churchill's actual bedroom, he only slept here a few nights during the war.  He used this room as his office and for some private time. The microphones in the back were for when he broadcast information over BBC.
The switchboard operators and typists, all civilian women, often remained underground day and night, sleeping between shifts in the sub-basement below the War Rooms.
This grumpy face from this famous photo named Roaring Lion, taken in Canada of Churchill, is on the British 5 Pound Note. The reason for the look is that the photographer grabbed the ubiquitous cigar out of his mouth immediately before. He smoked eight a day. Churchill said to the photographer, Yousuf Karsh, that he could make a roaring lion stand still to be photographed. That photo, which made the cover of Life magazine,  captured the defiance that Churchill and Britain were feeling at the time.
This is the famous Enigma encryption machine used by the Germans to transmit coded messages. It allows for billions of ways to encode a message, making it incredibly difficult to crack. Finally they did however. Some historians believe that the cracking of Enigma was the single most important victory by the Allied powers during WWII. 
Speaking of history, When we left The War Museum we were in the middle of a gigantic peaceful Brexit protest. We couldn't hardly move. It seems that Prime Minister Boris Johnson suspended Parliament so that Brexit could move forward.

01 Sep 2019

London (Post Cruise) 2019 Part 1

London is still our favorite European city and we have been here so many times. Yet I cannot recall ever flying in and having such a perfect view of Buckingham Palace and surrounds. 
As usual we stayed in the West End. It is just more fun in this part of town. This time we opted for the Ham Yard Hotel in SOHO. It is so interesting. I mean where else would you have such a fun bowling alley in a hotel?
One of the owners is a designer who decorated the entire hotel.
Not every place is elegant here which may be one reason it is special.
London is famous for its pubs. Besides being jammed inside, people stand around drinking on the outside.
We make a point of going to London's Westside when here. Last night we saw On Your Feet, the story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan. Not only was the music and dancing sensational, but the story is so compelling. They had to work so hard for what they achieved. We think we had the best seats in the house.
The musical was in the London Coliseum, home of both the English National Opera and English National Ballet. It is London's largest theater with 2,359 seats. The theater itself is elegant.
 We had a fabulously decadent dinner at Bob Bob Ricard. It is deluxe British /Russian in Soho. You ring a bell if you want champagne. That fit nicely with the St Petersburg egg.

Then we had oysters with a shot of vodka (when in Russia!). Next was absolutely fabulous dover sole with a wonderful bottle of chablis. Oops, I forgot the best steak tartare ever with caviar. Never before have I purchased caviar. (I love it but we have plenty on cruise ships.) And a wonderful dessert was topped off with some Château d'Yquem, considered by most the world's best sauternes.
We may have overdone it a notch.

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”.