Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Zurich to Boston

Boarding onto the jumbo jet, seat 24K (i didn't know there could be so many seatss across)

Monday, May 23, 2005

Our Parting Warsawian Meal

After a terrific day (Irene,Edward,Dianne,Brad touring the Warsaw ghetto sites and Mel & Marina tracking down her pre-war documents about her father and grandfather), we've gathered for a departing Polish dinner downstairs at Gotycka. Mel has regaled us with a myriad stories spanning his years in the states and abroad. We've essentially lived with each other for 2 weeks straight and everyone has been terrific. I'm sad to be parting company, this has been one extraordinary trip. I hope to have a reunion sometime in the future, maybe in Europe if we can impose on Mel & Marina! Bon apetit!


Umschlagplatz is the site from which the 370,000 Jews in Warsaw (fully one in three) were shipped in cattle cars to Treblinka death camp. The memorial is out of white marble, shaped like a cattle car, and carved with 400 names (first names only).

Mila #18

There's a memorial here, which was the place of the last stand of the ghetto uprising. The memorial stands atop a mound about 3 meters high, which represents the level of the pile of ruble left behind after the Nazis leveled the ghetto.

Ghetto uprising monument

Upper left is a big monument, and foreground is an info board of facts and figures. The ghetto uprising was in April-May, 1943, the last battle at Mila #18, described in Leon Uris' novel of the same name. The stone for this particular monument was originally ordered from Sweden by Hitler for a victory arch. How fitting.

Polish kids like fountains, too!

Very cute little girl in a scarf with her friends.

Warsaw uprising (Polish)

The plaque commemorates the POLISH uprising in Warsaw against the Nazis in 1944. It marks an old escape hole from the sewer system. The uprising failed, only 100 people escaped.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Relaxing in Warsawa

Sun PM-- This afternoon, Dianne and I tracked down the Nozik synagogue, the only one remaining after the war. It's quite beautiful, although it's been reconstructed (took 6 years and reopened in 1983 funded largely by Ronald Lauder Foundation) and was used as a horse stable and food store after the war. It's in use properly now, and has a terrific photographic exhibit in the back upstairs of pre-war and current scenes of the temple and surrounds. Afterwards, we enjoyed some refreshment overlooking a lovely park near the hotel.

Lazienki Park

Wazienki park is a huge park which encloses the Royal Palace, ponds with gondolas, and lots of peacocks. And every Sunday there's a free Chopin concert outdoors which we sat and listened.

Lazienki Park

Wazienki park is a huge park which encloses the Royal Palace, ponds with gondolas, and lots of peacocks. And every Sunday there's a free Chopin concert outdoors which we sat and listened.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Breakfast with Montreal friends

Sat AM-- One night Dianne and I went to walk off dinner and wound up on Szeroka St. and ran into this threesome from Montreal. Danny was on a roots trip with his parents, Aaron and Rachel. Aaron was born in Poland up near the Russian border and spent the war years shuffling from one ghetto to the next, then a series of camps including Majdanek. He lived in Poland for a time after the war, then in Israel for a year, and finally landed in Montreal. Son Danny has 4 boys and is an electrical engineer. They ended up staying at our hotel, so we got to have breakfast with them this morning before they return to Canada. We'll be in touch, and we hope to see him and his family in Boston some day.

Leaving Cracow hotel

Do vidzenia y dziêkujê Justyna (pictured above with Dianne) y Agnieska. Our stay at the El Jot hotel was made even better by our lovely and helpful hosts, who always greeted us with smiles. They really went out of their way to help us, and they were very friendly. We recommend this hotel for price ($50/night), location (Jewish quarter), and hearty breakfasts.

We're now hoofing it with our wheelie baggage to the train station, but we've stopped at San Sebastian cafe across the street from our grandparents' apartment for a last bite to eat. This is also the cafe where we had our first meal in Cracow, so it's fittingly our last stop.

We have had a truly remarkable stay here in Cracow! Perhaps we'll return some day!

Friday, May 20, 2005

Free period

Today was an unstructured day, Dianne and I wandered around old town, did some shopping, only meeting up for meals. For dinner we wound up in Kaszimierz (old Jewish section) at Noah's Ark, one of several restaurants that have a decidedly Jewish theme, complete with live 3-piece Klezmer band. So we spent a good part of the evening arguing the finer points of just how ironic the "Jewish revival" in Krakow is.

At the end of the meal I remembered that my neighbor, Josh who worked for the State Department and lived in Warsaw, told me to definitely try Buffalo Grass vodka. So I asked our waitress, Wiesia (pictured above), if she has something called zubroovka (best as I could remember from Josh's notes) and sure enough she darts out and back with a bottle of vodka that has a label with a buffalo, and a tall stalk of grass inside the bottle (sort of like the worm in Tequila). Unlike in Russia, vodka is not downed in a single swallow here, but savored like a aperitif. It was very smooth, everyone agreed (like all the food we've ordered, this too was shared!). I think I'll get some at the duty-free shop.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Wieliczka Salt Mines

We went to the Wieliczka salt mines outside of Krakow this morning. It's the oldest salt mine in the world, dating back to the 11th century, with the deepest level reaching over 1,000 ft below the ground. There are many levels and over the centuries many chapels were created in various nooks and crannies. One of them is quite large, and has some beautiful carvings done in relief right out of the salt mineral walls. The picture shows one of the carvings, the Last Supper.

Presumably they're not having pork.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Warm & dry again

Dianne and I have checked back into our hotel, dried our clothes, blogged and such, and now we're sitting at this lovely restaurant Pod Baranem (under the ram) sipping Polish beer and chatting. The waiter is very nice. I made the mistake of ordering my two dishes in perfect Polish and he then spewed a string of questions in Polish that I had to look sheepishly at him and shrug my shoulders. Mel and Marina are still resting back at their hotel, it's too early to eat for Parisians!

Bus home

The countryside almost looks like it does in France, with lots of terraced fields, very well manicured and tended, not a lot of junk piles as you find in Russia and elsewhere. This is a shot from the window of the bus. Back before the war there wasn't much except farmland between Krakow and Warsaw and a couple of other cities, but there's a tremendous amount of construction going on now, lots of newer homes, many quite nice judging by the exteriors.

Leaving Zakopane

Wed AM-- It's raining this morning (misting really) and foggy, so our plan is to have breakfast, head up the cable car, have a look around, and then catch a bus back to Krakow after noon. The hotel we're staying, the Giewont, is one of the older ones, judging by the huge porcelain (!) chandeliers and the 15 foot corniced wood ceiling in the dining room (you might be able to make them out in the photo.) They look original and in some disrepair but stunning.


Tue PM-- Just under 100 km south of Krakow lie the Tatry mountains that border Slovakia, with peaks at around 8000 ft. On the Polish side at the base, Zakopane is a very cute little village with shops, trams partway up the mountains, and ski lifts even further running in the winter. The traditional architecture is like the picture. Irene used to come here with her father, and the main town to the north, Nowy Targ, is where the summer camp that Irene went just before war broke out in 1939 (old photo of her from the exhibit, see earlier post).

So we spent a beautifully clear afternoon and evening strolling and enjoying the incredible views of snow-capped peaks all around. Just around the corner from our hotel, Giewont, we had dinner (more meat!) and a VERY loud traditional Polish folk band (cello, viola, 2 violins) in some weird tuning played almost dischordant music and singing. It would have been nicer softer. But we had a great time and got back very late.

At the bus station

So we hoofed it to the bus station a bit early so that we could poke around before meeting mom & Edward and Mel & Marina. It turns out the bus station is at the train station, which is very pretty inside. The old European train stations typically had lots of wood panelling and ornamentation. The picture shows one of the bezillion chandeliers. The old gas mantles have been replaced with flourescent screw-in bulbs, but are still exquisite. Unfortunately, you must be very careful not to walk underneath them since the windows to the station are left open and the pigeons find the chandeliers quite nice place from which to spot crumbs and such. Splat!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Cousin Julie's future home

On our way to the bus station, we saw cousin Julie's employer's sign. Really Julie, it's a very nice life here, especially if you like pork!

Off to Zakopane

Tue 9AM- Dianne and I are all packed up and leaving for the bus station to go to the mountains at Zakopane for 2 days. Gotta find the bus station first!



Monday, May 16, 2005

Where it all started

Herels a picture of the 2nd & 3rd generation of Joseph Badner standing outside of his old apartment at #3 Gazova down deep in the Jewish quarter. That's me on the left, next to my mother's cousin Mel, then my mother Irene and sister Dianne. Mel and his wife Marina flew in from Paris yesterday and will be with us here and up in the mountains at Zakopane and in Warsaw. We're very happy they joined us, we're comparing notes on relatives and relatioships and events and timings. My head has exploded with an overload of facts and names several times. Good thing I brought Ibuprofen. Benny-- you should have come!! It's a real hoot!

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Irene in photo

Sunday AM: My head's exploding. To make a long story short, we chanced upon an exhibition, at the Kuppah synagogue, of pre-war judaica photography. The exhibit included lots of Schindler photos, etc. And we're browsing and Irene stops in front of one, looks at it, says "that's me!!" Edward rushes off to tell someone, and the someone turns out to be the collector of these photos, an amateur photographer who's day job is department head of hematology at Jagellonian Univ. Med. School. He's not Jewish but his grandmother died at Auschwitz for helping Jews in the Krakow ghetto, so it's his mission to document the daily pre-war lives of the third of Krakow that was Jewish, as a sort of tribute to his grandmother. Needless to say he was plotzing, and we spent several hours with him after that, and he took a bunch of photos that Irene had brought with her to scan and then return to us. The rest of the day and more stories will have to wait, it's been a tiring few days. The photo is of Irene with a bunch of kids at holiday summer camp in 1939 just before war broke out. She's in the first row on left.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Bar Mitzvah

So after we connected with the sort of head of the jewish community here yesterday (his English was almost non-existent), we decided to visit the Remuh Synagogue on Szeroka Street this morning (shabbat) thinking we might catch a short service and say hello to whomever would say hello back. Dianne was directed to the back room to participate through the lace curtain, and we chated with each other just before starting that she'd be alone or maybe with one or two others. Just before the service begins, in marches a huge group. Well we hit paydirt. We had the privilege of participating in the first Bar Mitzvah to be conducted there (maybe in Krakow) since the war, 60 years. A group had come up from Australia with little Yacov for the event, with his grandmother who was a survivor of Auschwitz. They had fortuitously hooked up with an unrelated British group touring here, and asked them to join for a minion. So we sat for 2.5 hours and davenned at an orthodox service, a first for both of us. The entire siddur and service was in hebrew with most of it happening in undertones... A kind man named Henry from the English group kept me onbthe right page and paragraph. We congratulated the young man and family, and got invited to the kiddush, but we have to run off to the Wawel Castle now.
This was a very lucky event!!

Friday, May 13, 2005

Friday 13 May- Well maybe one picture

Here's the view *out* through the main gate at Birkenau. You're looking at freedom, from the depths hell.


Today was a difficult day. No pictures of this segment for the blog although I did take pictures which I'll share later. If you start crying at a place like that you might never stop. Well there were tears, but we did manage to stop them. Stories like the ones we shared with mom today aren't normal, you mostly expect happy stories from your parents' childhoods (well mostly), so today drove home just how abnormal I am in that repect. After touring Auschwitz for a couple of hours, we drove to Auschwitz-II (Birkenau) and walked the (much larger) grounds. I noticed a man with surveying equipment working on top of the collapsed ruins of the crematory and struck up a halting conversation. His company is surveying for the museum. He was stunned when I told him my mother was a survivor of this place, and even more stunned to meet her, it reaaly put a human face on the facts for him. He told about an apothecary down the road 10 km that supplied medicines to the camp and helped escapees, a kind of 2-way door...

Trouble posting- test

Just testing

Jewish Quarter

At the Izaaka synagogue in the old Jewish quarter. It's a cultural center with information about the history of the area, and concerts and exhibitions. 17th C building. Dianne hopes to make contact with someone from the very limited jewish communitym and has brought some havdallah set, kiddush cup, and other such.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Very clean

So here are a couple of guys who's job is to mop up the rain!!

I love a parade!

Lots os celebration for the anniversary of the end of WWII

What is this?

Thurs AM: one of these on each side of the steps to church of Vincent St Paul Apostle. I know what it looks like, but....

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Doctor Who

Doctor Who ha landed in Krakow!

At the El-Jot Hotel

Here we are at Dianne's and Brad's hotel, which is also a theater. We're in the old Jewish quarter, which is experiencing a revival, ironically enough

Sunday, May 08, 2005


My first test post to the blog from my Treo.

Renee gave me a wonderful surprise 50th b-day party last night. Very special to have so many dear friends in one room, life doesn't get much better than that.

With several suggestions to blog the Poland trip, I've set up this page with the intent of filing the occasional picture and thoughts, via phone, so that those interested can track our adventure.

Pardon to typos, etc.

So what will I need for 2 weeks in Poland?..... Well, my trusty phrase book.
Do vidzenia!!