auschwitz-birkenau: one of the emotionally toughest places we have ever visited

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Leisure travel can be associated with feel-good moments, adventure and lots of photographs for memories! But it’s not always that. There are times when travel is not a joyous experience but a valuable one all the same.

Being in Poland and witnessing with our own eyes the sites of the major concentration/extermination camps added a whole new dimension to what we already knew.

At the beginning of the guided tour of Auschwitz, we took a few photographs but upon entering the buildings, it simply didn’t feel right. Photos are allowed in most areas but we couldn’t bring ourselves to photograph for reasons we can’t quite explain, maybe out of respect(?), we just don’t know! So this post contains only 2.

Translates to "Work will set you free"
Translates to “Work will set you free”
One of our few photos of the camps - the train tracks leading into Birkeneau
One of our few photos of the camps – the train tracks leading into Birkenau

“Despite everything, I believe people are really good at heart” – Anne Frank

After visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, we have to say that it was VERY hard to believe that some of those who ran those camps had a heart at all.

What words can we use to describe seeing and walking through the camps? Confronting, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching…. The thought of such atrocities still brings tears to our eyes.

Seeing the tons of hair that had been shaved from heads, the pile of thousands of shoes and mountain of suitcases of those sent to the concentration camps was very overwhelming. The 1.3 million people murdered at these camps became “individuals” right before our eyes. All these images we have seen before in reference books or in other museums but seeing the actual items seemed to hit home a lot harder!

To hear about the medical tests inflicted on individuals, witness the living conditions and walk through the gas chambers and crematorium, it certainly stirred up a lot of emotions. We felt so sad but also felt sick in the stomach at those who were able to commit such crime upon others.

Visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau is not a “tourist attraction”, it educates! It teaches us that we should never let such horrendous acts happen again to anybody on this Earth.

Auschwitz-Birkenau holds so much significance that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime to pay respect to those who died in concentration camps.

“To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time” – Elie Wiesel (a holocaust survivor) 

bremen town musicians in riga

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In the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale: “Town Musicians of Bremen“, the 4 animals (donkey, dog, cat and rooster) are standing on each other’s backs peering into a house of robbers feasting.

The statue, gifted to Riga by their sister city Bremen, has a political satirical connotation.

Wise Monkey Trivia: The 4 animals are standing on each other’s back but are looking through the “Iron Curtain”. 

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As always, we welcome any comments or thoughts here

a peek at eight chateaux of the loire valley

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For a few days, we were walking through the same hallways that Leonardo da Vinci did during the last few years of his life. We also walked where Catherine de Medici did and where other French kings and nobility had walked.

We were in the Loire Valley of France and felt like we had been transported back several hundred years. It was time to explore the châteaux and castles of the region. But when there are approximately 300 of them, 100 or so of which we can actually visit – how do we choose which ones to go to?

So we decided to choose based on their exterior. Yes, we know we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but we did! Because when we sought guidance by asking those working in the travel industry in Tours which were their favourites (to help us narrow it down), they all responded the same.

“It’s too hard to choose. Each one is beautiful in their own way!”

Which was clearly not helpful to us at all.

To start with, we thought they only said that because they were being diplomatic and didn’t want to influence which ones we saw. After seeing 8 of the chateaux– we realized we couldn’t choose which one was our favourite either! Each was so architecturally different, with different interiors, gorgeous gardens or unique histories that enchanted us.

Here are a few sneak peek photos of the 8 we saw.

Villandry

The last of the great château built during the Renaissance. This estate has a magnificently manicured garden, fitted out with a vegetable and herb garden as well. This one is probably best explored on a lovely day.

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Azay-le-Rideau 

It was owned by the financier to King Francois I. He initially acquired the fortress in the early 1500s before building the luxurious château.

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Chambord

The biggest of all in the Loire Valley – it was intended to be a hunting lodge for Francois I but he only spent about 72 days there. The grounds are so vast, it is enclosed with a 32 km wall.

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Cheverny

It is currently inhabited by the descendants of the Huraults Family. It has been owned by the Huraults for 6 centuries. It is still used for hunting parties and has kennels with about a hundred French Hounds which are fed at 5pm – it is rather entertaining to watch.

There may be a chance you recognise this château from Tintin?

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Clos Lucé

Leonardo da Vinci spent his last few years in this château at the invitation of Francois I. This was an interesting château as we really got an insight into the rather profound thoughts behind da Vinci’s inventions.

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Amboise

This was a place to live and stay for royalty but also had a wonderful view of the Loire Valley. It was a symbol of the King’s power and economic status.

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Chenonceau

Possibly one of the most recognised château of the region – it was built over the River Cher. This is another estate with beautiful gardens. King Henri II gifted his mistress Diane de Poitiers with the château. His wife, Catherine de Medici removed Diane and in exchange gave her Chaumont.

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Chaumont

This château was likely used as a hunting ground. It has a remarkable garden and each year hosts an International Garden Festival. It has well-preserved horse stables which houses one of the finest gala saddleries in France.

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Based on just the exteriors, which ones do you like the look of?

If you have visited the region, which was your favourite and why?

Tell us your thoughts here

weekly photo challenge: silhouette

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This B&W photo was taken at sunset in Krakow Old Town Square.

The silhouette is of Adam Mickiewicz, a famous Polish Romantic poet of the 19th Century. We captured this photo as a real pigeon landed to perch on his head.

The silhouette buildings around him are the Krakow Bell tower and the Krakow Cloth Hall. The rooster is part of the Cloth Hall.

Other silhouette photos can be found here.

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