Pierogi, Mulled Wine and Chopin

The first chemical element that Marie Skłodowska Curie discovered and isolated in 1898 was named polonium after her native country. The first woman to win a Noble Prize and the first person to win 2 Noble Prizes used to say that “a scientist in his laboratory is not a mere technician: he is also a child confronting natural phenomena that impress him as though they were fairy tales”.

On the first day of spring of 1810 a prodigy child was born. His name was Frédéric François Chopin and he left the world with an impressive heritage of over 230 works all involving the piano. A romantic he used to say “Even in winter it shall be green in my heart”.

Tamara de Lempicka was an Art Deco painter and the first woman artist to be a glamour star. She was part of the bohemian life of the Roaring Twenties and friends with Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, and André Gide and said “I live life in the margins of society, and the rules of normal society don’t apply to those who live on the fringe”. Her self-portrait in a Green Bugatti is truly charming.

What do all these people have in common you ask? Well they were all born in different times in the same city…Warsaw. And as you listen to this Spring Waltz – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmzFDEu2RoA imagine being a child and running around the streets of old times Warsaw. Choose your character, it may be a scientist, a pianist, a painter or it may be just any other child on the street. Once the wandering mood is on read away and let us take care of the rest.

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Old City and Novy Swiat

The Old City of Warsaw dates back over 700 years. But its history hasn’t been smooth. Razed through the ground in the World War II, the Old City has been reconstructed from scratch as was the Royal Castle. The Old City is vibrant, with small streets and all sorts of squares, painted walls and restaurants. We visited before Christmas so the Christmas trees and the Christmas markets added even more glamour to the area.

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The Old Town Market square founded in the 13th century was the venue of celebrations and fairs but also executions. Nowadays is surrounded by Gothic and baroque buildings, packed with souvenir shops and restaurants (one of them even exhibiting a Michelin star) and is home of the Warsaw Mermaid.

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Legend says, she became so enchanted with the landscape that she decided to settle here. Local fishermen thought that their fishing nets have been destroyed by some predator. And so, they decided to get rid of the beast but they heard the beautiful voice of the signing Mermaid and fell over heels in love with the creature. One day, a wealthy merchant caught the mermaid but the sons of the fishermen hearing her cries managed to free her. In gratitude, the Mermaid promised the city’s residents to protect them in times of need. And so it stands here, in the Old Town Square, with her sword and shield to guard the city and its people ever since.

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Novy Swiat Street is packed with coffee places, restaurants and shops for all tastes. If you are in for some student vibe don’t miss entering the University Campus and if you are into some music watch out for the multimedia benches which will play a little bit of Chopin.

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Royal Castle

The Royal Castle was a royal residence starting from the 14th century blown up by the Germans in the 1944 and opened again to the public in 1984 it is today a museum and a place for holding state ceremonies.

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Our favorite room was the King’s Bedchamber decorated with yew paneling and a turquoise colored royal bed.

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Stacja Muzeum

Near Ochota there’s a railway related museum which presents the history of railway in the world and Poland in the inside exhibition

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and in the open-air museum in includes a collection of rail vehicles in Poland from different periods of the railway history including the Bierut’s Lounge Car, renovated baggage and postal car wagon electrical and steam locomotives. For more information visit http://www.stacjamuzeum.pl/en.

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Palace of Culture and Science

Somehow similar to the Romanian House of the Free Press the Palace of Culture and Science is an example of socialist-realist architecture which can be seen from every part of the city. The Palace is home to a cinema, 2 orchestras, 2 museums, 2 public libraries and the Warsaw Tourist Information Point.

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You can go up to the rooftop with an elevator for a view from above of Warsaw. Rumor has it that next door Marriott Hotel has a Panorama Bar where you can get for the same money a better view plus a beer.

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Holy Cross Church

Near the Old City and on your way to Novy Swiat you come across the Church of the Holy Cross which in addition to beeing a spacious and impressive Baroque style church it also contains the urn of Chopin’s heart brought from France by his sister and immured in the left pillar of the main nave of the church.

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Where we ate

Warsaw has plenty of options for food and coffee lovers. Our favorite restaurant was Podwale 25 Piwna Kompania and our favorite coffee place was Café Nero.

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For more ideas on where to eat and chill click here.

Where we stayed

We stayed in Apartament Uniwersytecki at Krakowskie Przedmieście 20-22 m16, Sródmiescie. The location of the apartment is right next to the University 10 minutes walking from the Old City on one side and 10 minutes walking to the Central Station on the other side and the kitchen makes it so easy to have breakfast or dinner at home. There is a metro station a couple of minutes away and Nowy Świat is right there as is also a Carrefour Express 1 minute away from the apartment .

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Food & Drinks Warsaw

Podwale 25 Piwna Kompania (http://podwale25.pl)

The restaurant is located near the Old City. Food is typical Polish (similar also to Romanian one), portions are huge and there’s also some live music. Preferably come outside the typical eating hours since the place is crowded you may have to sit in line for lunch but it is all worth it. Mushrooms soup was a delight and the honey ribs are a must try.

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Zapiecek (http://www.zapiecek.eu)

You will find Zapiecek easy in the Old City and also on Krakowskie Przedmieście near the Old City. Traditional Polish food. You can get beetroot soup in a cup or in a soup plate if you want to try the version with pierogi. They have a wide variety of pierogi (some kind of dumplings), boiled or fried with different types of stuffing from cabbage, to meat and cherries. The mulled wine is also a must try with more spicy added by the ever present nutmeg. Mind the cue also for Zapiecek around lunch and dinner time.

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Green Café Nero (http://www.greencaffenero.pl)

This coffee place is everywhere in central Warsaw near the Old City. It has plenty of room to sit, chill, read a book, surf the internet, or just enjoy a big cup of coffee and some sweets. If you are a coffee fun you can find here also Costa Coffee, Starbucks and some small local coffee places.

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Fret a Porter (http://fretaporter.pl)

Freta Street at the end of the Old City is packed with all sorts of restaurants. We stopped in Fret a Porter. We tried the duck with oranges and it was very tasty.

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Croque Madame (https://www.facebook.com/CroqueMadame41/)

If you like cakes than this is the place to be. The apple pie and the meringue and chocolate cake are very good.

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Rewind 2016

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There’s a sweet noise on the small crowded streets surrounded by flats in all colors of the rainbow and there’s a smell of pizza and oven baked goods coming from all around and all you can hear is Italian words and the face of Gianni, that Italian elderly owner of a traditional pizzeria makes you feel strangely at home. We celebrated the coming of 2017 in Naples, Capri and Procida and as we look forward with curiosity and anxiousness to the year to come we look back with wonder and we are grateful for an incredible 2016

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with leprechauns, Irish pubs and songs, Guinness beer and trips to the Titanic in Dublin and Belfast

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Scandinavian snow, perfect muffins, athletic people going out to ski by metro in Oslo

12744163_818590741602818_1679290715306204204_ntraditions, family time, colorful clothes, days of joy and celebrations at our best friend’s wedding in Jaipur, meeting up with old friends for precious stolen moments of happiness

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Milan Duomo, pizza and pasta with a heavenly taste, espresso, chilling in parks, polenta, discovery of the Navigli area

img_20160520_152111img_20160520_191659wandering the shores of Como Lake and enjoying breathtaking views of Brunate in Comoimg_20160521_095903unexpected trips to Sighisoara and Brasov

img_20160507_211445_edit_edit1beer gardens, charming coffee shops, Berlin wall, relaxing parks, strolls amongst restaurants and pubs of all nationalities just to charm any food lover in Berlin

img_20160815_180024_hdrbeach days and live music at the Black Sea

img_20160730_163533_editday trip to Negotin, Serbia just to have one Serbian beer

img_20160722_142418pagodas, Shan food, night markets and organized street quarters in Yangon

img_0518img_20160918_122523_editboat trips, traditional rowing fishermen, floating markets and lifetime friends in Inle Lake

img_20160920_084311img_0533sunset, sunrise, pagodas, temples and history in Bagan

img_0869img_0884gold leafs, temples, the best Shan food, monks, longest wooden bridge in Mandalay

img_20160924_141903img_20160924_172918the Grand Palace, new friends, live music, sweet memories, Same Same t-shirts and the best foot massage in Bangkok

img_20160926_135550_edit_editdays of shared thoughts, incredible views, swims, beach strolls, Rum Cola in the charming solitary Duli Beach resort in Philippines, El Nido

img_1254img_1294days of chilling and relaxing in Jaipur and Delhi making plans for future adventures

img_20161114_231850_editRoyal Palaces, Christmas trees, pierogi, beetroot soup, large café latte, Christmas markets in Warsaw

15349820_1019346348193922_3613498593471740022_nChristmas market madness in Bucharest with the view of the Parliament House, hot spiced wine and the best atmosphere to wish for

15380714_1020952261366664_6606025568305505877_n15492319_1025481797580377_6451251349531931751_nChristmas parties with memories of childhood and priceless friends

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family and friends time colored in green, flowery, sunny, snowy surroundings to adapt to the seasons but at all times packed with an overload of joy and happiness to last for a lifetime

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Past year has thought us that we are never alone as we carry with us all the family and friends, present or past, imprinted on our skin and it takes nothing more than closing our eyes for one second to feel them all around us. We’ve lost good friends and gained new friends and family just to remind us one more time of how precious every day we receive is and that it’s up to us to not let it waste and fully live every single second of it. We hope in a happy and peaceful 2017, a year of expressing less and feeling more, of being true to ourselves and the others, of taking leaps of faith without a net, of putting dreams into reality today rather than tomorrow, of carefully using the chance given at each and every new day, of still wondering at everything around, new or old, beautiful or less beautiful, of searching for more balance in life, of still believing.

Valcea Village Museum

It’s a hot summer day and like on every other sunny day we are having lunch underneath the mulberry tree in front of my grandparents’ house. For a foreign eye this would seem like a small house with three rooms of not more than 3 square meters each but for us this is home of the happiest moments of our childhood. We know each and every corner, we got out of the rooms through all its windows when we were small enough to fit, we ate on a three feet table on top of grandma’s bed when it was winter and cold outside and grandma was weaving at her weaving loom filling the room, we spent nights of gossiping while “beating” the milk to make butter in the middle room of the house where everyone used to gather for cooking, eating and small talk, we sat lazy on the porch reading books when it was raining outside or lining up tobacco leaves, we painted walls and cleaned everything up on Easter time, we shared donuts freshly cooked by grandma in the middle of the night all toped up with laughter and happiness in our small sanctuary called “odaie”, we searched through the pockets and bags of grandpa coming back from church with small gifts for the kids and the ever not missing flowers, we fought for that place behind the heating machine to get warm after coming home from caroling out in the snow, we washed our little faces with cold water every Easter night and dressed up just to get ready for “getting light” in a proper way, we packed small bags to give away the morning of the Easter day for our ancestors and shared the only fish we got from one of our relatives or neighbors at the church just to make grandma happy because she used to think this will make us fast like a fish in the year to come, we guided ourselves from many nights spent having fun with our friends by that light that grandma always used to leave on in the porch for the kids to come home, we ran in and out of this small house saying hellos or goodbyes so many years until we grew so tall that we were almost the size of the entrance door but the house never grew to small for us or our memories.

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Like our story there are tons of other stories of childhoods and lives spent in the Romanian traditional village

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in small houses where everything was circling around one room or two

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where life was spent more outside in open air

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where every object had its purpose and it was used almost daily and not forgotten in the back of a drawer for years to come

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where it was perfectly ok for the chicken, the cat or the dog to enter the “middle room” as it was equally ok to eat with bear hands or from the same plate.

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Valcea Village Museum has gathered in time an impressive collection of houses from different areas in Romania and recreates on an 8 hectares area the functional image of a traditional rural settlement with all its social-cultural institutions including a primary school built at the beginning of the XXth century

Valcea Village Museum

a wooden church from 1785

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a swing from Stoenesti commune that my other grandma used to call “wardrobe” and said on Easter kids could ride it for eggs

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an inn

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a pottery shop from the XIX century

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a sheep yard

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a bee keeper’s place

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The Museum is so well arranged and preserved that you feel like going back in time in that garden, on that day, on that summer, in front of that small 3 rooms house and grandma is calling to go pick-up zarzare :p.

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How to find it?

Valcea Village Museum it’s located near Valcea in Bujoreni Commune. You can drive or you can even take bus number 7 from Valcea and it will drop you right in front. Starting from the month of April the houses may be visited also inside and workshops are organized. And if you are lucky the nice historian that take place of the place will share stories about the school, the houses and cherished old times traditions. All you have to do is ask :p

For more pictures check out our Facebook page here.

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Food & Drinks Dublin

We tried to experience a variety of place while in Dublin so we went eating Irish food, Spanish food, Moroccan food.  Our favourite places for eating where Boxty House, El Bahia and Auld Dubliner.

1. Gallagher’s Boxty House

Right in the heart of Temple Bar area there is this restaurant with ground floor and underground in their own words “the humble spud made beautiful”. We don’t know about beautiful but the food is well worth a visit. Salmon & Mussel Boxty with dumplings, aromatic spices finished with Lemon & Cream is to die for.

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2. El Bahia

You will find El Bahia near Grafton Street on the first floor. Look closely not to miss it! The food is traditional Moroccan and is one of the best food tasted. The tanjine meals and the Moroccan coffees are worth the trip. Make sure to check the schedule – lunch is served until 3 pm and dinner after 5:30 pm.

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3. O’Neill’s

O’Neill’s is a nice traditional pub serving both tons of beer and food. With choices for all tastes be advised that they serve Irish food which means the plate is big enough to serve 2 so come hungry. We did love our pork ribs with a combination of vegetables including mashed carrots and potatoes all flavoured differently to add up to the joy of eating.

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4. Salamanca

Right on Saint Andrew’s Street and across from the O’Neill’s Pub you will find Salamanca. Spanish restaurant that serves tapas, Spanish food but also Irish food. We did love the goat cheese starter.

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5. Stage Door Café

You will find this place on Essex Street right in the Temple Bar area. The breakfast is very good with great prices and the décor of the place will surprise you.

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6. Keoghs Café

Located on Trinity street it offers great cappuccino and wide variety of muffins for muffin addicts.

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7. Murphy’s – for best ice cream. We tried

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Tips&Tricks Dublin

  • we visited Dublin for New Year celebration; the hotels seemed kind of expensive this time otherwise the weather was rainless save for one day in the entire week when it poured the whole day; make sure you’ve got raincoats and umbrellas;
  • if you get a hotel near the Temple Bar or the Docklands you can easily walk around the city; and if it’s too hard to walk at some point or you just feel like being lazy just hop in one of the Double Decker buses there are plenty of them all around a trip costs somewhere better 1,50 to 2 euro and you can pay directly in the bus;
  • Temple Bar and Trinity College area have plenty of restaurants and pubs; for shopaholics there’s Grafton street and some streets near the Leprechauns museum;
  • Guinness Storehouse has 7 floors so it will take you some time to run through all of them; maybe save 2 -3 hours for this experience; there are places for eating also;
  • Jameson Distillery is a cool trip through the world of whisky with tasting at the end; make sure to book online before going;
  • Dublinia is a fun experiences for all ages but especially for kids as they have plenty of games and experiences to test out;
  • Trinity College Library and the Book of Kells is something we did not got to visit as it was closed for winter holidays; but from the reviews it seems worth visiting; do give it a try;
  • Entrances to main attractions are rather expensive (somewhere between 10 and 20 euro) so expect to take some money out of your pocket if you want to try the Guinness Storehouse experience (20 euro), Dublinia (13.5 euro combined ticket with Christchurch) or Jameson Distillery (17 euro).

Top 10 Dublin

  1. Temple Bar Pub in Temple Bar area with live music and Guinness beer;
  2. Getting lost on the South Circular Road amongst houses with colourful doors;
  3. The view from the Gravity Bar of Guinness Storehouse;
  4. Wandering the world of the Vikings and the Medieval era inhabitants of Dublin in Dublinia;
  5. Leprechauns and fairies stories in Leprechauns Museum;
  6. Whisky tasting in Jameson Distillery;
  7. The Emerald green you find all around Dublin and especially the Aran wool knitted clothing;
  8. The Double Decker buses;
  9. O’Neill’s Pub and their big plates of Irish food;
  10. El Bahia restaurant near Grafton Street.

Emerald Isle, Leprechuans and Guinness beer

I’ve been a wild rover for many a year /And I spent all my money on whiskey and beer,/And now I’m returning with gold in great store/ And I never will play the wild rover no more/And it’s no, nay, never,/No nay never no more,/Will I play the wild rover/No never no more.”, the Dubliners sing this so well with that typical Irish accent https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJwC9jPhuY4 to make one sit for just one more beer and one more gossip with friends in one of those traditional pubs spread all across Dublin.

Temple Bar Pub

Founded as a Viking settlement Dublin is the capital of the Emerald Isle better known as Ireland or the place of the green Shamrock, leprechauns, Irish Gaelic language, Irish music, pubs, Guinness beer, incredible landscapes and for us, Romanians, the home of Bram Stoker that guy that wrote Count Dracula and made us famous without even visiting our country. Ah yes, and the place of redheads…although statistics say only 9% of the Irish population are natural redheads :p.

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Arseways, too much talking let’s carry on with the trip.

What we did

Temple Bar and Trinity College

The lively part of Dublin resides in the areas of College Green and Temple Bar. Pubs, restaurants, museums, shops, souvenirs, the Irish House of Parliament, Trinity College, the loved Temple Bar Pub with live music, Auld Dubliner, O’Neill’s with their huge plates of Irish food, Quay Pub and so many more.

Trinity College

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Dublin Castle

The seat of UK’s administration in Ireland until 1922 is considered now a major Irish government complex. Not too many rooms but stylishly decorated and if you add the Christmas trees magic it’s worth a visit. Not to mention that is also a filming venue including for the Tudors (if you guys are fans).

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Guinness Storehouse

I’m sure you all know Guinness beer with that brown colour and distinct burnt flavour. Well, the father of Guinness beer, Arthur Guinness started brewing ales in 1759 at St. James’s Gate Brewery, Dublin.  Today over 850 million litres of Guinness are sold annually and the beer is brewed in almost 60 countries.

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The Storehouse that used to be a fermentation plant for Guinness covers seven floors surrounding a glass atrium shaped in the form of a pint of Guinness and takes visitors through the history of Guinness; you even get to pour your own Guinness and have a free glass in the Gravity Bar with view over Dublin. Ah, not to forget, the lease for St. James Gate Brewery (where Guinness Storehouse is also located) was signed by Arthur Guinness himself for a period of 9,000 years for an annual rent of £45. What a visionary right?

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Dublinia and Christ Church

Dublinia recreates life in Dublin in the Viking and Medieval period. It takes visitors to a cruise around Viking houses and day-to-day life, medieval fairs, warfare, crime and punishment, disease and primitive cures. It is interactive and educative with all types of games and questions to make the visit more fun.

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Christ Church Cathedral built sometime around 1028 well renovated with a welcoming interior and an underground opened for visits. It is also famous for its choir.

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Old Jameson Distillery

The Old Jameson Distillery is the original site where Jameson Irish Whiskey was distilled until 1971. John Jameson, a Scottish lawyer, and his son (also John Jameson) started the history of Jameson Whisky in 1810 after taking over ownership of the Bow Street Distillery in Dublin from his wife’s cousins. By 1866 the Jameson Distillery was so spread that it was called a “city within the city”.

 

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Old Jameson Distillery will offer an inside story on how whisky is made and finish with a whisky tasting session.

Leprechaun Museum

A leprechaun is a type of fairy in Irish folklore. Leprechauns are one third the size of a usual man, wear a beard, coat and hat, they are solitary creatures spending their time making and mending shoes for fairies and hiding their pots of gold at the end of the rainbow.

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Walt Disney seems to be responsible for the green colour of today’s leprechaun’s costume (earlier it was brown) when he dressed their king in green to distinguish him from the rest in “Darby O’Gill and the Little People”. Incidentally the same movie released in 1959 brought Sean Connery the role in James Bond – small world.

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Where we ate

We tried to experience a variety of place while in Dublin so we went eating Irish food, Spanish food, Moroccan food.  Our favourite places for eating where Boxty House, El Bahia and Auld Dubliner. For more details on where and what we ate click here.

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Where we stayed

We stayed in two places in Dublin since we split our trip with a 2 days trip to Belfast. First hotel was Arlington O’Connell Bridge (www.arlington.ie/ ) – well located right across Temple Bar and near the Connelly Train Station, spacious room, clean. The second hotel was Maldron Hotel on Pearse Street (www.maldronhotels.com )– although is more near the Docklands and is a 15 minutes walk to Trinity Street there are busses to take you straight to Trinity College, the rooms are very spacious and recently renovated and there’s a supermarket 1 minute away opened until late.

What we think about the Irish

We felt the Irish as being nice people thanking the bus driver, handsome, most of them young (maybe this is why statistics say 50% of the Dubliners are under 30), most of the time surrounded by friends or family, proud of their roots, beer funs enjoying a good time in their traditional pubs singing out loud to Irish traditional folk, rather smiley shinny people despite or the rainy all year long weather.

Click here for some Tips & Tricks of Dublin.

Click here for our Top 10 experiences in Dublin.

For more photos of Dublin just click here for our Facebook page.

Top 10 Bruges

Top 10 Bruges

  1. Charming houses and colourful doors;
  2. Canal rides;
  3. Bicycle rides on the streets of Bruges;
  4. Belgian beer;
  5. Chocolate and bananas Belgian waffles;
  6. Breakfast time in a restaurant in Markt;
  7. Minnewater and especially the swans;
  8. Begijnhof;
  9. Open air concerts in a park in Bruges;
  10. Chilling beside the windmills.

Visit to the Dachau Nazi Concentration Camp

Happy to be hosting a guest post from the Northern Voyager (http://www.northernvoyager.net/). This is a special post because it talks about an experience that most of us would consider twice before adding it to our travel list. It talks about the concentration camp in Dachau which stands as a reminder for humans to learn from past mistakes and plea for peace and freedom. Lee tells the story so much better than me so here it is:

Photo Credits - Northern Voyager

Photo Credits – Northern Voyager

“Every summer, for the last 4 years, my wife, two sons and I have been choosing small, sometimes off the beaten track destinations in Europe to explore and discover as a family.   Each of our summer adventures has included a tightly packed mid sized rental car, a list of pre-booked self catering accommodations, and of course, a bucket list of destinations and experiences meticulously researched in travel books, internet travel blogs and travel websites. Each of our GPS guided and sometimes bumpy cobblestone road trip adventures is usually about four weeks long.  Being a Canadian family from the prairies, each of our over seas excursions has exposed us to multiple world renowned historical sites and given us a taste for many of the diverse European cultures.  This past summer’s trip was no different. Our destination of choice was an area in the Alpine region of southern Germany.  During the logistical planning phase prior to our trip, we started looking for places to discover in and around the Bavarian city of Munich.   München (German translation) was our family’s designated rendezvous point as I was already in Europe for work and my wife and sons would be flying in from Canada. When most people think of a holiday in Munich, they envision enormous Oktoberfest Beer Gardens filled with drunken lederhosen clad gentlemen devouring freshly prepared wiener schnitzel, singing traditional folk songs while being served frosty steins of German beer by beautiful Bavarian women in traditional dirndl dresses.  However, our trip was starting at the end of July, two months premature to most of the traditional Oktoberfest festivities. A visit to the local Hofbräuhaus founded in 1589 could have possibly served as an Oktoberfest substitute but we figured our teen and preteen sons may not benefit  much from the experience so we continued our search for an alternative attraction. While surfing the net, we stumbled upon another experience not as celebratory as Oktoberfest but rather a place that serves as a reminder to one of the human races darkest moments – the WWII holocaust memorial of Dachau.

Northern Voyager

Photo Credits – Northern Voyager

Dachau was the first concentration camp established by the National Socialist German Worker’s Party or better known to most North Americans as the Nazi Party.  The camp was located on the southeast corner of the medieval Bavarian town of Dachau about 18 km northwest of the city of Munich.  Originally an old munitions factory, the camp opened its gates in March of 1933 and started detaining both ordinary German criminals as well as Nazi political prisoners. Dachau became a training and testing ground for the Nazi Party’s Final Solution.  Many of the first SS* guards received their training in Dachau.

* SS abbreviated for Schutzstaffel.  The German word “Schutz” translates to protection or shield in English while “Staffel” translates to squadron.

Northern Voyager

Photo Credits – Northern Voyager

 After researching historical facts and viewing photographs of Dachau both past and present on the internet, we had to ask ourselves, “Is this a place we want to experience with our two sons who were 11 and 15 years old at the time?  Is this an experience appropriate for children of their age or would exposing them to these horrific historical acts of human violence only produce fear filled sleepless nights and feelings of anxiety?  Over the course of a few months before the trip, my wife and I discussed the topic periodically. It was incredible how such a topic could open so many different thoughts and feelings associated with parenting in todays fast pace high tech world.  Thanks to today’s modern video games, our sons had already been exposed to the violence of gunning down digital human figures on a TV screen.  Would this experience provide us as parents with proof that killing isn’t as glorious and detached as todays technology makes it out to be?  

Northern Voyager

Photo Credits – Northern Voyager

My grandfather served with the Canadian Military during WWII so my family has always marked November 11th as an important date to remember those that paid the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom that we have today.  Would this experience at Dachau help reiterate for our family what we have learned over the years through my grandfather’s recollection of his battlefield  experiences?  Would it echo the atrocities of war as told by our local veterans and clergy at the annual Remembrance Day Services?  Would experiencing Dachau as it stands today provide our son’s with an educational experience that would assist with Social Study projects and provide helpful insight into the human condition in the years to come? While researching various websites about the camp, I came across a site stating that the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site receives on average 800 000 visitors each year.  A vast majority of these visitors are Germans, especially German students who typically visit at least one former concentration camp during the course of their High School studies. My wife and I finally decided that even though it wouldn’t be a joyous experience, it would be an educational opportunity for both ourselves and our boys that could provide valuable insight into how corruption and violence plague the human race even today.

Northern Voyager

Photo Credits – Northern Voyager

Our tour of the camp started by passing through a prison like iron gate in a building known as the Jourhaus.  Skillfully crafted at the top of the gate was the infamous “Arbeit Macht Frei”  a German phrase notorious to many of the Nazi Concentration Camps meaning  “Work Will Make You Free”.  It was a first hand reminder of the propaganda used by the Nazi’s to inflict a false sense of hope for many of its prisoners. The prisoners were told that if they worked hard and collaborated with the camp rules, their lives would be spared when in actuality, the forced labor was designed to torture them to the point of death.  With the help of historical photographs and first hand written accounts by surviving prisoners, we as a family experienced our first glimpse of what prisoners saw years ago as they entered into a living hell.

Photo Credits - Northern Voyager

Photo Credits – Northern Voyager

We continued walking along a wide path between the barrack foundations and the camp’s perimeter fence in an area once know as no-man’s land.  This area was heavily guarded by the Waffen SS soldiers in nearby guard towers. As a way of deterring escape from the minds of prisoners, guards would immediately gun down any prisoner who entered the designated no-man’s area.  I remember sharing a story with my wife and son’s about how many of the psychologically and spiritually broken prisoners would voluntarily and at will enter no-mans land as a way of committing suicide.  As we neared the end of the barracks, we came across a winding narrow gravelled pathway leading away from the camps perimeter walls and in the direction of the crematorium.  As we crossed through a once electrified barbed-wire gate, I remember looking down the perimeter wall and seeing the guard towers thinking how horrific life must have been for so many living under these hostile conditions.  As we ventured further, we crossed over a deep concrete ditch formerly known as the Würm Canal and passed into what is today, a neatly manicured garden. This beautiful garden setting that leads to the crematorium is now home to numerous memorials that serve as a place of healing and remembrance for the camps victims and their families.  Originally in 1933 when the camp opened, most of the camp’s inmates were German and Austrian political prisoners.  After the Nuremberg Laws were passed in 1935, homosexuals, emigrants and Jehovah’s Witnesses were incarcerated along with the political prisoners.  Jewish populations began arriving at the camp in November 1938 after Kristallnacht was carried out by the German Army’s assault detachment known as  the Sturmabteilung.  As the camp grew, so did the demographics of other prisoners.  Detainees also included Czechs, Poles, French, Yugoslavs, Roma Gypsies, Sinti Gypsies, Russian POW’s, German Catholic Church Clergy denounced by the Nazi Party and many other European ethnic groups.  Many of these individual groups are recognized and mourned by having their own distinct memorials erected in the vicinity of the camp crematorium.

Photo Credits - Northern Voyager

Photo Credits – Northern Voyager

As my family respectfully walked past the memorials, I was curious to know, what does an eleven year old think about when touring a place like Dachau?  When I asked our youngest son, his  comment was “ if I ever invented a time machine, I would never want to come to this place.”   Eventually, our winding garden path led us to the crematoriums.  Visiting the crematoriums is similar to seeing white crosses in the ditch along North American  highways.  It leaves you with a sad and empty feeling knowing that a tragic event took place in that exact same spot at some point in time.  The only difference being white crosses in ditches are usually the result of human error, an accident.  The crematoriums were a reminder of the premeditated and systematic murder of thousands of human beings by other human beings – the difference being, Dachau was no accident.  The crematoria was used to dispose of the executed prisoner’s bodies.  While standing outside the buildings housing the ovens, my oldest son and I noticed a historical photograph showing a pile of human corpses.  Theses corpses were piled on one another some 71 years before in the exact same spot as where we were standing that day, a very grim reminder of the atrocities that had occurred in what is now a very peaceful and prosperous country.

Photo Credits - Northern Voyager

Photo Credits – Northern Voyager

As the camp continued to grow and more prisoners died, there was a need for a second larger more efficient crematorium.  Once we entered inside the crematorium, my family all felt the presence of the sinister acts that took place there during the 1930’s and 1940’s.  Barbaric descriptions of how dead bodies were loaded on to metal stretchers using large tongs before being rolled into the ovens and how workers inside the crematorium sometimes needed to smash the heads of some of the prisoners with a shovel before placing them in the ovens because they were still alive.  We saw hooks in the ceiling were prisoners were hung to watch as fellow prisoner’s corpses were systematically turned to ash.  Standing in that room made us feel as though we were witnessing proof of the darkest side of the human race’s capabilities.

Photo Credits - Northern Voyager

Photo Credits – Northern Voyager

As we left the crematoriums, we passed by a concrete wall now covered in vines, moss and other lush vegetation that could easily be mistaken for a carefully constructed botanical garden structure.  However, this wall was used for executing prisoners at close range by SS guards during the days of the camp’s operation. In front of the wall is a small ditch now over grown with small shrubs and ferns.  This ditch served as a drainage system to direct the flow of blood draining from the executed prisoners.  Most of the prisoners executed on the wall were Soviet POW’s and Gestapo prisoners.  This same area also serves as a cemetery .  Many of the ashes removed from the crematorium were buried in a nearby ditch.

Photo Credits - Northern Voyager

Photo Credits – Northern Voyager

Today’s Dachau is a very well kept, clean and organized reminder to the world of one of the greatest violations of human rights. An extensive collection of historical photographs, memorials,  historical documents and first hand prisoner accounts of what life was like in the camp before the 1945 American liberation can be viewed throughout the former concentration camp grounds and buildings.

 The Dachau experience for my family has become a valuable educational resource. Its been a  challenge to look beyond the graphic violence that occurred within the camps walls to truly understand how the human race  could fail so terribly.  For us, it has become the springboard for numerous conversations and discussions directed towards the human condition.  Human beings will continue to struggle with good and evil in the future as will our children.  Even in today’s society, we continue to buy into the “Arbeit Macht Frei” propaganda.  Many people today, chase a dream that hard work will someday make them free.  We can only hope that our children will never have to experience the horrors of a holocaust or war in their lifetime.  We hope that by learning from historical events in the past that they’ll be able to easily recognize when governing bodies become corrupt and society starts to travel down a familiar dead end road.  Unless we take the time to show and teach them the mistakes we’ve made in our past, we will always run the risk of history repeating itself.  One of the memorials at Dachau is inscribed with the phrase “Never Again” written in several different languages. We must never let those words fade away.”

You can find out more about Lee by click here Lee Mailer.

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