Greenland, Eastbound.

Qaqortoq (pronounced kwa-kor-tuk).

The morning was a little cloudy and overcast, but that went away pretty early, and we ended up with a beautiful and sunny day – cool enough for jackets, but very comfortable. From the ship, we could see that Qaqortoq is a charming port. The seawater is a deep aqua blue and very calm. There was one iceberg visible from the ship, but we were never close enough to it to experience it. The blue, red, green, purple, pink, and yellow houses and buildings of the town are arranged at every angle and every place where a flat enough space can be found to build them. They go from the shore up the sides of the mountains almost to the top. On such a beautiful day, the town makes an attractive scene. Given the variety of colors, I suspect that it would be striking on a snowy day as well. The parts of the mountains that we can see from the ship are just big brown rocks with greenery filling the cracks and fissures. This is a tender port, so we anchored out in the bay and had a 10-minute ride into the small, but cute harbor, which had several fishing boats and a crane busily moving shipping containers from one place to another.

We left the tender in what seemed to be the middle of town and started walking along the main road. Cars kept whizzing by, but I wouldn’t say it was anything like “traffic.” We found the town fountain, which was situated in the middle of a paved area, although we couldn’t call it a plaza really because there weren’t any buildings to frame it. Actually, all of the buildings just seemed to be randomly placed in relation to each other, some fronting on a street, but many not. There seemed to be no attempt at landscaping anywhere, either around the homes or around the public buildings. However, everywhere we walked, we couldn’t get over the abundance of wildflowers. We found a grocery store and went inside to see what Greenlanders eat. It was just like every other grocery store, except that they offered whale in the meat department. We didn’t look at prices but understand that everything here is very expensive.

We returned to the tender dock and kept walking towards the other end of town. We passed another grocery store and an old folks’ home and found a helipad at the end of the street. The helicopter is what connects Qaqortoq with the rest of the world. On our return to the town center, we stopped at a roadside bench and ate our lunch (cheese sandwiches from the ship) and sat for a while trying to realize that we were in Greenland. At one point, an old, toothless, indigenous man joined us on the bench, and we exchanged comments about how nice the day was. That was a challenge since we didn’t speak each other’s language. After he left, we returned to the ship. We really didn’t know what to expect of Greenland, but we have been impressed. The cars are mostly old and battered (mostly Toyotas, some Suzukis), but the native people we saw seemed to be friendly and not poor. Buildings and homes seem to be well maintained. I thought it was interesting that the local artisans were offering souvenirs made mostly of rock (jewelry, carved figures). They’re making good use of their most abundant resource.

Cruising Prince Christian Sound.

The next day started sunny and bright; cold enough for jackets but not windy or unpleasant. It was to be a day of cruising Prince Christian Sound, which is the waterway between mainland Greenland and its southern islands. From the forward decks we watched as the ship proceeded between islands and the mainland, through a maze of channels and fjords and an azure sea. The mountains here are sharply pointed and very tall – I think about 4,000 feet or so above the level of the sea. They are mostly grey and brown, with greenery attached to everything that’s not bare rock. We saw ice fields and glaciers frequently, usually with waterfalls cascading from them down to the sea. We passed a number of icebergs, some close enough so that we could see the submerged parts, which had bubbles rising from them to the surface. We saw seals lounging on the icebergs, and later in the morning we watched as a couple of whales surfaced, spouted, swam along for a while, then dove again, leaving us with the familiar image of their tails as the last visible token of their presence.

As the unusually beautiful day progressed, we were told by several people in the know that our weather was most unusual. Normally, there is fog, rain, and cold, so we were really lucky. In the crystal air, we could appreciate the different kinds of mountains; not all were pointy; some were rounded over and looked like huge bumpy pillows. We continued to see icebergs all day, but most of them were small. In a couple of spots, the glaciers came right down to the water’s edge and looked like they were going to start calving at any moment. Today’s sights are some of the most beautiful we have ever seen. As soon as we left the sound and moved into the open ocean, the sky became overcast and we entered fog again, in stark contrast to the rest of the day.

 

View of Qaqortoq from the Ship

View of Qaqortoq from the Ship

Qaqortoq Visitors Center

Qaqortoq Visitors Center

Qaqortoq Town Fountain

Qaqortoq Town Fountain

Stream in Downtown Qaqortoq

Stream in Downtown Qaqortoq

Wildflowers by the Stream

Wildflowers by the Stream

Lupine, House, and Rocks in Qaqortoq

Lupine, House, and Rocks in Qaqortoq

Blue Grocery Store in Downtown Qaqortoq

Blue Grocery Store in Downtown Qaqortoq

Main Street

Main Street

Friendly Passerby in Qaqortoq

Friendly Passerby in Qaqortoq

Icebergs in Prince Christian Sound

Icebergs in Prince Christian Sound

Iceberg, Reflection, and Mountains

Iceberg, Reflection, and Mountains

Calm Water, Mountains with Snow Patches

Calm Water, Mountains with Snow Patches

One of the Glaciers in Prince Christian Sound

One of the Glaciers in Prince Christian Sound

Perfect Reflection-Note the Weather

Perfect Reflection-Note the Weather

Prince Christian Sound

Prince Christian Sound

Fascinated by the Glacier

Fascinated by the Glacier

Canadian Maritime Provinces, Eastbound.

Sydney, Nova Scotia.

Since we had been to the city of Sydney before on another cruise, we opted for an excursion into the country for this trip. From Sydney we drove through the lovely countryside (wooded hills and bodies of sea water) to the town of Baddeck, where we spent a couple of hours wandering around, looking into stores, sitting on the wharf, and enjoying the non-rainy weather (contrary to my expectation about the weather). Looking for internet, we entered the local library, which our guide had suggested as an option, and we downloaded our emails and Denise browsed a while. I was so impressed with the library facility. In addition to providing free internet and “washrooms” for tourists, it had books (!), spaces for children, a huge goldfish in an aquarium, a brown gecko in a terrarium, bulletin boards with local information, and a very friendly staff. Plus a lovely view of the water. I gave them a $20 donation because I was so taken with what they’re providing to the community. Back on the bus, we returned to Sydney via more forests and waterways. The land seems to be sparsely settled, and nothing is very far from the water.

Corner Brook, Newfoundland.

We could find no excursions of interest to us in Corner Brook, so, armed with a city map, we found the Corner Brook Stream Nature Trail, which seemed to be the main city attraction. We entered the park via a wooden stairway which went from the street level down to a pond. Right away, we could tell it was going to be a lovely walk. We were also able to remove our outer layers because the temperature had warmed up considerably. A plaque near where we entered the park identified it as a donation to the community from the main industry in the town, the Corner Brook Pulp and Paper Mill. Evidently, water from the damming of the brook provides all of the water needed to run the paper mill. The gravel pathway around the pond is well maintained and easy to navigate. Wildflowers have been planted along both sides of the path, and it goes through heavily forested areas with the glacial boulders, ferns, conifers, and wild plants typical of the other east-coast forests we have seen. As we continued downstream, we passed the dam and a fish ladder, which had been provided to enable Atlantic salmon to populate the stream once again. As we approached the end of the stream, the path turned and began to follow the property line of the paper mill. It was very interesting for us to walk almost in the shadow of a huge factory, which was making lots of noise and emitting plumes of smoke, or maybe steam. Clearly, the path had been constructed with the casual tourist (i.e., cruise passenger) in mind, because it was nicely landscaped with trees, lawns, seating areas, and wildflowers, and it led us directly to the port and our ship.

Red Bay, Labrador.

Even though we had signed up for an excursion in Red Bay, we soon realized that we need not have done so. Our guide was not informative, the community is very small, and everything to be seen there is well presented in the local museums.  Red Bay is a tender port, so we rode to shore crammed into the tender craft in the usual way. The sea was calm, and I could see hills on all sides, but I could not tell what was the mainland and what were the islands. Once we embarked, I realized that there are no trees, just lots of big smooth rocks, short shrubs, vines, and an abundance of what I’d call weeds, except that they may really be valuable plants which I’m just not familiar with. We toured a couple of museums which explained the main features of local history: whales, whaling, and Basque settlers in the 1500s. Of particular interest to me was the figure of a Basque whaler who was clothed in what was supposed to be authentic fabrics, a coarsely woven blue and a finer red. The red shirt he was wearing had a faced slit opening at the neck, long set-in sleeves, and a band collar. His calf-length blue pants were gathered into a narrow waistband and fastened in the front. He also had on white stockings and leather shoes. Swatches of the red and blue cloth were available for visitors to examine, which, of course, I did carefully. We were told that the Red Bay community is dying. Only about 150-60 people live here today. They are gradually leaving, and no one is moving in. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so maybe there will be some attempt to keep this historical area available to the public. We remarked that it’s probably difficult to be here during the winter months because of the monotony of the landscape, sea, and sky. Even though the area we visited today seemed at first desolate and uninviting, I did find it attractive in certain ways – the abundance of plants, the bare rocks, the long vistas, the smell and feel of the ocean, and the respect accorded to the people of the past.

Town Waterfront in Baddeck, Nova Scotia

Town Waterfront in Baddeck, Nova Scotia

Local Boats in Baddeck, Nova Scotia

Local Boats in Baddeck, Nova Scotia

Nature Path in Corner Brook, Newfoundland

Nature Path in Corner Brook, Newfoundland

Corner Brook Stream with Birds

Corner Brook Stream with Birds

Looking Upstream

Looking Upstream

Rocks and Trees in Close Relationship

Rocks and Trees in Close Relationship

Paper Mill which Dominates Corner Brook

Paper Mill which Dominates Corner Brook

A Canadian Maple Leaf on the Corner Brook Nature Trail

A Canadian Maple Leaf on the Corner Brook Nature Trail

Typical Landscape in Red Bay, Labrador

Typical Landscape in Red Bay, Labrador

A Water View in Red Bay

A Water View in Red Bay

Another Water View in Red Bay, with Historical Marker

Another Water View in Red Bay, with Historical Marker

Voyage of the Vikings

Denise and I visited Iceland in December 2014 and had always intended to return because we were so taken with the land and the people. The 35-day Voyage to the Vikings Holland America cruise in July and August 2016 provided the perfect opportunity. The ports looked interesting to us, and we loved the idea of going to Europe without having to fly. The cruise sailed from Boston, through a number of ports in the North Atlantic, turned around in Rotterdam, and returned to Boston via all different ports.     

Our Ship for the Voyage of the Vikings

Our Ship for the Voyage of the Vikings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Itinerary

  • Boston
  • Bar Harbor, Maine
  • Sydney, Nova Scotia
  • Corner Brook, Newfoundland
  • Red Bay, Labrador
  • Qaqortoq, Greenland
  • Cruising Prince Christian Sound
  • Reykjavik, Iceland
  • Alesund, Norway
  • Eidfjord, Norway
  • Rotterdam, The Netherlands
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Isle of Man, U.K.
  • Belfast, Northern Ireland
  • Akureyri, Iceland
  • Isafjordur, Iceland
  • Cruising Prince Christian Sound
  • Nanortalik, Greenland
  • St. John’s, Newfoundland
  • Halifax, Nova Scotia
  • Boston
Map of the Itinerary for the Voyage of the Vikings, 2016

Map of the Itinerary for the Voyage of the Vikings, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shipboard Life

We have sailed with Holland America many times and knew what to expect of our life on the ship. The food was consistently good. The service and staff were exceptional. We enjoyed the entertainment, especially the production shows performed by the ship’s resident singers and dancers. We had stimulating conversations with many of our fellow guests. The guest lecturers gave us lots to think about with respect to the history and natural phenomena of the North Atlantic. We took a shore excursion in most ports and found the guides to be generally informative and itineraries well worth our time (and money). In addition, Mother Nature helped as well, because for most days the weather was perfect, especially in places where it mattered most, that is, in Greenland and Iceland.

In the following posts, we will focus on the places and experiences which an armchair traveler might find of interest. Since there was so much to see, you’ll find a lot of text. When it becomes too much, you can always just look at Denise’s pictures, which are wonderful.

Our first port was Bar Harbor, Maine. I have not included it in a separate post, even though it’s a lovely area, because we didn’t take a special excursion there. We just walked around the tourist area, found a great fabric store, and had lunch.

September 15-17, 2015 – London.

September 15.

Our main activity for today was to visit the Museum of London. Our friend Jim came to our hotel after breakfast, and as we were walking towards the museum, he gave us an informal tour of some of the sights along the way. We passed through the green at Lincoln’s Inn Fields (very quiet and serious, away from the noise of the city), down into the Silver Vaults near Chancery Lane (incredibly ornate silver decorative pieces – almost like a museum but everything for sale), and by the jewelry stores on Hatton Garden (window shopping only). After we had been at the museum for a while, Jim decided to leave (we have all been here many times), and we made plans to get together again the next day. Denise and I spent the rest of the day at the museum, focusing on the exhibits about early and then modern Britain, skipping the medieval and early modern entirely (not enough time to see everything, especially since we were reading everything and trying to absorb all that knowledge). As if to show ourselves that we’re really tough, or for some other reason, we decided to walk back to the hotel, even though bus and subway were readily available. Needless to say, we were wiped out by the time we got to our room. But we feel that walking is the best way to see London, and that’s why we’re here, so that’s what we did. And we loved the experience.

September 16-17.

When we began our last day in London, we had thought that we’d be going to the British Museum for a few hours, but when Jim arrived, we just wanted to sit in the hotel lobby for a while and chat with him. Turns out we stayed there for the rest of the day. We always have a lot to talk about with him (he was an English teacher in a former life), but we were also enjoying the parade of hotel guests through this very busy lobby. Quite ironically, Denise and I were in London during Fashion Week, and many of the people we were watching were clearly “fashionable,” unlike ourselves. Their clothing, hair, makeup, and posturing kept us entertained.

Because it was Fashion Week and rooms were all booked up, we had to leave the Hoxton this afternoon and spend our last night at an airport hotel. So we walked through the rain to the Underground and eventually ended up at the Novotel Heathrow. This is another hotel chain that we’re familiar with, and we like that its rooms are large and clean with free water and tea. Next morning after a leisurely breakfast, we took a taxi to the airport and were on our way back to New Jersey.

We had been too long away from London, so the chance to see our friend Jim again after our Jewish Heritage tour gave us an even greater incentive to make the trip. It was everything we had hoped for.

Jim and Susan before Entering the Silver Vaults

Jim and Susan before Entering the Silver Vaults

London Building with Traffic

London Building with Traffic

Jewelry District in Hatton Garden

Jewelry District in Hatton Garden

Entrance to the Museum of London

Entrance to the Museum of London

September 14, 2015 – London.

Buckingham Palace today. We took the Underground to the Green Park station, followed the directional signs for the palace as we walked through the park, and emerged at the right front corner of the palace grounds. We walked around the front of this imposing edifice to the left side visitors’ entrance and waited a short time in the 9:30 tour group line. We had saved ourselves some aggravation by having our tickets in hand. Denise had sent off for them, and we received them several weeks ago. We picked up audio guides and followed the directions as we entered the palace.

To describe what we saw, one would have to use the most over-the-top words available: opulence, elegance, extravagance, luxury. Our tour included only the public rooms, so we didn’t see the private apartments, the kitchens, or the service rooms. But what we did see was amazing. There were lots of people going through with us, but the crowds were not oppressive. We visited a number of different rooms: the entryway; grand staircase; blue, green, and white salons; music room; state dining room; grand ballroom; silk tapestry room. Throughout the tour, every room was filled with so many paintings, sculpture, and other precious objects that we could hardly take it all in. In one room, we saw some of the gifts that foreign dignitaries have presented to the Queen: a Mexican art piece, bowls and platters, a model of a Hindu temple, vases, etc., etc. The opulence of the rooms was breathtaking: the wall coverings, flooring, drapery, upholstery, and especially the ceilings, each more ornate than the last.

In addition to our tour through the public rooms, the itinerary included stops at a number of display cases depicting other aspects of life in the palace: the sewing department where the Queen’s dresses are made, the kitchens, the wine cellars, the silver and gold plate maintenance rooms, the cutlery and tableware department (with a note about how all dishes are washed by hand – and very carefully), the office responsible for all the invitations that are sent out every year. Buckingham Palace is a big operation that employs hundreds of people, and they all seem to have the same purpose: to make it all perfect. At least, that’s what we saw today.

The audio guide was also very informative. We learned about the history of the various rooms, important events that happened there, which monarchs made contributions to the development of the collections displayed, and how the current Queen and her family have used the rooms. Information was also provided by videos running in continuous loops. They explained how the state dining table is set or what happens during the Queen’s garden parties. We were so happy that we were finally in London at the right time so that we could have this experience.

We had also purchased tickets for the Palace Garden Tour. This was actually just a guided walk along the path that circles the grounds. The guide, a proper English lady who loves her job, pointed out certain features, special areas (such as the play yard of the Queen’s children), and trees and shrubs of particular importance (such as trees planted by various royal personages). When the tour was over, we were near the exit, but we walked back to the palace, thus completing the circuit of the grounds, and had lunch at the Garden Café, outdoor seating under a large tent. Before leaving the grounds of the palace, we did a little souvenir shopping, of course, thinking we might be able to help with the Queen’s cash flow.

We had decided that we would spend the rest of the afternoon walking back to our hotel, so we took off along Piccadilly, then along Long Acre, then to King’s Way and Holborn. Along the way, we stopped a couple of times – for tea and shopping, notably Paperchase, Ryman’s, and Stanfords, all map and stationery stores. Walking in London is one of our all-time favorite activities.

Right Front Corner of Buckingham Palace

Right Front Corner of Buckingham Palace

Front of Buckingham Palace

Front of Buckingham Palace

View of the Back of the Palace from across the Lake

View of the Back of the Palace from across the Lake

The Great Lawn behind Buckingham Palace

The Great Lawn behind Buckingham Palace

Tourist Facilities behind Buckingham Palace

Tourist Facilities behind Buckingham Palace

Garden Café behind Buckingham Palace

Garden Café behind Buckingham Palace

 

September 13, 2015 – London.

Today was our day to visit Greenwich. The weather forecast was iffy, and we decided a boat ride might be a good option. We made our way via the Underground to the Westminster pier, where we embarked on a narrated tour to Greenwich. The “boatman” who spoke to us was a scruffy-looking guy who gave us a lot of information about our route and the sights of London. Most people got off in Greenwich, but we stayed on the boat because the ride continued to the “Thames Barrier” after another 45-minute ride. This contraption has something to do with too much ocean water (the Thames is tidal) coming up the river and having river monitors erecting a barrier for the purpose of controlling it. How the whole thing worked is not clear to us even though we did see it.

The boat then returned to Greenwich, where we disembarked and walked to the visitor center in the Old Royal Naval College. To reach the observatory, where the Prime Meridian is located, we had to walk up a long hill in a beautiful open park. Many other tourists were walking as well, few of whom were speaking English. Actually, some were, but in a dialect that I could hardly understand. Dialectal variation in British English is far greater than in American English. At the observatory, we visited the home of the resident astronomer, toured some exhibits having to do with time and ship navigation, and made a point of standing on both sides of the meridian. I’m not sure why it’s so important to do that, but that seemed to be everyone’s objective. When we were complete with the observatory, we walked back down the hill, wandered around in Greenwich for a while, and then caught a bus back to the city. This ride gave us what was, for us, a new view of London – East London. This area is full of not-so-great-looking apartment blocks and small shops. We saw black people and white people, but not too many others, so I don’t know about the ethnicity of these neighborhoods.

View of Big Ben and Westminster from the River Thames

View of Big Ben and Westminster from the River Thames

View of the Tower of London from the River Thames

View of the Tower of London from the River Thames

The Thames Barrier, Downstream from Greenwich

The Thames Barrier, Downstream from Greenwich

Inside the Old Royal Naval College

Inside the Old Royal Naval College

Plaque in the Old Royal Naval College

Plaque in the Old Royal Naval College

24-Hour Clock and Measurements at the Greenwich Royal Observatory

24-Hour Clock and Measurements at the Greenwich Royal Observatory

Denise on the Prime Meridian

Denise on the Prime Meridian

View from the Greenwich Royal Observatory

View from the Greenwich Royal Observatory

 

September 12, 2015 – London.

We had planned to spend the day with our friend Jim. We were up early and walked our bags over to our new hotel, where he joined us. Both the clientele and the staff in this hotel are very young – probably none over 35. The lobby is very welcoming to people who want to use the internet and is provided with comfortable seating and agreeable wait staff. After some discussion with Jim, we decided to walk along the south bank and experience the Borough Market. So we walked from the Bloomsbury Street and Great Russell Street intersection down to the Thames, along the water to Blackfriars Bridge, along the south side of the river, thence to the market. The walk was quintessential London: narrow streets, juxtaposed old and modern buildings, flowers in abundance every so often, lots of people and traffic. The market was mostly stalls of food vendors – all types of food, all sorts of ethnic varieties of everything. Many vendors were offering tiny bites of their products: cheeses, tea, sweets, etc. People were completely crushed together, many carrying the food they had purchased and eating as they walked. Also, on the periphery of the market many people were just sitting on the curb enjoying their purchases.

Leaving the market, we continued along the river, crossing back over on the Millennium Bridge. The Thames is a busy river. Earlier, we had noticed many, many rowboats, evidently from all over England and Europe. Some kind of rowboat race was happening. As we crossed the pedestrian bridge and headed towards St. Paul’s Cathedral, we came upon troops of Morris dancers who were entertaining the passersby in a small open space. I’ve heard of Morris dancing and know it’s very old and very English, but a lot of what they were doing looked quite silly. In the meantime, both the dancers and the onlookers were having a good time. Needing a break, we sat for a while and enjoyed the performance and the pleasant weather. On the way back to the hotel, we walked along Ludgate, Fleet Street, and then the Strand. These are very famous street names for a person who majored in English in college (me). We parted from Jim and decided to have dinner in the hotel. This turned out to be a good idea. The food was good, but the service was special. Our server was a young woman from Poland with whom we shared some of our very positive impressions of her country. Her life in London doesn’t sound too easy. She works a 60-hour week and has a one-hour commute each way. She made that sound like a not uncommon lifestyle.

London Building with Lots of Plants and Flowers

London Building with Lots of Plants and Flowers

Rowboats on the Thames

Rowboats on the Thames

The Globe Theater

The Globe Theater

Crowds at the Borough Market, London

Crowds at the Borough Market, London

Jim with Us on the Millennium Bridge, St. Paul's in the Background

Jim with Us on the Millennium Bridge, St. Paul’s in the Background

Morris Dancers, with Onlookers

Morris Dancers, with Onlookers

Flowers in London

Flowers in London

London Street Scene (Dragon on Pedestal)

London Street Scene (Dragon on Pedestal)

September 10-11, 2015 – London.

September 10.

Our last night in Poland we spent in an American hotel, the Courtyard Marriott. This is a chain we know well. It even has a shower curtain in the bathroom, unlike most hotels in Europe. I wonder if it’s an American invention. The hotel is directly across the street from the airport terminal and at the same level as the check-in counters, and we appreciated the convenience as we were leaving. We did a little shopping to use up some zlotys and then waited at the gate for a short time before boarding.

The contrast between the Warsaw and London airports was most striking when we arrived at Heathrow, where we had to walk for what seemed like miles to reach the Underground station. We boarded the Piccadilly Line to Leicester Square, where we changed to the Northern Line. After many, many steps with our heavy suitcases, and with the help of a kind Brit for part of the way, we reached the surface and walked a short distance to the Bloomsbury Hotel. Overcome by the heavily scented lobby and guest room, we requested to cancel our reservation (at no cost) and were directed to another hotel a block away, the Bloomsbury Street Hotel. This one was adequate, but we could stay for only four nights. We decided to deal with that problem later. Our friend Jim, whom we met on the world cruise earlier this year, came by about six, and we walked with him over to the flat he’s rented for a few months. It’s in a modern high-rise which has an interesting view of London rooftops. We sat with him in his living room for a few minutes to catch up on news and then walked out into his neighborhood, which is bustling with pedestrian, construction, and vehicular activity. A thriving neighborhood, I’d say. We eventually found a busy Italian restaurant (staffed by real Italians) and had a pleasant meal together. After discussing plans for the next few days, we called it a night (as they say).

September 11.

After breakfast the next morning, we were talking to the desk clerk about extending our stay there when I noticed the wallpaper behind the reception desk. Turns out it is reproductions of pages from Mrs. Dalloway, which is appropriate because Virginia Woolf lived nearby. Some of the pages were handwritten, which contributed significantly to the impact of the design. The clerk did find an additional day for us, but at a much higher cost, so we realized we still had a problem. But rather than wasting a beautiful day working this out, we decided to take the Underground to Kew Gardens.

We spent a lovely day there. First, we took a narrated tram ride around the park to get oriented, then entered the Palm Court, which is a huge glass conservatory almost overflowing with an incredible variety of plants. Next, we came upon a “skywalk” which was similar to the ones we had taken in Western Australia and in Singapore. We ascended 100+ steps and walked a circuit through the treetops. There wasn’t much of a view outside of the park, but we did have one unexpected treat. We spied two green birds that looked like parrots poking around in one of the trees. They were almost the same shade of green as the pods which covered the tree. Later, I heard them screeching and saw them flying away. I’m sure there’s some great story about how parrots got to England, but the mystery remains for me. We finished our visit to the gardens by going into the Princess of Wales (Alexandria, daughter of Queen Victoria) Conservatory. This is a newer building of glass, but it has computer-controlled climate zones and exhibits of plants from at least ten different areas of the world: cactus, tropical plants, ferns, bromeliads, lily pads and other water plants, etc. We also came upon an eighteen-inch iguana, who seemed to be lolling about and posing for pictures. An attendant explained that the conservatory has four of these creatures: they eat the cockroaches! By the end of the afternoon, we were tired but glad to have finally experienced some of the attractions of Kew Gardens. We returned to the city, decided to change hotels again, and were able to reserve a room at the Hoxton in Holborn, a short distance from our previous hotel.

Palm Court Conservatory at Kew Gardens

Palm Court Conservatory at Kew Gardens

Us on the Skywalk at Kew Gardens

Us on the Skywalk at Kew Gardens

View of the Skywalk at Kew Gardens

View of the Skywalk at Kew Gardens

Modern Conservatory at Kew Gardens

Modern Conservatory at Kew Gardens

Striking Pink Bromeliad at Kew Gardens

Striking Pink Bromeliad at Kew Gardens

Lily Pads at Kew Gardens

Lily Pads at Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens Resident Iguana

Kew Gardens Resident Iguana

Desert Climate at Kew Gardens

Desert Climate at Kew Gardens

September 9, 2015 – Sandomierz and Koprzywnica, Poland.

We had tacked this day on to the end of the Jewish Heritage tour so that Denise could gather information about her grandmother (who moved to the U.S. in 1908) and the rest of the people in her grandmother’s family. Our new guide Lukasz met us early, and he and Denise together determined the agenda for the day.

Our first stop was Sandomierz, which is southwest of Lublin and is the location for the repository of state archives in which Lukasz expected to find information about Denise’s family. We drove about two hours through the countryside. In this region, there seemed to be a greater variety of crops, such as apples and tomatoes (currently being harvested) and also lots more berries. As we were driving, we talked with Lukasz about historical and modern Poland. As a professional guide, he knows a lot about both.

In Sandomierz we found our way to the state archives building, which used to be a synagogue. It has the characteristic round-top windows that so many synagogues have had on our tour. The entrance door to the building was an unimposing wooden doorway with barely any indication of the building’s purpose. Fortunately, Lukasz knew what to do. We were directed up the stairs to a large room on the second floor complete with an attendant, 6-8 large library tables, people looking at documentary materials (print and digital), large windows, everyone whispering. Denise and Lukasz worked on the documents for a couple of hours until they had looked at everything in that office that was relevant to her search.

Next, we drove about 20 minutes to Koprzywnica, the home town of Denise’s grandmother and the ultimate destination for our trip. By this time, it was raining a little, but we were undeterred. For the next couple of hours, we drove around the town, visiting sites of significance. For example, the synagogue is gone, but Lukasz showed us where it had been located. Today, it’s just two lots separated by a narrow walkway. We spent a long time lingering in the town square where Denise took a lot of pictures and found the address of the home that may have belonged to people in her family. Today, the building in that location is relatively new. The square itself was a small park with benches, paved pathways, trees and shrubs. It’s a quiet place, aside from the occasional loud motorcycle or auto. The streets leading to and from the square, and the square itself, are lined with houses of various sizes, mostly small, some newly built or renovated, a few of pre-war vintage. We agreed that probably none of the ones there today were present when Denise’s grandmother lived there. Next, we drove out of town a mile or so and stopped at a vacant field that Lukasz had identified as the Jewish cemetery. There is no sign of it today.

As we drove out of Koprzywnica, Denise said she feels that she has accomplished what she set out to do – to see where her grandmother came from. Her connection with our guide in Poland, Lukasz, will also enable her to continue looking for facts about her family. Our drive back to Warsaw and the airport was long. It had been an exhausting day – and trip.

Relevant Municipal Archives Were Located in Sandomierz

Relevant Municipal Archives Were Located in Sandomierz

View in Sandomierz

View in Sandomierz

Archives Building in Sandomierz

Archives Building in Sandomierz

Archives Room with Paperwork Needed for Working There

Archives Room with Paperwork Needed for Working There

A Himelfarb Page in the Archives

A Himelfarb Page in the Archives

Koprzywnica - The Home Town of Denise's Maternal Grandmother

Koprzywnica – The Home Town of Denise’s Maternal Grandmother

Municipal Building in Koprzywnica

Municipal Building in Koprzywnica

Koprzywnica Today

Koprzywnica Today

Koprzywnica Town Center, Municipal Park

Koprzywnica Town Center, Municipal Park

Seating and Pathways in the Municipal Park, Koprzywnica

Seating and Pathways in the Municipal Park, Koprzywnica

Koprzywnica Today

Koprzywnica Today

September 8, 2015 – Lublin, Poland.

After breakfast, we toured Lublin for a half hour or so. It’s a medium-sized city with old and new buildings, a hilltop castle, busy people, some traffic, some graffiti, lots of apartment buildings. Our first stop of the day was at the concentration/death camp of Majdanek, just outside of Lublin. Now a Polish national museum, this is a vast open space surrounded by double barbed wire fences, with monuments, barracks, open fields, ditches, a crematorium, and various buildings used by the Nazis to carry out their extermination plans. Throughout the museum/camp, plaques have been attached to walls and other surfaces relating surviving prisoners’ personal reflections about their experiences in the camp: in Polish, English (lucky for us), and Hebrew. These heart-wrenching accounts of unspeakable/unimaginable atrocities were often difficult to read, but they were posted in every building as reminders of what happened here.

We entered several of the barracks, which are long, narrow buildings with a door at one end and only clerestory windows, so no one could see inside or look out. The barracks were used both as warehouses and as accommodations for the prisoners. The three-tier bunks designed to hold several people each looked particularly inhospitable.

In addition to the barracks, we toured a prisoner disinfecting building (complete with tubs where prisoners were dunked in carbolic acid), the gas chamber (where guards could watch the proceedings through a peephole in the sealed door), and the crematorium (with an efficiently-designed series of ovens).

The main exhibit of the museum was housed in one of the barracks buildings which looked like the others on the outside but inside was modern and climate controlled. Featured were video testimonies and period newsreels playing continuously, pictures, artifacts of prison life, prisoner uniforms, and brief biographies of many of the ones who survived and of some who didn’t.

On the grounds of the camp were some memorials to the victims. One, a round hilltop mausoleum filled with human ashes, was erected near where more than 18,000 Jews were machine-gunned in ONE DAY. As we toured the camp, we passed by a huge old oak tree, watched birds flying around, and walked over grassy areas, as if nature just has to carry on, no matter what.

We all left the Majdanek camp totally depressed. One of our group mentioned later that this experience was even more moving than Auschwitz. We were practically the only people there, unlike at Auschwitz which was very crowded, and we could take our time to experience each emotion that came up.

Next, our guide Dariusz very thoughtfully brought us to a museum/theater in Lublin which holds out the possibility of hope in all this madness. The purpose of the Brama Grodska Center is to create deep understanding between Poles and Jews. To that end, and to memorialize the Jewish neighborhoods and people of Lublin that were wiped out by the Nazis during the war, this organization has undertaken the task of recording as much information as they can find about each person and each building that existed before the war in the Jewish neighborhood around Lublin’s castle. The museum sponsors art installations, a website, and educational programs which encourage people to engage with their project and thereby to learn about Lublin’s common Polish-Jewish history.

When we left the museum, we walked around for a while in the Stare Miasto enjoying the old building facades and cobbled streets. We decided that lunch should be Jewish food, and Dariusz brought us to a restaurant decorated with objects reminiscent of Jewish life such as a cartoon of traditionally dressed Jewish men dancing, an old Singer treadle sewing machine, and lace tablecloths. We had, among other dishes, cabbage soup, falafel, and kreplach.

After lunch Dariusz showed us a few more Jewish sites within the town and then dropped Denise and me off at our hotel. The rest of our group was leaving Poland, and he was accompanying them to Warsaw. We said our goodbyes with sadness because we all enjoyed spending time together on this remarkable tour.

Barracks at Concentration/Death Camp Majdanek

Barracks at Concentration/Death Camp Majdanek

Majdanek - Double Barbed Wire Fences and Guardhouse

Majdanek – Double Barbed Wire Fences and Guardhouse

Majdanek - Nazi Monument with a Secret

Majdanek – Nazi Monument with a Secret

Majdanek - Monument on Top of a Huge Pile of Human Ashes

Majdanek – Monument on Top of a Huge Pile of Human Ashes

Majdanek - Building of Death

Majdanek – Building of Death

City of Lublin

City of Lublin

Lublin - Archives of the Brama Grodska Center

Lublin – Archives of the Brama Grodska Center

Lublin - Our Lunch Restaurant with Jewish-Style Décor and Food

Lublin – Our Lunch Restaurant with Jewish-Style Décor and Food

Lunch in Lublin

Lunch in Lublin