Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Auschwitz Concentration Camp (May Not Be Appropriate for Children)

I always write my impressions and experiences in my blog. I know there are some children that are following along and I need to give a warning that this content may not be appropriate for them. The events of the Holocaust are difficult for an adult to comprehend. There are few pictures in this blog out of respect for the victims and following the museum rules of pictures only outside. 
Auschwitz II-Birkenau, end of the train tracks.
 Auschwitz, the name makes my body tense. My mom and I had talked about visiting the museum when we decided to go to Poland. I knew I had to be mentally ready the day we visited. It would be a difficult and emotional day and knowing myself, I would leave exhausted and angry at the atrocities and hatred mankind afflicted on innocent victims.

We decided to visit the museum and then take the overnight train to Budapest at the end of the day. So we packed our bags and hauled them to the train station. It was cold outside. I was not just whining, it was freezing. Snow was falling. Brrrr! We boarded the bus and watched the countryside as we traveled 1.5 hours to Auschwitz. We passed small villages and green fields. The snow was falling and was sticking to the countryside. It reminded me of Iowa with flat expanses of farms and a few trees. 

We arrived at Auschwitz and met Elyse (a young Jewish woman from Boston) that joined us as we walked the memorial. We stopped for a picture at the entrance. Elyse had saved her camera battery for one photo at the gate. 
This is the notorious gate with the cruel message Arbeit Macht Frei ("Work Sets You Free"). When the prisoners arrived, the men were separated from the women and children. Then, 75% of the people were taken directly to the gas chambers. The remaining were put to hard labor in horrific conditions. The concentration camp is surrounded by two electric and barbed wire fences. Auschwitz was originally built as base for the Polish army. When Hitler occupied Poland, it became a concentration camp for Polish political prisoners and then a death camp for the people Hitler determined to be "undesirables" (Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, handicapped, etc).

I realized it is typically called a camp but I had a personal problem with using a term I always associated as happy memories with a place that had such horrific atrocities.  I always referred to it by name, Auschwitz.  We walked through the exhibits explaining how prisoners were transferred to Auschwitz, their valuables were confiscated (the prisoners referred to the warehouse with their belongings as Canada since they thought of Canada as a wealthy country) and their photographs were taken. I was surprised at the meticulous records the Nazi's kept for a race they planned to make extinct. It was overwhelming. 

The next stop was a building filled with documented evidence of the Holocaust. In edition to letters and telegrams sent by the Auschwitz officials and Nazi's, there was also lists of individuals and the dates they died in the gas chambers. We walked into one room and I had to do a double take. It took me a moment to realize what I was looking at. The room was at least 30 feet long. On one side was human hair piled 5-6 feet tall and at least 10 feet deep. The Nazi's had collected the hair of the victims and stored it in a warehouse or sold it to make cloth for Nazi uniforms. At the time of liberation, they found 4,400 pounds of human hair. I gasped at the realization. Also on display were the shoes and suitcases from the victims. As we walked into the room with the suitcases, Elyse gasped. Her hand went to her chest and her eyes filled with tears. She pointed to a suitcase and said "that's my families name." My emotions welled. I got goose bumps and tears in my eyes. I could not imagine seeing my family name on a suitcase. My mother and I both asked Elyse if she was ok. She nodded and we continued onward. 

Then we went through the living quarters. The prisoners were given striped shirts and pants. They slept 5 people in a bunk bed and the bunks were three levels high. If one person turned over, all of them had to turn over. The bathrooms were shared and the sewer systems did not work well. Their food rations were minimal with a cup of tea in the morning, a vegetable broth and bread crusts made of sawdust or chestnuts. Many prisoners starved to death. Those that survived were put to work and endured the daily roll calls. All of the of the prisoners were brought outside and lined up for roll call that could last 2 or more hours. As I stood out in the cold shivering I could not imagine the prisoners ability to survive. I was cold in the 2C weather and I had on long underwear, pants, socks, 2 shirts, 2 jackets, 2 scarves, a hat and mittens. I was freezing. I could not imagine standing in the cold of winter in their thin shirts and pants. It was inhumane. 

As we continued down the path, we came to the execution courtyard. This is where religious leaders, political prisoners and leaders of camp resistance were executed. The Nazi's covered the windows of the surrounding barracks so there were no witnesses to the executions. The killed the prisoners at close range and in front of a specially designed wall to ensure the bullets would not ricochet.
Next door, was the death block. Nobody survived this area. We toured down to the basement floor where prisoners starved and/or suffocated in different types of cells. I was disgusted. There were so many tourists, Elyse had to leave. Mom and I went to check on her. She was fine. She just needed a moment. It was too much.

We continued past the gallows where prisoners were hung. We continued on to the crematorium. People were told they were going for showers. They were instructed to undress outside and told to place their belongings in a locker and remember the number when they returned. This was done to ensure they did not panic. They took their final steps into the gas chambers. Fake shower heads were installed in the chamber. The Nazi's dropped Zyklon-B (cyanide) through vents to gas the prisoners. The chamber was large enough to gas 700 people at one time. Some prisoners were assigned the job of shaving the corpses heads and collecting the hair. Others removed any metal-filled (gold) teeth. Next door was a replica of the crematory furnace. It was able to burn 340 bodies a day. Since the Nazi's did not like the inefficiency (2 days to burn the bodies), they built Auschwitz II- Birkenau with four large crematoria. I found myself asking on question over and over again. Why?

We were all quiet and pensive as we walked out of Auschwitz to the shuttle bus to Auschwitz II-Birkenau. I could not wrap my mind around the why? None of this made sense to me. Why shave the hair of the Jews, gypsies and Poles to make your uniforms? You considered them less then human. You equated them to bedbugs and rats. Why save all the shoes? Why kill harmless children? What caused such hate? How did others find this acceptable and go along? I didn't understand and there is no answer that makes it acceptable. Hatred isn't logical. It's emotional. It is taught. It is despicable. Deplorable.  

As the we drove through town to the Auschwitz II-Birkenau we passed through town. Why did the townspeople allow the atrocities? Was it for survival? Agreement? I found myself wondering what I would have done in their place. 

We arrived at the entrance. Auschwitz II-Birkenau was large, 100,000 prisoners could live here and there were plans to expanded it to hold 200,000 people when it was liberated.  We walked through the entrance. Most prisoners arrived by train. The entrance has a gate with train tracks entering. I realized nobody ever left on the train. The tracks continue to the end...the gas chambers. As I looked around, I saw barbed wire fence, wooden barracks for hundreds of meters. Chimney's marked the original barracks which were burnt to the ground by the German's when the Soviet troops liberated the camp. Others were used for fuel and building materials after the war. The grounds were muddy as we walked back to the memorial. Elyse and I overheard a tour guide say "this was a muddy, black camp. Ashes were always floating from the crematoria. It was a horrible place to die." I agreed. 

As we got to the end of the memorial, we observed the grey, murky lake where ashes were dumped and the remains of the crematoria. We walked along the memorial and paid our respects. Elyse, reached down and found a pebble and in accordance with Jewish tradition, placed it on a small memorial at the end of the railroad tracks. She took a picture and said "I can't believe my camera battery has lasted this long. It is like the menorah that only has enough oil to last through Hanukkah." She took a photo. Then, she asked if I would take one of her. She handed me the camera. I pressed the button and a message appeared on the screen that the battery had died. I got goose bumps as I handed it to her and told her the battery had died. She looked at me and smiled. "It lasted for my visit." 
As we walked back to the entrance, I saw Elyse turn and look back several times. I asked about her family and learned her grandparents had moved to Boston before the war. She shared that her family had relatives in Poland that had been relocated to Jerusalem after the war. She was actually born in Israel while her parents were visiting family. Elyse enriched my visit to Auschwitz by sharing the stories of her family and friends survival and perseverance through unimaginable hardships. I left Auschwitz with the feelings I had expected but also with a special experience from meeting Elyse and sharing the experience with her. It was difficult but meaningful and a place that will haunt my memories but I will never forget. All of us must remember to ensure that history is not repeated.

As I road the bus back to Krakow and boarded the train, I realized how lucky I am. I was born in a country where I can speak out, I have human rights. I have family and friends that are safe and well. I am sleeping in a warm bed. As I lay on the train I realized my life is different. I was born lucky and need to be more thankful for the basics. Many people have much less and have endured horrific lives. I must be thankful and appreciative. I must also always remember to stand for what is right. Not because it is what everyone else does or believes. It is what I know is right. I have always had strong ethics and beliefs. My visit to Auschwitz reminded me what happens when everyone turns away and nobody stands up for what they know is right. I want to live in a world where we are kind and protective of the less fortunate and stand up for what is right. It will only make us a better society. 

Krakow, Poland

We left Prague on an overnight train to Krakow. I love sleeping on a train. It rocks me to sleep and I awake refreshed and ready for the day. Mom and I boarded the train and got settled into our  little cabin. I was sleeping as the train left the station. 

We awoke at 5:00AM when the conductor knocked on our door. We got ready and departed the train at 5:30AM. We left our bags in storage and went to explore the city and eat breakfast. As we walked into the city square, we were greeted by a beautiful Christmas tree. I am starting to get in the spirit.
We found a hotel with a buffet breakfast. Then we walked through the park towards the Old Town square. Krakow's town square was enormous. I was not surprised when I was told it was the largest medieval square in all of Europe. It is surrounded by St. Mary's Basilica, Cloth Hall and the Church of St Adelbert.
The townspeople were busy decorating the square for the Christmas market. We strolled through the Cloth Hall shops looking at the beautifully carved wood, handmade toys and pottery. I kept reminding mom that anything she bought had to fit in our backpacks. It was difficult because everything was beautiful. 
It was late afternoon when we walked to the apartment to check in. We decided to get the keys and then get our backpacks from the train station. It was a good idea except we decided to rest and warm up...ok, it ended up a nap. When we woke up it was dark outside. Ugh! We bundled up and walked to the train station. Three blocks from the train station was a construction zone. Managing the street in daylight hours would have been a challenge but in the dark it was awful. I was worried one of us would fall and break an ankle. We arrived at the train station, collected our bags and then walked back to the apartment. We were both relieved to make it back safely. 

The next morning, it was rainy and cold. I went to the market and bought food while mom read the guidebook. We made breakfast and enjoyed hot tea. Mom decided she wanted to shop old town. I wanted to see Schindler's Factory. We walked to town and roamed through the park, and up and down the blocks of town.
We window shopped and lost track of time. I looked at my watch and realized it was 4:30. I decided to go to Schindler's Factory and mom was going to shop. I followed my map and took a tram  to the Ghetto Hero's Square and walked through the display of empty chairs. Each chair represented 10,000 Jewish people that were killed during WWII. There were small chairs representing children. 
As I followed signs towards the factory, I wondered if I should be walking here alone. It would be dark when I leave the factory. I looked around and saw nobody. The streets were empty. I stood tall, put my shoulders back, my map in my pocket and walked with purpose towards the museum. 

I have never seen the movie (Schindler's List)  but read about the history of Oskar Schindler and his enamelware and ammunition factory. Schindler was a supporter of the Nazi's and came to Poland to take over the factory. At the time, Jewish labor was cheap and he employed 1200 Jews. When he saw the Nazi's round up and slaughter Jewish men, women and children his views changed and it became his goal to save his workers and prevent them from being sent to death at the concentration camps nearby. He made each worker seem indispensable to the factories production.  His factory was much better than the other labor camps where people were starved to death and treated inhumanely. His charisma, ability to charm and financial resources to bribe the Nazi's is what saved the Jewish workers. As the front lines were coming closer to Krakow, his factory would be closed down. He had found another factory and was planning to have all his workers moved to Brunnlitz.  A list of the Jewish workers was written and he had all of them moved to the new factory. By the end of WWII, Oskar Schindler spent his entire fortune protecting the lives of his Jewish workers. When the war ended, his Jewish workers wrote a letter for him describing how he had saved their lives. After the war he was supported by the Jewish community and asked that he was buried in Jerusalem when he died. I found the story of his life inspirational. He was not perfect. But, he changed his life and saved the lives of others. Today,  the factory is a museum of  WWII and Jewish life in the ghettos of Krakow and the concentration camps.
As I left the factory and walked back to the tram stop, I thought about tomorrow. We were packing up to move on to Budapest but first we would spend the day at Auschwitz. I was mentally preparing myself for the difficulty of the visit. I know I would experience a range of emotions. I can not comprehend the atrocities people endured. But I had to visit. We must never forget how evil mankind can be when hatred is allowed to grow and control society. The propaganda and language used by a society to cause so much pain should never be allowed. We must continue to fight for those that need our protection, love and assistance. We are one humanity.
I returned to the Krakow square. The Christmas trees were up and it was a beautiful sight.
I found mom sitting in the café waiting to have dinner. We talked about our days and then walked back to our apartment to get packed for our onward journey. Krakow was beautiful. The people are friendly and it has made me want to visit more of Poland.

Prague, Czech Republic

The most surprising part of our trip to Prague was our apartment. We arrived at the train station and found our way to tram #9 and our apartment. We were shocked we had a 1 bedroom apartment on the river for $24/night! In Prague! When I opened the door to the entrance, I was greeted with a beautiful stain glass skylight. 

Wow! I asked the girl if I was at the correct location. Yes, this was Prague Holiday Apartments. We were shown to the apartment which was fantastic! The bathroom was the size of some of the rooms I have rented. I was ready to move in and stay for a week. To make it better, there were local beers sitting on the table with a welcome note to enjoy our visit and ask if we needed anything. Mom sat down and popped open a beer. Wait? My mother was drinking a beer? What had I done to her?

Mom looked at me and asked what we paid for this place. I took out my converter app and checked the rate. It was $48 for 2 nights. Mom chuckled and asked if it was haunted. I hope not! I guess we will find out in a few hours. We unpacked and went to dinner. Mmm! Prague is known for its beers so I started trying the local drafts. Cheers!

Mom was still sampling hot chocolate and enjoying the varieties.

After dinner we walked along the river to a grocery store. We stocked up on fruits and veggies and splurged on peanut better and popcorn. Mom had been craving peanut butter since she arrived in Turkey! 

We slept well and did not see any ghosts. Mom was still preoccupied with why the apartment was so cheap. I suspected it was because it was low season and outside the tourist area. We relaxed and enjoyed our space. We made tea and breakfast and lounged on the couch reading. It felt good. We were moving from one country to the next quickly and needed time to relax. I prefer to spend 5 days and get to know a city but we don't have that kind of time. 

As morning light filtered into the window, we left our relaxing oasis and went sightseeing. We walked along the river appreciating the beautiful architecture of the city. 
Then to the funicular to get an overview of the city. We strolled along the paths overlooking the Prague and the castle.
We could hear music playing and decided to follow the rhythm down the hill.
We continued walking the cobblestone streets to the John Lennon Wall.
After John Lennon was murdered, he became a pacifist symbol and hero of the young Czech rebels against communism. They painted his picture, political slogans and poems on the wall. This became a thorn to the communist leaders and the Secret Police. They would whitewash the wall but it did not stay for long. The young students repeated the painting and slogans. Today the colors are vibrant with images of John Lennon and  a yellow submarine.
We continued our walk through the neighborhood, past canals and small bridges with padlocks symbolizing love.
We stopped and admired lifelike puppets along the street before continuing to Charles Bridge. 
This is Prague's oldest bridge and statues line each side. 
We continued to the Old Town Square and arrived at the Astronomical Clock as tourists crowded around the clock and were staring at the top. Everyone was filming or photographing the moment. I looked at mom and asked what everyone was waiting to see. She did not know either. We waited and watched. At the top of the hour, the figure of Death inverted his hourglass and the 12 disciples rotated past the window.  

As we were headed for our apartment, we passed St. Nicholas church where they were advertising an evening concert. We decided to stay and enjoy the music in the beautiful Cathedral. We had to wait for a few hours. I left mom on a bench while I went to see the Charles Bridge in the evening light.
I returned, met mom and we walked into the dimly lit church. The concert music was beautiful but the church was freezing cold. I watched the time for half the concert. I wanted to leave and warm up. I was ecstatic when we could finally go home. We walked to the metro and back to our apartment. On the way,  we planned our activities for the next day. We decided to take the night train to Krakow, Poland and we planned to visit the Jewish Quarter in the morning.  We arrived at our apartment and found a going away gift from the apartments! Such a nice surprise! Yummy wafers. A nice dessert before bed. 


The Prague Jewish Quarter was very educational. We walked to the ghetto and entered a synagogue with the names of all of the Jewish people.
It was overwhelming to see the names of those killed covering the walls. There was artwork from children at a concentration camp. It was heart breaking. We continued on through the Jewish cemetery. The cemetery  has about 12,000 gravestones - one on top of the next. Behind each turn was another section of gravestones all squished into the Jewish Quarter. The synagogues in the area provide information about Jewish traditions and customs. The Nazi's did not destroy the area because they planned to use the Jewish Quarter as a "museum to the extinct race." It was disturbing. We knew this would be a good beginning to our next few days in Poland and eventually our visit to Auschwitz. 

Afterwards, we walked back to the Old Town square and had dinner. We shopped and enjoyed the atmosphere. Prague was a charming city. We went back to the train station and prepared for our overnight train to Krakow, Poland. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Vienna, Austria

Vienna, where Christmas dreams come true. At least that is what I was told. So, when I had found a magazine article listing the top 5 Christmas markets in Europe. I knew my mother would want to go. She loves the holiday and this would be a different experience from regular sightseeing. When I mentioned the idea to my mom, her eyes sparkled. Yes! We decided to add one night on pur way to Prague. We left our apartment in Ljubljana and went to the train station for our journey to Vienna. Mom was getting better at traveling. She was expertly carrying backpack (12-15 lbs) and a small pack with snacks on the front. She was looking like a pro!
We arrived in Vienna after a freezing train ride.
The heat did not work in our cabin so, we kept our coats and scarves on the entire trip. I was happy I had long underwear. Since we had a cabin to ourselves, I laid down and took a little nap for part of the trip. I forgot how comfortable train travel is compared to buses. I love it! When we arrived in Vienna, we managed our way through the metro and walked to our hotel. It was late and we were both cold and tired and fell asleep immediately. Another hard day traveling on public transportation.

After a good nights sleep, we were ready to explore the city. We grabbed a couple of oranges before leaving the hotel. We would find breakfast or lunch later. We walked and ended up at the Christmas market. It was like mom had a sixth sense and was guided to the market. It was a little village of shops built in front of city hall. I swear my mother sighed when she saw it. Just like a kid on Christmas morning! We strolled past the shops looking at the handicrafts and the food. We decided the best option was to buy one item and share it. Then we could try more of the specialties. But what do we start with? Hmmm? I smelled warm roasted nuts and kept that on my list. We came upon the pastry booths first. Mmm. An almond twist! 
I was freezing and decided I needed to make a purchase. Warmth was wining over style and beauty. Time for a warm winter hat. I found this beauty that was lined with soft wool. I put it on and realized I looked like a 10 year old but it was warm and cozy. Yay! I think I can survive the cold weather now!
 We strolled through the shops looking at the goods. Everything from soaps, candles, Christmas ornaments and jewelry.
I splurged and bought myself a gift. I found this fantastic bracelet that is made of Tagua seeds.
They are an exotic seed from Colombia which are dried, peeled, drilled, colored by hand and polished. I was more intrigued when she told me they are from Colombia and gave me a list of places to visit. Now, I am really looking forward to getting to Colombia!
Groups of school children arrived and stared at the displays of toys and delicious goodies. It brought back memories of the wonder and excitement of the season as a child.
Afterwards, all of the school children appeared to be going on the Wiener Adventure around the park. Yes, I got a good chuckle out of this one!
After shopping we decided it was time for Austrian goulash served in a bread bowl. The goulash is a fantastic stew. It warmed me up and was delicious. Unfortunately, I could not say the same thing for the bread bowl. We finished off our meal with a cup of hot mulled wine and some roasted nuts.
We were frozen and decided to spend an extra 2 nights in Vienna. I found a fantastic budget hotel in Vienna (Hotel Pension APRI) for $42/night. This is a bargain in Vienna where most of the hotels start at $115/night. This place is the best kept secret in Vienna. It is a budget hotel but located in the center of Vienna with trams and metro nearby. We moved our bags to the new hotel and unpacked. I laid down on the bed to relax and warm up for a few minutes. I woke up two hours later! We had both fallen asleep. It was dark outside. What should we do? Hmmm. Mom looked at me and suggested we walk back to the Christmas market for dinner. Why not? We walked to the market and enjoyed the lights, sounds and people watching.  
The square was beautifully lit and  I was suddenly in the mood for Christmas. It also brought out the angel in me! Look how I sparkle!  
I went to get a baked potato with chili and mom waited for me in the garden. I returned and she wasn't feeling well so, we sat and watched the families while she enjoyed the fresh air. Children were happily playing and dancing to Christmas music. Parents were swaying with their children as they looked at the park with amazement. We decided to go back to our hotel. Tomorrow would be a day of sightseeing.
In the morning, walked to the city sights. We started at the Hofburg Palace and gardens. As we passed a statue, we noticed a clothes hanger by a naked statue. Poor guy, someone must have stolen his clothes. He has to be freezing in this cold weather!
We continued on to the Opera where we bought tickets to an evening concert. How can we go to Vienna and not enjoy some Mozart and Strauss? Mom was shocked that I was willing to go. I may have hated band as a kid but I appreciate all types of music.
We took the metro to Schonbronn Palace.  

 Afterwards we returned to Vienna and walked to Neuer Market , St Stephans and St. Perter's Cathedrals. We stopped at the Christmas Market for some final gifts and then back the concert. It was a fantastic performance of music, opera and ballet.
As we walked back to the tram, we both wish we had time for an opera. The music and art in Vienna is fantastic. Unfortunately, we were leaving on an early train to Prague.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Ljubljana and Lake Bled

Ljubljana street with a view of the castle.

We awoke at 5:00 AM and walked about a mile to the bus stop in Plitvices National Park. It was dark, cold and raining. The road was dark and my greatest fear was being hit by a car, truck or bus. Luckily, we were safe and made it to the bus stop. I reminded mom to watch for rocks and not to trip. She didn't find it funny. I asked if she thought we would have the same bus driver and she hoped never to see him again. She was still humiliated from falling when we arrived! We waited along the side of the dark road. I put my hand up every time a vehicle passed which looked like a bus. Several passed us. Eventually, the bus pulled up and we were on our way to Zagreb, Croatia. We had planned the bus connections perfectly. We waited an 1 1/2 hour before the next bus left for Ljubljana. We grabbed some lunch and water and we were off to our next destination.
We arrived in Ljubljana and followed the booking.com directions to the apartment. We arrived at the location only to find no one there and the door locked. It was next to a restaurant so we decided to have a bowl of soup for dinner and wait a while. I was able to get free wifi and checked my messages. Ugh! Seems the apartment address is not where we are staying. This is a pet peeve I have with some of the people on Booking.com. The addresses do not always reflect the real location. It is irritating to book someplace based on location and find out it is on the other side of town. As mom and I were discussing this issue, the waiter overheard and said he would call the owner. He proceeded to tell us that he gets numerous customers that have this issue with Nana's Home. It happens so frequently that he has her number programmed into his phone. He called and said she would arrive in 15 minutes to give us a ride to the correct address. I was thankful he had helped us. The location of the apartment was fantastic but it was not made for an elderly person. It was up 5 flights of stairs. That wasn't the real issue. We got to the attic and the room had huge beams running across the floor. You had to step over them to go to the bathroom. The bed was a mattress on the floor. This was the worse place I had booked to date. For me, it would be fine. But with my mom....it was difficult and I worried she would fall. Luckily, she was fine and it did not ruin our time in Ljubljana.
Ljubljana is a fantastic little city. We came here to relax and see a city that everyone seems to love. It is the capital of Slovenia and sits on a river with the Alps in the distance. We had no list of sights to see. I just wanted to relax and enjoy the area. As we walked along the river, the café scene was lively all hours of the day and night. It was cold but everyone was out walking or riding their bikes along the river.
I was impressed with Ljubljana. They had tourist bike rentals for 1 Euro. If it had been warmer, I would have jumped on one. But it was too cold for me. We wandered the city as the evening lights were lit. The castle on the top of the hill was beautiful. Mom asked if I was going to hike to the top. No. I was too cold. We walked through the city enjoying the sights. People were setting up stalls for the Saturday morning market. We made a mental note to get up and explore the market in the morning.

One of the strange sights in Eastern EU is locks on bridges. A couple writes their names and date on a lock and lock it to the bridge. I saw this the first time at Butcher's Bridge. Couples in love place the locks on the wires, symbolizing their eternal love.
Ljubljana has designer stores, cafes and restaurants lining the streets. As we walked the street I saw a sign for a Mexican Cantina. I looked at mom and she nodded her head. Yum! I was ready for a taco. I had delicious fajitas and a margarita. It hit the spot! I cant remember the last time I had Mexican food. Not what I expected in Ljubljana, but yummy!

The next morning we went to the market. We strolled past the stalls selling handicrafts, homemade jams, sausages and baked goods. Everything looked delicious.
Then through the fruit and vegetable market and the flower stalls. We bought some fruit and I circled back for the homemade buckwheat vegetable pie. A man had an oven and made a buckwheat crust and topped it with sour cream and fresh vegetables or the meat pie with bacon. I bought the vegetarian pie...it tantalized my taste buds. So yummy! It made a great breakfast.
We walked along the river enjoying the weekend crowd and the sights. Mom stopped to try out a new look. I couldn't get her to yodel. Why not? It was definitely a new hair style idea for her. It looks so charming and lovely.  

We were finished in the market and decided to go to Lake Bled. It was a short walk to the bus station and an hour to Lake Bled. It is magnificent small town nestled into the Alps. The sun was shinning and the autumn colors made the area pop with color.

We walked along the lake  admiring the churches and castle on the top of the hill. Then, we decided it was time for lunch. We found an outdoor café and mom convinced me to wrap up in the blanket and enjoy our lunch in the cool, daytime sunlight. After lunch, I left mom in the café while I went to walk around the lake. As I left, I passed an old man rowing his boat. I felt like I was in a fairytale.
I continued on the 3.75 mile path and enjoyed the views and being in nature. Walking has become a past time and allows me to explore and burn a few calories from all the delicious foods I am indulging. The walk was easy and flat. Several locals stopped me and talked to me. Many did not speak English and just kept talking to me in Slovenian. I had no clue what they were saying to me and just smiled and nodded my head.

The views of the are were fantastic. The Bled castle perched above the lake. I had to choose if I wanted to walk around the lake or up to the castle due to limited time. I chose to walk around the lake. The Church of the Assumption sits on Bled Island and begs to be photographed. It is picturesque and the light was perfect. I took hundreds of photos of the church.
 One man I met, explained there are 99 steps from the lake to the church. In the summer months it is local tradition for newlyweds to row a boat to the island. Then, the groom carries his bride up the steps. If they make it, they are ensured a happy marriage. I asked if all the brides diet before the big day while the grooms lift weights and workout in the gym. The man laughed and said that more of them should! He said many struggle with the task but 80% make it to the top. I quickly realized he was a boat owner when he told me I should go out to the island and ring the bell. It seems the cute little church and the local townspeople believe if you close your eyes and ring the church bell then all your dreams will come true! I told him mine already had come true. He smiled and told me to have a wonderful trip in Slovenia.
Bled was beautiful. I finished my walk and found mom sitting on a park bench writing in her journal while children fed the ducks and swans. It was peaceful and beautiful. It was starting to get dark and we walked back to the bus station. We had had a wonderful day in the Alps!

We returned to Ljubljana and realized we had missed a wine tasting festival! No!! I was sad and insisted we find a restaurant with a nice wine selection.
I ordered a large glass of wine while mom was still attempting to find the best hot chocolate in Europe. We sat and reminisced about our day and made plans for our next destination, Vienna, Austria. This was not on our original plan but since the Christmas markets were open...why not? We booked the train for the following afternoon.