Clinton and I were able to take a trip when we first meet (and after saving up all our money working on the cruise ship) we were able to work together and plan a trip that combined the historical places I wanted to visit with the beautiful scenery Clinton wanted to see. This is one of the reasons that we make a good travel team! While in Poland I wanted to see a few sights from World War II that I had studied – mainly, the Warsaw Ghetto and Auschwitz. While I won’t go into our journey to Auschwitz (I personally feel that individually that is a personal journey – I went to see the place I had studied in college in my many Holocaust studies classes) and if you aren’t ready to see a concentration death camp (extremely emotional but absolutely worth the trip) consider going to Warsaw and the Warsaw Ghetto.
Auschwitz was difficult to get to but you can with a tour or by following public transportation. We didn’t rent a vehicle and we were part of a two week tour at the beginning of our Europe trip so we actually followed a specific company into the gates and had a tour from a tour guide. We had a similar situation when we went to the Warsaw Ghetto, except that since Warsaw is a major city getting to this particular part is not difficult. While there, we learned a lot from our tour guide. After September 1939 and the German invasion of Poland, more than 400,000 Jewish residence were forced to move into a confined part of the city no more than 1 square mile. By November 1940 the ghetto was sealed off by brick walls and barbed wire, with armed guards patrolling the “border” with orders to shot on sight if any Jewish residents attempted to leave. Disease and starvation soon became an epidemic. In July 1942 the “Final Solution”, or the extermination of all the Jewish population (along with homosexuals, gypsies, and other deemed “undesirables” by the Nazi ruling party) was implemented. Heinrich Himmler, the head of the Shutzstaffel (SS) ordered that these undesirables be resettled to extermination camps – in particular the Jewish residents. By September 1942 over 260,000 Jews had been deported to Treblinka extermination camp, with an additional 20,000 sent to forced-labor camps. Many of those were killed during the deportation process. In January 1943 when the Nazis prepared to move the remaining 55,000 Jews living in the Warsaw Ghetto, the population fought back. A small group of underground self-defense units managed to smuggle in a limited supply of weapons. The Jewish Combat Organization, or ZOB, ambushed the Nazis who entered the Ghetto and fought them for several days before the Nazis retreated. Deportations were suspended for some time after this struggle, and the uprising is viewed today as the largest single uprising during World War II.
While in Warsaw we also had the chance to eat at an interesting restaurant recommended by one of the hotel staff when we asked for a “local spot”. The restaurant was amazing – the staff were wearing what looked like old soviet style uniforms but very short for the ladies, with red accents and dark lights throughout. The menu included “Stalin’s favorite dessert” and “Castro’s favorite sandwich”. When visiting a foreign country don’t rely on McDonald’s and the normal food you eat when in the US – get outside the box and have something interesting! When in Poland we usually got perogies and different types of beef stews, and drank lots of different versions of schnapps. Yum!!
Krakow was different than Warsaw in many different ways. For starters, the period of history we learned about was a complete 180 from the solemn and historically significant Warsaw Ghetto uprisings and visiting Auschwitz. The Wawel Royal Castle is a castle residency in central Krakow and is the largest in Poland, representing nearly all European architectural styles including medieval, renaissance, and baroque periods. Today it is the country’s premier art museums, but for centuries it was the residence of the kings of Poland. It is magnificent to visit and truly worth the extra time and money. The kings and queens of western Europe seem to pale in comparison to me when I view the beauty of castles and jewels from eastern Europe but maybe I’m a little biased. 🙂 The Wawel Royal Castle was built at the behest of King Casimir III the Great and is actually a large Italian styled courtyard surrounded by many other structures. My favorite part of the tour was gazing out from the courtyard into the city. What a view!
Part of our time in Poland also included small visits to little cities along our path (we were still part of a two week bus tour at this time, and our Eurorail tickets did NOT include Poland so bus was really the only way we traveled in the country) and a trip to see the Black Madonna. I am not really the biggest fan of art – I’ve studied it, I kinda appreciate some artists, but overall I’m not planning a specific trip to an art museum. I find a historical museum more fascinating. However, art is a huge part of European history no matter which direction you face so I usually soak up the art appreciation during my Europe visits. This was no different. Entering a very dark, very sacred feeling church, dripping with images and artwork, just to visit a painting that residence of the small town were bowing to because they considered it Mother Mary was a bit much for me. I’m more mentioning this so that visitors who travel to these places realize that you need to set aside how uncomfortable you may feel and realize this is the common culture and beliefs of the locals and surrounding population. This is living history. During a stop at Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa, Poland to visit the Blessed Virgin Mary icon included a winding walk through the monastery, which was fascinating, in order to get close to the Black Madonna. The Monastery is known as a pilgrimage destination for hundreds of years and the Black Madonna herself has been credited with many miracles, among those saving the Monastery during the Siege of Jasna Gora. In September 1717 Pope Clement XI issued a Canonical Coronation to the painting as a venerated icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The food in Poland is amazing – perogies, stew, sausage…basically hearty, warm food with the possible dash of sour cream. Don’t let being a vegetarian stop you from traveling. I was a vegetarian during this trip and had fried cheese as a substitute for meat. YUM – don’t knock it till you try it! We ate well while visiting the area, and most of our food choices came with the aperitif and digestif option of plum brandy or some type of equivalent. When we stopped in a small city along the way we always stepped out to explore, and didn’t hesitate to try something new if we had time or the stomach! When visiting Poland keep an open mind as well – the weather may not always be super sunny but the history and views can still be incredible. We stopped at least one more time to walk and those stops along the way make the trip even more exciting. Seeing a snapshot of an old, historic town with a modern flare was almost a daily experience no matter which city in Europe we visited. Definitely add Poland to your list of places to visit in Eastern Europe!
Welcome back to another #TalleyYourMiles adventure that Clinton and I were able to log in 2019! Most of our miles were logged during our extended adventures where we usually spent the night camping or exploring multiple areas in a day, but almost equally our miles were logged during day trips to various public lands.
Sometimes when you live in remote areas you don’t always have the variety of options to choose from for healthcare or other such services, which requires you to drive out of town. Sometimes you plan your day when traveling for such services to include a hike or two. Clinton and I always try to find opportunities to #GetOutdoors and a visit to Flagstaff, which is two hours away, is a perfect excuse for hiking. Coconino National Forest hosts beautiful views and amazing hiking trails, one of them Fatman’s Loop Trail. Heading south out of Page on US 89, the trail head is right off the highway with plenty of parking. Another cool touch is the parking lot survey they are conducting as a visitor use study. If you have the time and signal don’t hesitate or feel like they will put you on a “list”. This is a great way for the Forest Service to see how many people visit the trail during which time of year. I answered a few questions about the # of vehicles in the parking lot and the time/date and was done.
We did this hike early in the year so there was snow on the trail. We made sure to pack water and some food just in case we wanted to divert off the other trails that connect to Fatmans Loop, but in the end we ended up just doing the loop trail. While walking the trail take time to see the view. The beautiful eastern suburbs and scenic overlook of Flagstaff combine along this easy walk multiple times. Mt. Elden, which this trail provides access to the Lookout Trail and the summit, is evident along this trail as well with the many rock formations that detail its volcanic origins. Ponderosa pine and white fir are only two of the plant species to name in the many that are part of this diver community of plants. With even a small amount of snow the trees create a nice atmosphere during this lovely walk.
When visiting Flagstaff there is so much that you can do, so we of course recommend taking your time! There are three wonderful National Parks around the area, as well as many opportunities to visit Coconino National Forest. When visiting, even if it’s only for a doctor’s visit, take some extra time to see the outdoor beauty that Flagstaff has to offer!
Only a few hours from Page is an area in the Colorado Plateau region where the boundaries of four states meet and are marked ironically with the title Four Corners Monument. Clinton and I have visited this area two times to date – once in 2011 when we were working in Bullfrog, and in 2019 working here in Page. What a journey it has been! The Four Corners is mainly a tourist destination to mark the southwestern corner of Colorado, the southeastern corner of Utah, northeastern corner of Arizona, and the northwestern corner of New Mexico. Most of the region belongs to Native American nations such as Navajo Nation, but also including Hopi, Ute, and Zuni. Depending on the time of year, it is either $5 or $10 per person to enter Four Corners and be aware that the road is basically a dirt road, including the parking lot. They do a good job of keeping it maintained but there aren’t any markings on the dirt so be aware of vehicles around you. The actual “four corners” is a circle with a X in the middle marking each state. Four platforms (one in each state!) allow someone to take a picture from above to get each state and the person in the shot. Be aware: There will probably be a line but it may not be too bad. We’ve gone in the off season and during the busy season and each time we rarely waited longer than 5 minutes. Maybe we were lucky, but we also don’t deal with people who cut the line. Mostly we like the amazing fry bread you can purchase from the vendors who are only a few yards away from the “four corners” (they make it with honey, sugar, or cinnamon – YUM!) and the jewelry vendors. Usually I buy something handmade and enjoy some fry bread before hitting the road again. Take the diversion if you are in the area. It’s a nice place to visit and have a snack!
Driving further into Navajo Nation you’ll eventually stumble upon Monument Valley – though you should probably just add it to your bucket list now! From Page it is about three hours away by car and is an amazing drive. It doesn’t matter if you are trying to time it for sunrise, sunset, or middle of the day. We’ve driven it through different times of the year and day and it is breathtaking each time. First you start to see the monuments in the distance. As you get closer and closer the definition starts to show and you see the individual monuments for all their glory. Visiting the monument will put you back $20 for a vehicle with four people ($6 each additional passenger) but I think it’s worth the money. The first time we visited we don’t remember having the ability to drive the loop through the monuments, but the last time we actually went through the loop and got closer to the monuments than we did before! There is a visitor center with a restaurant and gift shop, plus a lovely viewpoint to see the monuments. The loop is a bit rough, at least for us in our Honda Accord, so be aware of what is going on and the time of year. I’m not sure what type of situation you’d be in if it was during monsoon season. Each time we visited it was no big deal and we always had a good time at the visitor center. It didn’t seem to change much between 2011 and 2018 but nonetheless it was a spectacular view. If you don’t want to actually visit the visitor center you can take 163 from Page to Mexican Hat and drive right by the monuments and still get an amazing view. There are tons of visitors regardless of your decision so be patient and watch for those who might not understand American rules of the road. Share the road as well! Hitchhiking is common as is randomly pulling over to take a picture of the view…even if there isn’t a pull off. Don’t tailgate and follow the speed limit. During dusk, be aware that people might be walking in the road and they might not have anything on to indicate it. We’ve never had a problem but we focus as a team when we drive through the area near and at night because of the normal “tourist” pattern we’ve discovered through our travels this past year. 🙂