Saturday, August 31, 2013

Komotini, Greece

Arrived at Munich Airport in plenty of time to catch my flight to Thessaloniki, Greece.  I flew on a Greek airline, and the lady who checked me in was lovely, so in all, I was very happy with the flight. For some reason this flight stands out from all other flights, and all I can put it down to is the woman at the check-in who was friendly, helpful and chatty. Customer service certainly can, and does, make a difference.

I arrived quite late in Thessaloniki, but Vivie was there to meet me despite the late hour. We then waited for Anne's flight from Amsterdam to come in, which happened to be delayed. Vivie had this neat app on her phone where we could track where Anne's plane actually was so we knew when to go downstairs to get her. We sat in the cafe talking until then. I was feeling quite miserable with a cold, and poor Vivie was tired!

We then caught a bus back to Vivie's apartment in Thessaloniki, and didn't waste too much time going to bed as we knew we had a long day the next day.

In the morning Vivie took us to a local restaurant for this amazing food for breakfast where we had mpougatsa, a pastry made from cheese. Both Anne and I thought it was divine. We then all caught the bus back to the airport, and the rental car company picked us up. We did the necessary things like fill out forms and pay some money, then we were off on our road trip.  The plan was, Thessaloniki, Komotini, Plovdiv, Rila Monastery, Sofia, Macedonia, then back to Thessaloniki.  Four days of driving. I had my GPS loaded with a European map to help us out.

The Drive to Komotini was mainly on highway, and nothing really stood out. We got to Komotini about midday or just after and met Vivie's parents, Stelios and Victoria Moraiti. They asked us whether we would like a seafood lunch or something else. We all picked seafood, and were taken to this amazing restaurant called Petrino in the main centre of Komotini.  Petrino means 'made of stone'.  The Greek word for stone is Petra.

 As we walked to the restaurant, I noticed the fish shop with a wide variety of fish available....

Komotini is a very pretty town and is a city in Thrace, in Northeastern Greece. It has a large muslim community which makes up about 45% of the population.
I had to get some cash from the ATM, so got a little 'fast' walk through the town. Colourful stalls, cobblestone walkways and the Minaret, make it a very pretty place, and one I'd like to explore again further. I wished we had had more time.
Petrino's food was excellent. Beautifully cooked with a wide variety. I had the BBQ'd squid which was very tender and very tasty.
On the table were salads, Sardeles (sardines), and Tzatziki. Tzatziki is my favourite dish of all in Greece. I had it for the first time in Santorini and have craved it ever since. Vivie knew this and it magically appeared on our table. (swoon!).  I was told that the sardines you ate bones and all, everything, and the other fish dish that was ordered, you didn't.
This is Barbounia, the fish dish that you weren't supposed to eat the bones. I got so confused, I ate them anyway! It was still very tasty, and I enjoyed them immensely.
We also had the Greek Aperitif Tsipouro. Whew - that was strong, as well as some red wine (separately, not mixed!) The staff at the restaurant were fabulous. The service was excellent and they didn't bat an eyelid when we were feeding some of our 'leftovers' to the stray cats. Vivie's Dad started the stray cat feeding. As soon as he did that, I knew he was a great person. Anyone that is a softie is a good sort in my book!

Here they are waiting for some scraps.... And begging...

Being friendly...
And waiting for more...
One obviously has just given birth to more stray kittens...
Vivie, Anne, Stelios and Victoria at Petrino Restaurant. I got to work the camera!
After the fabulous meal and great company, we were given a quick tiki tour of Komotini, then back home for a coffee Greek style. I had water - I find Greek coffee a bit too strong.

We said our goodbyes and Anne, Vivie and I hit the road for Bulgaria. I was very sad to leave. Vivie's dad gave us presents of Stragalia and Soutzouk Loukoum. Stragalia are toasted chickpeas, which come in normal, spicy or coloured. We had a pack of normal and coloured. I loved them. Really beautiful. The Soutzouk Loukoum is is a large, oblong delight containing sugar, glucose, nezeste, water and nuts (tied in string). The nuts can be substituted for the lack of sugar as a sweetener. The soutzouk loukoum originally appeared in the harems of the sultans, and served in cafes with coffee and traditional treat the Orthodox monasteries. It has an aroma of rose, clove and cinnamon. Both these treats are a specialitiy of Komotini. I absolutely loved both of them and while writing this, crave them both. I'm even wondering if I could toast my own chickpeas. Must look into this!

The drive to Plovdiv, Bulgaria was beautiful. Mountains, rivers, forests, farms. The scenery was stunning.
A farmer herding his sheep or goats - couldn't really tell what they were..
Flat farmland with a small lone tree. This was the last photo I could take before it got dark.
We arrived in Plovdiv quite late - about 11pm. Found our hostel, and once again was on the top floor. By this time my 'cold' had gone down to my chest and I felt most unwell, so took myself straight to bed. A great day-  the highlight meeting Vivie's parents. A heartfelt thanks for your hospitality.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Munich and Dachau Concentration Camp

My last day in Munich. Michelle’s knee was totally stuffed, so I went to Dachau on my own. Tim helped me with working out the transport – S8 to Liem, S2 to Dachau, Bus to the Camp. It was really simple and the bus to the concentration camp was waiting at the station when I got off the train.

It was really hard to see Dachau as the terrible camp it was. That was because it was a bright sunny spring day. The birds were singing loudly, all the new green leaves were on the trees, and it was in a truly beautiful setting. I think the best time to visit would be winter, when one can imagine how cold it would have been for the prisoners and the landscape would be stark.

The camp is free for visitors, so I decided to check out the audio-guide option – hoping it would be compatible with my implant – and it was! I was really surprised – first time ever! I rented the guide for 3 euros 50 and for the first time was able to hear everything and understand everything. I spent about 3 hours wandering around listening to the informative guide, and was really shocked to find out that Jews were sent to the camps as early as 1933. I had thought it was only for the duration of the war – from 1939 to 1945. A couple of times I wondered why I couldn't hear anything, to find I had clicked on an account of the camp that was actually in German or Dutch!

After wandering down the tree lined avenue you enter Dachau Concentration Camp through gatehouse that was built in 1936.

Newly arriving prisoners were forced through this gate with the inscription ‘Work Brings Freedom’.

Located in this gatehouse were the interrogation rooms of the Political Dept/Gestapo and the offices of the block and report leaders. Prisoners accused by the SS of violating camp rules were interrogated and sentence to corporeal punishment or torture. The prisoners therefore consider the gatehouse (jourhaus) to be the centre of SS Rule over the camp.

The roll call area was huge. The prisoners had to assemble here every morning and evening for roll call.  In all weather conditions they had to stand to attention motionless for about an hour. Sometimes even the dead had to be dragged to the roll call ground to be counted. If the number of prisoners didn't match the official head count, then the torture could last for many hours. Sick and weak prisoners often collapsed but other prisoners were forbidden to help. The SS often carried out punishments for all prisoners to see. Many sick/exhausted people died on this ground.

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The Maintenance building was built by the Prisoners in 1937-1938. It served the needs of the prisoners in the camp, and housed a kitchen, laundry, and workshops. Today it serves as the museum for visiting tourists. It also has a memorial room with plaques and books in memory of those who died. 

Looking towards the Maintenance building from the Barracks. I have to say I visited the public restrooms in the Maintenance Building. The smell was terrible. So bad I had to hold my nose. They looked clean, so I wondered if the smell is just left over from camp days, and if so, then I had no right to complain if that was all I had to suffer in the short time I was in there!

The Memorial Room...

The perimeter fence surrounded the camp and was built and designed to make escape impossible. SS men kept watch from seven towers in the camp. The minute a prisoner entered the prohibited zone, they were fired upon. Some prisoners ran to the border strip on purpose to put an end to their suffering.

This part of the Perimeter fence had a moat, then a barbed wire fence, and where the trees were was also a river.  So it was really difficult for any escape to be successful.

During the new construction of the camp, the prisoners had to build 34 barracks. Every barrack was divided into four rooms, comprising of a day room and a dormitory. Each barrack was fitted to hold 200 men, however towards the end of the war they were completely overfilled, and holding up to 2000 prisoners in each. 

Most of the barracks were dismantled but each row would have had barracks in a line like the black and white photo below..

The tree lined 'avenue' was beautiful, and like I said before, it was hard to believe that it was a place of so much human suffering.

Bouquets of flowers in remembrance were placed on various rows of barracks.

The Crematorium was built in the summer of 1940 after the foreign prisoners arrived and the mortality rate greatly increased. A year later it was working beyond capacity, and another bigger crematorium with more ovens was nearby. This particular one was in operation until 1943. During this period nearly 11,000 prisoners were cremated here.

In the same complex of the new crematorium, several other rooms were built. The Waiting room, where prisoners were to be gathered and informed about the ‘showers’ they were about to go into.

The Gas Chamber which was supposedly never used. The room was disguised as ‘showers’ and equipped with fake shower spouts to mislead the prisoners and prevent them from refusing to enter the room. During a period of 15-20 minutes, up to 150 people at a time could be suffocated to death through poison gas (Zyklon B).

I was rather chilled to be standing in this room. I also am left wondering about the information that it was ‘never used’. Why build it if not to be used? The prisoners aren’t likely to know if the room was used or not, and the camp leaders/gestapo aren’t likely to own up to it either! Big question mark here for me!

The Death chamber where the dead were brought before they were cremated.

And finally the new Crematorium or ‘incinerator room’. Each of the four furnaces could cremate 2-3 corpses at once. The ovens were connected to the chimneys by an underground canal. In front of the ovens is the execution site. Most hangings were carried out directly in front of the ovens.

After the liberation of Dachau Concentration Camp and the sub-camps by USA soldiers, the USA army were faced with the task of taking care of more than 60,000 survivors and their repatriation. The typhus epidemic had to be combated, the ill cared for, and several thousand buried. At the end of July 1945, the last of some 30,000 prisoners left the camp. For many of the Jewish survivors there was however, no return home. Their relatives had been murdered and their livelihoods annihilated. The USA army set up separate camps for these people. There they were prepared for emigration to Palestine, the USA or other Western States. Many of them were therefore forced remain in Germany for many years before they could finally leave.

After I dropped back the audio-guide, I waited for the bus to take me back to the train station. The amount of pollen in the air was incredible - never seen anything like it. If you look carefully you'll see white stuff floating in the air!

Back at the station, I decided to walk around the Dachau town centre itself, armed with a shopping list for my friend Viola back home. I managed to get everything on her list, although had to go to several shops to find them all as some didn't stock the brands she wanted. Everyone was helpful, and most amused when I bought six tins of cough lozenges for export to NZ!  Dachau itself was really beautiful. Like Ismaning where I was staying, there are trout in these beautiful clear, clean canals.

I did wonder though, how the residents of Dachau didn't know what was going on over at the nearby camp. Or if they did, were they powerless to prevent it or speak out? I had so much going on in my mind. Every town here has so many churches – why didn't the church step in and prevent what was happening?

I walked back to bus station and made my way back to Ismaning where Michelle made a late lunch, early dinner – a beautiful healthy smoothie and a gorgeous meal. I think I’ll have to come and live with her in Munich she’s such a great cook.

Afterwards we all went for a walk with my luggage to the park next to the train station and sat and talked and watched Ayla play and run around. Made me realise that life goes on, always renewing no matter how bad situations get. I just wish History wouldn't repeat! Ayla is gorgeous - such a busy wee tot!

I then got on the train and headed to the airport to catch my plane to Thessaloniki to meet up with Vivie and my daughter for the next part of our travels. This image was taken from the train, and is so typical of the Munich countryside I saw. Colourful, lush, clean, beautiful.

I had arrived in Germany prepared to dislike the country immensely due to what happened in WWII. But I was pleasantly surprised that it was so beautiful. Everything ran like a well oiled machine. People were friendly and helpful and I enjoyed my stay immensely. 

I’m glad I went to Dachau though.

Lest we Forget.