Paris’ Memorial To The Martyrs Of The Deportation

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A driver in France told me that people are quick to blame other nations, but the French need to remember that the Vichy government and the French put up little resistance to the deportation of its citizens.   While this is debatable, the memorial is uncontrovertibly moving and thought-provoking.

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The Memorial des Martyrs de la Deportation is a memorial to the 200,000 people (deported from Vichy France to Nazi concentration camps between 1940-45, during World War II.   85,000 were political activists, resistance fighters, homosexuals and gypsies.   Only 2,500 of those deported survived.

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Behind Notre Dame on the Isle de la Cite on the site of a former morgue, it is a quiet gem of a memorial.  It was designed to represent features of the concentration camps with narrow passages, tight stairways, spiked gates and restricted views of the horizon.  The installation is a long narrow corridor lined with small stones of quartz crystal.  Each stone represents one of the individuals deported during World War II.  It was designed by French modernist architect, writer and teacher, Georges-Henri Pingusson.  It was unveiled by President Charles de Gaulle in 1962.

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Minding The Gap

Why were we here instead of on the highway?

While heading north towards Geneva, we got off the road and got to see the beauty of the Vaucluse department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of France.    It’s a good thing it was so beautiful, because our 3-4 hour drive home ended up taking over 8.

You can see why the Tour de France often rides through here.   In fact, they’re headed through there this week.  It’s near Gap and the infamous Mont Ventoux.  The views of the dams and lakes, and mountain scenery are spectacular.

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Vaison-la-Romaine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At one time, Vaison-la-Romaine  (which you might remember from the post about Provence’s Ironwork Bell Towers) was the capital for the Voconce people.   It is famous for its ancient Gallo-Roman ruins including a Roman bridge.

The Roman Bridge at Vaison-la-Romaine, Vauclus...

The Roman Bridge at Vaison-la-Romaine, Vaucluse department, Provence, France Français : Le Pont romain de Vaison-la-Romaine, département de Vaucluse, Provence, France (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The bridge is one of five remaining Roman bridges in Provence. It survived a German bomb during the World War II and the Ouvèze River’s devastating floods in 1992.   Vaison has two excavated Roman districts, and an Archaeological Museum.

Stone houses in Vaison-la-Romaine, Vaucluse de...

Stone houses in Vaison-la-Romaine, Vaucluse department, Provence, France Français : Maisons de pierre á Vaison-la-Romaine, département de Vaucluse, Provence, France (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We weren’t the only ones who got off the highway and started taking side roads.  Since it was the edge of the alps, there weren’t many alternatives and the road was packed.  Ironically, it was still less crowded and moved faster than in the south of France.    We entertained ourselves by counting the number of people we saw pulled off on the side of the road answering the call of nature (over 10).

If you’re interested in a French vacation without the seemingly ever-present crowds, this is a part of France for you.  If you’re a Tour de France fan, this is also a part of France for you.  If you like simple bucolic beauty, it’s for you too.

I think the photo below is a viaduct on the Grenoble train line  (Chemin de Fer de La Mure/the Mure railway).  We saw it on the route from Orpierre (with its nice swimming hole in Les Gorges de la Méouge) to Grenoble.   It can be reached easily by road from Grenoble, or by trains on the SNCF line towards Gap.

We Stormed The Kastell – Vaxholms Kastell Fortress

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For centuries, Vaxholm Fortress (Vaxholms Kastell) guarded a crucial entry route into Stockholm’s harbor.    King Gustav Vasa (yep, the same one who commissioned that famous ship) built a fortress here and filled in other waterways to ensure that this channel was the only way into and out of Stockholm.  He had good reason to strengthen his defenses.  In 1612, Christian IV of Denmark tried to invade.  Czar Peter the Great of Russia tried to invade in 1719.

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In the mid 19th century, they upgraded, well sort of.  Sweden tore down the old defenses and built a giant new granite fortress there.  Unfortunately for them, the technology of warfare advanced between the time the new fortress was designed and when it was completed some 30 years later.  In its first test, a shell (instead of the old technology of cannonballs) tore a hole in the wall.  The fortresses high guns couldn’t really reach the new style of lower design boats.  Oops.

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Since it couldn’t really serve as a bastion of defense, Vaxholm Fortress was used as a prison.  I don’t think I would have liked to be incarcerated here.  The citadel seemed a little cold and wet.  The uniform didn’t look particularly warm either.  Can you imagine spending a Swedish winter like that?

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In addition to covering pre-20th century history, the museum contains exhibits on its more recent uses.  During World War II, Sweden remained neutral but heightened its military preparedness by strengthening its defenses and drafting conscripts.  The Swedes placed mines in the nearby Sea of Åland.   Polish ORP RyśORP Żbik, and ORP Sęp submarine crews were detained in Vaxholm’s Citadel.

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The end of the Second World War in 1945 signaled the beginning of “Cold War.” Swedish military was  on high alert.  The USSR was as close as nearby Estonia and the Russians had come sniffing their way before.  The archipelago became important because it was a gateway into the country.   Vaxholm’s Kastell Fortress monitored the area.  The military stopped occupying it in 1993 and in 2000, the absence of an external enemy meant all stationary batteries were deactivated in Sweden.  Today, its museum has artifacts thoroughout its history, from royal times to the mines and radar.  The incredible setting makes it all the more interesting and it’s well worth a visit.

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One of the coolest things about it today is that in addition to functioning as a park, it contains a hotel.  The best part is that nothing is closed.  If you stay, you can wander around, picnic, sit on the ramparts with drink, enjoy the quiet and watch boats go by.  Since the rooms have no radio, TV, or internet, you might not have much else to do.

Schwingen In Switzerland’s Top 10 Posts Of 2012

Since everyone seems to come out with a Best of 2012 list at the end of the year, I thought I would list my top 10 most viewed posts this year.

  1. Everything You Don’t Need And Can’t Live Without – I don’t like to sit still, don’t nap and hate to be bored.  I realize that it doesn’t always make me the most relaxing person to be around, but it’s generally pretty entertaining.  When we had a free Sunday, I decided to go check out a little shindig they had going on in the cool Carouge neighborhood.  Unexpectedly, this post was selected for Freshly Pressed.
  2. Tschäggättä Parade To Celebrate Carnival In The Lötschental Valley – One of the best things about Switzerland is its festivals.  This one was unlike anything I’d ever seen.  This was my first post to be Freshly Pressed.
  3. More Pictures of the Versoix, Switzerland Ice Storm – Remember the picture of the frozen car?  Well, since it was taken in a suburb of Geneva, I couldn’t help myself.  I went to get the shot.  On a side note, it would have been smart of me not to wear high heals when doing so.  A couple of nice Swiss gentlemen helped me off the ice.  Yep, I’m an idiot, but the pictures are great.
  4. Our Basement Bomb Shelter, Otherwise Known As Our Storage Unit – I’m glad other people are as intrigued by this phenomenon as I am.
  5. Mt. Blanc, The Tallest Mountain In The Alps – I am profoundly grateful to have seen such beauty.
  6. The Spaghetti Tree Hoax, Aka Happy April Fool’s Day From Switzerland – Hilarious.  Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself.
  7. My Introduction to French Cinema, A List of Great, Entertaining and Fun French Films – While I posted this before Jean Dujardin won the Oscar, some of his comedies made the list.
  8. Why Didn’t Hitler Invade Switzerland? – This was a hard one to write as it’s a difficult question.  I hope I didn’t screw it up too badly.
  9. Another Cultural Difference…Men In Spandex – Sometimes, it’s the little things…
  10. What The Heck Is A Bidet? – Please feel free to comment with any additional uses you can think up for a bidet.

 

Fun In The Alpine Fortress Of Fürigen

Last weekend, we went to Lucerne and visited the fortress of Fürigen.  We had been looking forward to visiting some of Switzerland’s formerly hidden fortresses that have been turned into museums.  Since we were near Lucerne, we finally got the chance.

Can you spot the entrance in this photo?

Festung Fürigen Museum zur Wehrgeschichte (aka Fort Fürigen) is  part of Swiss National Redoubt  defense plan (Schweizer Alpenfestung or Réduit Suisse) to respond to foreign invasion.  Developed in by neutral Switzerland the 1880’s, Germany’s invasion of its neighbors necessitated updates (Germany even developed an invasion plan for Switzerland).   Fort Fürigen was part of a series of fortifications around Lake Lucerne that were rushed to completion in 1941-2 to protect nearby roads and rail lines.

The entrance is intentionally well-camouflaged.  We had to double back and ask for directions to find it.  The nondescript entrance leads to a  200-meter (656 feet) tunnel system leads into the mountain.

A private telephone line connected the lake’s fortresses but they also used the radio to communicate with each other.

Entering the fort, you pass the radio station (located near the entrance to assure clear reception) and several sets of machine gun defenses.

The view down the corridor from the gunner’s nest.

Once past the heavy fortifications you see the workings of the fort.  They have the guns, a filter for radioactive material, air shafts, devices to monitor the air for poison gas, storage depot and more on display.

You can actually play around with this gun. He maneuvered it into a decent spot and dutifully posed for a photo when he wanted to play. Hence the hurry up and take the picture smile.

A close up of the gun’s targeting system

The largest problem with these gas masks was the limited range of motion allowed by their connection to the ceiling’s purified air hookup.

This infrared light replaced the old spotlight when the fort was retooled during the Cold War

While the infirmary resembled any 1940’s hospital movie set, the bunk house and dining area looked remarkably like many Swiss ski lodges.

Since they were storing munitions in the bunker, smoking was forbidden…in some areas.  It must have been like prison, where the talk of banning cigarettes leads to mutiny and so it was only limited in essential areas.  After all, the living quarters were gas-proof.

The Swiss had good reason to build defensive outposts like this one.  Hitler’s plans to invade Switzerland were uncovered post-World War II.  The Soviet Union’s also recommended invading the country.

One fortress down, only about 14,999 to go.

No smoking! If you went down the hall and through a door to the residential area, there are ashtrays hanging on walls. Go figure.

 

Praha, Prague, Whatever You Call It, You Will Love it

Last weekend, we met Mrs. DiCaprio in Prague and had a great time. There are no friends like old friends and it is a wonderful city.  Aside from the great company, here are some of the things we liked about Prague:

While certain parts of Prague have definitely figured out the tourist schtick, it didn’t seem as overdeveloped and the local culture seemed a bit more accessible than some cities.
It wasn’t majorly bombed during WWII and so it is rather old and incredibly beautiful.
It’s got a ton of history, a river running through it, beautiful buildings and the light is amazing.  It gives the city a romantic, dreamy quality.
Czech culture is really interesting.  Completely over-generalizing, the Czech Republic is independent, peaceful, loves democracy and is skeptical of authority (which is understandable given their conquest and years of rule under foreign empires like the HapsburgsNazi Germany and The Soviet Union).
The Czech Republic has a rich tradition of art, music and literature that are distinctly Czech.  This tradition still percolates through daily life there.  Below is the Franz Kafka Memorial in the Jewish Quarter.  It was inspired by his story “Description of a Struggle“.
Vaclav Havel, playwright, poet, essayist, dissident and first post-communist leader of the Czech Republic died in December 2011.  His contributions cannot be overstated.

Czechs are proud of their history.  Statutes abound.  You see plaques all over the place with little paragraphs.   For example, Johannes Kepler, the mathematician, scientist and astronomer lived in Prague.  He has a plaque on a former residence.
Crosses in Prague’s main square commemorating the execution of 27 Protestants during the 30 Years War by the Catholic Hapsburgs in 1621.
There is a statute known as the Jan Hus Memorial in the center of Prague at at one end of Old Town Square.  It depicts depicts Hus, a young mother, victorious Hussite warriors and Protestants who were forced into exile.  He was burned at the stake for his beliefs that  Catholic mass should be given in the vernacular, the local language, and not in Latin.
Prague has lots of interesting public art.
 
After John Lennon’s death, people painted his portrait, lyrics and grievances on this wall.  The communist government painted them over every day.  Each night, they appeared anew.  It’s known as the Lennon Wall.
The Penguins below are by the Cracking Art Group.  They are on the edge of  Vltava River waiting for their boat to Antarctica.
We couldn’t help but get our picture taken by the Crawling Baby bronze sculpture by David Cerny.
If you get too cold walking the beautiful streets, excellent cafes and beer halls abound.  Perfect places to warm yourself up.
Prague has an abundance of things to see and do.  Three days were definitely not enough and we hope to be able to go back.

We’re Surrounded!

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We are surrounded by France, literally. The yellow spot at the bottom of the lake is the city of Geneva. The dark green area surrounding it is the Canton of Geneva (like a state). As you can see, it is wrapped in shamrock green. That shamrock green is France!

To us, that means it’s only a hop, skip and a jump to spend money in a cheaper currency, the Euro. In other eras, it’s meant something quite different.

We met our nice neighbor who has lived in our building since 1938.  When France was occupied by Nazi Germany during WWII, Geneva was virtually surrounded by it. Germany had drawn up plans to invade Switzerland, but never acted upon them. The RAF even bombed Geneva once on accident!