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28 July 2005

some only with numbers

a slightly less early start than the day before, but we made it to the florenc bus station around 1100 after a bit of wandering and tracking. past this highly ornamental clock sculpture. we were heading to terezin today and needed to determine which bus to take and how to secure tickets. in the station, we perused the informational signs. a man saw us gasping and asked if we needed assistance [first in czech, incomprehensible, then in english]; told him we're going to terezin; he pointed us to counter 15 and 16. as a traveller you must always be alert for the scam, it's unfortunate not knowing if you can trust someone. most likely just a very nice helpful man, but a slight chance he was working for a specific bus company and was directing us there and to a potentially higher price. the charge on the shock system: full power. it's so hard to know, but best to always be careful. sarah continued searching the signs while i went to check out the counters. as it turned out, counters 15 and 16 were where i needed to be; thank you, sir, sorry for suspecting you of evildoing.

i stood in line at the ticket counter and listened as the woman in front of me asked the ticket agent, in english, for two tickets to tabor [pronouncing 'tabor' with emphasis on the 'bor' syllable (go ahead, try it out: 'taBOR')]. the young ticket agent looked back confused. the woman repeated her request: 'taBOR.' another confused look with a response 'that's a city in the czech republic?' the woman nodded and started opening a map when another person witnessing the struggle came to her aide... she said to the ticket agent: 'TAbor' [with emphasis on the 'ta' syllable rather than the 'bor' (again... give it a shot: TAbor)]. interesting. TAbor... not taBOR. i wondered if terezin was pronounced A) TErezin, B) teREzin, or C) tereZIN. i went with A. correct response. i walked away with four tickets (two for to, two for back). again, i felt at one with my people.

the earliest bus wasn't leaving until 1400. sarah and i had some time to kill; hadn't eaten yet; over to a very delightful restaurant with a very decorative interior. two points of interest. one: all of the restaurants in the czech republic at which i've dined have brought silverware and napkins, occasionally salt and pepper and various sauces as well, neatly arranged on a plate. i like the system. this restaurant was no different. two: my grandmother typically bakes rolls for all family functions. small, simple, salted, and absolutely delicious, they rarely last for more than ten minutes after being set out on the table, and it's not uncommon for several family members to hide a few for later consumption. i'm fairly certain that each of her nine grandchildren (me included) and at least a few of the seven (seven, gram?) great grandchildren have baked these rolls with her. [great memories]. the czech republic is the first place i've seen rolls like these outside of my grandmother's house. it made perfect sense... she learned how to bake these rolls from her mother, who grew up here... well, in luhacovice (where sarah and i would be travelling in a few days). such an amazing thing.

back over to the bus station and onto the bus. we stepped off in terezin about an hour later at 1500. i walked to the nearby tourist information center and grabbed a brochure and then took this picture of a map [i do this frequently. see a map on a sign : take a picture : use camera with zoom function for instant portable map. great system.] our return bus was at 2005. from the looks of the bus schedule at the arrival stop, it didn't look like the return bus would be leaving from the same stop. i looked around quickly and located the return stop.

our first destination: the museum of the ghetto. first, history. terezin was originally an 18th century defensive fortress built by emperor joseph ii; brick walls and a gigantic dry moat surround the entire town. a second smaller fortress was built nearby. in 1940, germans established a prison and work camp in the small fortress and in 1941 evicted all of the townspeople from the large fortress. the town of terezin became an intermediary transit camp for jews on their way to extermination camps in poland. overcrowding was a primary factor in the poor living conditions. approximately 35,000 jews died in terezin as a result of starvation, disease, suicide, or at the hands of the germans.

inside the museum. drawings and poems by children living in the ghetto. dreadful and sad, the reality, the children knowing what was to happen. the walls of the room listing the names of those victims who were known, but so many names were not. like the holocaust exhibits i'd seen in germany, the museum exhibits here were thoughtfully written and contained a lot of information, so much so that sarah and i spent an hour and a half in only three or four small rooms. interesting point: during wwii, international red cross officials asked to visit one of the jewish camps; the nazis went to great lengths to dress up terezin and present it as a refuge with its own jewish administration and cultural events to fool visiting officials.

despite only making it through about three quarters of the museum, sarah and i left at 1630 when we realized that the cemetary and krematorium were closing at 1700. it took us a little while to get our bearings and we didn't make it to the cemetary until 1655. the krematorium was closing and we decided to walk around the cemetary before heading to the lesser fortress which was closing at 1800.

the less fortress. isolation cells. photographs. rusted barbed wire. arbeit macht frei. three tiers of beds, long platforms. sarah and i looked closely at the wood, searching for any carvings, finding nothing. walking quickly to see as much before the closing. no one else around. quiet and heavy and somber, the air cold in the rooms. a little over sixty years ago, horrible things happened right here. finally a man tells us we must leave. i felt like there was more to see. outside, a cemetary for those exhumed from mass graves. some graves with names, some only with numbers. we walked back towards the large fortress containing the town, bearing right to follow the ohre river to a site where the ashes of 22,000 jews were thrown [memorial plaque]. it was right here that i captured a beautiful sky which seemed to fit the moment well.

we returned through the walls of the fortress, back to town, finally back to the central square at 1930 where we waited for our 2005 bus. small issue. we found what looked like a typical bus stop with a sign listing the departure times (including our 2005 bus), but we still we weren't completely sure that we were standing in the right place. there really wasn't any one else around (in fact, from the moment we arrived we noted that most of terezin seemed to be abandoned despite the cars and curtains; certainly this didn't seem like an appealing place to live and we wondered about the current population of the town). the 2005 was the last bus leaving for prague today; if we missed it we'd be sleeping in terezin tonight. while we were waiting, i wandered the square looking for other possible bus stops. found this. we decided to split up. sarah remained at bus stop alpha and i moved down to bravo. at 2008 the bus pulled into bravo; i yelled for sarah and she came running. on the way home we saw a beautifully bright red sunset. dinner and then the hostel after a heavy day.

posted by paul on Thu 28 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 est (-05:00)

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