January began with a goodbye and a hello. Mom’s Toyota Corolla had served us well for seven years, and it was time to say goodbye. A red Ford Edge took its place in the garage and we’re still loving it. Oh, the memories we’ve made in that car! But I’ll save those stories for another post.
Gregg and I continued volunteering at the ILC, teaching English to refugees. And in the summer, we returned to Hungary for our third English Camp, staying an additional ten days to tour Eastern Europe.
Budapest is a beautiful city and we enjoyed going into Buda and Pest to sight-see. And, there are reminders all around that Hungary has a dark history. It was sobering to see the memorial of shoes, representing those who were told to remove their shoes (to be salvaged later) before being shot.
Gregg and I had never visited Prague, so we headed off by train to spend a few days in the Czech Republic. Midway, we got stopped in Bratislava, Slovakia, to visit friends from Dallas Seminary days, Tracy and Brenda. It was fun to have a short tour of Bratislava, visit their home, and eat lunch with their family.
Continuing our train trip, we arrived in Prague for a few days of sight-seeing. Prague is a historic, architecturally diverse, romantic city. It was hard to grasp that the Medieval portion of the city was founded in the 9th century. If the buildings and streets could reveal all that they have seen in over 1000 years, oh, the stories they could tell. Grievously, memorials reminded us that Prague’s history includes horror stories.
Prague is a musical city so “when in Prague, go to a concert.” We found a small venue featuring a string quartet playing Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. It was magical and a perfect Prague experience.
Our time in Prague came to an end too soon but our vacation was far from over. After returning to Budapest, we left by car with Cathy and Geraldine, and headed to Krakow, Poland. We enjoyed good food and seeing the sights, yet a dark nightmare cloud seemed to hang in the air. It was hard to fathom the horrors that had happened in this city.
We stayed in a small apartment in the Jewish Quarter. As I laid in bed, I wondered what had happened in that apartment, what could the walls tell us if they had a voice. My heart grieved for those who had called this home before being suddenly evicted and sent to the ghetto with only what they could carry.
Gregg and I went for a run, which is a good way to explore a city. We found Schindler’s factory. We also saw Jewish Ghetto Memorial Chairs which represented the only piece of furniture many of the families were able to take with them upon eviction.
The following day was even heavier and more sobering as we toured Auschwitz and Birkenau.
God, forgive us! The hate, misuse of power, and evil that was done there. Oh, God, protect me, protect us from having our reasoning twisted, becoming deceived, and drawn into evil, harming people – people You created and You love. Forgive me for pointing critical fingers, assuming I could never do something like that to others. But by the grace of God, go I.
We had a quiet dinner and went to bed early, pondering and processing the horrors revealed before our eyes.
On our way back to Budapest, we stopped and toured a 700 year old salt mine. As is typical of mines, it goes deep underground. The miners excavated salt and also carved out chambers, halls, chapels, statues, and other creative and exquisite pieces of art. It was a fascinating tour.
This had been a unique vacation – educational, eye opening, and incongruous. Diametrically opposed, joy and sorrow tried to coexist. Reminders of heinous history next to beautiful nature and architecture. We enjoyed music, sights, food, and friends while being aware that, in that very spot, freedom and life had been stolen from innocent people. “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times…”