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Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia
Budapest, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia- various towns

Poland
Poland- various towns, Kraków, Łódź, Warsaw, Lublin
« Last edited by cgr on October 15, 2023, 07:17:25 PM »

Author Topic: Two Weeks in Eastern Europe (Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Poland)  (Read 6918 times)

Offline cgr

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This trip started out unlike any other. My grandfather, who will iyh be celebrating his 88th birthday soon, decided (with the encouragement of a few of his grandchildren) to undertake a family trip for all his children and grandchildren, to visit the town where he was born and spent his formative years in, as well as to visit various of our Kivrei Avos in Eastern Europe, with stops to Kivrei Tzadikim along the way as well. The idea for this trip was first hatched on Chol Hamoed Pesach, and within two weeks had gained enough steam for the planning to commence. A few of my cousins organized as a “committee” and started providing information and details of the trip via automated phone calls to all family members. A hotline was also set up where all previous messages could be listened to, and this was active throughout the trip for those that were unable to join, so that they could partake somewhat via a constant live audio stream. The trip was scheduled to start about two weeks prior to Shavuos (mid-May), with six days on the ground, although I ended up heading out a day early to tour Budapest and staying an extra week to explore Poland. While I believe that it is important to visit the Nazi death/concentration camps, I did not visit any on this trip, as I was traveling solo for most of my time in Poland, and strongly believe that a trip of such intense emotions should be done with the proper support, both emotionally and emunah-wise.

The non-solo part of this trip was overseen by Plan-it-Rite from when our group landed in Budapest on Thursday AM til departure in Kraków on Tuesday, except for our Shabbos accommodations and airline tickets. Flights were mostly handled by a travel agent in the family, with the remainder of the group booking individually with miles and points. My family is notoriously known for doing everything last minute, and there was no final count of who would be joining until boarding was completed and a headcount taken. Those who were booked via the travel agent ended up being split between two flights, approximately 30 people on each flight, as the originally intended flight shot up in price and it was no longer reasonable to continue booking people onto that flight. The number of travelers on this trip fluctuated up and down, with additional couples joining for Shabbos only, others leaving right after Shabbos to be back for work on Monday, etc.

While I was not on the planning committee and truly have no idea how much work went into making this trip a success, my experience of Plan-it-Rite as a mere attendee was phenomenal. The food provided every day was fresh, plentiful, and gourmet, and the accommodations were up to par even for the most particular members in our group. Our trip was joined by two Plan-it-Rite employees to ensure that everything on the ground proceeded smoothly throughout.

Upon arrival at the airport welcome bags were handed out to all attendees.



Several items were added to this package by our committee such as a pocket siddur which included Tehillim with large lettering (unlike most pocket siddurim which have small-font Tehillim), a pamphlet with the planned schedule, as well as a family tree and a second pamphlet detailing beautiful stories on several of my great-grandparents.

Offline cgr

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Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia
« Reply #1 on: October 15, 2023, 07:11:52 PM »
Budapest

I had no intention of paying cash for airfare, and started researching miles tickets as soon as I confirmed that I would be joining the trip. The best option to Budapest was through FlyingBlue, for just 15k points, with either a stop in AMS or CDG. We were forewarned that our buses would be leaving BUD airport on Thursday for our first stop at 10AM sharp, and that anyone not present by then would need to arrange their own transportation to join the group. Since none of the flights bookable via FlyingBlue landed prior to 10AM, I along with seven others decided to fly out a day prior. This would give us a chance to get some sleep in after our flight, explore Budapest for a day, and then join the rest of our group when they landed on Thursday AM. Amex UR was running a 25% transfer bonus to FlyingBlue, so we were able to snag the JFK>AMS>BUD 15k tickets for just 12k Amex UR + $84.90 in taxes & fees. Clear in conjunction with TSA Precheck took less than 10 minutes in Terminal 4, and we headed to the Priority Pass Air India Maharaja Lounge. In retrospect this was a waste of time as it was far from our gate and was packed. While we were allowed entry, it wasn’t any more comfortable than the gate would have been… After an uneventful flight we landed in AMS for a two-hour layover and headed to the Priority Pass Aspire Lounge 41 to relax. Only two of us had Priority Pass membership, so I inquired at the desk as to how many complimentary passengers I could take in with me. The clerk said that there was no set amount, and inquired how many we were in total and how many priority pass memberships we had. He then proceeded to allow our group of eight to proceed into the lounge. A few weeks later both me and the other Priority Pass member were charged $27 for an additional guest, even though we reiterated that we wanted complimentary entry only and the rest would go elsewhere if needed. We both disputed the charge, explaining what had transpired, and were refunded the fee.

After landing at Budapest Airport, we split up into smaller groups. My group consisted of three, and we decided to purchase a 24-hour public transport group pass- this pass is the same price as purchasing two individual 24 hour passes but allows up to five people on the same route to use the pass. We then had to purchase a separate airport bus ticket, as those are not included in the 24-hour transport card. I had also researched the 24-hour sightseeing card (https://www.budapestinfo.hu/) but it wasn’t worth it for us based on the sites we had in mind.

I had booked a night at the Hilton Budapest, using my annual Hilton Aspire FNC, which was scheduled to expire during this trip, and I knew that I would not have an opportunity to use it elsewhere. It was not the best redemption, as the hotel was retailing at ~$240/night, and location-wise is a bit of a pain, as it is on the Buda side of the river, far from all kosher establishments. Since I’m a Diamond member I reached out to the hotel in advance and requested early check-in at 12PM, along with a room upgrade that would accommodate three beds. The concierge assured me that my request would be fulfilled, and so I was confident that our room would be available for a quick shower and nap when we arrived. Unfortunately, upon arrival we were informed that our room was not ready and would not be ready until regular check-in at 3PM. Instead, we were shown to the Executive Lounge for snacks, and to the gym for showers. With no better alternative in mind, we relaxed a bit and showered, and then headed to the lobby to drop off our bags. Just as we were about to leave, we were informed that our room had just become available, so we picked up our bags from the luggage room, and headed to our Loft Suite, only to find out that it accommodated a maximum of two beds… I showed the front desk that I had clearly requested a room with three beds, but they insisted that the request must have been misunderstood as three guests, not three beds, as they never allow three beds per room (which is not true- they do have rooms that accommodate 3+ beds). After going back and forth for a few minutes, and seeing that we were getting nowhere, one of our group decided to head to Pest and check into a hotel room there. It was rather disappointing, and corporate customer service was unmoved as well and provided no resolution.


Credit: google search

Our first stop was to Halaszbastya, or Fisherman’s Bastion, near the hotel. We did not access the observation deck that requires entry tickets, but rather visited the free observation deck. There are great views of Pest from here.





Next, we headed to the Budapest History Museum/ Castle Museum. I had expected this to be a museum about Budapest’s history, but it turned out that most of the building is dedicated to the Castle's history, which I found rather boring. We did eventually find the exhibit hall for the city's history, which was fascinating, but at that point we had very little time left to explore here.



We then headed across the river to the Kazinczy Street Synagogue. You can pay the entry fee in Forint, EU, or USD. I found the interior to be understated yet beautiful.





The Dohány Street Synagogue is a Neolog synagogue, so we did not visit the synagogue’s interior, but visited the memorials and museum on the grounds. The guards explained to us that it makes a lot more sense to start our visit by viewing the synagogue first, and then continuing to the museum, but did not make a fuss when we insisted on not entering the synagogue.



The Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives is located on the Dohány grounds, and we spent approximately 45 minutes here. Note that the Judaic artifacts are all Neolog and differ from Orthodox standards.

At the side of the building there are several memorials and a mass grave where approximately 2k Jews who died in the Budapest Ghetto are buried (this area was part of Budapest’s Jewish Ghetto).



At the rear of the building there is the Raoul Wallenberg Holocaust Memorial Park.



There are over 4,000 Stolpersteine embedded in sidewalks throughout Hungary. They include the name, birthdate, deportation date, and the year and place of death of Hungarian Jews killed in the Holocaust.
Stolpersteine locations in Budapest: https://www.google.com/mymaps/viewer?mid=13TN_kiXAim5I_48SET_VLsS_x_c&hl=en



We then passed by the Rumbach Street Synagogue, which was a 'status quo' shul built in 1872.



Budapest has some beautiful streets, and just strolling around was a pleasure.



We had originally hoped to tour the interior of the Hungarian Parliament, but the English language tours sold out well in advance, and we were unable to get a slot, so we just viewed the exterior.



The building is the largest one in all of Hungary.



Our final stop for the day was at the Shoes on the Danube Bank Memorial. It commemorates the 3,500 people that were shot from the banks into the river by the Arrow Cross militia.



For dinner we headed to Carmel, which was crowded and noisy. I wasn’t crazy for the goulash, but their soups were great.



Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia- various towns

Thursday morning, we headed over to Pest for a quick breakfast at Shakshuka. The food was phenomenal, and the portion sizes generous. Our group, which had grown to nine people overnight, squeezed into two cabs and headed back to the airport to join up with my grandfather and seventy of my uncles, aunts, and cousins.

We then settled comfortably onto two fully stocked luxury buses, and proceeded to wait an hour for a couple in our group to land- turns out my aunt had accidentally taken her expired passport with her to the airport, left her valid one at home, and was of course denied boarding. Thankfully she managed to get onto a flight that landed just one hour after everyone else, so the delay wasn’t too bad.



Breakfast and lunch were provided by Shakshuka, and the food was amazing. Each breakfast package consisted of two rolls, a large container tuna, a large container tehina, butter, garlic cream cheese, and a croissant. Lunch consisted of a large pasta salad and a slice fish- the fish started smelling not long after heading out, and most people subsisted on the pasta salad and leftover breakfast instead (note to Plan-it-Rite: probably not the best idea to order fish dishes for a packed lunch).



We then headed East to visit a small town where some of my great+ grandparents are buried, and from there to the town where my grandfather was born and spent his formative years before the Nazi invasion. Our last stop in Hungary on Thursday was in the city of Debrecen, where my great-grandfather is buried. We then continued across the Romanian border, thankfully an uneventful crossing, to the town of Șimleu to another great+ grandparents’ graveside. We finally made it to the town of Satu Mare at 1AM, where we spent the night at the City Hotel. Rooms were assigned relatively quickly, and we all headed to the dining room for supper, where a massive buffet was set up. Before making it to the hotel we were all sure that no one would have the energy for a sit-down meal at this hour, especially since almost everyone had landed that morning after a transatlantic flight and were bone tired, but the food was so enticing that everyone ended up shelving sleep for another hour and enjoying the meal fully.







Friday morning breakfast was served in a space a block away from the hotel (presumably as the dining room was needed for other guests)- again the spread was plentiful and tasty.





The large shul in Satu Mare.



We then headed back to the Romanian/Hungarian border, but unfortunately this time the crossing took well over two hours (note that generally there is no border control between EU countries, but Hungary/Romania and Romania/Hungary are one of several exceptions, as Romania is not a full member). There’s a separate lane for buses, but the booth was not manned, and instead we had to wait for the next available agent, but they all seemed more interested in assisting passenger cars than us, even though our organizers repeatedly put pressure on them to assist. After finally making it past the border we headed to Csenger to some great+ grandparents’ graveside. Since it was getting late and we didn’t want to check into our Shabbos accommodations in a rush, we spent just a few minutes in Kaliv at the tzion of R’ Izakl Kaliver.



There’s a beautiful shul with a large food hall across the road that is fully stocked with shelf-stable food and snacks.



We then headed to Kerestir, where we were to spend Shabbos.

Part of the scene we created each time our luggage was unloaded for check-in.



Shabbos was not handled by Plan-it-Rite, but instead was managed by an uncle who is a descendant of R’ Shaya’la and has connections. The food was rather meh (think budget Simcha catering) compared to what we had on other days both before and after this point.



The accommodations for those staying in the ‘Gold’ section was beautiful, but for those of us staying near the main building it was disappointing. The rooms were clean but had a strong unpleasant smell and the bathroom was so small that getting into the shower took some real acrobatics.

On Motzei Shabbos we headed to Ujhely to the tzion of the Yismach Moshe, which has a beautiful large building nearby with a shul and food available.





We then headed to Liska, to the tzion of R’ Hershele.

After all this we headed back to Kerestir to the tzion of Reb Shayele, and then finished the night with a beautiful melava malka.



Sunday Morning breakfast:





Up until this point we had beautiful weather, with temps in the high 60s and low 70, and clear skies- something that’s unusual for May in Eastern Europe. Sunday was our first rainy day, but the rain wasn’t too intense. After stopping by another town in Hungary to daven at another great+ grandparents’ grave, we started heading West in an attempt to reach another town where my grandparents originated from. Somewhere along the way the planning committee realized that it would make no sense to continue going Westward if we wanted to reach a different town on the Slovakia/Polish border by nightfall, which was more important as it was that grandfather’s yartzheit that night, so the buses made a u-turn and retraced their driving of the last hour. Sigh. (It’s actually a miracle that this didn’t happen every day on our trip, as according to the schedule we were supposed to start most days at 9AM, but with one exception we never made it onto the buses before 1PM). Since we cut out a destination that was far out of the way, we gained an hour or so even with being notoriously behind schedule, so we made a quick stop at the Košice Bais Hachaim in Slovakia to daven at the tzaddikim buried there.


 
After spending some time davening at my great+ grandfather’s graveside in Slovakia whose yartzheit it was that night, we proceeded to Sanz, in Poland, for the night.

Offline cgr

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Poland
« Reply #2 on: October 15, 2023, 07:12:45 PM »
Poland- various towns

Dinner at the hotel in Sanz was tasty, with that homemade chein,



although the breakfast selection was a bit meager (comparably).



While the accommodations were beautiful and brand new, it was so new that I seriously doubt they had a CO in place (or whatever Poland’s equivalence is). There were open wires protruding from the walls, the balconies in some of the rooms (which overlooks the Beis Hachaim) had gates that were in no way safe, and there were no railings at the top of the stairs. Unfortunately, one of my aunts tripped due to this, broke her arm, and spent the night in the Sanz emergency room getting her arm casted.

The Sanz hotel was unable to accommodate our entire group, so the remainder spent the night at the Hotel Beskid, and we had a shuttle running between the two.

Monday morning, we spent some time davening at the holy Divrei Chaim,



and from there continued on to R’ Menachem Mendel in Rymanov. There’s a large shul with fresh food available here as well.




After Rymanov we headed to Dynov, to the Bnei Yisoscher.



Our final stop of the day was to the holy R’ Elimelech of Lizensk, which was an incredibly moving experience. Being that we were such a large group, we set the mood at each place we visited even if there were others around, but this one was something special and not something that can be put into words.



After lots of Tehillim and song, we headed to the hotel where we had a delicious five course meal waiting for us. There were all sorts of dips and rolls, with fish and pasta as appetizers. They then served vegetable soup and a choice of chicken or beef for the main course, followed by dessert.



The Lizensk hotel was the most comfortable kosher hotel on this trip (although I believe they have several buildings and I’m not sure they’re all as nice as the one we stayed in). The hotel also provided our breakfast and lunch packages when heading out the next morning, which were delicious as well.



Kraków
Pronunciation: Krakov

I found this video to helpful in grasping just how vibrant Jewish life was in Kraków before the Holocaust:
https://youtu.be/hdf6-qnr11s

Tuesday morning, we headed out at 7AM (a miracle!), as most of the group was heading back home at noon, and we still wanted to visit a few sites in Kraków. Kraków is the second-largest city in Poland by population, and as with most of Eastern Europe, and Poland especially, the juxtaposition of a city’s vibrant Jewish Quarters prior to the war with the sad reality today is jarring. In Kraków there were approximately 70,000 Yidden (40% of the population!) and over 90 active shuls before the Nazi invasion- today the city is home to less than 1,000 Jews, and only a handful of those shuls are recognizable today (and almost none are active).

Our first stop was to the Kazimierz Quarter, which housed most of Kraków’s Jews prior to the war. We visited the shul of the Remah, which was constructed in 1558 by his father.





Right outside the shul is the Remah Cemetery, where many great gedolim are buried such as R’ Moshe Isserles (Remah), R’ Yisroel Isserl (Remah’s father), R’ Eliezer Ashkenazi (Ma'asei Hashem), R’ Yoel Sirkis (Bach), R’ Yom Tov Lipmann Heller (Tosfos Yom Tov), R’ Nosson Nota Spira (Megaleh Amukos), and R’ Avraham Yehoshua Heschel (Chanukos Hatorah), amongst others.





Part of the cemetery wall is made up of gravestones.



A group of us then headed to the New Jewish Cemetery, which was established in 1800 and mostly destroyed by the Nazis.





A large number of the stones were too heavy or unusable and so remain in a heap near the cemetery walls.



Part of the cemetery wall here was constructed using gravestones as well.



Many great luminaries are buried here, including the Meor Veshamesh.



At this point I said my goodbyes to my family who were heading to Kraków airport for the journey home. I then headed to the hotel I had booked for the night, Hotel M29, to drop off my backpack while I continued touring. The hotel is in a great location, just outside the Kazimierz Quarter, and was well priced at $75/night. I headed across the Vistula River where the Kraków Ghetto had been located. Just a small remnant of the Kraków Ghetto wall remains- notice that the Nazis had the walls constructed in the shape of a tombstone, in an act of psychological warfare.





The Plac Bohaterów Getta, or Ghetto Heroes Square, is located at the former Umschlagplatz where the Jews were assembled prior to being shipped off to concentration camps.



I then spent 2.5 hours at the Oskar Schindler's Enamel Factory and could have spent even longer here- this is mostly a museum on Kraków’s history during the war, with a bit of Schindler thrown in- it does not focus exclusively on Schindler.



I then headed to the Apteka pod Orłem, which housed the pharmacy that supplied the Ghetto and helped some Jews escape as well, but it was closed that day, so I ended up coming back here on Wednesday.

I headed back across the Vistula to visit the various pre-war shuls that are still around today. The Popper Synagogue was constructed in 1620 by one of Kraków 's richest Jews, Wolf 'Stork' Popper. The shul now houses a souvenir/ bookshop.



The Old Synagogue was constructed in 1407 and is the oldest shul still standing in Poland. It houses a small exhibit on Jewish History in Poland, and I spent about 30 minutes here.







I then passed by a building with the words Kovea Itim L’Torah on it. I think it housed a shul and kollel prior to the war.



The High Synagogue was constructed in 1556 by Sephardim who emigrated from Greece or Italy. The shul now houses a bookshop.



The Jakubowicza Synagogue was constructed in 1664 by Izaaka Jakubowicza, a banker to King Ladislaus IV of Poland. It was closed to visitors and appears to be under construction.



I then passed by 12 Estery Street, where the Bobov shtiebel was located from 1871 until the Jews were forced into the Ghetto.



The Kupa Synagogue was constructed in 1643 by Kazimierz goldsmiths. Entry fee is accepted in złoty only- up until this point I had managed to get by with my credit card and Euro- so I proceeded to the Euronet ATM across the street to get some cash (and paid an exorbitant exchange fee…).







Next, I headed to the Galicia Jewish Museum. I hadn’t expected much here, as it is a photo exhibit, but I found it to be incredibly somber and touching. The photos all depict various Jewish-related locations that were destroyed or fell into disrepair during the holocaust.

The Tempel Synagogue was constructed in the 1860s. It is a Reform synagogue, so I did not enter.



I then headed to Kosher Delight for some supper- this was the location of Sarah Schenirer’s school. I was thankful for a kosher restaurant in Kraków, but the food and service could be better. The restaurant here has a preset menu for a flat fee.

Wednesday dawned gray and rainy, and after checking out of my room and storing my backpack at reception, I started my day at Wawel Royal Castle. It took me a few minutes to find the Castle entrance- it’s located up on the hill and accessible via steps on the right side or a path on the left side. I would have probably enjoyed my visit here more if the weather had been nice but unfortunately it was pouring rain, which meant that the gardens and courtyards were not explorable. I spent 20 minutes at the State Rooms, 25 minutes at the Royal Apartments, and 15 minutes in the Treasury, which made it rather expensive for 100pln. While the tickets to each of these were timed, they allowed me to enter the exhibits ahead of time.





I then spent some time walking along Kanonicza, Grodzka, and Floriańska streets.



The Cloth Hall is a cute indoor market with lots of shops, and is located in the Rynek Główny Square, which is the largest medieval square in Europe.







St. Florian's Gate was part of Kraków’s fortification walls built in the 14th century.



The Kraków Barbican is the historic gateway leading into the Old Town of Kraków.



At this point I purchased a 20-minute tram ticket for 4pln ($.95) at a kiosk to get to my next stop, the Apteka pod Orłem/ Ghetto pharmacy. The trams were clean and easy to navigate, and Google Maps has real-time location available for public transport in Kraków.

The Apteka pod Orłem is a tiny but interesting museum, and entry was free that day. There’s not much information on the actual pharmacy (although there is a backstory to it as they helped some Jews escape the Ghetto and provided medication to the Ghetto that was not allowed in under Nazi rule), but there is a lot of information here on both life in the Ghetto, as well as the various organizations and people who worked in the medical field in an effort to curb disease during that impossible time.

At this point my shoes and socks were soaked, so I stopped by a laundromat and dumped everything into the dryer- it worked like a charm, and 20 minutes later I had hot and toasty socks and shoes. Being that I still had some time to kill before my train out that evening, and it was raining too hard for me to enjoy the outdoors (and I of course didn’t want to get my socks we again), I went by Zoldan’s hachnassas orchim, located next to the Remah shul, for shelter and some hot tea. One of the staff showed me that they were in the process of setting up a hot buffet, as they plan to offer dinner in the future. This is all free, with coffee, tea, and sandwiches available all day.

After retrieving my backpack from the hotel, I headed to the Kraków Main Station, where I was booked on a train to Łódź. I had originally contemplated renting a car for my time in Poland, but after checking train pricing and timetables, I realized that this would be a waste of time and money. The train from Kraków to Łódź took 3 hours and 11 minutes and cost me $14.15 in Class 2. Renting an automatic car would have costed me more than $15/day, plus the drive would have taken approximately 3.5 hours when factoring in traffic. I had also done some research on getting an unlimited train pass, but it came out slightly more than what I ended up paying for trains, so I skipped that (although if you are planning on taking multiple intercity trains in Poland this could save a few dollars).

Łódź
Pronunciation: Wodj

Łódź is the third-largest city in Poland, and most of the city was destroyed either during WWII, or during the communist era. Prior to the Holocaust there were approximately 230,000 Jews in Łódź.

Upon arriving at the Łódź Kaliska train station I purchased a one-time use bus ticket for transport to my hotel, along with a day pass for the following day which would allow me unlimited use of all the buses and trams in the city for just $4.40/day (these passes work just on the day activated- they are not 24-hour passes). Ticket machines are located on all buses and trams, although to my luck the one I used was broken and the tickets did not print, so I ended up buying a new one and disputing the charge with my credit card company. The buses and trams in Łódź do not have real-time updates on Google Maps.

I checked into the Hampton by Hilton Łódź City Center for the night. While it is not the best location for visiting the Ghetto area, it is located right next to a large tram stop which made it very accessible. When booking this hotel, I happened to check the prices through the app as well, and the rate through the app was $75/night- $10 cheaper than through Hilton’s website. I was “upgraded” to a city view room with a sofa (which is the best room available, as the hotel does not have any suites) and received premium Wi-Fi and a free snack for being a Diamond member. The room was clean and comfortable, but even though I was placed on the highest floor (6th floor of the hotel, which starts on the 4th floor I believe, making it 10 stories up), I was able to hear the trams passing by the station all through the night.



Thursday morning, after dropping my backpack at the hotel’s front desk for the day, I headed to the Łódź Ghetto area. This free guidebook came in really handy to map out my points of interest. I started near the Radegast Train Station, but since I arrived an hour before the exhibit opening, I toured the outdoor exhibits first, which are always open and free. Litzmannstadt, Łódź’s Ghetto, was the first Polish intercity Jewish ghetto established by the Nazis, and the second largest, after the Warsaw Ghetto. On April 30, 1940, the Ghetto doors were locked for the first time, making the Łódź Ghetto the first isolated Ghetto (other Ghettos established by this time still allowed free movement to the outside world).



I then spent a few minutes at the indoor exhibits of the Radegast Train Station.








145,000 Jews were sent from Łódź Ghetto via Radegast Train Station to their deaths, mostly to Chelmno/Kulmhof, the first death camp created by the Germans. Others were sent to Auschwitz.



Next, I headed to the Jewish cemetery of Łódź, which was founded in 1892, and is the largest cemetery in Poland in terms of area, with over 230,000 graves. I had to wait about 15 minutes at the entrance since the caretaker was busy with a large tour group, but he was helpful in answering my questions and pointing me in the direction of my points of interest. R’ Eliyahu Chaim M’Łódź is buried not far from the entrance- when entering the gate on the right, first row, second courtyard.







I spent about an hour at the cemetery- the frum with their simple gravestones are buried near the rich nonreligious industrial magnates such as Poznański with their huge mausoleums. Seeing all that and knowing that their roles are reversed up in Shamayim was a good lesson.







There are approximately 43,000 victims of the Łódź Ghetto buried in the 'Ghetto Field' part of the cemetery. This is located on the left side, all the way to the back of the cemetery.





I then headed to Manufaktura, which is a large mall that houses shops, museums, and more. The complex was constructed by the aforementioned Izrael Kalman Poznański, who was a Jewish Industrialist that operated one of the largest cotton factories in Łódź in the late 1800s.





The Museum of the City of Łódź is located in Poznański’s mansion. The upper floors are richly decorated, while the basement houses an exhibit of Łódź’s history.





I then stopped by the location of the Alte Szil (old shul) Memorial, which is located in a large park. At the time the entire area was under construction, so I was unable to see anything. Note that even when the park is not under construction there’s very little to see, as only a few foundation stones survive.

I was planning on passing by Plac Wolności, a large popular square, but it was under construction as well. I then headed to the Reicher Synagogue, which was built in 1895 and is the only preserved pre-war shul still standing in Łódź. It is also one of the only two active synagogues in Łódź. Note the shul is located in a locked courtyard so the exterior is not visible from the street, and advance reservations are required to view the interior. I did not have reservations, but I did manage to view the exterior by hanging around the gate until a resident unlocked it.



I then spent some time strolling along Piotrkowska street from the Reicher shul til my hotel. The block is a long, beautiful, pedestrian only street, but interestingly enough I was unable to find a single souvenir shop. I also noticed that there is almost no English heard on the streets of Łódź, even though in Kraków it was a constant.



After retrieving my backpack from the hotel’s front desk, I headed to the Łódź Widzew station for my train to Warsaw. I had booked a ticket for $13 in Class 1 for the 1 hour and 17-minute train ride (I did not see any material difference between Class 1 and Class 2 on the intercity (IC) trains) but had my fair share of fun making it to the station. I boarded a tram outside the hotel heading to the train station (or so I thought), but I forgot to check which direction I was supposed to be heading, so I traveled 20 minutes in the opposite direction before I realized my mistake. I got off as soon as I noticed and took the next tram heading in the correct direction, but at that point my ETA was just after my train was scheduled to leave. I checked an Uber as well, but the ETA wasn’t any faster. To add to my frustration, the tram kept on pausing at each station, presumably to stay on schedule. I finally made it to the Łódź Widzew station, but I couldn’t figure out which platform I needed, since there were no display boards (unlike the other train stations I transited through in Poland). After googling for two minutes, I headed to the platform that this train line usually departs from, but it was not showing on the platform’s arrival board either. I wasn't sure if it wasn't showing up because it already left 5 minutes before as scheduled, or if it wasn't showing up because it was so delayed. Thankfully it was delayed by 12 minutes which is why it wasn't on the platform sign! This is the only time I had a train delay in Poland, and it worked in my favor.

Warsaw
Pronunciation: Varshava

I found this video to helpful in grasping just how vibrant Jewish life was in Warsaw before the Holocaust:
https://youtu.be/Wr6NgPUl6rI

My train rolled into Warsaw Central Station at the originally scheduled arrival time. The central station is large and beautiful, and most of the local train and bus lines have real-time updates on Google Maps. I purchased two 24-hour passes for $7.30 total which allowed me to access all local transport lines in Warsaw on Friday and Sunday.

I headed to Kosher Delight for supper directly from the train station, as it is not far. They’re located in a large building, accessible through the back entrance, and one flight up. Similar to Kraków they have a flat fee for the meal, but there is more of a menu selection.

I then headed to the apartment I had booked via Marriott Homes and Villas for $75/night. I had originally planned on booking this apartment through Airbnb, but Marriott was running a promotion that week, and the pricing was the same, so I booked via Marriott (here’s the Airbnb link: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/899062179211580360). The place is a 10-minute walk from both Chabad and the Jewish cemetery. It was exactly as pictured, with the only downside being that there is a keycode to enter the gated complex as well as the building which poses an issue on Shabbos (the apartment door had a physical key with a lockbox near the door, so that was not an issue). There are many other Airbnb apartments in this complex, and it’s a great location for walking to Chabad.

Friday morning dawned gray and rainy, and while I had planned on doing a lot of walking that day, I quickly moved my schedule around to do indoor museums on Friday, while leaving all the outdoor points of interest for Sunday, when the weather was forecasted to be nice. You might notice some zigzagging in my Sunday schedule because of this.

I started my day at the POLIN Museum, which is a history museum of Poland’s Jews. Jews first settled in Poland over 1,000 years ago, and prior to the Holocaust Warsaw was home to 375,000 Jews and over 400 shuls.





I was at the museum for nearly four hours, and I would have spent another 30 minutes or so here, but I had to head to Chabad for my food pickup. I had signed up for the Friday night meal at Chabad but ordered food from them to go for Shabbos day. The to-go bag was incredibly generous, with enough food for multiple people.




After dropping off the food at my apartment I headed to the Warsaw Uprising Museum (not to be confused with the Ghetto uprising). While it was interesting to learn about the Warsaw Uprising, as I was not at all familiar with it, the museum was confusing and noisy (worse than Ikea…)

I then made a quick stop at Warsaw’s kosher grocery store to get some CY milk and snacks. They have a tiny selection of self-stable items, and only accept cash.

Friday night I headed to Chabad for the meal. Rabbi and Rebbetzin Stambler were welcoming and great company, and the food was tasty to boot. They offered to send one of their staff back with me to my apartment in case the gate and building door were locked, but I declined their offer in the hopes that there would be residents going in and out of the building. While there was no one around when I arrived back at the complex, I waited less than five minutes before someone showed up and I was back inside.

My first stop on Sunday morning was to a Bounce luggage storage location in Warsaw’s old town to drop off my backpack for the day, since that is where I planned to finish my day. While this spiel took about 30 minutes out of my day, I have found in my travels that it is best to have my luggage waiting for me at the endpoint of a full day (the agency in charge of the apartment does not offer luggage storge after checkout). I then headed back to where I had come from, to visit Warsaw’s Jewish Cemetery. The cemetery was established in 1806, and currently houses over 200,000 graves.



]

The sections are not very well marked, even with the various maps posted. If you’re looking to visit the Chelkas Rabbanim, look for the Boyala courtyard which is well marked with a large sign- behind and to the right of that there are many ohels. The Plotzker Gaon, the Netziv, R Shmuel Slonim, and R’ Chaim Brisker are buried here, amongst many others.







There are two large mass graves for victims that died of hunger and disease in the Warsaw Ghetto- over 100,000 Jews died of hunger in the Warsaw Ghetto- there is no record of how many people were buried in these mass graves, as the burials took place too quickly to keep count.





The Umschlagplatz (deportation point) Monument marks the location where over 300,000 Jews were deported to their deaths from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka.





There are Ghetto markers embedded in the sidewalks, showing the boundaries of the Ghetto. The Warsaw Ghetto was sealed in November 1940, imprisoning over 450,000 Jews, and making it the largest Nazi Ghetto.



The Nożyk Synagogue was built in 1898 and is the only surviving prewar shul in Warsaw, out of 400 shuls prior to the Holocaust. The entry fee must be paid in złotys- no credit cards accepted.





Ulica Próżna is a Jewish street that was part of the Ghetto and was left mostly intact (80% of Warsaw was razed to the ground by bombs during WWII). The older buildings on the block were under rehabilitation at the time of my visit and not visible, although I was able to see the bullet holes in one building’s façade from the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.





I then strolled along Nowy Swiat, where many upscales shops are located.

The Nicolas Copernicus Monument



Warsaw’s Presidential Palace



Krakowskie Przedmieście in Warsaw’s Old Town is a cool happening street with music, street vendors, etc.



I then visited The Royal Castle in Warsaw- this is an exact replica of the original Royal Castle, which was destroyed by Hitler in 1939.



Plac Zamkowy



The Museum of Warsaw is a large history museum of the city with a great audioguide. I was not a fan of how the exhibits were set up though. Instead of a chronological timeline, each room had artifacts from all of Warsaw’s history (for example pottery, clothing, technology, etc).

The Old Town Market Square was cool but packed. Most of Warsaw's Old Town was destroyed during WWII, but many building exteriors were saved and others have been rebuilt as an exact replica.



I then walked over to the Dung Hill Lookout Point for some views of the Praga river.



After retrieving my backpack, I made my way to the Warszawa Gdańska train station, which was a bit of a pain to access from the city center, for my $10, 1 hour and 54-minute train ride to Lublin in Class 2.

Lublin

I arrived at the Lublin Główny station uneventfully and purchased a 24-hour local bus pass for $3. The buses in Lublin do not have real-time updates on Google Maps. I checked in to the Hotel Ilan Lublin for the night. While I generally book hotels a class or two higher than the Ilan hotel, I opted to stay here since it used to house the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva, which I found touching. My brother had stayed at the hotel previously and assured me that it was clean, and indeed for $44/night it was a good choice. I had reached out prior to my stay to inquire about kosher food, and they replied that while the hotel does not have a kosher kitchen onsite, they can provide me with prepackaged meals certified by the Chief Rabbi of Warsaw. I was unable to find more information on his standards, so I skipped this and brought my own food.

Guests at the hotel receive free entry to the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva exhibit located in the hotel, and I started my day here on Monday. I found the exhibit fascinating.



Prior to the Holocaust, approximately 40,000 Jews lived in Lublin. 97% of them were murdered by the Nazis, mostly in Majdanek and Belzec. In 1939 the building was taken over by the Gestapo. Some Yeshiva students managed to flee to Vilna, where they joined up with other students in the area and headed for Shanghai where they stayed for the duration of the war.



I then headed to the hotel’s front desk to inquire about access to the New and Old Jewish cemeteries. Keys to both are available at the front desk, and they assured me that I could take my time at the cemeteries for as long as I needed. They requested 20pln as security that I would bring the keys back, and then ‘suggested’ that I donate the funds for the cemetery upkeep.

I first headed to the New Jewish Cemetery, which was established in 1829, and was plowed over by the Nazis. When entering the cemetery and heading behind the shul/monument building, the graves are all memorials or post-war burials.



Headstones remain on the sides where it was strewn by the Nazis.



A mass grave of 190 victims that were murdered by the Nazis in 1942.



A mass grave of over 100 victims of the Lublin orphanage and old age home that were murdered by the Nazis.



If you are looking to visit Rabbi Tzadok HaCohen, or Rabbi Avraham and Leibele Eiger's grave, walk alongside the new outer gate to the left, all the way around the cemetery from the inside, until you reach the end of the gate.





I then headed to Lublin’s Old Jewish Cemetery, which was established in the 16th Century, and was mostly destroyed by the Nazis as well, although several graves of Gedolim are marked. R’ Yaakov Pollack, his student R’ Shalom Shachna, the Maharshal, the Chozeh M’lublin, and the Eiziner Kup are buried here, amongst others.





After returning the cemetery keys to the hotel and dropping off my backpack at the front desk for storage, I headed to Lublin’s Old Town.



I passed by the Lublin Castle, which under Russian rule housed a prison and under Nazi rule was used as a detention center for political prisoners and Jews.





The Brama Grodzka are the original gates that once separated the Jewish quarter from the old town of Lublin.



This area also housed Lublin’s Ghetto.





Plac Po Farze



Strolling around the Old Town with its colorful charm.



The Kraków Gate



I passed by the Synagoga Chevra Nosim, a prewar shteibel, but it was closed to visitors.



I had also hoped to visit the Lublin History Museum, but it is closed to visitors on Mondays.

I originally planned to take an express bus or train to the airport for my 3PM flight, but after retrieving my backpack from the hotel I realized that there were no public transportation options available to the airport during the day- for some odd reason the express lines only operate til 11AM, and from 3PM, even though there are a few midday flights out of LUZ. With public transportation no longer an option, I downloaded the Bolt ride-hailing app, which has an active presence in Lublin. I had to upload my photo ID in order to request a ride, but the process took less than a minute and was easy to navigate. Bolt has an option on their app to request a female driver, which I thought was cool.



Since this was my first time using the Bolt app, I received 15pln off my first ride, so my 30pln ride was reduced to 15pln (~$3.55) for the 25-minute drive to the airport. The airport was eerily empty when I arrived, and while the security checkpoint was amply staffed by five employees, I was the only passenger at security. Since I had budgeted my time to take public transportation but ended up arriving much earlier because of Bolt, and I hadn’t expected security to take so fast, I had nearly two hours to kill before my flight. Thankfully there was the Business Executive Lounge available via Priority Pass, and while it is a small lounge, there was plenty of sunlight and fresh air via the terrace, and I was the only passenger there throughout. The LOT flight from LUZ to WAW was mostly empty, and boarding was completed in under 10 minutes. I was able to select any seat on the flight free of charge (no priority seating fees) and chose one in the second row. The flight was scheduled to take 45 minutes, but we landed in WAW early after just 20 minutes.





A word on my return flight: there are no direct flights from LUZ to NYC, so my best option was to return to Warsaw and fly home from there. Because of various reasons it made sense for me to spend my last day in Lublin and taking a 20-minute flight from LUZ to WAW was the fastest way to Warsaw, especially since I would not have to go through security again in WAW but could just exit Polish immigration and head to my gate. I had originally hoped to book LUZ-WAW-JFK with LOT on one itinerary via Lifemiles for 30k miles, but Lifemiles was not showing the LUZ-WAW leg, only the WAW-JFK portion. United was showing the full LUZ-WAW-JFK itinerary, but for 47.9k miles. I checked the cash price of the LUZ-WAW leg and was glad to see that it was available for just $35. It made no sense to pay an additional 17.9k miles for this leg via United, so I booked it for $35, and then proceeded to book the WAW-JFK leg with Lifemiles. There was a 15% Amex UR transfer bonus available at the time as well, so it ended up requiring just 27k miles from my end plus ~$85 in fees. Additionally, I was able to select any seat from row 8 and on free of charge.

Upon arriving at Warsaw Chopin Airport and exiting passport control (which took less than a minute) I was sent to a second desk for US passengers- I’m not sure what the purpose of this second check was, it appears they just double checked my passport. I headed to the Priority Pass Bolero Executive Lounge, which was large and mostly empty, to relax until boarding. There were a few trivial hiccups on the flight home, such as a 30-minute delay in pulling back from the gate, the 400lb guy seated in front of me that broke/coerced his economy seat into a lie flat so that my lungs were crushed (I rang for the flight attendant multiple times but they magically disappeared for hours on end), and the case of the missing kosher breakfast where the flight attendants offered me fresh fruit instead.

Minor mishaps aside, this was a truly remarkable, once-in-a-lifetime trip.

I hope you enjoyed!

Offline EliJelly

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Re: Two Weeks in Eastern Europe (Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Poland)
« Reply #3 on: October 15, 2023, 07:24:56 PM »
Finally a TR I feel at home and I'm highly excited to read it thoroughly!

Online imayid2

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Re: Two Weeks in Eastern Europe (Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Poland)
« Reply #4 on: October 15, 2023, 11:09:40 PM »
Wow, a ton of logistical and historical information here! Thanks for putting it all together!

Offline eli1571

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Re: Two Weeks in Eastern Europe (Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Poland)
« Reply #5 on: October 16, 2023, 10:37:38 AM »
you didnt go to the alexander rebbes Yismach Yisroel - tiferes shmuel and their father in lodz ?

Offline yelped

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Re: Two Weeks in Eastern Europe (Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Poland)
« Reply #6 on: October 16, 2023, 12:41:47 PM »
All these TRs make cry out עד מתי....

Offline cgr

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Re: Two Weeks in Eastern Europe (Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Poland)
« Reply #7 on: October 16, 2023, 06:27:11 PM »
you didnt go to the alexander rebbes Yismach Yisroel - tiferes shmuel and their father in lodz ?
I did not know they were buried there... a pity.

Offline Divora M

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Re: Two Weeks in Eastern Europe (Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Poland)
« Reply #8 on: October 23, 2023, 04:49:37 PM »
Great TR! Thanks for taking to the time to write it all up.

Offline m65

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Re: Two Weeks in Eastern Europe (Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Poland)
« Reply #9 on: October 23, 2023, 05:58:26 PM »
amazing job. top to bottom

Offline fresar

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Re: Two Weeks in Eastern Europe (Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Poland)
« Reply #10 on: December 31, 2023, 01:01:56 AM »
Very nice TR!
I guess you enjoy using the local transportation

Offline Yitz

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Re: Two Weeks in Eastern Europe (Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Poland)
« Reply #11 on: February 05, 2024, 09:17:37 PM »
Beautiful TR with great information. Really enjoyed