The Palace of Versailles & a Defense of Marie Antoinette

At the top of my Dream Destinations list since I first saw Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film Marie Antoinette, I absolutely loved wandering through the Palace of Versailles. The French government allowed Coppola to film on location and I hoped one day to visit not just the Palace, but more importantly (for me) the grounds, and the Queen’s Hamlet.

Marie Antoinette (2006).

An all-day adventure, I am so thankful for the opportunity to visit Versailles last summer. It was super-busy inside, but we spent a majority of our time wandering the grounds rather than touring the buildings. This isn’t the best plan for everyone, but I’m glad this was the route we chose.

Walking up to the palace from the subway station.

A beautiful day spent away from the city, definitely visit the Palace of Versailles if you find yourself in Paris.

Palace gates.

Get ready for a little French history, too many pictures, a vehement defense of Coppola’s film, and a discussion on the politics and sexist treatment of Marie Antoinette.

Where are we?

With only a long weekend in Paris, we dedicated an entire day to the Palace of Versailles and the decision was absolutely worth it. We traveled from our apartment in Montmartre to Versailles–about an hour commute by metro–and even glimpsed a view of the Eiffel Tower as we switched train lines. Taking the metro was definitely the cheapest and preferred method of travel, even if the journey was a little longer than if we would have gone by car.

We also booked our tickets wayyyyy in advance, which I recommend as they sell out–especially in the summer–and as we purchased prior, were able to skip (the very long) entrance queue. For us, touring the Palace was nice, but so crowded that it made even the largest indoor spaces feel claustrophobic; I much preferred walking the grounds and seeing the gardens, Hamlet, and the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon. Pro tips: You can spend all day here, so pack snacks, sunscreen, and have a travel plan! There’s a lot to see and time can move quickly as you walk the grounds.

The Palace of Versailles:

The Palace of Versailles (Château de Versailles):

Originally a hunting lodge, Louis XIII decided to expand the area in 1661. The grounds were also developed by landscape architect André Le Nôtre to include fountains and gardens.
The Palace was further enlarged from 1678-1715.
The first Chateau, built by Louis Le Vau (1661-1968) was further embellished by Hardouin-Mansart (1679-1681).
King Louis XV moved his residence and the French government to Versailles when he became of age (after originally taking the throne at five years old) where it was also the home of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette until the revolution in 1789.
Princess Adélaïde’s bedroom.
The Palace was the location for the signing of the three Peace of Paris treaties (1783) where the United Kingdom recognized United States sovereignty.
Following the siege of the Palace, the grounds were closed and all works of art were transferred to the Louvre. In 1793, the royal property that remained was sold at auction.
The Fountain of Latona.

The Hamlet of Marie Antoinette (Hameau de la Reine):

Built for Marie Antoinette in 1783, the Queen’s Hamlet is located near the Petit Trianon and was used as a retreat. The Hamlet aligned more with the Austrian court, which valued privacy, a direct opposition to French traditions. This caused a lot of issues for Marie as many felt she was snubbing the French.
The retreat includes a number of buildings, gardens, lakes, and even a mill on a pond. This mini village produced milk and eggs for the Queen and her friends.
The mill.
Cottage garden.
While seen as expensive, the cost for Marie’s Hamlet was actually less than many other royal retreats of the time.
A hidden grotto.
The flowers were beautiful.

The Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon:

The Petit Trianon was created from 1763-1768 by Ange-Jacues Gabriel for Louis XV. Each side of the building is different.
Louis XVI gifted the Petit Trianon to his wife, Marie Antoinette.
The French Gardens of the Petit Trainon (Jardin Français du Petit Trianon).
Another view of the Petit Trianon.
Marie Antoinette commissioned the Temple of Love (the rotunda seen here) in 1777.
The ceiling of the Temple of Love.
Located in the northwestern part of grounds, the Grand Trianon was built as a retreat for Louis XIV in 1670.
During 1663 and 1665, Louis XIV purchased a hamlet at the edge of Versailles and commissioned Louis Le Vau to design a pavilion at the space.
Originally made of porcelain, Louis XIV ordered the pavilion to be demolished in 1686. New construction started in 1687 and was completed in 1688.
The Grand Trianon was abandoned during the French Revolution; the space was later occupied by Napoleon.

A Defense of the film Marie Antoinette (2006) and the last Queen of France:

“With its commentaries on gender, women’s agency, reproduction and female friendships, Marie Antoinette is surprisingly deeper and more feminist than many realize. Sofia Coppola created a lush and sumptuous indulgence for the eyes. More importantly, by humanizing the doomed queen and adding modern touches, Coppola reminds us of the gender constraints women throughout history and today continually endure.”

Kearns, Megan. 2012. “In Defense of ‘Marie Antoinette’: Sofia Coppola’s Re-Imagining Surprisingly Feminist.” The Opinioness. Available here.

I first saw Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette in 2006 and immediately fell in love with the music, costumes, and story of France’s last queen. The film was met with mixed reviews–including an entire booing of the movie by French critics when it debuted at Cannes–and people both loved and hated the 80s-inspired-occasionally-true-take on Marie’s life.

Like many movies drenched in pink and/or including songs by Bow Wow Wow, but definitely most stories about the lives of teenage women, the film was largely written off as superficial and cliche. Critics of Marie Antoinette complained about the lack of substance in Coppola’s film:

“The politics of Marie Antoinette have to be read through the costumes, through the fascination with the objects, because it’s about a woman being turned into an object that is traded among this hierarchical, patriarchal society, and this very strange world she’s thrown into. She’s a child, and completely unequipped to deal with these things. I think Coppola’s fascination with adolescence in transition moments obviously drew her to this story. But it was infuriating to see that all people could say about it was it was this frivolous, ridiculous, MTV/New Romantics-style music video that was modeled on Coppola’s own life. It was pathetic! Is that the best you can do as a critical reading? It deserved more.”

Aylmer, Olivia Lindsay. 2019. “Reevaluating the Gross Misunderstanding of Sofia Coppola’s Cinematic Oeuvre.” Dazed. Available here.

As flashy as the movie can be–and it is almost on that Baz Luhrmann Moulin Rouge level–the underlying complexity of the characters, their modern-ish costumes, and contemporary music allow viewers to connect more with the historically-adjacent story, rather than if the plot was purely historical.

Marie Antoinette is the story of both a woman denied a voice—as evidenced by the fact Antoinette (played with a cheerful determination by Kirsten Dunst) doesn’t have a substantial line until nearly 40 minutes into the film—and those okay with maintaining the status quo. (See: Louis XVI, played with perfect distraction by Jason Schwartzman, who rather played with keys than be bothered to engage with his wife.)

‘This is ridiculous,’ Antoinette tells her attendees during a protracted morning dressing ceremony that requires the highest-ranking royal in the room to help her dress. ‘This, madam, is Versailles,’ she’s informed.

Even when an angry mob forces her family to flee Versailles (they would be become the figureheads for France’s debut and social problems and were eventually executed in 1793), Coppola shows Antoinette as woman who has earned her place in the royal hierarchy, but is still not understood or fully valued.”

Studarus, Laura. 2018. “Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette is a Tragic Feminist Hero.” CR Fashion Book. Available here.

For me, the simple dialogue portrays the struggle of a person as conflicting and controversial as Marie Antoinette. On one hand, she is the privileged queen of France, with more wealth and perceived freedom than any other woman in the country. However, she is also held to the same stifling standard as other Frenchwomen of the time, albeit with the most publicity. Her purpose is to have children and society requires her to be passive with a reliance on men, as well as an expectation of dependence and maintaining the status quo of this role she often resented.

“As feminist historians have been persuasively insisting for years now, the queen met with this fate because she was a foreign woman who repeatedly overstepped the boundaries circumscribing French royal—and feminine—behavior.”

Weber, Caroline. 2006. “I Don’t Want Candy: The Uses and Abuses of Marie Antoinette. The George Washington University: Columbian College of Arts & Sciences. Available here.

Here’s the thing: Marie Antoinette’s story can be seen as just another poor-little-rich-girl tragedy, but honestly should we feel sorry for a queen that seemingly ignored the famine and injustice that gave rise to the unrest ultimately ending with her execution?

Yes and no.

Like most women during this time, Marie was valued for her body and what her body could produce: an heir to the throne. She was publicly blamed for the seven years it took to consummate her marriage, while her husband, Louis XVI–more concerned with hunting and making keys–largely escaped accountability for the couple’s failure to have sex. Under pressure from her family and the court to adhere to the standards of the day, Marie mostly conformed to the ridiculous expectations set for her as Queen: accept the status quo, look pretty, and have children. She also pushed those same boundaries, ultimately leading to further vilification by the press.

While her cage was gilded and her life privileged, Marie Antoinette suffered the same restrictions as other women during her time. Sexism in pre-revolution France was as much a part of society as most places across the world. Seen as “passive citizens” women could not vote, hold political office, and were dependent on men to make decisions “in their best interests”; their roles were focused squarely in the home and banned from the political sphere. Even greater pressure was put on the Queen–who was already deemed untrustworthy because she wasn’t French–to uphold that expectation.

“’She was a girl surrounded by grown-ups who wanted things from her and judged her, and she didn’t exactly know what people expected from her,’ Ms. Dunst said during a lunch break, in sweats and her pink-cheeked Marie Antoinette makeup and giant hair. ‘I could relate to that kind of loneliness.'”

Hohenadel, Kristin. 2006. “French Royalty as Seen by Hollywood Royalty.” The New York Times. Available here.

The film is largely apolitical–meant more as a look into the life of a queen at Versailles–but Coppola does use the minimal discussions on politics to her advantage. Louis XVI casually continues to provide funds to the Americans for their revolution as a way to stick it to the British but at the expense of his own treasury and citizens. France continued to hemorrhage funds to support the American Revolution–raising taxes on the poor as the church and nobility were exempt from these increases–and Marie’s perceived extravagant spending was seen as the cause of starvation in the country. As the French Revolution loomed, blame was largely (and unfairly) placed on Marie as the source for a majority of the country’s problems: debt, famine, and the privileges enjoyed by the elite at the expense of the poorer classes.

Falsely attributed to Marie Antoinette, the “let them eat cake” response to the shortage of bread in France furthered the disdain for the Queen.

Newspapers published false stories of the Queen’s affairs with her closest friends and attributed her “deviant” behavior as stemming from her German background. During the Women’s March of 7,000 people to Versailles, many of the protesters discussed bringing the King to his rightful home in Paris, while calling for the execution of the Queen.

“When money is tight, they don’t stop spending. And yet Marie Antoinette is the ‘Queen of Debt.’ It’s easier to blame the woman you’ve told to be dripping in diamonds for dripping in diamonds when the coffers are dry…

Marie Antoinette becomes what she was always going to become: a spoiled rich woman with no sense of how the world worked outside her palace.”

Saxena, Jaya. 2018. “Does Marie Antoinette Hold Up?” GQ. Available here.

Following her capture and trial, Marie Antoinette was pronounced guilty of depleting the treasury and treasonous behavior of working with the enemy. The charges of engaging in orgies at the palace were dropped. Polite to the very end, her last words were to the executioner: “Pardon me, sir, I did not do it on purpose,” as she accidentally stepped on his shoe.

Marie Antoinette is a conflicting figure. While she saw charity work as vital, she overlooked and was ignorant to the oppression of her people. Like every other royal of the time, Marie Antoinette was extravagant, privileged, and wealthy. She did not want to lose her position or yield to the demands of the revolution. But she was also cast as a villain: she refused to tolerate many of the traditions of the royal family in France, was seen as a foreign spy by the citizens of her country, and displayed her own independence through fashion, building her own space in Versailles, and taking on a bigger role in government, much to the disdain of both the court and citizens of France. She was a child bride used as a pawn for peace among bitter rivals and was unfairly demonized for stepping outside of society’s predetermined role of mother and wife by continuously speaking up to various councils as her husband failed to act.

“The whole point of the French Revolution was that no one in Versailles knew what the hell was going on outside of Versailles. It’s not just a story about a beautiful queen, but the way we trap women with our expectations, and punish them when they live up to them.

I’m no Marie Antoinette apologist. We should still eat the rich.”

“Saxena, Jaya. 2018. “Does Marie Antoinette Hold Up?” GQ. Available here.

Obviously Marie Antoinette had many shortcomings; we shouldn’t forget the level of entitlement possessed by the Queen of France. However, like many women in positions of power even today, she was unfairly demonized by those who saw an independent woman operating outside of society’s predetermined role and expectations of her as a threat. Feminism, particularly white feminism, fails to address the intersectionality of race, class, and ability. I do not mean to over-represent the struggle of a rich, white woman as the face of feminism here, but merely to show how history–as defined by patriarchal powers–unfairly represents women during their time and the impact of that narrative today.

It should also be noted that the French Revolution failed to implement any policies that protected women’s rights; equality was denied by the ruling party–the Jacobin Club–that rejected social reform for women in large part due to the perceived meddling of Marie Antoinette in political affairs. Male supremacy continued and was further perpetrated by the Napoleonic Code.

At the same time, the newly independent United States of America was codifying sexism and racism in the Constitution.

○○○

Currently:
Listening: Floodlines (The Atlantic)
Reading: Sun and Rain (Ana Ros)
Watching: Mrs. America (Hulu)

Kraków, Poland: Kazimierz (Former Jewish Quarter)

[You can read my Kraków Guide here.]

Oh, Kazimierz. My favorite neighborhood in maybe all of Europe? The former Jewish Quarter is unique, fun, and has a blend of new shops and historic sites. I love this quirky district and discover something new every time I visit.

This homage to Gene Kelly was created by street artist Kuba as a representation of the city’s regeneration.

Located south of Old Town and north of Podgórze, Kazimierz was the center of Jewish life for over 500 years before being completely destroyed by Nazi occupation in WWII. The district further deteriorated under communism, but has since become one of the most unique neighborhoods in Central Europe.

Kazimierz Historical Mural, ul. Józefa 17
Created by Piotr Janowczyk in 2015, the mural features a number of icons from Kraków’s history including this portrait of King Kazimierz.

Kazimierz was founded by King Kazimierz the Great in 1335. Jewish populations began moving to the neighborhood in 1495 and the town grew in influence during the Middle Ages. After overcoming anti-Jewish riots, famine, and surviving a Swedish invasion, the town flourished under Austrian control in 1796 when Kazimierz was incorporated into Kraków. The occupying Austrians forced all of Kraków’s Jewish population to resettle into Kazimierz, which led to a huge growth in culture for the area; over 50,000 Jews lived here when the Nazis invaded Poland. During WWII, Kazimierz’s Jewish population was forced to relocate to the ghetto in Podgórze, with a majority then sent to Bełżec and Płaszów. Less than 5,000 survived the German genocide.

The New Jewish Cemetery

Today the district is one of the most unique neighborhoods in all of Central Europe: cozy cafes, amazing restaurants, a growing art scene, and tiny pubs alongside many of the most important Jewish cultural sites in all of Poland. My recommendation is to spend as much time here as you can and admire not only the beautiful street art and tasty local cuisine, but make an effort to visit the sites important to the Jewish culture that once thrived there.

A note: this post does include photographs of Jewish cemeteries in Kazimierz. This by no means is meant to exploit those buried there, but as a way to tell the story of the events that occurred at these sites. I highly recommend spending time walking through the older cemeteries in Kraków.

While I refer to these locations as “sites” I hope that those who visit bring the utmost respect and intent when visiting Kazimierz. You can read more about my feelings here.

The Sites:

Bosak House: Plac Bawół 3:

The beautiful street art piece was created by Broken Fingaz for the city’s 24th Jewish Culture Festival (2014).
Located on the edge of the Kraków ghetto, the piece was dedicated to the Bosak family who lived in this home for 400 years prior to the German occupation of Poland. They moved to Israel to escape Nazi persecution.
The building is now vacant as the family has not returned to Poland since the end of WWII.

Old Synagogue (Stara Bożnica):

The Old Synagogue (referred to in Yiddish as Alta Shul) is the oldest synagogue still standing in Poland. Built in either 1407 or 1492, the building is unique as it is considered a Polish Fortress synagogue.
During the Nazi occupation of WWII, the synagogue was completely ransacked and all Jewish relics were stolen or destroyed. The Germans used the site as a warehouse; thirty Polish hostages were also murdered here. Following the end of the war, the building was renovated and is currently a museum.

Remuh Synagogue and Cemetery:

The smallest historic synagogue in Kasimierz, the Remuh Synagogue is also one of only two active synagogues in the district. Built in 1553, Shabbat services still take place here every Friday.
The interior of the synagogue.
During Nazi occupation, the building was used as a warehouse for body bags and fire equipment.
The Remuh Cemetery, also known as the Old Jewish Cemetery of Kraków, was established in 1535 and is no longer active. During the Nazi occupation of Poland, the cemetery was destroyed and most of the tombstones were used as paving stones in concentration camps. While many of the stones were returned after the war ended, not all missing stones were found.

Galicia Jewish Museum:

This mural by Marcin Wierzchowski is on the side of the Galicia Jewish Museum and features one of the largest menorahs in Poland.
The images on either side of the menorah depict pre- and post- industrialization Jewish life. The museum itself holds a number of photography exhibitions on Jewish life and culture in Galicia (the geographic location between Central and Eastern Europe).

The New Jewish Cemetery:

The New Jewish Cemetery was founded in 1800 after the Remuh Cemetery was full. Once 20 hectares, only 4.5 (11 acres) of the site remain.
When this cemetery was full in 1930, two new cemeteries were opened in the Podgórze Płaszów district, but these were destroyed by the Nazis, who then built the Płaszów concentration camp in their place.
During German occupation, most of the tombstones were sold as building materials. A number were also used to line the courtyard of Amon Goeth’s villa, located on the eastern side of the Płaszów camp.
The cemetery currently holds 10,000 tombstones.
Portions and shards of tombstones recovered after the war were used to create the wall within the cemetery. This wall also serves as a memorial to the millions who were murdered during the Holocaust.

Restaurants & Pubs:

Marchewka z Groszkiem (Peas and Carrots):

THE ABSOLUTE BEST PLACE. Marchewka z Groszkiem was highly recommended by Krakow-native friends of a friend; I’m so thankful they told us about this adorable restaurant. With many options to choose from, I just basically ordered enough food for five people (no regrets) and loved every single thing. Look at this menu!
These are spinach+sheep’s cheese and sauerkraut+mushroom.
Spinach and garlic pierogi covered in a blue cheese sauce. I’m not even a fan of blue cheese but these were AMAZING.
Strawberry and mascarpone.
Crispy potato pancakes with sour cream.
Green pea and carrot soup.

Bonus tip: check out Lokator right across the street for books and coffee!

Bhajan Cafe:

Located right on the border of Old Town and Kazimierz, Bhajan Cafe is a vegan and vegetarian Indian restaurant with a great menu. A perfect spot for lunch on your trip through the different districts of Kraków.

Shops:

As You Like It Bookshop:

Although technically located in Old Town, As You Like It Bookshop is right on the border to Kazimierz and across the street from Bhujan Cafe, so I wanted to include this adorable shop in this post. Just minutes from Wawel Castle, this bookstore is small but offers a ton of different English titles including new releases, and books on Polish history. They also carry cards and locally-made reading accessories. A perfect stop on your way from Old Town to Kazimierz!
Photo via Facebook.

Unikke Design & Friends:

Established by Olga Guzik, Unnike Design is a beautiful jewelry shop that specializes in, you guessed it, unique pieces. I actually met Guzik while in the Polish city of Gdańsk, where she was selling a number of her gorgeous pieces. A former member of the Polish Shooting team, the economist turned designer specializes in incorporating her all of her passions into her work; she uses old bullets with the motto “better wear than used” etched into bracelets and necklaces.
Photo via In Your Pocket.

Lookarna Illustrations:

Artist Renia Loj designs hand-drawn postcards, magnets, and other paper goods. Lookarna Illustrations is her adorable shop stocked with all of her beautiful and unique pieces.

You have to love all the quirkiness of Kazimierz 🤍

Taking pierogi back to Hungary.
Esterka, the Jewish mistress of King Kazimierz the Great, was known for her beauty and inspired many Polish authors.

Currently:
Watching: Little Fires Everywhere (Hulu)
Reading: Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist (Judith Heumann)

Kraków, Poland: The Podgórze District

[You can read my Kraków Guide here.]

One of the most historically significant districts in not just Kraków, but in all of Poland, Podgórze was at the center of the Jewish genocide by the Nazis during WWII.

View from the Church of St. Joseph (Kościół św. Józefa)

A short walk from Kazimierz over the Bernatek Footbridge, Podgórze is known for its “natural beauty, tragic history, and unusual attractions”. While the first settlement was founded over ten thousand years ago, this area was destroyed by the Swedish in the 1600s, then designated a free city in 1784 by the Austrians, before being incorporated officially into Kraków in 1915. Podgórze was known for its quarry and construction operations before being completely changed by the Nazi occupation during WWII.

Bernatek Footbridge

At the time of the German invasion, 60,000-80,000 Polish Jews lived in Kraków, mostly in the Kazimierz District. In 1939, the Nazis required all Jews to report for forced labor, then wear mandatory armbands. Hans Frank stated that Kraków should be the “racially cleanest” city in General Government and as a result, the deportation of Jews began in 1940.

Map of the Podgórze Jewish Ghetto in Kraków.

Of the 68,000 Polish Jews living in Kraków before the invasion, only 15,000 were allowed to remain as workers. They, and their families, were resettled in the Podgórze district of Kraków (known as the Kraków Ghetto) in 1941:

“Previously inhabited by a little over 3,000, the Krakow Ghetto was spread over a few dozen streets in and around Zgody Square (since renamed Bohaterow Getta Square), containing some 320 tenement buildings. A 2-3 metre high wall was raised along the perimeter of the Krakow Ghetto, crowned by a line of arcs reminiscent of Jewish tombstones, tragically prophetic – portions of which remain today…

Windows facing onto the outside world were bricked up and the gates were strictly policed. Krakow Ghetto became desperately overcrowded: each new resident was allocated a mere 2m2 of living space. Life in the Krakow Ghetto was a constant struggle: food was scarce and hunger became the gravest affliction; sanitation was sorely inadequate and the German command grew increasingly brutal and inhumane.”

There were many instances of resistance within the Ghetto walls including the Akiva Youth Movement, Jewish Fighting Organization, and the Polish underground (Armia Krajowa). In 1942, the Nazis began deporting Jews from the Kraków Ghetto. Many were sent to the Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp (also located in Podgórze), Bełżec death camp, and Auschwitz. Those unfit for work (2,000 people) were shot in the streets of Kraków.

Less than 5,000 of the once large Jewish population (one quarter of the entire inhabitants of Kraków before the Nazi occupation) survived the war.

I definitely recommend a trip into Podgórze. The district includes a number of historical sites including the last remaining remnants of the Ghetto Wall, as well as memorials built to commemorate the horrific events that took place here.

A friendly reminder that while I am naming these places as “sites”, I hope to give the utmost respect to the people that were tortured and killed here. These places carry a great deal of weight and those that visit should treat them as such.

You can read more about my stance on here.

The Sites:

Church of St. Joseph (Kościół św. Józefa):

Church of St. Joseph (Kościół św. Józefa)  was built in the early 1900s.

Ghetto Heroes Square (Plac Bohaterów Getta):

Ghetto Heroes Square (Plac Bohaterów Getta) includes 33 memorial chairs to commemorate the atrocities that occurred in this once bustling center. The original entrance of the Kraków Ghetto is at the entrance to the Square.

Fragment of Ghetto Wall:

The last remaining portion of the Kraków Ghetto wall. This twelve meter long fragment of the original ghetto barrier displays a plaque placed there in 1983 which says: “Here they lived, suffered, and died at the hands of the German torturers. From here they began their final journey to the death camps.”

Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory: Museum of Wartime Kraków:

Oskar Schindler was a German businessman and Nazi who saved 1,200 Jews during WWII. Schindler owned a number of factories in occupied-Poland and employed Jews in Podgórze originally because their labor was cheaper than Poles, but then he continued to employ and protect his Jewish workers throughout the liquidation of the Kraków Ghetto.
“Schindler’s Jews” as they became known, included men, women, and children of all ages. Schindler was able to protect them from deportation through his connections within the Nazi party, the vital role his factories played in the war effort, and by constantly making exemptions for the skills of his workers.
Towards the end of the war, Schindler’s bribes and black-market dealings became more and more suspicious, but he was able to protect his workers from deportation. Even when they were accidentally sent to the Gross-Rosen and Auschwitz concentration camps, he was able to manage their safe return to the factory. While Schindler isn’t the only German who helped protect Jews during WWII, he is arguably one of the most famous, due in large part to the 1993 movie Schindler’s List.
Schindler’s Podgórze factory was converted to one of the most amazing and interactive museums I’ve visited in Europe. I highly recommend making a trip if you can. I took a ton of pictures, but didn’t want to post them all here; I think it takes away from the overall experience and sheer “whoa!” factor of the museum.

Other Sites I wish I Visited but Ran Out of Time:

As always, I wish I had more time to see allthethings. Unfortunately, I missed visiting Krakus Mound. Liban Quarry, and the Płaszów Concentration Camp while in Kraków, but I wanted to include them here.

Krakus Mound:

Krakus Mound is the oldest structure and highest point in all of Kraków. Once used as a site for pagan rituals, now visitors come to see beautiful panoramic views of the city.
Photo via In Your Pocket.

Liban Quarry (Kamieniolom Liban):

A forgotten place in a city of historic sites, Liban Quarry is currently abandoned, although this was a place of significance for Kraków. Established by two Jewish families in 1873, the quarry was successful prior to German occupation. During WWII, the Nazis used the quarry as a forced labor camp for Polish prisoners.
Photo via In Your Pocket.
The site was also used by Steven Spielberg to film Schindler’s List in 1993.
Photo via Untapped Cities.

Płaszów Concentration Camp:

A short walk from Krakus Mound is the site of the former Konzentrationslager Plaszow bei Krakau, the Nazi concentration camp of Płaszów, built on two (destroyed) Jewish cemeteries. Largely unchanged from German occupation, the site looks more like a park than a place where thousands of people were murdered. Unlike Schindler’s Factory or Auschwitz, there are no tours, no multimedia displays, or instructions on how to visit this space. This camp was almost thoroughly dismantled by the Germans before they retreated from Poland. For those who have seen Schindler’s List, this is the camp depicted in the movie (although as noted, not filmed here, out of respect of the victims of German genocide).
A comprehensive guide to visiting the site can be found here.
Photo via In Your Pocket.

Currently:
Watching: Westworld Season 2 (HBO)
Listening: The Floodlines Podcast (The Atlantic)

Kraków, Poland: Stare Miasto (Old Town)

[You can read my Kraków Guide here.]

Chosen for the inaugural UNESCO World Heritage List in 1978, Stare Miasto, Kraków’s Old Town, is the city’s historic center and one of the most beautiful sites in Central Europe.

View from our apartment.

A busy medieval center in the 10th century, the main square (Rynek Główny) is the largest medieval town square of any European city and includes a number of historical buildings and unique architecture. Old Town was encompassed by military defensive walls that extended all the way to Wawel Castle, but most of these fortifications were destroyed by the Austrians during occupation in the 1800s. The moat surrounding the walls was replaced with a green space–Planty–that is known as “the lungs of the city”.

Walking toward the Wawel Castel.

My recommendation is to wander the main square and Stare Miasto’s winding, cobblestone streets, finding all your new favorite literary cafes, pierogi spots, and stop for homemade vodka. If you prefer a more intentional wandering, I’m here to help! I’ve made a map of all my top sites.

Stare Miasto.

I recommend spending time in the square and walking around Planty before heading down to Wawel Castle.

There’s so much to see in Kraków’s historic center!

The Sites:

Main Market Square (Rynek Główny):

Old Town is known for its art, musicians, and crafts. Unfortunately (or fortunately? Still undecided) for us, the musician near our apartment only played Oasis’ “Wonderwall” and The Cranberries’ “Zombie”. Over and over.
Town Hall Tower (Wieża ratuszowa w Krakowie) is the only remaining part of the old Kraków Town Hall that was demolished in 1820.
Krakow Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) is one of the main attractions in the square.
Inside the Cloth Hall.
St. Mary’s Basilica was built in the 14th century. Every hour a trumpet plays Hejnał Mariacki, a five-note Polish anthem, from the highest tower.  The title Hejnał Mariacki comes from a Hungarian expression that translates to “Saint Mary’s Dawn” and the tune stops mid-stream in remembrance of the 13th-century trumpeter who was shot in the throat while warning the city of a Mongol attack.
St. Mary’s Basilica was nearly destroyed by the Mongols but was rebuilt on its old foundation in 1320.
The interior of St. Mary Basilica.
The Church of St. Adalbert (Kościół św. Wojciecha) was built in the 11th century.
The Church is named after Saint Adalbert; his body was purchased from Prussia for his total weight in gold.
Interior of St. Adalbert.

Wawel Castle:

While people have inhabited the area that is now Wawel Castle since the Paleolithic Age (WHAT), the first ruler of the Polish state chose this site as his home in 966. The castle itself was built by Casimir III the Great in 1333; it is one of the largest and oldest castles in Poland.
The castle and cathedral show nearly all forms of European architecture: medieval, baroque and renaissance.

The legend of the dragon that terrorized residents of pre-Kraków settlements is an interesting part of the city’s history:

From that day on there was no peace in the village. Daily, the dragon would appear to carry off a victim. Sometimes a sheep, or dreadfully, a child or even a grown man. The villagers called the hideous creature “Smok”. Men banded together to try and slay the dragon, but their primitive weapons were no match for the thick scales of the dragon. Many men died in the attempt to rid the village of this terrible curse.

In the same village lived a wise man named Krakus. Some thought him something of a magician, for he would mix herbs to heal the sick. The villagers came to Krakus to ask for his help. Krakus thought for a long time, studying his jars of herbs and things, and all the while murmuring to himself. Then he started to mix up a paste. He summoned the villagers to bring a sheep to him. He covered the poor sheep with the unpleasant mixture and carrying it up the hill, threw the sheep inside the cave.

After several suspenseful moments, there came the sound of the great dragon roaring and bellowing its way down to the Vistula River. The mixture that the sheep had been coated with caused a great burning inside the dragon. It drank and drank until it began to swell. Some say it drank half of the Vistula River that day. Still it drank to quell the relentless burning in its gut. Suddenly, there was a great explosion and the dragon burst!

The people rejoiced at the demise of the fearsome creature. They were so impressed with the wisdom of Krakus that they invited him to rule over them. They built a stronghold at the top of the hill and below it, the city prospered under his rule. The city was named Krakow in honor of Krakus. When Krakus died the people gave him a magnificent burial, and erected a mound over his tomb, bringing the dirt with their own hands. It has endured throughout the centuries as a lasting monument to their wise and brave King.

Wawel Castle holds the Polish Crown Jewels and is a UNESCO Wold Heritage site.
The Royal Archcathedral Basilica of Saints Stanislaus and Wenceslaus on the Wawel Hill (królewska bazylika archikatedralna śś. Stanisława i Wacława na Wawelu) is over 900 years old and is considered a Polish national sanctuary.
The Cathedral (katedra wawelska) is also the coronation site for Polish monarchs.
The Cathedral is also the main burial site for Polish monarchs.
View of the Vistula River from the castle. Legend holds that Krakus’s daughter Wanda drowned herself in the Vistula rather than marry a German knight.
You can tour the Dragon’s Den located under the castle (please excuse my horrible picture), a cave in the side of Wawel Hill that formed 25 million years ago. During medieval times, these rooms served as both a tavern and brothel.
The Castle also includes a homage to the dragon, a statue that breathes fire every few minutes, terrifying the unsuspecting children (okay, I was caught off guard too) walking nearby.

Planty City Garden:

During the Austrian occupation, the walls of the city were destroyed and a green space was built in the former moat that surrounded Old Town. Planty encircles the oldest part of the city and is a beautiful walk that includes gardens and historic monuments.
Collegium Witkowski (Witkowski College) was built in 1908 and stands next to the park.
While I visited, the Krakow Artistic Meetings 2019–DIALOGUES was taking place in the city. A number of pieces were placed in the park, including this sculpture by James Sierżęga entitled “Babel”.

Restaurants & Pubs:

Coffee Kiosk:

Boasting “f+cking good coffee”, Coffee Kiosk is an adorable cafe near Stare Miasto. The shop also sells a number of locally made crafts in addition to their awesome bean selection.

Pod Noseum:

We stopped at Pod Noseum on our way to Wawel Castle. The first floor of an executive hotel, it was definitely the most upscale of the restaurants we visited. Their special that day was mushroom pierogi, so you know that my obvious choice. They were amazing.

Chtopskie Jadto:

My first pierogi in Poland! Chtopski Jadto is a cute little restaurant with a ton of different pierogi options. I prefer a crispier potato pancake, but the pierogi were great. In Poland, you choose whether you want your pierogi fried, in addition to boiled, so make sure to ask! You could also order 30 pierogi to go!

Da Pietro:

We had dinner at Da Pietro our second night day in Kraków. It was such a beautiful day and after a long afternoon of sightseeing, we wanted to grab food near our apartment. Thankfully they have a good menu with a ton of options and great drinks, along with outdoor seating so you can see the sites in the square.
Spinach, gorgonzola, pears, and walnuts on a pizza.

Tiffany Ice Cream:

Recommended by a friend, Tiffany Ice Cream is the absolute best ice cream I’ve had in Europe. Please note Monica (on the right) with her four scoops like a freaking badass.

Shops:

De Revolutionibus Books & Cafe:

“One of the few places in the galaxy where a good book meets good coffee”, De Revolutionibus Books & Cafe is a bookstore right off the main square. Established in 2013 as a part of the Copernicus Centre Foundation, De Revolutionibus specializes in philosophy and academic works, but carefully selected fiction books are also available in both English and Polish. The shop also includes a beautiful card selection, showcasing work by local artists.
Photo via Facebook.

Massolit Books & Cafe:

A short fifteen minute walk from the Main Square, Massolit Books & Cafe is a large English bookstore featuring a huge selection of new and used books, along with an awesome cafe. They specialize in coffee and treats, even opening a second cafe nearby. Visitors can grab a coffee, bagel, or vegan treat while perusing the hundreds of shelves. A perfect way to spend the afternoon and an absolute mus- visit while in town.

Sklep Szambelan:

Located right off the main square, Sklep Szambelan is a specialty vodka shop with over forty types available to purchase. Unique bottles and flavors are stacked from the floor to the ceiling and include both sweet and sour vodkas hand-made by the owners. When I visited, I was lucky enough to meet the amazing shop-owner herself, who encouraged tastings before purchasing. Customers can choose their own bottle from the shop or bring their own. Have to love that zero waste specialty vodka life!
Photo via My Guide.

❤ ❤

Currently:
Reading: Everywhere You Don’t Belong (Gabriel Bump)
Watching: Chef’s Table (Netflix)

One of my Favorite Cities: Kraków, Poland

Kraków is one of my favorite cities in Europe. Thankfully, I’ve had the opportunity to visit Poland’s second largest city a number of times and love to discover new places in this beautiful town.

View of the Old Town.

Being of Polish descent, I dreamed of visiting Poland since we first traveled to Germany in 2014. The combination of gorgeous architecture, historical significance, unique shops, and oh, yeah home to one of my favorite foods–pierogi–makes Kraków one of my favorite cities.

So good, so happy.

The second largest city in Poland, Kraków is also one of the oldest, dating back to the 7th century. Located on the Vistula River, the city’s name is derived from the Proto-Slavic word “krak”, which translates to “staff” or “oak”. The city was first founded by Krakus, the prince who led the Lechitians, a Polish tribe. Legend states that Krakus famously slayed the dragon of Wawel Hill (more on that later).

View of the street from walking through Plantly, a beautiful public green space in the center of the city.

Like many of the cities in Eastern Europe, WWII drastically changed the culture and population of Kraków. During the German occupation, Kraków became the capital of the General Government following the invasion of Poland by the Germans in 1939. Unlike other cities significantly impacted by WWII, Kraków’s architecture remained largely intact. The goal of the Germans was to Germanize the city by removing all aspects of Polish language, culture, and the people who lived there.

As a result, academics were to Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps, while the city’s large Jewish population (over 65,000 people) were first forced out of the their district (Kazimierz) and into the Kraków Ghetto, located in Podgórze. From there, they were deported to a number of concentration camps, with the final order on March 13th, 1943 to fully liquidate those remaining in the Ghetto to Płaszów, a forced labor camp in the district; those that remained behind were either murdered or sent to nearby Auschwitz.

Poland suffered heavy losses of human life during WWII (16-17% of its population).

The Bosak Family House, who lived here until the German occupation of Poland.

One of the most important aspects of visiting Kraków is the ability to visit these immensely important sites of historical significance. For a country geographically located between two military powers–Germany and the Soviet Union–visitors have the ability to see the effects of war in not only the physical landscape of the city, but also in the very intentional way these sites have been preserved.

View in the Podgórze District.

Today, Kraków is one of the centers of academic and culture for Polish life; in 2013 the city was named a UNESCO City of Literature (I’ve listed a few of my favorite bookstores in the posts).

I’ve divided my posts by neighborhood: Stare Miasto, Kazimierz, and Podgórze.

Bernatek Footbridge linking Kazimierz and Podgórze.

Stare Miasto (Old Town): One of the most famous districts in Poland and was included on the first UNESCO World Heritage List (1978).
Kazimierz (former Jewish Quarter): One of my favorite districts in all of Central Europe, Kazimierz is an eclectic mix of shops, art, and historical sites.
Podgórze: Across from the River Vistula, this neighborhood is home to many WWII historical sites including the remnants of the Jewish Ghetto and Schindler’s Factory Museum.

I’ve created a map of sites, restaurants, and shops. My advice is to be intentional in your wandering of Kraków; there are so many places to see and discover in this beautiful city. You can also download and save this map to Google Maps for easy access when you travel.

I hope you enjoy these posts! 🤍

Singin’ in the Rain, located in Kazimierz.

Currently:
Listening: The New Abnormal (The Strokes)
Watching: The Plot Against America (HBO)

“How About You Amaze Me and Do the Right Thing… Have an Independent Investigation”: March Update on MSU, the USOPC, & USAG

“How about you amaze me and do the right thing… have an independent investigation.”

(Simone Biles in response to a tweet by USA Gymnastics wishing her a happy birthday– essentially in less than fifteen words also restoring my faith in the world again).

Chavez, Nicole. 2020. “Simone Biles Claps Back at USA Gymnastics After They Wish her a Happy Birthday.” CNN Online. Available here.

Need to catch up? You can read my last post here.

A lot has happened in the last month and a half. It’s only MARCH? SIXTEENTH?! But here we are.

Me, currently.

The biggest news to come out since January is the absolutely atrocious-I-can’t-believe-they-thought-this-would-work settlement offer USA Gymnastics attempted to pass off as somewhat appropriate for the hundreds of survivors currently suing their organization. In the settlement, some plantiffs would receive less than $100,000, oh and super casual, but agreeing to the terms meant that USA Gymnastics, the USOPC, Steve Penny, and every other X-Men-esque villain apparently hired to conduct business for USAG would be off the hook. No documents released. No mandatory structural changes. Oh, and the USOPC would pay nothing.

It would be laughable if it wasn’t so true.

2012 and 2016 Olympic Champion Aly Raisman made an appearance on The Today Show, expressing understandable outrage about how the organization could bungle a settlement proposal so badly, especially as their athletes are preparing for this year’s summer games. Simone Biles, on her way to USAG’s mandatory training camp, tweeted:

Friendly reminder: Simone continues to compete FOR and earn money FOR an organization that has yet to independently investigate how they allowed a serial molester to sexually abuse her, her teammates, and hundreds of others. Absolutely unbelievable.

Rachael Denhollander also posted online:

“Your words of change and care are utterly meaningless because your ACTIONS stand in direct contrast to those platitudes. To even ask for a release of the USOPC, Penny and Karolyis after the 100s of children they destroyed is galling beyond what I can express.

Shame on you. I don’t want to hear one more word about care and change from any of you. You are refusing responsibility for the damage to hundreds of children and asking us to ignore it too.

You can choose a blind eye. But know this: we never will. And your complete lack of care will do nothing more that motivate us to fight that much harder for justice and truth. The answer is no.”

What else? Kathie Klages was found guilty and Nassar’s appeal was denied, but unfortunately, there are a ton of how-have-you-not-learned-anything moments since my last post.

Let’s get into it:

Michigan State University:

Tiffany Thomas Lopez reads her victim impact statement on January 17th, 2018 to Larry Nassar.
  • Former Michigan State University Dean of the College of Oseeopathic Medicine will be released from prison in April. William Strampel was found guilty of willful neglect of duty and misconduct in office in relation to the mishandling of Larry Nassar last year. Strampel, Nassar’s boss, allowed the former doctor to continue seeing patients without ensuring policies set by a Title IX complaint were enforced, along with a number of other issues including sexually harassing co-workers and students. Originally given a one-year sentence for his crimes, Strampel will be released early for good behavior after serving eight months.
  • Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Joyce Draganchuk allowed a request made by attorneys of former MSU Head Coach Kathie Klagies to ban Lindsey Lemke, one of her gymnasts, from testifying in court. Klages, who faces two charges of lying to police, did not want Lemke to testify as a witness as the MSU and Twistars athlete has repeatedly stated that Klages knew of Nassar’s abuse, but failed to report him to police. Larissa Boyce, one of the athletes that reported Nassar’s abuse to Klages in 1997, along with a teammate who chose to remain anonymous, were allowed to testify.
  • On February 14th, Kathie Klages was found guilty of two counts of lying to police. The former MSU Head Coach for the Women’s Gymnastics Program, Klages repeatedly stated she did not know of Nassar’s abuse–even after two gymnasts told her that the former doctor was sexually assaulting them in 1997 (Boyce and an unnamed athlete) and one athlete (Lemke) disclosed the same story twenty years later–also forced her team to sign a card of support for the now disgraced former physician. She faces up to four years in prison and sentencing will take place on April 15th.
  • Former Michigan State softball player and survivor of Larry Nassar’s abuse, Tiffany Thomas Lopez, urged two athletic trainers still employed by the university to “listen and say something”. Lopez, who testified this week at hearings “related to the potential sanctions” against Destiny Teachnor-Hauk and Lianna Hadden, says she and another athlete, Jennifer Bedford, notified the trainers over twenty years ago that the former doctor was sexually abusing them under the guise of medical treatment. Prosecutors are currently reviewing complaints made against the athletic trainers that could result in revoking their licenses.

“Lopez testified Hadden told her to talk to Teachnor-Hauk. 

Though Lopez had other conversations with Hadden about being uncomfortable, she said she didn’t speak with Teachnor-Hauk until closer to the end of her softball career. 

‘It took me a long time to say something to her,’ Lopez testified. ‘I was intimidated and scared and I still didn’t know whether to believe it or not.’

Teachnor-Hauk gave her options, Lopez said, but told her that if she filed a complaint, ‘everyone would know,’ and ‘in doing that I may stir up controversy for the university, for my recently widowed father and especially for the doctor.’

Teachnor-Hauk again defended Nassar’s actions as medical treatment, Lopez said, adding she ‘left Michigan State believing what the ladies had told me.’

Lopez said, while people have told her Hadden and Teachnor-Hauk failed her, that’s hard for her to believe. She doesn’t blame them ‘for any of this at all.’

Banta, Megan. 2020. “Former Michigan State Athlete, Nassar Survivor, Urges Trainers to Listen, ‘Say Something.'” Lansing State Journal. Available here.
  • While the two trainers do not face any criminal charges, the result of the investigation could include fines, suspension, or even loss of their licenses. A decision could take months to conclude.
  • Four MSU survivors stood in solidarity with three men who came forward against University of Michigan doctor Robert Anderson. Anderson (who died in 2008), as well as the university, are currently under investigation for abuse that occurred for decades in Ann Arbor. Amanda Thomashaw noted: “U-M created a safe place and the predators flourished… You’ve seen the damage (non-transparency) has done to me and my sister survivors.”

USA Gymnastics and The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee:

  • Maggie Haney, coach of 2016 Olympian Laurie Hernandez and current National Team Member Riley McCusker was suspended by USA Gymnastics in relation to complaints of physical and emotional abuse in her New Jersey gym; Hernandez and “at least half a dozen families” filed complaints against Haney. She is now suspended from all contact with minors.
  • On January 30th, USA Gymnastics released their plan to emerge from bankruptcy by providing $215 million to survivors of abuse. The plan gave survivors two choices: as a group, accept the $215 million and settle every claim OR continue lawsuits against the organization. Most laughed at the settlement amount, which for example, is less than half paid out by Michigan State University. The $215 million would be distributed as a tier system, with Olympic athletes receiving more; the bottom tier plaintiffs would be given less than $100,000. The OC Register states that the average payout would be $250-300,000 per survivor, less than the current salary for the CEO of USA Gymnastics. The plan was met with outrage from survivors. John C. Manly, who represents over 200 of the plaintiffs, noted:

“This proposed plan does not include the critical structural changes necessary to ensure the safety of girls moving forward, nor does it appropriately address the myriad physical and emotional challenges the victims face as a result of these crimes. Most disturbingly, this proposed plan attempts to absolve USOPC of any responsibility for these crimes which were committed under its watch. This plan from USAG is not just unworkable. It is unconscionable.”

Whatron, David. 2020. “USA Gymnastics Issues Plan to Emerge from Bankruptcy and Settle Nassar Lawsuit.” Los Angeles Times. Available here.
  • The proposed settlement does not “address providing documents detailing the extent the national governing body knew of sexual abuse of young athletes and the lengths USA Gymnastics and other organizations went to conceal the abuse”. In addition to the lack of documents released, and any requirement for the implementation of new structures, the proposal also limits the liability of the USOPC. Under this plan, the USOPC would not have to admit to any wrong-doing or pay any money to the 500+ survivors:

“The opposition to the settlement proposal is wide ranging, with survivors and their supporters highlighting that the deal releases the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, former USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny, former national team directors Bela and Martha Karolyi, former U.S. Olympic coach Don Peters and other USA Gymnastics and USOPC officials and coaches from all claims, does not take into account the nature and frequency of each survivors’ abuse and contains no provision for USA Gymnastics and the USOPC to release documents and other information detailing the extent to which officials were aware of the predatory behavior of Nassar, Peters and others.”

Reid, Scott M. 2020. “Survivors Overwhelmingly Reject USA Gymnastics Settlement Offer.” The Orange County Register. Available here.
  • Alexandra Bourque’s personal story demonstrates how short-minded and insulting the proposal is for survivors. Bourque was only eleven years old when Larry Nassar began abusing her. The former doctor encouraged her to remain in gymnastics as she struggled to overcome a number of injuries including a cracked tailbone and broken hip. He continually abused her for another four years, when at age 15, she says his abuse became “aggressively worse”. Bouroque was also simultaneously abused by her former coach, Don Peters, who was banned for life by USA Gymnastics in 2011 for sexually abusing athletes. Under the tier system proposed by USAG in their settlement offer, Bourque would receive a settlement of $82,000, an amount that would not even cover her current medical treatments; she was diagnosed with endometriosis and post-traumatic stress disorder, which, doctors state, are correlated to the years of abuse by Nassar. The settlement would also not require the organization to release documents related to Nassar or Don Peters.
  • This weekend USA Gymnastics tweeted a happy birthday message to Simone Biles, who turned 23 on Saturday. The organization wished her (well, they tagged the wrong Twitter handle) a happy birthday along with “We know you will only continue to amaze us and make history!” to which Simone responded:
We stan a queen.
  • Last week, Larry Nassar’s final appeal was denied by Michigan’s attorney general’s office. Nassar’s attorneys argued that Judge Rosemarie Aquilinia was not impartial in her decision to sentence him to the maximum 175 years in prison. The state’s AG office found that Judge Aquilina may have made ill-advised comments, but did not demonstrate judicial bias. Nassar’s appeals for the 60 year sentence for child pornography and 125 years for sexual assault have also been denied.

Currently:
Reading: Start by Believing: Larry Nassar’s Crimes, the Institutions that Enabled Him, and the Brave Women Who Stopped a Monster (John Barr and Dan Murphy)
Watching: Broad City Season 5 (Comedy Central)

“Victory is Equality”: Paris, France

View in Montmarte

Last summer Chris and I spent a long weekend in Paris for the World Cup (USA vs. Chile). We had fun exploring the city while also attending our first women’s soccer football match.

 Hôtel de Ville is the home of the city’s local administration and was completed in 1357.

This was my first time in Paris–only my second time in France–and because of our limited time in the city I was forced to narrow down what we could see on our visit. With a day spent in Versailles and a second at the match, we were pretty limited with what we could fit into our remaining day and a half in the city. Sadly, the catacombs were closed on our only available day for a tour, so that will have to be scheduled for our next trip to France’s capital.

The Pantheon (“Temple of the “Republic”) was built in 1791 and was originally a church.
Latin Quarter

I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to not only visit, but also see the US women play in person. Paris is beautiful (no shocker there) and I was admittedly a little overwhelmed by the sheer size of the city and all there it is to do. Here’s the thing: You can definitely feel the pressure to “check items off the list” but my recommendation is to pick what is both feasible and interesting for you and go that route!

Also an excuse to post Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge gifs.

Where are we?

The largest and most populous city in France, Paris is known for its architecture and art, along with being one of the most expensive cities in the world (second only to Singapore in 2018). There is so much to see and do! We used the subway system as much as possible not only to save money but also sustainability things; opened in 1900, the metro is the second busiest in the world with over five million passengers daily.

Porte Saint Denis was built in 1672 and is 24 meters (80 feet) tall.

Known as “the City of Light” for both the role the city played in the Age of Enlightenment and literally as one of the first European locations to use gas lighting on a large scale, the area of Paris was first inhabited by the Parisil, a sub-tribe of the Celtic Senones around 3rd century BC and was first named Lutetua.

In 1901, the city’s population grew to over two million inhabitants including a number of artists from around the world–painter Pablo Picasso and author Marcel Proust–and after WWI, the city continued to be a mecca for artists: Josephine Baker, Allen Ginsberg, and Ernest Hemingway, among so many others. African American artists including Baker and acclaimed author James Baldwin found Paris to be an escape from the segregation and injustice they faced in America during this time.

On June 14th, 1920, the Nazis marched into Paris and ordered French police to arrest the city’s Jewish population. 12,844 people were detained (including over four thousand children) for five days before being sent to Auschwitz; none of the children survived. Today France has the largest Jewish population in Europe, although with growing anti-Semitic violence in the country, many have relocated to other countries in the past five years.

Tour Saint-Jacques (Saint-Jacques Tower) is the only remaining building of the Church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie. Built in 1509 and demolished in 1797 during the French Revolution, the tower is 52 meters (171 feet) tall.

With over 1803 monuments, 173 museums, and 450 gardens and parks throughout the city, Paris offers something for any visitor. Thankfully, we saw a couple of monuments, gardens, and of course cemeteries, while in the city. Paris is first in the world for number of libraries–830!–but unfortunately I wasn’t able to visit any; add it to the list for our next visit!

One of the best aspects of visiting Paris was merely wandering around the city, of course my favorite pastime. Meandering the beautiful streets, armed with coffee and a list of eventual destinations, I loved spending our long weekend here.

The Sites:

Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Garden):

Luxembourg Palace was built from 1615-1645, originally as the royal residence for regent Marie de’ Medici, the mother of King Louis XIII, but now is the seat of the Senate of the Fifth Republic (since 1958).
Marie’s palace was inspired by her native Florence. Today the gardens contain 23 hectares and includes a number of statues, fountains, and pathways.
View of the Panthéon from the garden.
We walked the gardens on a beautiful summer day (so thankful for the lovely weather) right after brunch. Much needed after treating ourselves to southern food!

Shakespeare and Company:

Shakespeare and Company was at the top of my must-visit list. First opened by Sylvia Beach in 1919, the store was known as the center for American literature and culture in Paris. Closed in December 1941 as the Germans occupied France–supposedly because Beach refused to give a German officer her last copy of Finnegans Wake, a true queen–this location never re-opened, even after the war ended.
George Whitman opened the new Shakespeare and Company in 1951 on the site of a 16th century monastery. James Baldwin, Allen Ginsburg, William S. Burroughs, and many other literary icons spent time here. A “socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore”, the gorgeous shop also includes beds for aspiring writers. Whitman’s daughter, Sylvia (named after Sylvia Beach) currently runs the store. Henry Miller called Shakespeare and Company “a wonderland of books” and I have to agree; I loved this place.
The epitome of a Parisian bookstore.
(Via Gavin Ford)

Place Josephine Baker:

In 2000 this square was named for American Josephine Baker, a performer and spy during WWII. Known for her dancing, Baker called France her second home.

The Moulin Rouge:

The famous red mill of the Moulin Rouge was co-founded by Charles Zidler and Joseph Oller and is known as the birthplace of the can-can dance.
Ewan McGregor, Nicole Kidman, John Leguizamo, AND Jim Broadbent?! Truly this film did what the others COULDN’T do.

Notre-Dame de Paris:

The Notre-Dame cathedral caught fire less than a month before we traveled to France. Constructed between 1163-1345, the building was badly damaged when the roof and spire were destroyed in 2019.
The cathedral is currently closed and under renovation with an expected completion date of 2024, in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics, which will be held in Paris.
One of the larger concerns with the Notre-Dame fire is health impact of the toxic dust created by the burning of the lead used in the cathedral’s roof and spire. 250 tons of lead were burned during the fifteen hour-long blaze.
Teams of scientists are currently working inside of the cathedral: restoring artifacts, attempting to safely remove burned scaffolding, and addressing contamination from the lead.

The Eiffel Tower:

We didn’t actively seek out the Eiffel Tower as I have zero interest in heights whatsoever, but happily we saw Paris’s tallest structure in a number of places. This is the view from the metro station on our way to Versailles.
The “cultural icon” of Paris opened in 1889 and is the most-visited paid monument in the world.
View of the Tower during our walk home from the World Cup.

Cimetière de Montmartre (Montmarte Cemetery):

The third largest necropolis in Paris, the Montmarte Cemetery was opened on January 1st, 1825.
The cemetery is located on an abandoned gypsum quarry that was used as a mass grave during the French Revolution.
Many famous artists are buried here including Emile Zola and Francois Truffant.
Our walk through the cemetery was a nice break from the busy city.
The cemetery is located under the busy Rue Caulaincourt.
Dozens of cats live here! We saw a couple sunning themselves on mausoleums.

View from the Seine:

Other Sites:

Saint Joseph des Carmes was constructed from 1613-1620.
The College of Sorbonne was founded in 1253.
The Paris Opera was founded in 1669 by Louis XIV.
Les Grands Boulevards
Nicolas Flamel’s former house is the oldest stone home in the city of Paris and was built in 1407. Legend holds that Flamel discovered the Philosopher’s Stone and was the inspiration behind the first Harry Potter novel that featured the Stone’s Elixer of Life.
59 Rivoli is a must-visit! It was unfortunately closed while we were in Paris, but we saw how the famous “artist-squat” was decorated for the World Cup: a banner stating “la victoire est l’égalité” meaning “victory is equality”.
59 Rivoli was renovated by the city and reopened in 2009 . The building includes six stories of artist studios and is known for its changing facade.

World Cup Match:

Attending a World Cup match was an absolute dream come true. I still can’t believe we were lucky enough to see the US women play in person.
Again, so thankful for this opportunity and the gorgeous weather. We traveled to the match by metro but walked home, using the crowded public transportation as an excuse to see more of the city.

Restaurants & Pubs:

Soul Kitchen:

Soul Kitchen offered the space I was looking for while in Paris–a bistro table on the sidewalk complete with great coffee and a beautiful view of the city. The restaurant’s interior is absolutely adorable with a ton of great brunch options and a menu written on a door that is brought to you when you order.

Break Time:

Ah, kebabs. Thankfully there were two kebeb restaurants near our hotel and Break Time was an inexpensive and convenient stop for a quick meal. They offered kebabs in cheese naan bread (!!) that was awesome.

Treize au Jardin:

My famous number one brunch of 2019 was enjoyed at Treize au Jardin. I essentially planned our trip around brunch and soccer, obviously.
Southern brunch is one of the things I miss most about living in Charleston. Treize au Jarden did not disappoint with their version of tomato pie (my all-time favorite breakfast food) and pimento cheese biscuits.
Still dreaming of this adorable cafe. AN ABSOLUTE MUST-VISIT. Take my word on this.

La Recyclerie:

I absolutely loved La Recyclerie! Located in Montmartre, this former train station turned restaurant/cafe/work-space takes sustainability seriously. The space includes DIY workshops, seed swaps, and while we were there, a community activism discussion. Reused mismatched furniture and a view of the restaurant’s garden and chickens made this a cozy spot for coffee (only a Euro a cup! In Paris!).
Not to mention their affordable cocktails.
The restaurant’s menu changes daily based on the availability of their urban farm. I had a lovely vegetable pasta our last night in the city.

🤍Paris

Currently:
Reading: Busted in New York and Other Essays (Darryl Pinckney)
Listening: Blunderbuss (Third Man Records)

Chornobyl Power Plant & Prypiat

The Chornobyl Power Plant and the city of Pripyat were the final stops on our tour. 

Where are we?

It was incredible to just be there. That’s the only way I can put into words the way it felt to stand at the place where everything happened. If you were just randomly driving near the plant–which is still in use today–you’d never know that the worst nuclear accident in history happened there.

Pripyat, once coined “The City of the Future” is frozen in time. Originally built to service the Chornobyl Power Plant, the city included almost 50,000 people–men, women, and children–before being evacuated following the explosion of reactor four. With over fifteen schools, an amusement park, pools, cinemas, hospitals, and parks, Pripyat was meant to be a shining example of Soviet life. 

snapseed-20

Only three kilometers (less than two miles) from the plant, Pripyat was forced to evacuate in just three hours, a day and a half after the explosion. Supposedly the clocks in Pripyat are frozen to 11:55, the moment electricity was cut off in the city and right before the announcement to evacuate was made. 

Чорнобиль (Chornobyl Power Plant):

Originally covered by a sarcophagus (Ukrainian: Укриття and interestingly in Russian called Объект “Укрытие”, which means not sarcophagus, but rather, “covering”) made of concrete and steel that encased the exploded reactor, the structure was deemed beyond repair in 1996. Construction on the “Chernobyl New Safe Confinement” was started in 2010 and finished in 2019. Funded by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the new confinement cost a total of €2.15 billion (an interesting note is that the EBRD, an international financial institution, ceased providing funding to the Russian Federation after the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014).

snapseed-1
Construction for the original covering began just 24 days after the explosion and was completed in 206 days. Reactor four is currently covered by the Chernobyl New Safe Confinement, which also contains the original sarcophagus, a structure in use from 1986-1996.  The new structure was called “the new tomb for the most dangerous waste in the world” and is taller than the Statue of Liberty and is bigger than Wembley Stadium.
snapseed-3
Monument to the Reactor 4 and Builders of the Sarcophagus with the new NSC in the background. Higginbotham notes that this structure also serves “as a final monument to the last resting place of Valery Khodemchuk–a radioactive mausoleum to memorialize for generations to come the first victim of the accident” (366).
450px-workers_walk_past_chernobyl_reactor_4_and_monument_to_sarcophagus_builders_-_chernobyl_exclusion_zone_-_northern_ukraine_282649584954329
For reference, workers walking past the old sarcophagus and behind the same monument.

City of При’п’ять (Prypiat):

snapseed-8
Now an abandoned city, Prypiat was founded in 1970 to serve the Chornobyl Power Plant.
snapseed-11
Nature has taken over the city.
snapseed-9
Avanhard Stadium (Стадіон «Авангард») was built just for Prypiat but unfortunately was never used.
snapseed-10
The explosion of reactor four happened before the stadium’s first match.
snapseed-16
Prypiat’s amusement park was also never used. Scheduled to open on May 1st, 1986, the city was evacuated before it could be enjoyed by the inhabitants of Prypiat.
snapseed-15
There are rumors (and photographic evidence to support) that the park briefly opened ahead of schedule on April 27th to distract those who lived in Prypiat from the nuclear disaster occurring nearby.
snapseed-13
The Ferris Wheel of Prypiat has is one of the famous symbols of the Chornobyl disaster.
snapseed-21
Bumper cars 
snapseed-22
snapseed-18
snapseed-17
snapseed-23
The amusement park (known in Russian at the time as a “Park of Culture and Rest” (“Парк культуры и отдыха”) also includes a mural drawn after the city was evacuated.
snapseed-14
Walking through the city.
snapseed-28
snapseed-34
The Polissya Hotel (Ukrainian: Готе’ль Полісся) was used in the 1970s to house visitors to the city and is one of the tallest buildings in Prypiat.
The hotel before the evacuation of the city.
snapseed-44
The Hotel as it stands today.
snapseed-40
snapseed-43
This building was used by Valery Legasov and Boris Shcherbyna as a command center after reactor four exploded at the power plant. They were tasked with investigating the accident and limiting the impacts of the radiation.
snapseed-41
snapseed-39
snapseed-29
snapseed-45
Prypiat’s Cinema
snapseed-47
snapseed-33
snapseed-38
The Palace of Culture Energetik (Russian: Дворец культуры Энергетик).
snapseed-35
The Palace was built for Prypiat in the 1970s.
snapseed-36
Prypiat supermarket–considered a luxury for a Soviet city.
snapseed-31
snapseed-50
snapseed-46
snapseed-26
Residential buildings
snapseed-27
snapseed-53
snapseed-32
snapseed-52
snapseed-49
Now abandoned apartment buildings.
snapseed-54
One of the many dogs that visited us on our tour. Nature is surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) flourishing without humans. These dogs however, are given beds and warm blankets during the winter and there are organizations that provide medical care for them as well. Many of the dogs here are descendants of the pets left behind by their evacuated owners and were not found by Soviet soldiers ordered to kill any animals in the city to stop the spread of the radiation.
snapseed-55

 

I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to travel here. My hope is that, rather than frame the explosion of reactor four as the past, we understand that the decisions that led up to the most disastrous nuclear accident in history, as well as the resolutions made in the aftermath of that event, are still impacting us today. The amount of radiation and contamination of Ukraine, Belarus, and numerous other places not only killed people, but are still ongoing issues for those living in these areas, now, in 2020. For me, this was not a simple understanding of a decision gone-badly, but a study into place, justice, and science wrapped into a human-made disaster. 

Sources:

Higginbotham, Adam. 2019. Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster. Simon & Schuster: New York.

 

Currently:
Reading: The Atlas of Unusual Borders (Zoran Nikolic)

Chornobyl Duga Base

One part of our day trip to Chornobyl from Kyiv included a stop at the former Soviet base operating a Duga Radar Tower. What is a Soviet Radar Tower you ask? I had literally zero idea about this structure until we pulled up in the bus and walked the short way to the tower, also known as the Russian Woodpecker. As most know, I love AllTheOldAbandonedThings so I was of course fascinated by this Soviet adventure.

snapseed-67

This stop was an incredible look into Soviet military operations during this time period. With over 1,500 personnel at the height of operation, the base and tower are now abandoned, along with the other Soviet dreams for technological and societal prowess; this base met the same fate as the “city of the future”, Prypiat.

In his article for Newsweek, Alexander Nazaryan notes the connection between these two sites in Chornobyl:

“If anything, the military purpose of Chernobyl 2 [the Duga Tower] is a reminder that the purpose of the Chernobyl power station was never entirely civilian, either. While it did provide vast amounts of electricity to Ukraine, its four reactors were of the RBMK variety, meaning they could be easily switched between the fission of uranium for civilian purposes and the enrichment of plutonium for military ones. That left the top of reactor lightly covered, in order to make the switching of fuel assemblies easier. That’s why, when the thing unleashed its fiery belch one April day, a good part of Europe got a dusting of radionuclides.”

Nazarayan, Alexander. 2014. “The Massive Russian Radar Site in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.” Newsweek. Available here.

I can now cross “wandering around an abandoned Soviet base in Northern Ukraine” off my bucket-list.

Where are we?

This tower was part of the Soviet over-the-horizon radar (OTH), an aspect of the government’s missile defense early-warning radar network. There are two Duga towers: one here in Chornobyl and another was built in eastern Siberia.

snapseed-58

Known as the Russian Woodpecker because of the distinct tapping sound made by the system that interfered with other broadcasts, communications, and transmissions without warning, the tower is ENORMOUS. You can listen to the tower’s distinct tap-tap-tap sound here.

Like Prypiat, all operations at this hidden military base ceased after the explosion of reactor four. Today, the tower and buildings are deteriorating into the same woods that hid the operations taking place here during the Cold War.

snapseed-56
Abandoned buildings on this base include a kindergarten, work spaces, and apartments, along with the enormous tower.

Chornobyl Duga Base:

snapseed-57
This base near Chornobyl was such a hidden secret that the location did not even appear on maps of the region; it was simply referred to as a summer camp.
snapseed-59
I can’t put into words just how massive this structure is in real life. The tower is higher than the surrounding forest: at 135 meters (443 feet) high and 300 meters (984 feet) wide, visitors can see the structure towering over the trees on the drive through the woods.
snapseed-64
The plans for the first Duga tower started in 1946 as a way to combat the extension of missile ranges. This mission was accelerated in the 1960s as the Soviet Union became increasingly under threat of missile attack by the United States.
snapseed-65
The construction of the base and tower actually cost double the price of the power plant built in Chornobyl.
snapseed-78
These Duga systems were powerful and could emit over 10 MW.
snapseed-75
While the source of the Woodpecker signal was under constant speculation, NATO intelligence named the signal STEEL WORK or STEEL YARD. They were able to figure out that the location of the signal was in the USSR but there were conflicting sources on the exact location.
snapseed-69
The signal from this Duga Tower went silent in 1989 for supposedly unknown reasons but there are a number of factors that could have contributed to its demise: the end of the Cold War, the fall of the USSR, the success of the US-KS early warning satellites eclipsing the need for this type of structure, and of course, the explosion at the power plant which now placed the Duga Tower in the Exclusion Zone.
snapseed-62
There are a number of conspiracy theories surrounding this Soviet base and the Duga Tower.
snapseed-70
The documentary The Russian Woodpecker (2015) proposes the conspiracy that the explosion of reactor four was in fact a cover up for the design flaws of the Duga Tower. 
snapseed-74
Others believe the Duga tower was used by the Soviets for mind control purposes.
snapseed-73
Our tour guide in front of the tower. It really is absolutely enormous.
snapseed-77
snapseed-81
We also toured through one of the buildings near the tower and on the base.
snapseed-83
The amount of electronic waste just strewn about the site made my heart hurt.
snapseed-87
Many structures on the base are still standing even though the operation here has been officially discontinued; the exact date of its termination is unknown.
snapseed-61
snapseed-86
snapseed-85

One of the most unbelievable aspects of this base is the level of priority given to its mission and the amount of money (7 billion Rubles) contributed to make this idea into a reality, only to see all this work and materials completely abandoned today. Nazarayan notes: “It’s almost like everyone agreed to play an incredibly dangerous game that, after half a century, suddenly seemed pointless and even boring. When it was over, the players dropped their toys and went home.”

snapseed-79

 

Sources:

Nazarayan, Alexander. 2014. “The Massive Russian Radar Site in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.” Newsweek. Available here.
Spencer, Luke. 2016. “The Top Secret Military Base Hidden in Chernobyl’s Irradiated Forest.” Atlas Obscura. Available here.

 

Currently:
Watching: Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola)

Add a heading (1)

Villages of Zalissya & Kopachi

Our day trip included visiting the villages of Zalissya and Kopachi. Zalissya is the first stop after the checkpoint into the Exclusion Zone while Kopachi is farther north; visitors can see the Chornobyl plant from Kopachi’s road near the Red Forest.

Where are we?

Both villages were two of 186 communities (including over 100,000 people) evacuated after the 1986 Chornobyl disaster. Kopachi, highly contaminated even to this day, remains abandoned, while other villages have seen a number of their former inhabitants return. These “self-settlers” chose to live within the Exclusion Zone, despite the health risks. One woman, Rozaliya Ivanivna, returned to Zalissya and became the village’s only inhabitant until she passed away a few years ago.

1221327_landscape

I highly recommend the 2016 documentary, The Babushkas of Chernobyl. The film shows why three women returned to their homes inside the Exclusion Zone and how they live in their villages post-disaster.

Many chose to return because these are their homes, where they grew up, and where their families are buried. “I won’t go anywhere, even at gunpoint.” says one of the self-settlers in the documentary, Babushkas of Chernobyl. The women in the film, and many of the 1,200 people who chose to return to their homes (illegally) inside of the Exclusion Zone, survived Holodomor, the Soviet-induced famine that killed seven million Ukrainians, not to mention WWII, and the invasion of the Nazis. For many, the connection to home is greater than their fears of radiation poisoning.

Залісся (Zalissya):

snapseed-34

The first stop on our tour was the village of Zalissya. This path was previously a well-traveled road into the village.

snapseed-27

Located in the Exclusion Zone, the village was abandoned in 1986 and nature has taken over the once-bustling community.

snapseed-31

Unlike Kopachi, most of the buildings here remain above ground: homes, a grocery store, and the cultural center for the village are still standing.

snapseed-33

The forest near the village is slowly taking over. We visited on a beautiful day and were able to see how much nature was thriving in this once inhabited place.

snapseed-42

Zalissya is 30km (18 mil) from Chornobyl and was the first village to be completely abandoned after reactor four exploded.

snapseed-16

At the time of the explosion, Zalissya was a thriving village with over 3,200 inhabitants. The villagers initially did not know what (or the impacts of) the events taking place at the plant.

snapseed-30

Zalissya was also previously a collective farming village.

snapseed-32

Most of the inhabitants evacuated from Zalissya were relocated to the Borodyanka (Бородянка) region, roughly an hour and a half south.

snapseed-13

The supermarket for the village.

snapseed-40

Many left their belongings behind and their possessions can be seen scattered throughout the village.

snapseed-15

Oleksander Leonenko, evacuated from the village at age 22, said: “To tell the truth, we did not suspect we were leaving forever. The only thought we had was about coming back; maybe in three days or maybe in a week. But we would come back for sure.”

snapseed-38

snapseed-3

snapseed-1

snapseed-20

snapseed-19

snapseed-41

snapseed-24

snapseed-9

Zalissya’s once busy roads are now only walking paths.

snapseed-11

One of the inhabitants, Rozaliya Ivanivna, came back to Zalissya after the explosion of reactor four. Known as one of the “self-settlers” that returned to the evacuated communities inside the Exclusion Zone, she lived alone in the village.

snapseed-26

Living a self-sustaining life, Ivanivna became annoyed with tourists walking through the village. She has since passed away, but her belongings remain in Zalissya. Her garden also continues to grow.

snapseed-4

snapseed-29

snapseed-22

snapseed-43

I was super annoyed that tourists were touching things and even moving other people’s belongings! Now that Zalissya is considered a tourist site, people seem to forget that this was someone’s home and life before being forced to move.

Копачі (Kopachi):

snapseed-7

Kopachi, located 4 km (about 2 1/2 miles) from Chornobyl, was evacuated on May 3rd, a week after the nuclear explosion. 1,114 people lived in the once-thriving village before they were forced to leave their homes.

snapseed-4

Unlike other locations within the Exclusion Zone, most of the buildings in Kopachi were demolished and buried as an experiment to suppress the radiation. Today, only the village’s kindergarten and one additional brick building remain standing.

snapseed-3

The burying of the building materials did not negate the contamination from Chornobyl; today the soil and water around Kopachi are contaminated by plutonium, caesium-137, and strontium-90, having seeped into the water table from the burying of these radioactive houses.

snapseed-5

The village remains somewhat radioactive even today, exceeding normal numbers by 5x the approved amount.

snapseed-6

The “Parents’ Corner” of the kindergarten.

snapseed

Entrance into one of the two buildings left above ground in the village. Kopachi is also near the Red Forest, an area that received the highest dosage of radiation from the Chornobyl explosion, and was “cleaned” up in a similar way; most of the trees were knocked down, buried, and covered with sand.

For me, walking these villages was one of the most impactful aspects of the trip. So often the Chornobyl disaster is portrayed, or even just feels, like it was a long time ago. Seeing the homes of people forced to leave and the possessions they left behind is a reminder that this happened just thirty years ago.

snapseed-44

Zalissya, Ukraine

Currently:
Watching: The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan)

final