Last winter Chris and I visited one of my dream locations–Tromsø, Norway. Chris previously traveled to Scandinavian cities above the Arctic Circle for work, but this was my first time experiencing a place so northern! My main goals for this trip included experiencing Sami culture (the indigenous people in this region), see the Northern Lights, and wander the beautiful island of Tromsøya. It truly is an absolutely breathtaking place to visit and so unique to any location I’ve traveled. I couldn’t wait to see (and let’s be real, taste) all the recommendations made by our Norwegian friends here in Hungary. I am so thankful to be a part of such a diverse and friendly international community.
My motto for the trip was proclaiming “Queen in the North” whenever I conquered a particular snow drift, hike, found brown cheese at the market (called Brunost) or honestly whenever I felt like yelling out loud about whatever thing I was giving me joy at the moment (coffee, reindeer, frozen lakes, etc).
Located 350 kilometres (217 miles) north of the Arctic Circle, Tromsø is chilly during the winter; in December, when we visited, the temperature averages just below freezing during the day. I was nervous about keeping warm during all of our outdoor adventures while also staying on budget. My solution was to visit the thrift store in our small town and buy all the legwarmers, wool socks, and bulky sweaters I could find. I even lucked out with the best thrift store find ever–heavy duty wool military legwarmers for less than $1! I also was able to borrow a pair of badass winter boots from a friend (thanks Meryl!).
We also decided to stay at the Clarion Edge Hotel in the city center, which I recommend. The space was nice and included breakfast and free coffee throughout the day. For us, the extra cost of hotel vs. apartment was worth it for the Clarion breakfast offered each day. With the worst combination of food allergies between us–I don’t eat meat and Chris avoids dairy and eggs–breakfast can be a challenge. Hotel Scandinavian breakfast each day is where.its.at. For me, the combination of Vaffler (heart-shaped waffles), strawberry jam, and Brunost is the best way to start your day.
Where are we?
One of the largest cities in Northern Norway, Tromsø (or Romsa, in Northern Sami) is the third largest urban area north of the Arctic Circle. A majority of the city is located on the island of Tromsøya and is surrounded by mountains, fjords, and beautiful water. This gives the illusion of isolation even though around 80,000 people live here.
This area has been inhabited since the end of the Ice Age. Norse and Sami people were some of the first groups to live here. I read about the Sami people in my first Political Science course–and this course was also the reason I majored in Political Science–at the College of Charleston (shout out to Political Ecology with Dr. Watson). My introduction to the struggle of Indigenous groups against forced assimilation and increasing development truly changed my course of study, my research, and inspired me to become a better advocate.
I’m going to take a little time to talk about the Sami people and their culture:
Sami people live in a region named Sapmí, which extends from the Russian Kola Pennisula to Norway; one of the oldest group of people to inhabit this area (roughly 3,500 years), today Sami people live across Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. Like many Indigenous people, the Sami are closely connected to their environment: up until the 1600s, most lived as fishermen, gatherers, and hunters, and, probably most famously, reindeer herders across the area. Dominant cultures in Scandinavia have historically used discriminatory and abusive practices against the Sami in an effort to end their way of life and forcibly take land for the country’s economic benefit.
The Sami have never been a single community, resided in a exclusive region, or spoken the same language (there are nine different ones) which has made their forced assimilation by a number of governments easier to implement. Originally semi-nomadic, they moved in groups to different settlements as they hunted, fished, and herded reindeer.
Nordic kingdoms in the 18th century began forcefully seizing Sapmí land due to the area’s natural resources and strategic harbors. This, coupled with a Christian movement at the same time, resulted in a brutal infringement of Sami culture, land, and way of life. From 1850-forward, Sami people were forced to “Norwegianize” –learn the language and ways of Norwegian people while sacrificing their own.
This push to Norwegianize the Sami people stemmed from a nationalistic movement in the country. Many people (including the government) saw the Sami people as “other” and a barrier to a modern Norway. The forced assimilation of Sami people was needed, it was argued, because this group of people were “backward” and in need of “civilizing”. This “civilizing” even included forced sterilization in 1934 and as more economic development thrived in the north, a preference for Norwegian language caused further damage to Sami culture.
This preference was institutionalized from 1900-1940, when the effort to eradicate Sami way of life was at its height. Sami people were dislocated in the 1920s when the government required both a Norwegian name and knowledge of the language in order to buy or lease lands for agriculture. The 1913 Native Act Land gave the best land to Norwegian settlers, further displacing the Sami.
This forced assimilation greatly affected the culture of the Sami. As generations of Sami children were taken to missionary schools and laws implemented to deny Sami rights, their language, culture, and way of life is still struggling to recover. In 1990 they were officially recognized as an Indigenous People in Norway, a distinction which also included special protection and rights. The 1970’s saw a revitilization of Sami culture in Tromsø and there is currently a Sami kindergarten, language classes in schools, and university signs include Sami translations as well.
While now a protected indigenous group, the Sami still experience discrimination following years of cultural assimilation. Environmental threats are also an enormous concern as mining, oil exploration, and tourism threaten their way of life.
Climate change has particularly affected Sami reindeer herders near Tromsø. Temperature increases and a warmer climate has decreased snow cover and made winter grazing more difficult to move the reindeer effectively. While reindeer herding may not be the most profitable economically, it is important to remember the cultural and environmental values of the practice. Currently, 10% of Sami are connected to reindeer herding and this practice is legally reserved only for Sami people in Norway.
The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average. Due to its location and landscape, this region is incredibly sensitive to many aspects of climate change. Rapid warming has severely affected plants and animals, which has drastic effects on the local ecosystem. A loss of sea ice due to increasing atmospheric and oceanic temperatures has altered the nutrients in the water, the thickness of ice, and ecosystem structures.
I highly, highly recommend visiting Tromsø. The city and area are beautiful and it is one of the most unique landscapes I’ve seen in person. The city is also a great “home base” for a number of Arctic day trips and activities; we were able to visit a Sami reindeer camp and also see the Northern Lights, but there are a ton of options available!
Pictures here do not do ANY kind of justice to the breathtaking views on the island.
Main Walking Street & Square:
Telegrafbukta (Southern Beach):
Prestvannet (Báhpajávri in Northern Sami):
Tromsø Sami / Arctic Reindeer:
Restaurants & Pubs:
Raketten Bar & Pølse:
Agenturet Øl og Vinbar:
Currently: Reading: Girl, Woman, Other (Bernardine Evaristo) Watching: Never Have I Ever (Netflix) Listening: The New Abnormal (The Strokes)
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.
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.
A beautiful day spent away from the city, definitely visit the Palace of Versailles if you find yourself in Paris.
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):
The Hamlet of Marie Antoinette (Hameau de la Reine):
The Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon:
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.
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)
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.
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 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.
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.
Bosak House:Plac Bawół 3:
Old Synagogue (Stara Bożnica):
Remuh Synagogueand Cemetery:
Galicia Jewish Museum:
The New Jewish Cemetery:
Restaurants & Pubs:
Marchewka z Groszkiem (Peas and Carrots):
As You Like It Bookshop:
Unikke Design & Friends:
You have to love all the quirkiness of Kazimierz 🤍
Currently: Watching: Little Fires Everywhere (Hulu) Reading: Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist (Judith Heumann)
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.
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.
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.
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 resettledin 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.
Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory: Museum of Wartime Kraków:
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.
Liban Quarry (Kamieniolom Liban):
Płaszów Concentration Camp:
Currently: Watching: Westworld Season 2 (HBO) Listening: The Floodlines Podcast (The Atlantic)
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.
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”.
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.
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!
Main Market Square (Rynek Główny):
The legendof 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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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).
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! 🤍
Currently: Listening: The New Abnormal (The Strokes) Watching: The Plot Against America (HBO)
A lot has happened in the last month and a half. It’s only MARCH? SIXTEENTH?! But here we are.
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.
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:
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:
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 Registerstates 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:
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)
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Garden):
Shakespeare and Company:
Place Josephine Baker:
The Moulin Rouge:
Notre-Dame de Paris:
The Eiffel Tower:
Cimetière de Montmartre (Montmarte Cemetery):
View from the Seine:
World Cup Match:
Restaurants & Pubs:
Treize au Jardin:
Currently: Reading: Busted in New York and Other Essays (Darryl Pinckney) Listening: Blunderbuss (Third Man Records)
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.
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).
City of При’п’ять (Prypiat):
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
Chornobyl Duga Base:
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.”
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)