Category: Grief tourism

Civil War soldier “experience” in Fredericksburg, Virginia

As we were getting ready to drive from Boston to Orlando, we thought about stopping in Virginia. In the end, my wife and dogs were less interested in Fredericksburg than I was, but I’m adding this one to my wishlist. Basically you spend a couple fo nights in a Civil War fort, hang out around a campfire, carry your own water like they did back in 1862, fire old-style weapons, and hit a few museums.

I found a lot of other Civil War tourism things – Civil War trails, Manassas, and Gettysburg to name a few – but no other “soldier experience” type deals. If anyone knows of another one similar to this Fredericksburg Civil War soldier tourism package, please let me know int he comments below.

Is flooded NYC more or less of a tourist attraction?

Pretty scary that tourists want to visit New York City now to see the damage done by Sandy.

Steven Johnson, a tour guide for Gray Line, which resumed service Thursday, was loading passengers into the open-air bus in Times Square. Passengers had asked about the nearby dangling crane earlier in the day, so he tweaked the bus route to stop there for people to take pictures. “It happens to be right around the corner from our route anyway,” he said. “So that was a nice little interesting thing for people to see.”

Dartmoor Prison – Grief Tourism in Devonshire

The beautiful countryside of Devon County in England surrounds quaint, peaceful villages, but isolated behind stone walls and mostly forgotten is Dartmoor Prison. It is true, perhaps, that grief tourism and visits to prisons don’t attract the same types of people as those who seek fun and pleasure on their vacation. Yet, there are always tourists who remain intrigued by old prisons, the inmates, and their stories.

Located on 28 acres of the moors high above the village of Princetown, the prison is owned by the Duchy of Cornwall and managed by HM prison system. It first opened its doors in 1809 to prisoners taken in the Napoleonic Wars and later to American POWs from the War of 1812. When space on abandoned ships in Plymouth harbor became a problem, prisoners were forced to walk 17 miles to Dartmoor Prison, which housed 1,000 inmates in each of five wings. Although the 1814 Treaty of Ghent ended the war, not all were released, attempts to escape were unsuccessful, and many died and were buried on prison grounds.

Rebuilt as a single cell prison in the 1850’s, it operated in part as a type of work center primarily for conscientious objectors to war until 1917. Cells were unlocked; prison clothing discarded, and men were free to visit the village when off duty. By 1920, Dartmoor had been converted to a higher risk prison for some of the most incorrigible offenders. With this type of prison population, conditions deteriorated rapidly through a lack of food, outbreaks of smallpox, frequent riots, inmate violence, and mutinies resulting in considerable property damage. After government reviews and various inspections in early 2000, Dartmoor’s image improved and it was redesigned as a low-risk Category C prison for non-violent offenders and high profile members of society. Progress in the prison system here is evident with university courses, vocational training, and full-time employment in several occupations made available.

Here’s a bit of history on two of the prison’s former infamous inmates including Frank Mitchell, the Mad Axeman, sentenced to life at Dartmoor (probably in the 1950’s), but managed to escape in December 1966. The Kray twins, notorious members of London’s East End organized crime, actually planned it, but it was relatively easy for Mitchell to just walk out. He was a huge man with limited intelligence, but the guards were not able to control him. He stayed with friends while they advertised his case in the newspapers and tried to get an early release. Word got around, a contract was out; and Frank was killed on the street. Éamon de Valera, born in NYC, was a well-known Irish political figure who served Ireland’s government until 1973 in several capacities. Moving to Ireland at the age of two, Valera received an excellent education, held several professorships, became a political activist, and joined the Irish Volunteers. Arrested and sentenced to death for fighting in the Easter Rising of 1916, he received an official pardon after spending only one year at Dartmoor, and then led a long, active life with an impressive career in Ireland’s politics.

While researching for this article, I discovered an ebook available online from the archives of the NY Public Library. The Journal of Charles Andrews is an interesting history of his memoirs and the other Americans confined at Dartmoor Prison during the War of 1812. It offers some fascinating insight into the reality and extent of their grief as prisoners in “the depot of living death.” They had no laws to protect their rights against the cruel treatment ordered by Captain Shortland, Commander of the Guard. Each man was given a hammock and a thin blanket, which offered little warmth from the cold. Weekly rations consisted of 1 1/2 lbs of bread, ½ lb of beef, and 2 turnips for each of 5 days, and 1 lb salt fish and 1 lb potatoes on the other two. Andrews describes the horrible Massacre on the 6th of April 1815 that began with a change in bread rations, followed by a systematic slaughtering of prison inmates. When Shortland discovered a hole in the prison wall, he believed an escape was planned and ordered the soldiers to attack the prisoners gathered in the yard. Almost immediately, an alarm bell was sounded to turn in, but many could not hear it in the confusion. Others were shot at their cell doors which had been purposely locked. Andrews writes that at least 67 of the 200+ prisoners were killed on that terrible day. (Note: In 1928, the United States Daughters of 1812 erected a plaque and memorial gate at the American cemetery near the prison. Public access is not available.)

Dartmoor Prison has attracted its share of visitors through tales of ghosts and legends in books and movies where one can imagine the sound of a prison siren, the baying of the hounds, and feel the damp, dismal fog drifting across the moors through the grates and crevices in the old stone walls. The Museum on the main road through town to the prison opened in 1996 and is now a main attraction for over 30,000 visitors a year. Brian Dingle, the Curator, worked as the prison shepherd for over 20 years, so he is very familiar with Dartmoor and eager to share its history. Cement gnomes, toadstools, and dogs on display outside are sold for garden/yard ornaments. Two guard mannequins greet visitors, a sign advertises cell doors for sale at $80, and another designates Dartmoor as a Category C prison, with about 600 residents in 2009. Visitors can have a mug shot taken for $6.00, explore the exhibits of weaponry, crafts, and memorabilia, and listen to a 1/2-hour video of the typical daily routine of prisoners and staff.

Open year round. Mon, Tues, Wed, Thurs, Sat – 9:30-12:30pm, 1:30-4:30pm.

Fri & Sun, 9:30-12:30pm, 1:30-4:00pm. Admission: Adults – $4, under 18 and over 60 – $2. Gift shop onsite sells items hand made by the prisoners. Free parking.

The Dartmoor Jailbreak in spring is an annual fund-raising event where civilians in convict clothing must go as far as possible from the prison on pre-set routes and number of days. All proceeds go to the Vranch House School in Exeter for children with physical disabilities.

Most visitors to Dartmoor Prison, lured by morbid curiosity, are excited but somewhat apprehensive as they envision a dark, dispiriting place of tragedy and grief where empathy and human dignity were non existent. Perhaps there will be a few in the crowd, however, who possess that rare optimism of the poet Richard Lovelace who said,…”Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage…” It is there that the mind is still free to wander and contemplate a brighter future.

Sharon L Slayton

(Note: There are several hotels, B&Bs, and campsites nearby for visitors to Dartmoor.)

Earthquakes / London Taxis / Would You Like Wine With Your Roadkill? / September 11th

Guest entry by Mancunian

When I moved to New Jersey just over a year ago, I did not think that we would have all these weather extremes. We have just had Hurricane Irene come through, and about a week ago there was an earthquake, which are practically unheard of here. I found the whole earthquake experience terrifying, even though it only lasted for a few seconds and I would have thought that nobody would want to go to an are affected by an earthquake, but apparently China has been encouraging tourists to visit the Sichuan province, which experienced a quake a few years ago. A company in New Zealand also offered helicopter tours of the earthquake affected Christchurch area, although as some of the proceeds went to the victims, that seems more acceptable.

California is also known for its earthquakes, of course, and if you want to explore them without actually experiencing one, this book might be useful:

This is not a surprise to me, but London cab drivers have been voted the best in the world, in a survey of 5,000 travelers from 23 countries. Of course, knowledge of the city is one of the most important things for a taxi driver and all London ‘cabbies’ are required to take a geography test of the city and its streets hotels, hospitals, public buildings, etc, a test known as the ‘knowledge’. If you go to London and notice lots of people riding around on bicycles or motorbikes with a map in front of them, they are probably learning the knowledge, something that can take years and become a sort of obsession with many people. London taxis are also spacious and comfortable and the interior height dates back to when they were required to allow a gentleman to be able to sit without removing his top hat. The worst taxi driver I had was in Lisbon, Portugal many years ago who ridiculously overcharged us for a trip to the airport, although I feel I should have had a better idea of the currency before paying him.

Have you ever eaten something that you could not quite identify, (hopefully not something your wife made) or something unusual? (I think the worst thing I ever tried to eat was a plate of mixed meats in France several years ago, which seemed to consist of blood, gristle, fat and not much actual meat) If you enjoy eating ‘exotic’ dishes, you may enjoy the famous Roadkill Festival of West Virginia and this year’s event takes place on the 24th of this month. In addition to being able to sample such dishes as biscuits with squirrel gravy, you can enjoy entertainment and live music, as well as watch the crowning of Miss West Virginia Roadkill.

Of course, the 10th anniversary of September 11th is coming up and I expect everyone can remember what they were doing that day, just as I can. I was actually at work, making airline reservations and talking to dissatisfied passengers, although as soon as things started to happen, we had no callers and I expect everyone was watching TV. Of course, we were not allowed to leave our workstation, although once people started to grasp the magnitude of what was going on, that rule seemed to be irrelevant and difficult to enforce.

I cannot believe its almost Labor Day, which seems to be the traditional end of summer here in the US; if you celebrate, happy Labor Day!

Prison Tourism – Eastern Europe

Travelers to Estonia or Latvia on the Baltic Sea may want to do something different on their vacation by visiting an old Soviet prison. The chaotic history of Latvia and Estonia is one of deportation, refugee camps, imprisonment, and genocide. Occupied by both the Soviets and the Nazis, both countries eventually gained final independence in 1991. Since then, this part of Eastern Europe has become a popular tourist destination.

Tallinn, the capital of Estonia and a World Heritage Site, is a busy seaport, a well-preserved medieval town, and a center for culture and IT development. Patarei (battery) prison in Tallinn originated as a fortress by the sea built by Nicholas I in 1840 and later used as a prison primarily for political prisoners during the years of the KGB. Walking through dark hallways of peeling paint and rotting floors into the hanging room, operating room, cells, and exercise yards past old posters and newspapers on prison walls reminds us of the harsh conditions imposed by the old USSR “Gulag.” Gone are the mournful cries of inmates locked away in dreary cells reading and re-reading torn books and magazines while serving endless time or awaiting execution. With the last prisoners being transferred to the city of Tartu in 2002, Patarei prison today has been transformed from a dungeon of decay into a tourist attraction and entertainment complex. Joyful sounds of laughter, music, and people having fun now reverberate within the same stonewalls that once housed only grief and sadness. Wild and crazy dance parties, often referred to as raves, concerts, exhibitions, and other events are held here each year in indoor and outdoor arenas. Within the barbed wire enclosure, visitors can relax by the sea in the sauna or beach pub, open during the summer.

Museum Hours: Wed – Sun, 12 Noon to 6pm, 3 Jun – early Sep. Admission: $3

Guided Tours (reservations needed): 1-hour – prison history & folklore, $9. 3-hours – incarceration process, meal, & beverage, $60. 3-hour tour of prison & KGB buildings in the Old Town, $37. Another interesting tour simulates a jailbreak where visitors are treated to a picnic after a successful escape.

If you like harsh reality, extreme adventure, and TV shows such as Locked Up Abroad, you’ll find it at Karostas Prison in Liepaja, Latvia about 242 miles south of Tallinn. The northern part of the city, Karostas (naval port) with a small population, is located about 6 miles from the center – a $4 taxi ride. Formerly a secret Soviet military town until their final withdrawal in 1994, evidence of war remains, but efforts are ongoing to restore Karostas as an art center and tourist destination. A visit to Karostas would not be complete without exploring the old prison, once managed by the KGB. For many Latvians, Karostas was a sort of way station in 1940 before deportation by the Soviets to labor camps in Siberia. Heavily guarded, no one ever managed to escape from this prison nightmare. If you’re looking for unconventional interaction with the tragic side of history, the prison offers a 24-hour stay, a “Stag” tour, where you undergo similar conditions as existed during Soviet control. After check-in around 9pm and signing an agreement to respect and obey the rules, you are subjected to a cursory medical exam, simulated interrogation, and a mug shot. This is followed by a chunk of rye bread and weak tea before being escorted to your cell. Dressed in Soviet uniforms, most guards are actors, but a few were actually former guards. You can leave at any time before 7:30 am, if you choose, but keep in mind there is no refund on this tour. Supposedly, the “Stag” tours are very popular with young men and business groups, and strangely enough, seem to offer some sort of bonding experience. We can’t dispute the reasonable cell room rate and tour of about $20, which includes the handcuffs. The prison also offers a hostel type accommodation with an iron bunk and meager prison rations, if you prefer.

Open: 1 May – 1 Oct, 10am to 6pm.

Guided Tours: Can be arranged throughout the year. Surprise tour, 1 hr, no agenda in advance, $6 – $15. Behind the Bars, 1 to 2 hr reality show, $10 – $18.

Assuming you’re looking forward to spending the night in comfortable surroundings and enjoying the rest of your vacation in Eastern Europe, there are a number of hotels in both cities. The Old House Hostel/Guesthouse in the medieval Old Town of Tallinn, $90 for 2 people; fully equipped apartments rent from $140 – $300. The Baltic, L’Hermitage, and Meriton Grand Conference & Spa Hotel have rates from $126 to $178; the Radisson Blu and Savoy Boutique are $120 and up.

The upscale Swissotel Tallinn received a world travel award for Estonia’s leading hotel. It offers luxurious rooms and suites, equipped with personal espresso machine and mini-bar, onsite spa, 3 restaurants, indoor pool, and fitness club. Rates: $182/night, $197/night includes breakfast.

Another option in Tallinn is the Sokos Hotel Viru, built by the Soviets in 1972 and now owned by Finland. Its size and height made it an ideal spot for Soviet intelligence, with the 23rd floor used for KGB surveillance. Guests and staff were constantly monitored on video, and hidden microphones recorded their conversations, in many ways a prison in itself. Today, visitors can climb stairs to the small museum on the 23rd floor and view photographs and propaganda promoting the hotel to celebrities and political leaders. Avg rate: $108/night.

Nearby is the Museum of Occupations, which houses items from the Stalin era including a vintage Volga limo owned by the Estonian chief of the KGB and an old wooden boat used by Estonian refugees to flee to safety, as well as a number of statues and other small artifacts. The museum offers a video in Estonian, English, and Russian of authentic scenes and interviews with survivors from Soviet occupation.

Hours: Year round, 11am-6pm, Tues – Sun. Admission: $3, $1.50 – students.

In Liepaja, some popular hotels are the Promenade, $200/night, the Hotel Vilhelmine, std dbl $70 w/ breakfast, and the Europa City Amrita, $97.

Getting there: International flights, by train, bus, or car. Ferries from Helsinki or Stockholm (2-hour crossing from Finland to Tallinn, several times a day, $37).

Ferries from Germany to Liepaja also.

Our curiosity satisfied, we can now reflect upon what we’ve seen, appreciating freedom, and knowing that infamous prisons such as these are, for the most part, a thing of the past.

Sharon L Slayton

Battlefield Tourism – Gallipoli & The Dardanelles

The entire Gallipoli Peninsula was a battlefield scene from 25 Apr 1915 to 9 Jan 1916, when Churchill and the French along with a number of Australians and New Zealanders (ANZAC) tried to capture the Ottoman capital of Constantinople and open a route to Russia by sea. The use of naval power proved futile, however, as minefields planted by the Turks destroyed both British and French battleships. Ground forces were brought in, but the Turks held on to their country and control of the Dardanelles Straits. Churchill’s dream of victory on Gallipoli ended in failure, with numerous casualties on the battlefield and countless deaths from illness, lack of supplies, and unpredictable weather.

ANZAC Cove, Cape Helles, Lone Pine, and the Nek are some of the names familiar to historians, archaeologists, geologists, and educators, as well as to the Commonwealth and Turkish descendants of those who fought in the Gallipoli Campaign. Memorials, cemeteries, abandoned trenches, bunkers, and other evidence of the ugliness of war can be found throughout the 13,000-acre Gallipoli National Park and along the banks of the Dardanelles, which remains one of the most popular battlefield destinations for both Turkish and international visitors.

The 1981 film Gallipoli starring Mel Gibson and Mark Lee is a story of two young Australians who are ill prepared for the “game of war” and the tragedy of defeat in the Battle of the Nek and on Lone Pine Ridge.

Tourists visiting the battlefield will find a good place to stay either in the small town of Eceabat, about 5-6 hours from Istanbul, or Canakkale, a ferry ride across the Dardanelles. Driving is the best way to see the various attractions and a map is essential. Most of the battlefield sites are free and accessible year round to visitors.

Memorials & Museums:

The largest is the Canakkale Martyrs’ Memorial located a few miles from the town of Alcipete. This beautiful cemetery is dedicated to the 250,000 soldiers who fought under Ataturk, the brilliant Turkish military commander who became the first president of the Republic of Turkey. The 137′ monument of 4 widely spaced square columns can be seen while sailing through the Dardanelles. Words from an inscription by Mehmet Ersoy, writer of the Turkish national anthem…”Do not ignore the ground on which you have walked, It is not ordinary soil…” remind us to respect and honor the sacrifices that were made on Gallipoli. The small War Museum beneath the memorial features sniper shields, photographs, uniforms, and a variety of other personal and military artifacts.

Going further south, you’ll arrive at Cape Helles and the British and Commonwealth memorial, a monument at the entrance to the Straits. This memorial is dedicated to the 20,000 soldiers who were never identified or presumed lost at sea. You can read the names of all the ships in the Campaign, as well as those of the combined UK forces, 248 Australians, and 1500 soldiers of the Indian Army. In addition to “V” Beach and Lancashire Landing cemeteries on either side of the memorial, many others commemorate battlefields at Pink Farm, Skew Bridge, and Redoubt on the Gallipoli Peninsula.

About 2 miles south of ANZAC Cove, you can visit the museum and Visitors Center in the small village of Gabapete (Kabapete). The Gabapete Museum houses numerous weapons, ammunition, handwritten letters, photographs, and other artifacts gathered from the Gallipoli Campaign. Admission: $3. (A familiar landmark on the cliffs at ANZAC Cove is the rocky formation known as the Sphinx.) More cemeteries and memorials can be seen along the Pine Ridge cliff road. One gravesite of particular interest at Lone Pine is that of Pvt James Martin who entered the war at the age of 14, but saw little action and died aboard a hospital ship. This young soldier’s medals, letters, and photographs hold a place of honor at the War Memorial in Canberra.

Other monuments include the French War Memorial overlooking Morto Bay, or “S” Beach, where the French were successful in attacking Canakkale, but were defeated along with the British at Cape Helles. Another attraction in visiting the Gallipoli battlefields is the memorial to the 57th Turkish Infantry Regiment, commanded by Lt Col Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk), who ordered his soldiers not to attack, but to die.

Chunuk Bair is the battlefield site of an August 1915 assault, a short-lived success for the Allies who were once again defeated by the Turks. It stands as a national memorial to the 850 New Zealanders Expeditionary Force, as well as a statue of Ataturk honoring Turkish soldiers.

Perhaps the most famous memorial on the Gallipoli Peninsula is the Ariburnu at the north end of ANZAC Cove where visitors can read the words spoken by Ataturk in 1934; an excerpt follows…”Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives

You are now lying in the soul of a friendly country.

Therefore rest in peace…”

(Note: Unfortunately, some memorial sites have been degraded with souvenir stands and food and ice cream vendors, an inevitable result of tourism commercialism.)

ANZAC Day – 24 & 25 April. This annual event is sponsored by Turkey, Australia, New Zealand, Britain, and France to commemorate those who fought in the Gallipoli Campaign. These brave soldiers formed an unbreakable bond even in the midst of heartbreaking defeat. After the various international services at dawn in Gallipoli National Park (open to the public), visitors should plan to walk to the memorials and battlefield sites. ANZAC Day is celebrated in Australia, New Zealand, and worldwide.

Guided Tours: Many available. For example – all day, leaving from Istanbul, $137 p/p. 2-day ANZAC tour, $128 p/p, 5-day, $330 (tours include all entrance fees, hotel, and meals.)

Where to stay:

In Eceabat – TJ’s Hotel, $58/dbl. You can arrange a guided tour here with TJ. Hotel Crowded House, a family owned guesthouse, is located across from the ferry terminal. It offers both private and dormitory rooms at a very reasonable rate of $33 single, buffet breakfast included. They also organize battlefield tours and snorkeling of a WWI shipwreck.

In Canakkale – Recommended are the 5-star Kolin Hotel, $145-$203,Tusan, $72-$109, Akol overlooking the Dardanelles, $87-$231, and Anzac, $43-$189. (Rates subject to change.)

Getting there: Flights to Istanbul. Rent a car, or take the 6-hr bus ride from Istanbul to Eceabat, $26, ferry to Canakkale.

Ferries: ½-hour ride to Canakkale (Asian side) from Eceabat (European side), leaving every hour, 7am-1am, 3am & 5pm. Prices: Avg $15 per car, less for bike or pedestrian.

(Note: An excellent documentary on Gallipoli, released in 2005, featured Jeremy Irons and Sam Neill narrating the story in vivid detail through letters, journals, photographs, animations, and re-enactments gathered from in-depth research by Tolga Omek, the Turkish film producer.)

Sharon L Slayton

Battlefield Tourism – Stalingrad (Volgograd)

Considered one of the fiercest battles in history, the Battle of Stalingrad from July 1942-February 1943 was the beginning of the end to WWII, with the huge defeat of the German Army by Russian troops. The Soviets defended their city from the Luftwaffe bombings and the German ground offensive crossing the Volga River. Hitler planned to cut off the supply chain from the south to the north of Russia and capture the city named for Stalin to add to his political and military triumph. After an estimated 2 million lives were lost in the battle between the two sides, the plan failed when the Germans were ultimately trapped in Stalingrad and surrender was inevitable.

Released in 2001, Enemy at the Gates, starring Ed Harris as a German sniper, Joseph Fiennes as a political adversary, and Jude Law as the Russian marksman is considered one of the best in wartime movies. Rachel Weisz, whose Jewish parents were captured by the Germans, adds the love interest triangle to the film. Enemy at the Gates is an intense, action-filled story depicting the violence and bloodshed in the historic Battle of Stalingrad.

The city of Volgograd (once known as Stalingrad) in the southern part of Russia is an industrial port on the Volga-Don Canal that connects the Black, Caspian, Baltic, White, and the Sea of Azov. In 1961, the government renamed the city in an effort to remove the stigma of Stalinization, but the great historical significance remains. Today, the rebuilt city is a study in contrasts with evidence of Communism in its historical center, a statue of Lenin in Lenin Square, and a modern university that is recognized worldwide as a leader in Russian education and a proponent of cultural exchange with the U.S. and other countries.

Memorials and Historic Attractions:

The majestic 279′ statue of a woman with a sword, Motherland Calls, stands high upon Mamayev Hill, a key strategic position of the battlefield overlooking the town and the Volga. The entire Mamayev complex dedicated To the Heroes of Stalingrad has an impressive number of memorials, many carefully sculpted from bricks left in the ruins of Stalingrad. At the entrance are 30′ wide stairs leading to the Alley of Pyramidal Poplars and a memorial park. Here you’ll find the Square of Those Who Fought to Death, with a 50′ high sculpture “Stand to Death” in the center of a pool of water. In addition to the Banner Walls complete with the sounds of the battlefield, WWII patriotic songs, and news reports, six sculptures in the Square of the Heroes represent heroic events in the war. Visitors climb the stairs to the Square of Sorrow and the tomb of Field Marshall V.I. Tchuiikov, a hero of the USSR. Within the golden glass mosaic walls of the Hall of Glory, soft music plays while the Eternal Flame burns in honor of Russian soldiers who died in the battle. The somber atmosphere of what was once a bloody, war-torn battlefield still pervades the entire beautifully landscaped complex.

Admission: Free. Open year round.

Each year, memorial events are held at the cemetery on 9 May, the date of the Soviet victory over Fascist Germany, and on 2 Feb, which marked the end of the battle of Stalingrad. Such events not only memorialize the past, but also instill a sense of pride and honor in the people of Russia for the generations before them who defended the motherland and the sacrifices that were made.

House of Pavlov – Once an apartment residence for Soviet soldiers, this 4-story building overlooking 9th January Square is now a memorial to the incredible bravery, ingenuity, and determination of a young Sergeant Pavlov and his small platoon. Built from bricks recovered at the battle scene, the memorial next to the apartments is symbolic of the Soviet Union resistance in the Battle of Stalingrad. Following orders by Stalin to take “not one step back,” Pavlov and his few men managed to defend the house for two months from countless Nazi attacks, killing huge numbers of the enemy before they were rescued by the Russian army and taken to safety.

Panoramic Museum – Features a huge panorama of the Stalingrad Battle, as well as 8 exhibition halls with over 3500 displays, a portrait gallery of Soviet leaders and military commanders, and numerous artifacts from WWII. An ongoing exhibition that began in 1989 contains documents, weapons, and other items collected from the wars in Afghanistan and Chechyna. Over half a million people visit this fascinating museum each year.

Hours: Summer, 10am-6pm, Winter, 10am-5pm. Closed Mondays.

Guided Tour: 1 hour, $21.

Guided Sightseeing Tour of Volgograd: From 3 to 4 hours by bus, $113.

Extended Guided Tours: 1, 2, and 3-day tours. One Day Rates: 1 person, $150, 2 @ 130 p/p, 3 to 5, $100 p/p. Two-Day Rates: $280, $230, $200. Three Days: $350, $280, $250. Half-day Rates: $120, $100, $80.

Hours: Full Day, 9am-6pm. Half Day, 10am-2pm.

(The 2011 Victory Day tour, 7-11 May, is dedicated to the women of Stalingrad.)

Accommodations: Hotels with good reviews and reasonable rates include the Best Eastern Yuzhnaya, Intourist Hotel Volgograd, Hotel Kristina, and Akhtuba. Self-catering apartments and pensions are also available for short or long-term stays. Although Volgograd is a popular international tourist destination, there is not a great deal of information online.

Where to eat: Recommended are the Grand Cafè, Kayfe Cafè, Friendship, Bochka for European cuisine and nightly live music, and Ceramic Cafè, frequented by Russian families. The Gallery is a popular bar/restaurant, and the Central Market is a great place to shop for produce, cheese, and other food.

Transportation: Several daily 2-hr flights from Moscow ($240 rd trip), summer flights from St Petersburg and other cities in Russia. Overnight trains 20-24-hr rd trip from Moscow, $100 upper or lower bunk, $260 for 2-bed cabin with amenities & one meal included. Volga River cruises from Moscow and St Petersburg and on cruise ship itineraries. A 40-minute bus ride from airport to downtown, 35 cents; taxis and trams readily available. Riverboats or trams leave every 20 minutes carrying visitors to the other side of the Volga.

As the famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda once said of Volgograd, “Here the Earth is decorated with the Order of Courage.”

Sharon L Slayton

Battlefield Tourism – Beneath Hill 60 (Ypres and Flanders Field)

We are familiar with the tragic sounds and scenes of WWI battlefields from the movies, but we seldom hear of the challenges that some 4500 courageous Australian miners faced while digging 90 feet underground beneath enemy lines. The movie Beneath Hill 60, released April 2010, is the incredible true story of the 1st Australian Tunneling Division led by Capt Oliver Woodward who accomplished a major feat of engineering and technology under the most adverse conditions.

With nothing more than stethoscopes and makeshift listening devices to detect the enemy digging from the other side and canaries to warn of carbon monoxide, these brave soldiers worked in silent, dark tunnels underground. The hill itself was actually manmade, about 60 meters high, and created while digging a railway line to the city of Ypres, Belgium. Carefully planting thousands of pounds of high explosives, the miners kept their silence below while soldiers above fought to protect the secrecy of their endeavors. The miners’ efforts remained undetected by the Germans for 7 months until June 7, 1917(one source said 1916) when 19 mines destroyed Hill 60 in a massive explosion heard across the sea. For 2 1/2 years, the Germans in a machine gun bunker held this northern boundary of the 3-sided bulge or Salient, but in a relatively short time, these miners accomplished the impossible, opening a road for the Second Army to advance in the Battle at Messines Ridge and reverse the tide of war.

Hill 60 is about 3 miles south of the town of Ypres (Leper), nicknamed “Wipers” by the British, where several large-scale battles were fought. Fully reconstructed after complete devastation in WWI, Ypres in Flanders province is a fascinating old walled town of medieval architecture, small shops, bakeries, and cafes. While you’re here, stop by the Hill 60 Tearoom, open daily, 2 to 6pm.

We will mention just a few of the many memorials and cemeteries around Ypres and Flanders Field in this article. Although there are German burial sites here as well, they were defeated in WWI, so their significance is understated

Memorials: Plaques in Ypres honor French, Belgian, Austrian, and Polish soldiers, as well as one within St Georges Memorial Church for the British Empire commemorating the “one million dead.” A Celtic cross on the grounds stands as a memorial to the Irish Munsters.

Approximately 5 miles north of Ypres lies Tyne Cot Cemetery, largest British cemetery of the Western Front, with over 11,000 burial sites, a Cross of Sacrifice, and a commemorative wall of over 34,000 names. A visit to Tyne Cot reminds us of the severity of WWI, the vast number of casualties, and the suffering endured in the trench warfare of the battlefields.

Menin Gate stands as a memorial to over 54,000 brave men missing from the Salient. Their names, arranged by regiment and rank, are read with considerable sadness for they have no known grave or headstone to honor their service in time of war. (Names of the missing after 16 Aug 1917 are listed at Tyne Cot Cemetery.) A smaller memorial to the Indian Army was recently placed nearby. Walkways with information boards on the history of the area lead south through Lille Gate past Shrapnel Corner to Ramparts Cemetery. Ramparts is a small, lovely cemetery with less than 200 burial sites, but a favorite of Rose Coombs, author of Before Endeavours Fade.

Established in 1915, the Ypres Reservoir Cemetery is the largest in town, with over 2600 graves, about half of which are unidentified. Of interest are those of the 16 soldiers from the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, killed by the German “Ypres Express” machine gun.

(Note: Since the U.S. did not become involved in the early battles of WWI, the only American cemetery in Belgium, the smallest in Europe, is located twenty-five miles from Ypres in Waregam.)

In Flanders Fields Museum is appropriately named after the famous wartime poem by Canadian John McCrae, which is sung each year on Remembrance Day in Canada. We too are inspired as we purchase red paper poppies on Memorial Day, symbolizing renewed faith rather than the bloodshed of war. Permanent exhibitions on the upper floor of Cloth Hall on Market Square in Ypres are currently open to visitors, but major renovations are ongoing in preparation for the 100th anniversary of WWI in 2014. The museum houses over 5,000 documents, books, maps, photographs, films, and other memorabilia from famous collections including those of Dr Caenepeel and Rose Coombs, MBE. Visitors can follow the stories from real people and experience the Yorkshire Trench, a restored original dugout. (Curator Piet Chielens is a renowned historian, translator, and author with an impressive knowledge of WWI.)

Tours of Ypres, the museum, and educational workshops can be arranged for school groups and visitors. Museum shop on site and online.

Hours: 1 Feb – 18 Sep, 10am to 6pm. Closed 18 Sep to 31 Mar 2012.

Admission: Adults – $11, ages 7 to 25 – $1.50, 2-hour guided group tours – $69 (up to 30 people).

Crowds gather in respect and silence for the daily evening post at 8pm by the Menin Gate, annual Anzac Day on April 25th in honor of the New Zealand and Australian soldiers who died at Messines, and annual Armistice Day celebrations on 11 November.

Where to stay: Good reviews for the reasonably priced Hotel Sultan in the main square, the Ariane, the Recour, and the Albion. Guesthouses and B&Bs are plentiful, both self-catering and full board – the Rum Jar near the town square, the Cherry Blossom, Hortensia, and Alleezie. Highly recommended for a bit of history is the self-catering Talbot House founded in 1915 by Padre Tubby Clayton to house British troops during the war, located 8 miles from Ypres. Families visiting the battlefields may prefer the campsite at Kemmel Village about 6 miles south of Ypres, open year round. (The tourist office in Market Square has more information on accommodations and tours of the battlefields.)

Getting there: Via Euro channel, flights to Lille, France or Brussels, Belgium. By car or train – 84 miles from Brussels, 50 miles from Dunkirk, about 30 miles from Lille.

As we travel to these and other historical battlefields, we may reflect upon the closing words of the poem by Lt Col McCrae:

…”Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.”

Sharon L Slayton

Battlefield Tourism – Battle of Arnhem & Operation Market Garden

Books and movies inspire us to travel to the same places where many of the greatest battles in history took place. It gives us the opportunity to reflect upon the harsh reality and tragedies of war, as well as the sacrifices that were made by the brave men and women who fought for freedom and human dignity.

The TV 10-part mini-series Band of Brothers, produced by Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks and based upon the book by Stephen Ambrose, is primarily the story of “E” Easy Company, the 101st Airborne paratroopers, the success of Normandy, and the courageous role they played on the battlefields of WWII. Not only is it a story of war and its challenges, it is a story of the strong bond that is seldom broken or forgotten among men who band together to fight for the same cause on distant battlefields. We can relive some of the scenes from Band of Brothers in a visit to Arnhem in the Netherlands where the Allies in September 1944 fought the enemy, but failed to capture the bridges across the Rhine and stop the German invasion. One opinion is that the military plan supported by Eisenhower and Churchill might have worked and the casualties been fewer if they had heeded the information available from the locals about hidden German regiments.

The 1977 American film, A Bridge Too Far based on the book by Cornelius Ryan, featured an outstanding cast including Anthony Hopkins, Sean Connery, Gene Hackman, Michael Caine, and many others, but it aroused considerable controversy as it seemed to portray the British at fault in the Battle of Arnhem.

In a visit to Arnhem, we will remember Operation Market Garden in the Battle of Arnhem, planned by Field Marshall Montgomery and commanded by the Scottish Major General Urquhart (portrayed by Connery in A Bridge Too Far). The 2-part strategy included over 35,000 Market airborne troops and Garden infantry who would capture 5 bridges, enter Germany through the Netherlands, and subsequently end the war (episode 4 in the Band of Brothers). The bridge at Arnhem was the final goal of Market Garden, a heroic endeavor by John Frost of the British 1st Airborne, but one that failed for lack of supplies and reinforcements from across the Rhine. This largest airborne landing in history ended in disaster with a catastrophic loss of over 7,000.

Arnhem, located about 50 miles east of Amsterdam, is a port city on the lower Rhine. It is a popular tourist spot and of particular interest to travelers who visit historic battlefields in Europe.


Arnhem War Museum covers the military history of the Netherlands in WWII from the occupation to liberation in 1945. Exhibits of uniforms, equipment, documents, and some vehicles.

Hours: 10am – 5pm, daily except Monday, 25, 26, 31 Dec, & 1 Jan.

Admission: $8 – Adults, $7 – Children 5-12, free to WWII vets.

(First floor handicap accessible.)

Airborne Museum, the historic Hotel Hartenstein located in Oosterbeek about 4 miles from Arnhem, served as headquarters for Allied forces during the Battle of Arnhem. The museum features audio-visual commentary, photographs, uniforms, and dioramas of battlefield scenes in the large underground basement, as well as an old Sherman tank and other Allied and German artillery outside. The Hall of Fame has an impressive collection of photographs and portraits of many of those who served in the Battle of Arnhem. While here, you’ll get a real sense of the fear, the hardships, and the grief endured on the battlefield. An obelisk monument of soldiers and civilians representing Liberty stands on the museum grounds, while in a nearby park the bronze statue of a “Guardian” angel by Jits Bakker symbolizes hope and protection for all mankind.

Hours: 1 Apr-1 Nov, Mon thru Sat, 10am to 5pm; Sun & holidays, 12 to 5pm.

1 Nov-1 Apr, 11am to 5pm, Mon thru Sat; 12 to 5pm, Sun & holidays.

Admission: $11 – Adults, $10 (65+), $7 (13 -18), $5 (6-12). Museum shop & handicap accessible.

(Note: Maps available at the tourist information office in the lobby of the Museum and at various sites and locations in Arnhem if you choose to explore the battlefields.)

Tours: Travel back in time on a guided walk around the battlefield through the countryside to the banks of the Rhine. Another route takes you to the Airborne War Cemetery, where over 1600 soldiers of the Commonwealth, Polish, and Dutch are buried. As recently as 2003, bodies were recovered and carefully moved from hastily built battlefield graves to their rightful place in the cemetery. You can listen to stories of the battlefield as you walk along the Arnhem-Nijmegen Liberation route. Cycling and scooter tours are also available.

Memorials & Events:

Tourists will find numerous monuments and memorials commemorating the Battle and Operation Market Garden in Arnhem and nearby towns. The John Frost bridge, dedicated to the British Major General of the 2nd Parachute Battalion, is located about 3 miles from the Airborne Museum in the center of town. Frost and his 700 men were able to hold the “bridge too far” for 4 days before surrendering to the German army. (Frost is portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in the film.)

A monument from the 1st British Airborne honors the people of Gelderland (the province of the battlefield) and the Resistance for their unselfish acts of kindness in providing food and shelter, and for leading so many to safety. Not to be forgotten are the many Dutch women and girls who treated the wounded at the Battle of Arnhem.

The Needle Monument, built in 1946 by Jacob Maris, stands proudly beside the Airborne Museum. Other monuments include Heelsum, the first erected after the war, Hackett’s Hollow, the site of a bayonet charge, and an old pillar of the Justice Palace in Airborne Square near the bridge.

Every year from 12 to 20 Sep, concerts, wreath laying, church services, parachute drops on Ginkel Heath, and an airshow take place at Arnhem, Ede, Oosterbeek, and Heelsum. On the first Saturday in September, veterans, relatives, soldiers, members of the RAF, and civilians from over 15 countries take part in the Airborne March. Accompanied by bands and bagpipes, all ages can take part in the world’s largest one-day march past the museum, cemetery, and the drop and landing zones on the battlefields.

Prices: $10.50, or $7.50 if registering online. (Revenue goes to assist the next of kin in coming to the Netherlands.)

Accommodations: Several hotels offer packages for tourists, which include museum admission and bicycles to visit the battlefields and other attractions in and around Arnhem. Among these are the Arnhem Centraal, the Bilderberg Wolfheze, Dreyerood, and the Stayokay Doorwerth. (More information is available on each hotel website, although some may be only in Dutch.)

Getting there: Cross the channel from the UK, flights to Amsterdam, by car or train to Arnhem, and Rhine River cruises.

Sharon L Slayton

Would you be interested in a tour of places people died?

I guess you would call this grief tourism or dark tourism. Someone recently recommended a tour of New York City: “You ride around in an old hearse and check out sites where famous people have died in Manhattan. It’s really fun.”

Sounded weird so I checked out the website of Deadappletours. I didn’t see anything about John Lennon which surprised me but they promise to tell you the stories of a few other big names: Jean-Michel Basquiat, President James Monroe, “Crazy Joe” Gallo (where he ate his last plate of pasta), and so on.

What do you say? Would you consider touring murder spots and the like in a hearse in NYC?