WHO: Linda, 64, and Harvey Weiner, 66, of Newton.
WHERE: Eastern Europe.
WHEN: Two weeks in July.
WHY: "I'd always wanted to make a pilgrimage to Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps, near Kraków," Harvey said. "I feel it's an obligation of everyone to go there. We love to hike, and Linda found an organized hiking trip with Backroads from Budapest to Kraków." Linda was a little hesitant about visiting the concentration camps. "I kept telling myself that I had the easy part by observing."
TOOLS OF TERROR: The couple spent a few days in Budapest before the tour. "We visited the opera house and the Parliament, but the House of Terror was the most interesting," Harvey said. "It was the party headquarters of the Hungarian Nazis and later the communist KGB. You see torture chambers, gallows, racks. There's also the Holocaust Memorial Center, which is noteworthy in sharing blame with passive civilian onlookers."
SWEET AND HIGH UP: Backroads took them and eight other hikers into Hungarian wine country and the High Tatras mountains of Slovakia and Poland. "The initial couple of hikes were short warm-ups around vineyards and the countryside and then it got more strenuous in the mountains," Harvey said. In the Tokaj wine region of Hungary they tasted dessert wines at the Rákóczi Cellar at Sárospatak. "Some people liked them, but they were too sweet for us," he said.
SEASONED TRAVELERS: "There were a lot of local families and even nuns in full habit with backpacks and walking sticks." Linda noticed that many women had "paprika colored hair. They must have dyed it themselves. It was funny because Hungary is known for paprika." One night, in Javorina, Slovakia, they stayed at Hotel Kolowrat. "It used to be for the communist elite," Linda said. "It had funky '50s architecture, a great view of the mountains, and a bowling alley."
NOT A DAY TRIP: In Kraków, where the tour ended, Harvey wanted to go to Auschwitz by train instead of on a bus tour. "I didn't want to treat it as a tourist attraction," he said. Once they were in Oswiecim, they managed to reach the site, though there are no signs pointing the way. "There are two camps, Auschwitz and Birkenau. Auschwitz is set up as a museum, with two barracks. They still have evidence of people: toothbrushes, glasses, human hair, which they sold to make into fabric." "The room that really got me was where the so-called beds were," Linda said. "A whole wall was filled with children's shoes." At Birkenau they saw ruins of gas showers and crematoriums. They also spent a few days touring Kraków. "It's a gorgeous city that survived World World II, unlike its Jewish population," Harvey said.