Friday, March 15, 2013

Free travel guides and maps of Normandy

  • Complete guide dedicated to the historical sites of Normandy, created by the Association Normandie Mémoire with details of museums and monuments. You can download it in pdf.

  •  2013 Tourist Guide of Normandy: The delegation of  Bessin Normandy tourism published in its official website a pdf of 2013 Normandy travel guide in English. The guide contains information on the landing beaches, museums, restaurants and accommodation, as well as maps of the region. For a free guide is quite complete and brings a calendar of events that includes the d-day festival . Click the image to download the pdf.

Churchill war rooms in London

This is a museum placed in a bunker. It belongs to the Imperial War Museum in London. The war rooms were built in 1938 as a measure against future possible air attacks. After the outbreak of the war the government center with Churchill in command was transferred to the basement. Located in the Treasury building in Westminster, just a short walk away from Big Ben. 

The tour has two parts. On one hand the tour of the bunker with recreations of all the rooms and on the other hand a large exhibition hall dedicated to Churchill, exhibiting documents, videos and photos from his youth until his funeral. It shows the personality of the former British prime minister during World War II.


Location: here .
Metro station: Westminster (green lines, yellow and gray)
Buses: 3, 11, 12, 24, 53, 87, 88, 109, 148, 159, 184, 211, 453
Opening hours: 9:30 to 18:00 (last admission 17:00)
Closed from 24 to 26 December.
Admission: 17 pounds (20 euros). Audio guide included.
The museum is very interesting but it has few visitors. The entrance it's a little bit hidden in a side of King Charles street, under the Clive Steps.

In the area of the museum about Churchill you can find some items of his personal life, from his Nobel Prize to pictures painted by him. 
A little photo gallery of the place:

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The forest of the Katyn massacre

In the spring of 1940, the Katyn Forest witnessed the massacre of 20,000 Polish officers and civilians accused of spying by the NKVD. The slaughter was carried out under the command of Stalin but the Soviets attributed to Germany. It was not until 1990, when Mikhail Gorbachev brought to light the hidden documents. After that, Russia recognized their involvement in the incident. Years later a memorial was set in the place.
For Poles is a cursed place since, in 2010, President Kaczynski and 95 others including leading figures of Polish government and clegy suffered a plane crash with no survivors when traveling to Katyn to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the slaughter.


Official website:
Opening hours: 9:00 to 17:00
Guided tour: 800 rubles (20 euros)  
Museum admission: 50 rubles (1.25 euros)

The memorial complex was inaugurated in 2000. It consists of a large cemetery, some monuments and a museum. All Polish officers killed in the slaughter of Katyn were buried in mass graves in June. Part of the cemetery is Russian and here are buried more than 6,000 victims of the Soviet Great Purge of 1930.


Location: here .

Located in Russia 400 km away from Moscow and 320 km away from Minsk. The railway line that links Moscow (Belarus station) to Minsk (Minsk station Pas) passes through Smolensk, 20 km away from Katyn. The journey takes about 4-5 hours from both cities.  
Once in Smolensk you can take the bus #101 (Smetanino direction) to Kozyi Goryy. A sign indicates: "Memorial Polskim ofitseram pogibshim v Katyni".


Monday, March 11, 2013

Prora: The Nazi Beach Resort

Prora was a residential complex built between 1936 and 1939 by the KdF (Strength through Joy). They wanted to build a holiday resort with a capacity for 20,000 people with theater, cinema and swimming pools intended that workers could spend their holidays on the beach. This building is an example of architecture of the Third Reich.

Photo: Dr. Schorsch
At the beginning of the war the project was stopped and later during the Allied bombing, some of its buildings were used as a refuge for Germans from Hamburg. At the end of the war it was used as a home to female auxiliary staff of the Luftwaffe. In 1945, the Soviet army took the region and they established a military base in block 5 of Prora. They remained until 1955.


In recent years it has been empty and abandoned until it was sold to a group of investors. Since 2000, the center hosts the Prora documentation center, which currently has an exhibition about the history of the site and from July 2011 the northern part of the complex is home to a youth hostel.
Photo Gallery of indoors: 
Official Website:
Opening hours:
March, April, May, September and October: 10:00-18 :00
June, July, August: 9:30-19:00
November, December, January, February: 10:00-16:00  
Admission to the museum : 6 euros
Guided tours (in German): 11:45 and 14:30


Location: here

Prora is on the island of Rugen , Northern Germany. It can be reached by car or train. There is a train that goes directly from Stralsund-Bergen station to Prora Nord station. From Berlin, changing at Stralsund you can get to Prora in four hours. 
To check trains and times:

To move around the island by public transport you have to take the bus 20 or 23.

From 23.50 euros/night it's possible to sleep in the old complex now become a youth hostel. You can book a room from its official website: 

The Soviet Gulag: Theme Park in Lithuania and Perm '36 in Russia

The history of the Soviet gulag system (labor camps run by the NKVD) goes from 1917 to 1991. In general, prisoners were common criminals, political prisoners and anyone who showed opposition to the state. They were used, among other things, as labor to build infrastructure, felling trees and extract minerals from mines. 

It was not until 1974, when Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn , a former Soviet prisoner, published a full story of the life in a Soviet camp in The Gulag Archipelago, which discloses the hidden reality of  hard labor prisons.

Gulag archipelago map (Photo: you save heritage)

Today, it is virtually impossible to visit most of these areas, as many of them are lost in Siberian taiga where there are no roads. There's just one in Russia, the Perm'36, open to the public as a museum. In addition, there is one prison bunker in Lithuania where they have created a "theme park" called 1984 where you can live the experience of a prison of the gulag.

You can see a complete photo gallery of these camps in Siberia here .


Location here .
Official Website:
Hours: 10:00-17:00 (closed on Mondays)
Normal ticket: 50 rubles (1.25 euros)
Guided tour: 350 rubles (8.80 euros)
For groups an English guide can be requested for 1500 rubles (37.70 euros) per group.
How to reach the Perm '36?  Located 100 km away from the city of Perm (Russia), where it's quite easy to get by train (though long) from Moscow as it is in the Trans-Siberian route. Once in Perm you can rent a car and follow the route indicated on the map or go to the camp by public transport. We have two options: take a bus to Chusovoy (Чусовой), which costs about 200 rubles (5 euros), and from there take a bus to Kutchino (Кучино), or go by train to Chusovoy and there take the bus to Kutchino. 
If you prefer to go on organized tour from Perm (in English):

The Gulag Perm '36 was founded in 1946 under the order of Stalin. It remained open until 1985, when Gorbachev decided to end the prison regime. Here, there were prisioners as Varlam Shalamov , author of Tales from Kolyma . Thanks to the persistence and work of former prisoners and historians, it was open to the public as a museum (the only one in Russia). 

In the museum, in addition to temporary exhibitions, we can find the permanent one about the repression in Russia and recreations of life in the camps, prisoners objects, the old buildings, etc. The last part of the visit is a video documentary about the gulag.

In this video, you can see a virtual tour of the place:


Location: here .
Official Website:
Entrance to the underground bunker Museum: 30 litas (8.70 euros) per person.
Participating in recreation: 1500 litas (435 euros) per group of up to 25 people. For more than 25, each additional person will pay 84 litas (24 euros.)

How to reach the 1984 bunker? It's 30 km away from Vilnius. You will have to drive or negotiate transport with the organizers. You can take the 102 to Nemencine and hence the road to Buivydžiai. At 5 km, just past the river, you will see a turning on the right signposted by a red sign indicating the bunker.

As they explained in the project site it was created to reach people the rawness of Soviet repression and prison life in the gulag. Museum admission allows the access to a secret underground bunker of two levels.

The price of recreation includes: 3 hours of representation in Russian with some English words, special clothes, Soviet prisoner lunch / dinner, a certificate and a gift from the shop. Upon arrival, participants were greeted by guards with dogs and they remove all personal effects, money, cameras, mobile ... and they are given a typical Soviet coats. Visitors are introduced as prisoners to a recreation of 1984, with typical decorated shops and televisions, they are forced to learn the anthem of the USSR, they are interrogated by the KGB and allowed to try to escape.

Attention to one of the input clauses: "The instructions must be followed without any objection. Disobedience can be punished physically or psychologically and the participant can be excluded from the show."

You know, if you want to be yelled at, beaten, interrogated, harassed by dogs and learn the Russian national anthem, this is your place.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

D-DAY Festival 2013 program and first posters of the 70th anniversary

Three months before the 69th anniversary of the Normandy landings, the program of the D-DAY festival has just come out. In case anyone doesn't know what this is about, it is a festival celebrated each year in Normandy to commemorate the landing. The festival brings together veterans, families, offers parades, reenactments, walkings, concerts... Highly recommended for anyone interested in the D-Day.

 Official festival poster 2013

You can download the program (in French) here . The English version will be available in a few days at: .

In addition, they are already announcing the next year's festival, which will be more spectacular as it will commemorate the 70th anniversary. They have left the first posters:

Monday, March 4, 2013

Visit and spend the night in Colditz Castle (Germany)

Colditz Castle, a former mental hospital, was used under the control of the Wehrmacht during World War II as a POW camp for Allied officers of high rank. Its official designation was Oflag IVc .

It became a high security prison because some prisoners were known for their attempts to escape. It was said that there were more guards than prisoners. Still, there were several flights but mostly failed. The punishment for attempted escape was the isolation cell.
One of the more ambitious scape plans was conducted by the pilots Bill Goldfinch and Jack Best. With the help of several prisoners they built a glider from wood scraps and stolen sleeping bags. They wanted to launch from the roof of the chapel, which was hidden from the view of the Germans. The war ended before they could carry out the plan. There is a replica of the glider at the Imperial War Museum in London.

Many of these flights are reflected in the books of the British Captain Pat Reid, who after achieving escape and reach Switzerland, wrote his memoirs spread over several volumes.


View larger map

The castle is located in the town of Colditz in Saxony, eastern Germany, 50 km away from Leipzig, 75 km away fron Dresden and 230 km away from Berlin. You can fly easily to any of these cities and rent a car to get Colditz. To go by train you have to get to the station Großbothen (direct trains from Leipzig) and from there take a taxi or a bus to Colditz or get to the station Grimma and there take the bus #619 in the direction of Rochlitz (check here the schedule).

For trains and times:

From Leipzig, there is also a shuttle bus that runs every hour. This bus is the #690 and you can take it in the Leipzig train station but it only runs Monday to Friday . On weekends you will have to combine train and bus.

If you want to spend a night in the castle beacuse of today it houses a youth hostel: the Colditz Youth Hostel (DHJ Jugendherberge Schloss Colditz). You can stay there from 22 euros. You will have to book in advance through the official website: clicking on " Inquiries & Buchen "on the right side of the screen. It will take you to a form where you have to indicate if you're going in a group, family, or individual, if you're more or less than 26 year old and the dates. If you want a single or a double room you should make a reservation well in advance.

Click here for a pdf with all the information about the hostel (in English).


Opening hours:
From April to October: 10:00-17:00 (guided tours at 10:30 / 13:00 / 15:00, and at this time there on extended tours POW camp at 10:30)
From November to March: 10:00-16:00 (guided tours at 11:00 / 14:30)
Closed from 24 to 26 December, 31 December and 1 January.
Admission to the escape museum: 4 euros
Guided tour: 8 euros
Extended Tour: 15 euros

The last years, the castle has undergone numerous restorations aimed at tourism purposes. This issue has brought controversial because many people believe it should be preserved as it was then, even if it means deterioration. It also houses a museum and a hostel. The museum collects personal belongings of prisoners, documents, recreations of rooms ... You can visit the cells of prisoners, the different rooms and the escape tunnel to get an idea of ​​the life at the camp.
Tunnel ( photo: Wikimedia Commons )
If you want to see a video gallery of the rooms of the castle you can click here . 


Iwo Jima today

The island of Iwo Jima, now called IOTO (sulfur island) was the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. The U.S. Marines landed in February 1945 and fought against the Japanese Imperial forces until March, when they finally managed to conquer the island. The Japanese resistance was extreme, which led them to lose almost all his men.
On this island, at the top of Mount Suribachi, it was made the famous photo Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima.


Nowadays visiting Iwo Jima is almost impossible. It belongs to the army and there is only a naval base of the forces of Japan. No civilians live there. You can only go to Iwo Jima with an organized tour that visit the island once a year. The company organizes tours for military veterans, family members or people interested. They meet every year in Guam to commemorate the anniversary of the battle. From there, an airplane takes them to Iwo Jima. This tour departs from Los Angeles and the places are very limited because they have a single aircraft to fly to the island. The tour price  is about $3500.                                        


Here I show you some of the things that you can find on the island today. There are many more relics of the battle. The land is full of caves, bunkers, artillery and grenade shrapnel damage.

American Memorial Iwo Jima :

Location: here .
The memorial is situated where the American flag was raised on February 12, 1945. It commemorates the valor and sacrifice of the Marines.

 Photo: Kawetijoru

The beach landing:
Location: here .
The beach where American troops entered the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Division on February 19, 1945.
Photo: Seigo

Visiting Pearl Harbor

On December 7, 1941 the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor. They wanted to weaken the Pacific Fleet to prevent a possible military intervention in their actions. Since this day, the United States joined the World War II. On December 8, the United States declared war on the Empire of Japan.
 Photograph taken from a Japanese aircraft at the beginning of the attack.

In the attack, deployed in two parts involving fighter jets, bombers and torpedo boats, eight American battleships were damaged, four of them came to sink. 2,402 Americans died and 1,282 were injured.
The USS Arizona burning.


The bay of Pearl Harbor is on the island of Oahu (Hawaii) , about 15 km west of the capital Honolulu. Honolulu Airport is accessible from almost anywhere in the world, but you will only get cheap flights from America. Most tourists travel first to the West Coast or Latin America and from there they take a flight to the islands.

Once in Honolulu, you can easily find a rental car to explore the island or you can get Pearl Harbor by public transport. Many hotels have shuttle buses that take their hosts to the memorial complex, as it is one of the major tourist attractions of the island. It is advisable to ask for these services.

 If you go by car there are many signs to get the place. If you stay in Waikiki Beach (one of the most turistic areas because of its paradise coast) you can reach the entrance to the Visitor Centre by bus #20 or bus #42 or by car taking the H1 highway  leaving the airport behind and taking the 15A exit which indicates "Arizona Memorial / Stadium" (not the previous one that indicates "Pearl Harbor naval base"). You will only have to follow the signs for "Pearl Harbor Historic Sites". For a Honolulu bus routes check

Once in the Visitor Centre there are shuttles that take you to the different attractions.


Location here .
Opening hours: 7:00 to 17:00 (the program that include a 23-minute documentary video about the attack and a boat ride to the USS Arizona runs from 8:00 to 15:00).
Closed Thanksgiving, December 25 and January 1 .
The duration of the visit to Arizona with the documentary is estimated 1h15min.
Free entrance and parking.
It's not allowed to enter any part of the historic site with luggage, bags (even the camera's bag), backpack or purse. There are lockers at the entrance where you can leave them for $ 3.

 Photo: Christ Vlahos

Your visit will have to start at this point that is where you will obtain access and passes to all the memorials and museums. Your ticket  will give you access to the 23-minute documentary video about the attack and the ship that takes you to the USS Arizona. In high season, especially in the summer months, there are long queues and be aware that the tickets are limited. Therefore, it is better to get your ticket online from this page . Although the admission is free you will be charged $ 1.50 for the cost of the service but it's worth it.

Here you can find visit several exhibitions as "Path to War" and "Attack". Also we can visit the memorials to victims.