Posted by: worldsgreatesttravelblog | January 16, 2010

Lubyanka situated near the center of Moscow started life humbly in 1898 as the offices of the All Russian Insurance Company. Following the Bolshevik revolution in 1918 the building was siezed by the government and transformed into the headquarters of the secret police, which was then known as the Cheka.
Lubyanka by some stroke of irony became known in Soviet circles as Adult World, due to its proximity to a toy store across the street called Childrens World. It was also know as having the best view in Moscow as people said you could see Siberia from its basement.
Up to the fall of communism there was a large statue of  Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky, outside the Lubyanka who was the founder of the Cheka. There is currently talk about restoring the statue for historic purposes, but Felix as he is known, to this day, remains a viled figure in Russia. On one side of the building you will come across a plaque of Andropov, who was a former head of the KGB and had his offices on the third floor.
The infamous Lubyanka prison was also situated in this building. During Stalin’s reign hundreds of thousands of Russians were brought to the building.
Many of them were interrogated and tortured before being sent to Gulags in Siberia. Some of the most famous of these include Sidney Reilly and Raoul Wallenberg. Today Lubyanka is the headquarters of the Border Guard Service of Russia and the FSB Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation. 
There is supposed to be a museum in the building and supposedly there are tours, but these seem to be very difficult to arrange. I surveyed the whole building and found no access at all. Hmmmmm this looked like an interesting entrance, sealed though….

Posted by: worldsgreatesttravelblog | January 15, 2010

The line to get in here stretches a good city block and I went in October. It took about 40 minutes. Entrance is free, security is tight, and if they find a cell phone or camera in your bag you will be despatched across the street to the museum, where you can leave your valuables for a fee of 40 roubles (a bit more than a dollar). Situated in the center of Moscow’s Red Square, Lenin’s Mausoleum attracts huge number of tourists, still keen for a taste of the former Soviet Union. Very few Russians consider Lenin of much consequence today. Vladmir Ilyich Lenin was born in 1870 in the town of Simbirsk. Two events played a significant role in Leninls life. The first was in 1886 when his father died of a cerebral hemmorhage and a year later his brother Alesandr was hanged after a failed assasination attempt upon the Tsar Alexander III. His sister Anna who had been with her brother at the time was banised to the family’s estate near Kazan. Both these events had a radical effect on Lenin, transforming his political ideology. By now Lenin was studying law and reading Karl Marx. In 1895 Lenin was arrested for plotting against the Tsar. He was later exiled to Siberia. Lenin came into real prominence in 1917 when he returned from exile. He would be instrumental in bringing about the end of Tsar Nicolas, who were all killed in 1918. Lenin went on to become the Revolutionary leader of the Soviet Union. His reign was shortlived and in 1924 he died. The Soviet government received thousands of requests to preserve Lenin’s body for future generations. His body was embalmed and the decision was made to keep it in a Red Square so people could come and pay their respects. More than 100,000 people came. By 1929 they discovered it would be possible to keep his body preserved for a  much longer period. The original wooden tomb was replaced by one made of granite. 1953 Stalin’s embalmed body was placed next to Lenin until Kruschev initiated a de-Stalinization and his body was removed and buried outside.
Lenin lies to this day in this tomb. From inside the tomb you will be directed down a flight of stairs. It is almost pitch dark and you need to take care not to slip. At the bottom you will enter a room to find the embalmed body of Lenin. He looks waxlike, which is maybe excusable considering he has been dead for nearly 90 years. They look familiar.
The rumour. Oh yes apparently they are currently debating whether to take Lenin out and bury him, so if you want to see the father of communism in any sort of glory then get on with it.

Posted by: worldsgreatesttravelblog | January 15, 2010

Take a beautiful bride…

Find them a match…

Select a warm summer evening and a stunning setting for the huppah..
Invite all your friends..
Mingle with the guests Bring on a cute little flower girl and boy…
And then the groom will be escorted by his proud parents…
to wait for his bride…
At some Jewish weddings the bride will walk round the groom seven times. This is to indicate the seven attributes of G-d which are kindness, strength, glory, grandeur, foundation, eternity and royalty. It is hoped that the couple will incorporate these into their marriage. At some weddings a couple may make a declaration in their own words to each other just before the huppah.
Join them now under the huppah for the wedding ceremony. The Huppah (canopy) is the traditional place for a Jewish wedding to take place. The canopy is open on all sides as a reminder of their forefathers Sarah and Abraham, whose tent was always open on all sides so they could welcome people at all times. It is also a symbol of the home the couple will go on to build with eachother. 
Wine, a symbol of joy is also drunk by the couple. This will be accompanied by blessings recited by the Rabbi (the officiator at any Jewish wedding)Traditionally the groom will now give the bride a ring.  This is usually made of pure gold and must have no blemishes, just as it is hoped the marriage will be. At many weddings the bride will also give the groom a ring in exchange.
With hands now entwined
They will now read the Kettubah (the marriage contract). This is usually written on a beautiful piece of parchment and is the groom’s declaration to honour and care for his wife.This will be followed by the recitation of seven blessings, usually by close family or honoured guests.
The ceremony will now conclude with “Breaking the Glass”. This is to symbolize that even at times of great joy, they must never forget the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the spiritual destiny of the Jewish people.
Smile for the camera and you may now kiss the bride
Mazal tov…
And then the guests will all enjoy a good meal and it’s on with the fun…
looks like he’s mastered the art of having fun…

Thank you to:

Adrian and Shani
Dana and Tzafrir
Jenny and Yuval
Daphna and Ariel

for inviting me to your weddings.

Posted by: worldsgreatesttravelblog | January 14, 2010

The Khyber Pass – even the name conjures up magic conotations and I was not disappointed. A mountain pass strategically placed between Pakistan and Afghanistan, it serves as a major trading route between the two countries. A trip here is not undertaken lightly and even in 1989 when I went you needed a special permit from the political agency in Peshawar and an armed guard.  You also need a driver who will usually double as  as a guide, and this is negotiable. Between four people it doesnt work out very expensive.  Our guide turns out to be quite a character and I will call him Ali.

Not far out of Peshawar and we come to a roadblock. From here on we are in tribal territory and Ali tells us his first very important rule and that is that photography is only allowed at his say so and it it forbidden under any circustances to point our cameras at women. We have just passed the Jamrod fort where the Khyber pass starts. The fort itself is an imposing building and is now Military property. Foreigners are forbidden to enter.

Posted by: worldsgreatesttravelblog | January 13, 2010

The day I went to the Killing Fields of Cheung Ek close to Phnom Penh in April 1998, Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge had just days to live. His terrible legacy lives with the people who survived. We met just such a person that day. His dignity touched all that came in contact with him.
Cheung Ek, situated approximately 15 kilometers south of Phnom Penh contains the graves and remains of 17,000 civilians. Many of these people had come from detention centers and had suffered torture of the most inhuman kind before dying a horrible death. This was the world of the Khmer Rouge, who in 1975 had become the ruling party in Cambodia, enforcing totalitarian principles and thrusting, 11th century agriculture reforms upon Cambodia. People that lived in the cities were forced through marches into the country side, where together with the local population they were made to become agriculture workers, usually under severe conditions.  Even something as close as family ties were sanctioned by the Khmer Rouge and if they were deemed not suitable they were forbidden to communicate, the penalty for doing so being death. The Khmer Rouge loathed intellectuals and even someone who wore spectacles, who were percieved as intellectuals became a target. Adopting principles of self-sufficiency, they completely scorned anything Western, which together with torture and forced executions on a massive scale, of anyone that spoke against the regime, it is estimated that nearly one million people lost their lives, many through starvation and disease.  The Khmer Rouge finally lost some of its power in 1978 when the Vietnamese intervened, but maintained some strongholds in part of the country and continued guerilla warfare for many years. Pol Pot finally died in 1998.

The wonderful man who showed us round Cheung Ek spoke excellent English. At several points in his narrative he seemed to fall into a trance and kept saying “I don’t understand why”. He had lost every member of his family at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. He showed us the stupa (on the top of the post) which holds hundreds of skulls of the victims. Some of the skulls had holes in them where the victims head had been pierced with a sharp object.

We also saw pieces of clothing that had been absorbed into the ground.
There is no admission fee. The only thing you will be asked for, or at least when I went there was for $1.00 to help maintain a nearby school. We were all happy to give him that and wondered if these children were the recipients.

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