Ghosts Along the Danube in Budapest, Hungary

When we travel the world we come face to face with history, some grand, and some that we would wish away if we could. This article is about the great stain on European history referred to as the Holocaust. There are many recorded stories about Holocaust horrors, and you may not be familiar with this one – we weren’t – until we came across a simple, poignant memorial.

Background

It was our first river cruise, and we chose Viking Cruise Line and an itinerary that sailed between Budapest and Bucharest in Eastern Europe.

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Our ship, the Jarl, was docked and waiting for us in Budapest.


We were a short walk from the famous, often photographed, Hungarian Parliament Building that was inaugurated in 1896 on Hungary’s 1000th Anniversary. If you are not familiar with this magnificent structure, you may remember it as a feature of the Viking River Cruise ads on television.


After checking into our stateroom on board the Jarl, we decided to take a stroll along the Danube to photograph the Parliament Building. Along the way we encountered a small group of people pondering over some small items lining the concrete bulkhead of the river.

The subject of interest


The objects of the group’s interest were shoes. Actually, sixty pairs of old worn shoes, all sculpted in cast iron. Men’s, women’s, and children’s shoes from the 1940s, perfect in every detail.

At first we were taken aback by the oddity of the scene and the unusual sculptures. There were no conspicuously visible signs describing what we were looking at, until we noticed this small metal marker embedded in the cement:

So, this was a memorial, but who were the victims and who were the Arrow Cross Militiamen? We didn’t know, so we did some research.

The brief story

There were approximately 3,500 people shot along the Danube River in Budapest between 1944 and 1945 – mostly Jews and Gypsies. The site of the memorial was just one of several locations along the river bank used by the Arrow Cross in their executions of innocent people.

Members of The Arrow Cross were Hungarian fascists sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Adolf Hitler used them to replace the legitimate government of Hungary during the Nazi occupation. They ruled as the “Government of National Unity.” They were in power just eight months, from October 1944 to May 1945. During that time, they killed or sent to concentration camps 100,000 Hungarian Jews.

Why shoes as a monument?


Because shoes are so personal. The men, women, and children to be massacred were ordered to remove their shoes, an act that we all can relate to – and therefore, easily imagine ourselves in the terrifying situation.


After they removed their shoes, the victims were summarily shot, and their dead or wounded bodies fell into the cold rushing river. Ironically, this egregious and repugnant act took place just 1000 feet from one of man’s greatest architectural accomplishments, the beautiful Hungarian Parliament.

If you go


The memorial is simply named, “Shoes on the Danube Promenade.” Like a visit to the Ann Frank House in Amsterdam, or the Auschwitz Camp near Krakow, Poland, a visit to the shoes in Budapest, Hungary is a moving and somber experience, and a stark reminder of the cruelty that man is capable of inflicting on his fellow human beings.

Kudos

This unique remembrance of the Budapest tragedies is the idea of Hungarian film producer Can Togay and sculptor Gyula Pyauer. The display was opened to the public in 2005.

We are thankful that travel experiences generally celebrate the grandeur and beauty of our planet, and the spectacular achievements of mankind. Nevertheless, tributes like the “Shoes,” play an important role in reminding us that we must never lose sight of what can happen when evil takes the form of crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide.

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You might also enjoy reading another discovery article from our Viking River Cruise ­­­-­- click here.

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“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© 2017 Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

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In Search of the Blarney Stone

“The Blarney Stone,” is also known as “The Stone of Eloquence,” and it is both a legend and fact. If you have wondered about the location of this fabled icon, the answer is to be found atop the 12-foot thick walls of the bleak and eerie ruins of the magnificent Blarney Castle near Cork, Ireland. Come along and join our quest.

The magical legend

In early 15th century Ireland, a Munster king named Cormac MacCarthy constructed a grand fortress in the village of Blarney – upon the edge of a towering cliff near the town of Cork.

The castle top was crowned with a machicolation that was built about two feet out from the main building and held in place by a series of large stone corbels. The objective of this separate wall was to protect castle defenders from flying arrows while they dispatched attackers with hot liquids and rocks dropped through the opening between the suspended outer wall and the structure’s main wall.

The witch did it

During the castle construction, a good and grateful witch, who had been saved from drowning by a member of the builder’s family, placed a numinous power into one of the machicolation stones. Unfortunately, she chose a rock in the most awkward location on the battlement. The enchanted stone is set in the bottom of the outer wall positioned more than 5-stories above the ground.

The Leprechauns made it public

After the witch empowered the stone, she gathered the local Leprechauns and requested they tell all the “good people” of County Cork that anyone who had the courage to kiss her “Stone of Eloquence” would be rewarded with “the eternal gift of gab.”

Well, you know how Leprechauns are. Before long the whole of Ireland knew of the magical powers of the Blarney Stone, and within 100 years – the whole world knew.

Kissing the Blarney Stone

If you visit Blarney Castle to see the famous stone, you may as well get the benefits of caressing it with your lips, because it is very hard to get a good look at the Blarney Stone without being in the kissing position.

The witch did not make this an easy task. First, there is the long and laborious climb up a narrow spiraling rock staircase to get to the parapet. There is no elevator in the ruins. We counted 124 steps, but we may have missed a few.

Getting ready for the smooch

Once you reach the top of the castle and address the stone, the kissing effort requires you to lie on your back, grab onto two iron rails fixed to the outer wall, and wiggle and suspend your head and shoulders out into space in order to reach your objective.

We can tell you first hand that it is a good thing to be on your back during this experience, because you would not want to be facing down. Visitors who suffer from acrophobia have a difficult time standing close to the opening.

Not to worry, the castle provides an able-bodied helper to hold your legs while you stretch over the opening to put lips to stone. A note of caution that we learned the hard way – remove everything from your pockets before you assume the position.

Millions of kisses and still counting

300,000+ lip caresses a year have turned the stone’s kissing spot a rather dismal shade of dark gray. The color and sheen is understandable considering the many millions of people who have kissed the magic rock over the past five-hundred years.

No one knows the full measure of famous and eloquent politicians, actors, literary giants, and business and religious leaders, who owe some – or perhaps all – of their success to the magic of the Blarney Stone.

Blarney Castle belongs on your Irish itinerary

Blarney Castle is a first rate tourist destination with a fine gift shop, charming gardens, and a superb Rock Close that is said to be built on a former Druid ceremonial site. Check out their website at http://www.blarneycastle.ie

Happy travels!

We flew from New York to Dublin on Aer Lingus. We enjoyed the Irish hospitality in the sky, you will too.

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy
Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Visit Eastern Europe on a River Boat: Leave the Driving to Viking

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After writing scores of articles about ocean cruises, we decided to see what motivates vacationers to take European river cruises. We are glad we did.

So much to choose from

There are endless selections of river cruise itineraries on the internet, so we sought the guidance of three prominent river cruise companies in Europe – Amway, Uniworld, and Viking.

Viking River Cruises comes through

Viking River Cruises was most generous with their public relations department and customer service time, so we selected their 11-day Budapest to Bucharest cruise on the Danube.

Casting off

We boarded our Viking longship, the Jarl, in Budapest. We pulled away from the dock just after dark.

If you have seen the Viking commercials featured on shows like Downton Abbey on PBS, you know what the Hungarian Parliament Building looks like by day. The picture above, shows it at night – it is a spectacular sight!

Our itinerary

Our chosen itinerary would take us to five eastern European countries including Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Croatia.

This is the first story from our first river cruise experience.

Romania

Romania is a country steeped in mystery and shadowed folklore. Brahms Stoker never visited the country, but he borrowed from the harsh legend of Romania’s 15th century Prince Vlad Tepes of Transylvania to create his eerie and unforgettable character, Dracula.

Another famous (in Romania) real-life character was King Decebal. He was the last king of Dacia, an ancient land located in present day Romania. He is the subject of the historical curiosity in this story.

King Decebal

Decebal was a strong and popular leader who dared defy Rome and Emperor Trajan’s conquering legions. 

The thundering silence of Decebalus Rex

Decebal is immortalized in an enormous stone likeness of his solemn face gazing toward the far (now Serbia) shore of the Danube – the place where the Roman armies camped and prepared to attack – two thousand years ago.

After many years of struggle, the Romans finally crossed the Danube River and decimated the Dacian armies in circa 105 AD.

Surrounded by faceless generals of stone, Decebal’s ghostly visage stands alone to witness the final defeat that took his country, and eventually his life. He is fated to stare into the distance, and relive his humiliation, throughout time.

A giant undertaking

At 140 feet tall, the Decebalus Rex monument is the tallest rock structure in Europe. It is considerably taller than the more famous U.S. Mount Rushmore at 59 feet.

The stone monument appears ancient, but was actually just completed in 2004 after a difficult decade of site preparation and carving. The project was funded by a private Romanian citizen, Giuseppe Constantin Drăgan.

The Tabula Traiana

Just across the river on the Serbian side lies the Trajan Table. It is an ancient carved memorial at the Danube’s edge commissioned by the great Emperor Trajan to commemorate his victories over the Dacians in the first century.

Trajan considered the ending of the Dacian Wars to be one of his greatest triumphs; so important that Trajan had another monument constructed to commemorate the event – the famous Trajan’s Column in Rome.

Pressing forward

Our Viking river boat glides silently under the brooding face of Decebal and past the ancient Trajan Table, and on through the Kazan Gorge, one of the four narrow gorges that make up the legendary Iron Gate of the Danube. This is the most scenic part of a Danube river cruise.

Our next stop will be Bulgaria.

About our river cruise ship

The Jarl is one of the 60+ longships in the Viking river fleet. She’s a sleek 443 foot vessel with 95 comfortable water-view staterooms.

She has a crew of 50 and moves effortlessly and quietly through the water with a modern diesel/electric hybrid powerhouse.

Most of the Jarl’s staff is multi-lingual, and all are well trained in the nuances of excellent customer service.

On our cruise, the food was good and ample. The chef featured cuisine from the countries we visited. If you have a palate for paprika, you will be delighted.

River ship’s hierarchy

Aboard a river cruise ship, the Captain is responsible for the operation of the vessel and the safety of the passengers. Everything else is the responsibility of the Hotel Manager.

During our 11-day cruise, we changed our Captain once. Our Hotel Manager, the genial Franz Wusits, was with us the entire trip and kept the ship’s staff on their toes – everything ran smoothly.

We interviewed Franz in our Explorer Suite located at the back of the ship.

The suites aboard the Jarl are large, and well appointed without being trendy.

Franz’s “river stories,” will provide smiles in future articles about our Viking River Cruise. Stay tuned.

More to come

We will also write about several of our excellent bus excursions on the Danube trip, which by the way, are all included in the price of the cruise. A nice bonus to river cruising.

If you go

Viking River Cruises has an itinerary to please every taste. Check out their website at www.vikingrivercruises.com.

Viking made the arrangements for our flights to Budapest and back to the US from Bucharest. We appreciate the effort.

This will not be our last river cruise, and we highly recommend the experience.

As always, if you have questions, write us at the2writers@gmail.com

Happy travels!

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© 2017 Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © 2017 Judy Bayliff

A Walking Tour of Dubrovnik: The Pearl of the Adriatic

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Established in the 7th century A.D., the ancient and scenic port city of Dubrovnik lies in the southernmost part of the Republic of Croatia, – almost directly across the Adriatic Sea from the “spur” in the boot of Italy. It is a beautiful city of colorful red-topped tile roofs and cobblestone streets, all of which looks very much like it did centuries ago.

The Pearl of the Adriatic

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Among the city’s many admirers was Lord Byron who called Dubrovnik, “the Pearl of the Adriatic.” A century later the famous playwright, George Bernard Shaw proclaimed, “If you want to see heaven on earth, come to Dubrovnik.” If you visit Dubrovnik, you will see that it is indeed worthy of high praise.

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To spend time in Dubrovnik is to feel the drama of a city tossed through time and finally settled in recent history as a place of peace and beauty.

Early Dubrovnik

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The years have put many unique stamps on Dubrovnik. The city may very well be the world’s first planned community. As early as 1272, there was a town diagram, and in the following two centuries, the avant-garde citizenry opened a pharmacy (still in operation), a home for the aged, a quarantine hospital, and an orphanage.

Libertas

Most extraordinarily, 74 years before Columbus discovered America, the aristocracy in Dubrovnik abolished slavery and slave trading. In honor of the visionary proclamation, they adopted a new flag that was seen throughout the trading routes of the world. Dubrovnik’s mighty fleet of merchant ships sailed under a white flag inscribed with the word Libertas (Latin for “freedom”)

The wall

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Dubrovnik is renowned throughout the world as the “ancient walled city.” The wall that surrounds the city was originally constructed in 900 A.D. – and was further fortified in the 15th century. The wall, which is a popular walking attraction from which all aspects of city life can be viewed, is 1.3 miles long, 10 feet thick along the sea, and 20 feet thick elsewhere. There are substantial fortifications on all four corners.

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A cruise-tour group rests at the ancient water cistern

Although some of the fanciful architecture dates back to the 7th century, most of the public buildings were rebuilt after a great earthquake killed 5000 residents, and leveled many dwellings in 1667.

A couple from Florida enjoying the ocean breeze on the wall

Florida cruisers enjoying the pleasant Adriatic breeze on the Dubrovnic wall

Old wars

In the succeeding centuries, Dubrovnik suffered bombardment by a Russian fleet, and conquests by Napoleon, the Nazis, and Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia. In 1973, the old city declared itself a demilitarized zone in hopes that it would never again be a casualty of war. Unfortunately, fate was not yet ready to bestow peace on Dubrovnik.

Recent conflicts

23-100_1936In 1991, Croatia and Slovenia declared their independence from Yugoslavia, and on October 1, 1991, under a mantle of dispute, Serbians of the Yugoslavian People’s Army laid siege to Dubrovnik. Once again, the ancient city with so many historical treasures was barraged as if it were a common piece of dirt, and the rest of the world stood by and watched. The attacks lasted until May 1992 when the Croatian Army liberated the city.

Most of the damage from the latest conflict has been repaired. The renewed city has taken its rightful place as the jewel of the Adriatic – complete with storybook architecture and picturesque twisted streets and alleys.

Bucket list

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We highly recommend Dubrovnik to photographers and tourists interested in antiquities, history, and architecture. The old city is a superb vacation site with an ideal climate and gracious and hospitable inhabitants – both to be enjoyed in a genuine fairytale setting.

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Click here for more information.

Happy travels!

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“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Winter Motoring Along the Magnificent Oregon Coast

beach-10-17-16Much of the Oregon coast consists of miles and miles of beautiful sandy beaches, which may be exactly what you are looking for if you seek total relaxation.

However, if you crave excitement, check out the wild 40 miles of rocky shoreline that begins in the north at Waldport, Oregon and zigzags south along curvy Highway 101.

08-img_6109Here, for your winter touring pleasure, nature provides scenic headlands and lofty volcanic outcroppings that plunge precipitously to the unbounded Pacific several hundred feet below.

22-img_6131The best of the stretch is known as Cape Perpetua. The views are so exceptional that the rugged expanse has been federally designated a National Scenic Area.

Local history

Captain James Cook discovered and named Cape Perpetua in 1778. The mountainous wooded territory remained virtually unreachable until it became part of the Siuslaw National Forest in 1908.

In 1914, the U.S. Forest Service carved a rough road around the Cape and joined the two small neighboring towns of Yachats and Florence by constructing a wooden bridge across the Yachats River.

21-img_1678-001By 1930 the old wooden bridge had been replaced by a span made of steel. The road was greatly improved and is now part of historic Highway 101 stretching 1,500 miles from Port Angeles, Washington to Los Angeles, California. The panoramic Central Coast of Oregon is now accessible to all.

Thank you CCC

The Civilian Conservation Corps was created in 1933 to provide jobs to thousands of America’s youth during the Great Depression. The result of the CCC effort in Oregon made Cape Pepetua a unique travel destination with miles of inviting trails.

47-img_1910-001Imagine being young and strong and working in this pristine domain of breathtaking beauty where you can see for miles along the jagged coastal shoreline. 

Visualize waking to a crackling fire amid a silent coastal fog, and gathering with your fellow workers for that first warming sip of morning coffee.

84-img_6234The work was hard, but satisfying, and the participants of the CCC experienced life in convivial communal encampments — the remains of which are still visible at Cape Perpetua.

27-img_6145These were the lucky ones in hard times, and although most of them are now departed, their lasting legacy of trails and shelters are still in use today.

Attractions at the Cape

72-img_6218There are three major natural attractions within a short walk from the parking lot of the Cape Pepetua Visitors Center. Thor’s Well, Spouting Horn, and Devil’s Churn – the most exciting being Thor’s Well.

In simple terms, Thor’s Well is a collapsed underwater volcanic cave that formed a large round hole on the surface – think very big blow hole. 

25-img_6194The hole is about 20 feet deep, and during incoming tides and rough seas, the water rushes into the submerged cavern and erupts into a mighty blast of foaming ocean that can easily tumble curious onlookers that venture too close.

74-img_6221Seconds after the upward explosion, the Well dramatically inhales the ocean that it just hurled-up.

44-img_6166Be careful, you don’t want to be on the ride back to the sea!

Trails

It’s an intermediate-level hike across the rocky shoreline and up through dense spruce forests to the outlooks.

81-img_6230Fortunately, the trails adjacent to the Visitor’s Center are paved for easy access by all. There are 11 trails to choose from; a total of 27 miles of hiking adventures and spectacular views.

Sea lion caves

08-sea lionsApproximately five miles south of the Cape Pepetua Visitors Center is another unusual natural attraction – The Seal Lion Caves. This is North America’s largest sea cave, and well worth a visit. You can learn more about what to expect at the caves by viewing our photos and reading our article on the subject here.

Heceta Lighthouse

09-view of hecetaWhile in the area, plan to visit the historic Heceta Lighthouse. We spent two nights in the lighthouse keeper’s residence — a unique experience indeed. You can read that story here.

If you go

1-yurtFor campers there’s the nearby Washburne State Park Campground where you can pitch a tent, and park a trailer or RV. For under $50, there are also several yurts for rent.

For more creature comforts

10-img_6238If you prefer something more comfortable than living in the great outdoors, we highly recommend the Three Rivers Casino and Resort  in nearby Florence, Oregon.

07-06-img_6056This is our favorite casino, and is less than 15 miles from Cape Pepetua.

15-img_2361The rooms at the Three Rivers Casino are reasonably priced, clean and spacious, and just steps away from an exciting gaming facility.

13-20160427_111258We are non-smokers, so the separate smoking and non-smoking gaming halls are most welcome.

Outstanding buffet

03-2-p1020004If you love great food, you cannot beat the World Market Buffet at the Three Rivers. The buffet offers a wide selection of savory entrees, with several made-to-order specialties. We have reviewed many buffets, and we rate this one – tops.

06-05-img_6053For more information or reservations, click on the Three Rivers Casino website.

08-08-img_6061A Winter Odyssey

For an awe-inspiring look at the Oregon Coast, check out this excellent video from Uncage the Soul Productions.

We love the Oregon Coast in winter. We think you will too!

Happy travels!

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“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Rent A Car in Honolulu: Visit the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

The USS Arizona Memorial is a national monument honoring those who served in the Pacific Theatre during and after the Japanese naval assault on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

The memorial structure is built on and directly over the rusted remains of the sunken battleship USS Arizona. This is the final resting place of 1,177 Americans killed when a bomb penetrated the deck above the ship’s munitions magazine during the Japanese air attack on Battleship Row.

The loss of life on the Arizona represents more than half of all the Americans killed on December 7, 1941. It also represents the greatest number of casualties on any American warship in history.

Now a garden setting

If you have not been to the memorial lately, you will be much impressed with the park like setting at the Pearl Harbor Visitors Center.

While at the Center, be sure to see the 23-minute film and audio tour that brings that fateful morning at Pearl Harbor to life.

Well done

The exhibits at the Center are designed to pull visitors deftly into that specific moment in history, as they relive the politics and events leading up to the Japanese attack.

The presentations are poignant – be prepared for a holistic experience you will not forget.

A solemn journey

When their background education is refreshed, visitors board a launch operated by the Navy and are ferried across the harbor to the waiting memorial. It is a short and quiet ride.

After pulling alongside the monument, passengers disembark and walk up to the cenotaph resting on the Arizona.

At the far end of the memorial, look for the Wall of Honor with the names of those that gave their lives on the ill-fated Arizona. They are now resting beneath your feet.

Visitors speak in whispers, tears are visible, eyes are cast downward into the entombing water, and minds imagine the confusion and utter chaos of that December morning so long ago. It all seems surreal to the observers who now stand in the gentle Hawaiian breeze – safely atop the remains of the Arizona.

The ultimate sacrifice

One can only wonder what life might have held in store for the one-thousand plus soldiers and sailors below – if they had not been aboard the Arizona on that fateful day. Had they lived, what famous Americans might they have fathered for our generation, what greatness might they have achieved? America moved forward, one-thousand heroes remain at their post.

The tears of the Arizona

Seventy-five years later, oil still seeps from the sunken battleship. It randomly appears on the water’s surface – then like a spirit – it floats slowly away. Observers have named the oil manifestations “the tears of the Arizona.”

Be sure to visit the USS Arizona Memorial

Save a day during your vacation on Oahu and take your family to see the USS Arizona Memorial. For some, it is an awakening and first time realization about the many Americans that have sacrificed everything to keep our nation free.

The USS Missouri

The Arizona Memorial is now symbolically guarded by the ever-vigilant USS Missouri battleship. “Big Mo,” is permanently docked in Pearl – just up-harbor from the Arizona. The Missouri fought in and survived WWII and her deck was the historic site of the official surrender of Japan in 1945. It seems fitting that a battleship that participated in ending the war in the Pacific, should rest near the dreadnought that was the earliest casualty of the conflict.

The great Missouri went on to fight in Korea, and Operation Desert Storm. She was decommissioned in 1992, and took up her post as silent sentinel for the Arizona in 1999.

The USS Missouri has the distinction of being the last active battleship in the world.

If you go

The USS Arizona Memorial is located in Pearl Harbor, which is two miles west of the Honolulu International Airport.

Look *here* for more information about the USS Arizona Memorial, and *here* for the USS Missouri Memorial.

Heroes are still being interred on the USS Arizona. This video explains – http://youtu.be/MgE2KiPd3xg

Happy travels – Remember our troops, not only today, but always.

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“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

A Worthwhile Road Trip To Celebrate Veterans Day

Few public inns in the United States can boast the patriotic pedigree of the Thayer Hotel at West Point.

We drove to visit the award-winning Thayer Hotel during the holiday season, and felt it especially appropriate to write about this unique hotel on Veterans Day, when we honor the members of the military that have gallantly served our country.

General Douglas MacArthur stayed at the Thayer whenever he visited the military academy. Dwight D. Eisenhower did the same – both as a general and as president of the United States. Four other presidents including John F. Kennedy enjoyed visiting the hotel – you will too.

The beautiful Hudson River Valley

It is little more than a one-hour drive along the Hudson River Valley to reach West Point from New York City. At the entrance to the military academy, you are required to stop at a small stone guardhouse. There you advise the sentry of your intentions to visit the hotel, and he or she will direct you to your destination atop a steep driveway to the right.

As you slowly drive up the hill, you are drawn to the many leaded glass windows of the fortification like building. You immediately sense that this is a special place, and it is.

The Thayer Hotel

Completed in 1926, the hotel is situated on a prominent bluff that offers breathtaking views of the Hudson River far below. As you walk the manicured lawn towards the adjacent woods on the riverside of the hotel, you will see many stone outcroppings – an assurance that the hotel, like the academy, is built on very firm ground.

There is a short marble staircase leading from the old wooden front door to the grand reception lobby. Flags decorate the overhead between the first and second floor of the hotel. There is a large fireplace directly across the room from the top of the entry stairs.

The whole picture is that of the interior of a castle or military fortification – yet at the same time, there is an extraordinary warmth about the lobby that is quite inviting.

Guest Room Dedication Program

We were at the Thayer to attend a ceremony where a guestroom is named after a distinguished graduate of West Point. Honorees are selected from academy graduates that have made significant contributions to the United States and the world.

The dedication program is part of a recent multi-million dollar renovation at the hotel. The program is a work in slow and deliberate progress of the hotel’s 151 guestrooms.

Honoring outstanding United States Military Academy graduates

The officer being honored with a dedicated room at the Thayer at the time of our visit was General Roscoe Robinson, Jr., a 1951 academy graduate, and the first four-star African-American general in the history of the U.S. Army.

General Robinson served in both Korea and Vietnam. He was the recipient of many service awards in his 34 years of service to his country. In April 2000, the USMA named a new auditorium in his honor. General Robinson died at the age of 64 in 1993.

We had an opportunity to chat with a few of the cadets that attended the dedication. The experience was refreshing and left us with an appreciation for the caliber of our future military leaders being schooled at West Point. They are bright, dedicated, and most impressively, patriotic.

The room we occupied during our stay was dedicated to Dr. Thoralf M. Sundt, Jr. of the class of 1952. The walls of this guestroom are filled with great period pictures of Dr. Sundt as the cadet that later became a pre-eminent brain surgeon at the Mayo Clinic. Other photos include Dr. Sundt’s family and one of him with President Ronald Reagan who was a patient in 1989. Dr. Sundt was the subject of a segment on “60 Minutes” before his death in 1992. He was just 62 years old.

Great place for conferences and reunions

While we were there, we also had an opportunity to talk with several alumni of the 101st Airborne who were attending a reunion at the hotel. It was an honor to meet these retired soldiers and defenders of our American way of life. Humble to a man, they came to celebrate life, but also to remember fallen comrades.

The Thayer has eight meeting rooms and six boardrooms and has become a favorite location for corporate conferences. What better place to instill team spirit and inspiration!

Duty, Honor, Country

Walking the Thayer’s historic hallways is a lesson in patriotism and heroism. There are pictures and mementos everywhere to remind visitors of the motto of West Point – Duty, Honor, Country.

Dining at the Thayer

The hotel’s MacArthur’s Restaurant is a stately dining room with leaded glass windows that in daytime cast an oneiric light on the walls and the historic photos of soldiers past, and in evening, add to the rich ambiance of the dining experience.

Glowing light from the vintage chandeliers enhances the pleasing sensation of a comfortable setting that is equally fit for a romantic rendezvous or an elegant social gathering.

There is also a cozy bar/restaurant at the Thayer. It is appropriately named “General Patton’s Tavern.”

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point  

We learned some interesting trivia while at the Thayer Hotel:

The military academy at West Point dates back to 1802. Since its inception, West Point has been in the center of U.S. history.

George Washington paraded his troops on these very grounds.

The USMA encompasses 25 square miles – a piece of real estate just a bit smaller than the island of Manhattan.

West Point graduates commanded troops on both sides of 55 of the 60 battles of the U.S. Civil War. Of the remaining five battles of the war, a West Point graduate commanded the troops on one of the sides.

Edgar Allen Poe attended one semester at West Point, and General George Armstrong Custer is buried there.

Two U.S. Presidents graduated from West Point, as did 18 NASA astronauts, 74 Medal of Honor recipients, and 3 Heisman Trophy winners – and scores of great statesmen, diplomats, business leaders, doctors, and engineers.

A hotel for all seasons

Our visit to the Thayer Hotel and West Point was in December, and even in the cold of winter, the terrain is magnificent to behold. We plan to return to West Point so we can savor the woodland setting in the green of summer – and the fall when the cool air creates a kaleidoscope of changing colors. This is a truly beautiful part of the eastern United States.

If you go

When you walk the land at West Point, you walk in the footsteps of many who gave all for their country. If you are an American, you are on hallowed ground.

The Thayer Hotel is a Historic Landmark Hotel. Staying at the Thayer is like living inside history.

Their website is full of information about the hotel and surroundings. Check it out at http://www.thethayerhotel.com

Happy travels!

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© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff. Photo of General Robinson courtesy of U.S. Army