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US: Alexandria, VA – Your Destination for a Family Friendly New Year’s Eve

This annual New Year’s Eve bash takes over Old Town Alexandria with more than 150 performances at 23 indoor venues, with live music, dancing, children’s face painting and games. First Night Alexandria is a celebration of the new year through the performing arts. Retail stores, hotels, museums and public buildings are turned into performance venues to showcase incredible local and regional talent.

For a small fee for adults (children 12 and under are free), you have access to all the entertainment, all evening. Everything is within easy walking distances. The afternoon’s Ninth Annual Fun Hunt with all-new activities for families and pets. There’s a venue at the Mount Vernon Fireworks 2014 - 2Recreation Center in Del Ray filled with fun activities for children 10 and younger, dancing in the street at the east end of King Street beginning at 10 pm and the piece de resistance is the First Night’s fireworks finale with a spectacular display over the Potomac River at midnight. First Night Alexandria is so packed with entertainment, you will have a hard time deciding which performances to attend.

Event Schedule and Locations:
10:00am Noon Year’s Eve – Alexandria Library – Kate Waller Barrett Branch, 717 Queen Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
12pm Watch Night at Alfred Street Baptist Church –301 South Alfred Street Alexandria
1pm George Washington Masonic Memorial Tour – George Washington Masonic Memorial, 101 Callahan Drive, Alexandria, VA, 22301
1pm Hooray For Books! – 1555 King Street, #101, Alexandria, VA 22314
1pm Olio – Oil & Vinegar Tasting – Olio Tasting Room. 1223 King Street, Alexandria, VA
1:30pm The Art League Gallery – 105 North Union Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
2pm 9th Annual Fun Hunt – Torpedo Factory Art Center, 105 North Union Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
2pm Kid’s Art for Animal Adoptions – Torpedo Factory Art Center, 105 North Union Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
2pm Mobile Art Lab – Durant Arts Center, 1605 Cameron Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
2pm Pottery at the Alexandria Archaeology Museum – Torpedo Factory Art Center, 105 North Union Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
2pm TC Williams Jazz Band – Embassy Suites Hotel, 1900 Diagonal Road, Alexandria, VA
2pm Ten Thousand Villages –Ten Thousand Villages, 915 King Street, Alexandria, VA
2pm Thinkfun Family Game Room – Durant Arts Center, 1605 Cameron Street
2:30pm George Washington Masonic Memorial Tour – George Washington Masonic Memorial, 101 Callahan Drive, Alexandria, VA, 22301
4pm George Washington Masonic Memorial Tour –George Washington Masonic Memorial, 101 Callahan Drive, Alexandria, VA, 22301
5pm Amazing Clowns – George Washington Masonic Memorial, 101 Callahan Drive, Alexandria, VA, 22301
5pm Let’s Make a Face – George Washington Masonic Memorial, 101 Callahan Drive, Alexandria, VA, 22301
5pm Seaworthy Small Ships –George Washington Masonic Memorial, 101 Callahan Drive, Alexandria, VA, 22301
6pm An Old Fashioned Carnival – Mount Vernon Recreation Center, 2701 Commonwealth Ave, Alexandria, VA 22305
6pm Becky’s Balloon Animals – Mount Vernon Recreation Center, 2701 Commonwealth Ave, Alexandria, VA 22305
6pm Blue Sky Puppets – George Washington Masonic Memorial, 101 Callahan Drive, Alexandria, VA, 22301
6pm How-To Cowboy: Jokefest – Mount Vernon Recreation Center, 2701 Commonwealth Ave, Alexandria, VA 22305
6pm Kickoff and Drawing for Fun Hunt Prize Winners – Durant Arts Center, 1605 Cameron Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
6pm Rainbow Rock Band – Mount Vernon Recreation Center, 2701 Commonwealth Ave
6:15pm Mike Rose – Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
6:45pm Mister Don – Mount Vernon Recreation Center, 2701 Commonwealth Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22305
6:45pm Virginia Bronze – George Washington Masonic Memorial, 101 Callahan Drive, Alexandria, VA, 22301
7pm Alexandria Singers – Washington Street United Methodist Church, 109 South Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
7pm Amateur Facepainters – Washington Street United Methodist Church, 109 South Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
7pm Billy & Bob Classic Country Show – George Washington Masonic Memorial, 101 Callahan Drive, Alexandria, VA, 22301
7pm Blue Moon Cowgirls –St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 228 South Pitt Street, Alexandria
7pm Blue Sky Puppets – George Washington Masonic Memorial, 101 Callahan Drive
7pm Cletus Kennelly – Alexandria’s Union Station | 110 Callahan Drive, Alexandria
7pm Curtis Blues – Alexandria Library – Kate Waller Barrett Branch, 717 Queen Street
7pm Dr. Robert Band – Fraternal Order of the Eagles 871, 1015 Cameron Street
7pm Irish Breakfast Band
7pm Janna Audey & Rob Santos – Long & Foster, 400 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
7pm Lesson Zero – Christ Church Auditorium, 118 North Washington Street, Alexandria
7pm Mike Rose – Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
7pm Pete Farnham – Alexandria City Hall – Vola Lawson Lobby, 301 King Street
7pm Primary Colors – Durant Arts Center, 1605 Cameron Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
7pm Ruthie & the Wranglers – American Legion Post 24, 400 Cameron Street, Alexandria,
7pm Stairwells –Old Presbyterian Meeting House, 321 South Fairfax Street, Alexandria
7pm The Glimpses – Lloyd House, 220 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
7pm The Grandsons – Torpedo Factory Art Center, 105 North Union Street, Alexandria
7pm The Rogues – Alexandria Visitor Center, 221 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
7pm The Truehearts –George Washington Masonic Memorial, 101 Callahan Drive
7pm Vaughn Ambrose Trio – Principle Gallery, 208 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
7pm Watch Night at Alfred Street Baptist Church –301 South Alfred Street Alexandria, VA
7:30pm Battle of the Local Stars –Durant Arts Center, 1605 Cameron Street, Alexandria
7:30pm How-To Cowboy: Jokefest- Mount Vernon Recreation Center, 2701 Commonwealth Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22305
7:30pm Katherine Archer – Duchess M, 805 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
7:30pm Razor Hill – Refresh Yoga, 110 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
7:30pm Tom Teasley Duo –Imagine Artwear, 1124 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
7:30pm Virginia Bronze –George Washington Masonic Memorial,101 Callahan Drive
7:45pm Billy Coulter Band- Fraternal Order of the Eagles 871, 1015 Cameron Street
7:45pm Bill Kirchen –Torpedo Factory Art Center, 105 North Union Street, Alexandria
7:45pm Janine Wilson Band- American Legion Post 24, 400 Cameron Street, Alexandria
7:45pm King Teddy – George Washington Masonic Memorial, 101 Callahan Drive
7:45pm Mark Wesling –Alexandria’s Union Station-110 Callahan Drive, Alexandria, VA
7:45pm Mike Rose- Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
7:45pm Nicole Belanus –St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 228 South Pitt Street, Alexandria
7:45pm Nobody’s Business –Christ Church Auditorium, 118 North Washington Street
7:45pm Not So Modern Jazz Quartet – Lyceum, 201 South Washington Street
7:45pm Sound of Sleat – George Washington Masonic Memorial, 101 Callahan Drive
7:45pmWashington Philharmonic’s Woodwind Quintet –Washington Street United Methodist Church, 109 South Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
8pm Al Petteway & Amy White – Old Presbyterian Meeting House, 321 South Fairfax St.
8pm Blue Sky Puppets-George Washington Masonic Memorial, 101 Callahan Drive
8pm Janna Audey & Rob Santos – Long & Foster, 400 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
8pm The Glimpses – Lloyd House, 220 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
8pm The Rogues – Alexandria Visitor Center, 221 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
8pm Vaughn Ambrose Trio – Principle Gallery, 208 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
8:15pm Mister Don- Mount Vernon Recreation Center, 2701 Commonwealth Avenue
8:30pm Alexandria Singers – Washington Street United Methodist Church, 109 South Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
8:30pm Billy & Bob Classic Country Show- George Washington Masonic Memorial, 101 Callahan Drive, Alexandria, VA, 22301
8:30pm Blue Moon Cowgirls –St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 228 South Pitt Street
8:30pm Cletus Kennelly – Alexandria’s Union Station | 110 Callahan Drive, Alexandria
8:30pmCurtis Blues  –Alexandria Library – Kate Waller Barrett Branch,717 Queen Street
8:30pm Dr. Robert Band –Fraternal Order of the Eagles 871, 1015 Cameron Street
8:30pm Irish Breakfast Band –Lyceum, 201 South Washington Street, Alexandria, VA
8:30pm Katherine Archer- Duchess M, 805 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
8:30pm Lesson Zero –Christ Church Auditorium, 118 North Washington Street
8:30pm Mike Rose –Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
8:30pm Pete Farnham- Alexandria City Hall – Vola Lawson Lobby, 301 King Street
8:30pm Razor Hill – Refresh Yoga, 110 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
8:30pm Ruthie & the Wranglers –American Legion Post 24, 400 Cameron Street
8:30pm The Grandsons – Torpedo Factory Art Center, 105 North Union Street
8:30pm The Truehearts  –George Washington Masonic Memorial,101 Callahan Drive
8:30pm Tom Teasley Duo- Imagine Artwear, 1124 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
8:45pmVirginia Bronze- George Washington Masonic Memorial, 101 Callahan Drive
9pm Janna Audey & Rob Santos- Long & Foster, 400 King Street, Alexandria, VA
9pm Stairwells – Old Presbyterian Meeting House, 321 South Fairfax Street
9pm The Glimpses  – Lloyd House, 220 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA
9pm The Rogues – Alexandria Visitor Center, 221 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
9pm Vaughn Ambrose Trio –Principle Gallery, 208 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
9:15pm Bill Kirchen – Torpedo Factory Art Center, 105 North Union Street, Alexandria
9:15pm Billy Coulter Band – Fraternal Order of the Eagles 871, 1015 Cameron Street
9:15pm Janine Wilson Band – American Legion Post 24, 400 Cameron Street, Alexandria
9:15pm King Teddy – George Washington Masonic Memorial, 101 Callahan Drive
9:15pm Mark Wesling – Alexandria’s Union Station, 110 Callahan Drive, Alexandria, VA
9:15pm Mike Rose – Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
9:15pm Nicole Belanus –St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 228 South Pitt Street, Alexandria
9:15pm Nobody’s Business – Christ Church Auditorium, 118 North Washington Street
9:15pm Not So Modern Jazz Quartet – Lyceum, 201 South Washington Street, Alexandria
9:15pm Sound of Sleat – George Washington Masonic Memorial, 101 Callahan Drive
9:15pm Washington Philharmonic’s Woodwind Quintet – Washington Street United Methodist Church, 109 South Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
9:30pm Curtis Blues – Alexandria Library – Kate Waller Barrett Branch, 717 Queen Street
9:30pm Katherine Archer – Duchess M, 805 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
9:30pm Keira Moran- Durant Arts Center, 1605 Cameron Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
9:30pm Pete Farnham – Alexandria City Hall – Vola Lawson Lobby, 301 King Street
9:30pm Razor Hill- Refresh Yoga, 110 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
9:30pm Tom Teasley Duo – Imagine Artwear, 1124 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
10pm Al Petteway & Amy White – Old Presbyterian Meeting House, 321 South Fairfax St.
10pm Alexandria Singers – Washington Street United Methodist Church, 109 South Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
10pm Billy & Bob Classic Country Show- George Washington Masonic Memorial, 101 Callahan Drive, Alexandria, VA, 22301
10pm Blue Moon Cowgirls- St. Paul’s Episcopal Church,228 South Pitt Street, Alexandria
10pm Christ Church Sanctuary- Christ Church Auditorium, 118 North Washington Street
10pm Cletus Kennelly – Alexandria’s Union Station, 110 Callahan Drive, Alexandria, VA
10pm Dr. Robert Band – Fraternal Order of the Eagles 871, 1015 Cameron Street
10pm Irish Breakfast Band – Lyceum, 201 South Washington Street, Alexandria, VA
10pm Janna Audey & Rob Santos – Long & Foster, 400 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
10pm Lesson Zero – Christ Church Auditorium, 118 North Washington Street, Alexandria
10pm Mike Rose – Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
10pm Ruthie & the Wranglers – American Legion Post 24, 400 Cameron Street
10pm Stairwells – Alexandria Waterfront, King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
10pm The Glimpses – Lloyd House, 220 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
10pm The Grandsons –Torpedo Factory Art Center, 105 North Union Street, Alexandria
10pm The Rogues – Alexandria Visitor Center, 221 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
10pmThe Truehearts –George Washington Masonic Memorial, 101 Callahan Drive
10pm Vaughn Ambrose Trio – Principle Gallery, 208 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
10pm Watch Night at Alfred Street Baptist Church, 301 South Alfred Street Alexandria
10:30pm Curtis Blues – Alexandria Library – Kate Waller Barrett Branch, 717 Queen St.
10:30pm Katherine Archer – Duchess M, 805 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
10:30pm Pete Farnham – Alexandria City Hall – Vola Lawson Lobby, 301 King Street
10:30pm  Tom Teasley Duo – Imagine Artwear, 1124 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
10:45pm Bill Kirchen – Torpedo Factory Art Center, 105 North Union Street, Alexandria
10:45pm Billy Coulter Band – Fraternal Order of the Eagles 871, 1015 Cameron Street
10:45pm Janine Wilson Band- American Legion Post 24,400 Cameron St., Alexandria
10:45pm King Teddy – George Washington Masonic Memorial, 101 Callahan Drive
10:45pm Mark Wesling- Alexandria’s Union Station, 110 Callahan Drive, Alexandria, VA
10:45pm Nicole Belanus- St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 228 South Pitt Street, Alexandria
10:45pm Nobody’s Business – Christ Church Auditorium, 118 North Washington Street
10:45pm Not So Modern Jazz Quartet – Lyceum, 201 South Washington St, Alexandria
10:45pm Sound of Sleat  – George Washington Masonic Memorial, 101 Callahan Drive
10:45pm Washington Philharmonic’s Woodwind Quintet –Washington Street United Methodist Church, 109 South Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
12am Fireworks on the River! – Alexandria Waterfront, King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314

Location: Old Town, Alexandria, VA
Date: Sun, Dec 31st, 2017
Times: 10am – midnight
Tel: 703-746-3299
firstnightalexandria.org
For Regional Accommodations, Restaurants & Attractions: visitalexandriava.com

US: Annapolis, MD – Support the USO and Honor the U.S. Military by Attending the Military Bowl

on’t miss the 10th Anniversary Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman Corporation, benefiting the USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore (USO-Metro), a military support organization. Kick off is on Thursday, Dec. 28 at 1:30 pm at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis matching a team from the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) against an opponent from the American Athletic Conference (AAC) and will be televised nationally on ESPN. Military Bowl Stadium2017-11-21_9-57-53

Military Bowl Game2017-12-12_10-01-25The game day festivities kicks off  at 9:30 am with one of Annapolis’ newest traditions: the Military Bowl Parade, featuring The world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales.  They will lead the parade procession – along with Medal of Honor recipients, mascots, and team bands – from City Dock in downtown Annapolis to the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium as part of the many special events throughout the day.Military Bowl Clondykes2017-12-12_10-08-26The Official Military Bowl Tailgate kicks off in the Blue Lot on the west side of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Admission to the tailgate is free and will feature music, games, food & beverages from fantastic Annapolis restaurants, and exciting giveaways for the first arrivals. In addition, there’s also the 3rd Annual Bud & Burger Battle (held from 10:30 am-12:30 pm) where you can sample some of Annapolis’ favorite burgers before voting for your favorite.

Fan Bowl Week in Annapolis:

Wednesday, December 27

Thursday, December 28

For more than 70 years, the USO (United Service Organizations) has been the way for the American people to say thank you to our nation’s service men and women and their families.

To purchase tickets: militarybowl.org/tickets/#!

Location: U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, 550 Taylor Avenue, Annapolis
Date: Thurs, December 28, 2017
Time: Kick off 1:30 (doors open at 12:00)
Tel: 202-776-2919
militarybowl.org
For Regional Accommodations, Restaurants & Attractions: visitannapolis.org

US: Manassas, VA – A History Lesson Given in a Cemetery – Manassas City Cemetery Tour

What better place to learn a piece of Manassas history than with a Cemetery Tour. Learn about “Important Citizens who Influenced Prince William County History”. The Manassas City Cemetery tour is a biographical tour of our predecessors which allows you to discover their contributions to society.  Manassas City Cemetery Tour

The Ladies Memorial Association of Manassas (later to become the United Daughters of the Confederacy) created the Confederate Cemetery in 1867 on one acre of donated land. The land was given to hold the remains of Confederate soldiers “scattered over the Plains.”

Although the Bull Run Ladies Association reburied the remains of soldiers found on the battlefield in the Groveton Cemetery, there were many other remains recovered throughout Manassas. In 1911, the Association placed a bronze statue of a Confederate Soldier “At Rest” on the brownstone monument that had been dedicated in 1889. Legend has it that the soldier faces east to guard against attack from Washington.  Manassas City Cemetery Tour 2

Each year for the cemetery tour a different theme is used. Tragic deaths (murders or accidents), women, cemetery architecture are just a few from the past. This year focuses on County and Community leaders: Sheriffs, politicians, school administrators,… This tour is done with the greatest respect to the cemetery and its “inhabitants”.

To purchase tickets visit: manassasechoes.com, or call 703-368-1873

Location: Manassas Confederate Cemetery, 9317 Center St., Manassas, VA 20110
Date: Fri, March 17, 2017
Time: 8pm – 9:30 PM
Tel: 703-257-8265
manassasmuseum.org
For Regional Accommodations, Restaurants & Attractions: manassascity.org

US: Ormond Beach, FL – Dogs Create Art Masterpieces at Dogapalooza

Treat your dog to Dogapalooza, a very popular, dog-friendly afternoon at the Ormond Memorial Art Museum. Revel in the joyful family-friendly celebration of the human-animal bond throughout the museum, the gardens and parking lot, giving dogs trees, shade and lots grass to roll around on.

This festival features tons of fun dog activities including FREE puppy photo experience, doggie art project -where your dog creates the art,  FREE dog nail clipping, obedience demonstrations and some fun music mixed by DJ.

There will be a canine costume contest which includes categories: best in Show, Best Pop Culture Reference, Best Duo (Dog + his human),  and Best Ensemble (more than 1 Dog). Don’t forget to take advantage of doggie babysitting that will be offered for short-term visits to check out the art in the museum.

Enjoy delicious food, drinks and a great casual dog-themed afternoon with dogs and dog lovers alike that will have you begging for more.dogapoolza

Well-behaved dogs on leashes are welcome as are their human companions.  All proceeds benefit  Sophie’s Circle pet food pantry. Admission is a $2 donation.

Painted by Daytona Beach Artist Amy Holzer

Location: Ormond Memorial Art Museum & Gardens, 78 East Granada Blvd, Ormond Beach, FL 32176
Date: Sat, Jan 7, 2017
Hours:  2  – 4 PM
Tel: 386-676-3347
ormondartmuseum.org/event/dogapalooza/2016-10-22_200pm
For Regional Accommodations, Restaurants & Attractions: daytonabeach.com

Cosmos Tour: Prague Vienna Budapest – Prague Jewish Ghetto

Old New Synagogue

Old New Synagogue

The former Jewish Ghetto (now called Josefov) in Prague goes back to the 12th century. In fact, the oldest synagogue in Europe, the Old-New Synagogue, is still there and it is still used for its purpose, as there are regular services. An old legend says it was built of stones from the Second Temple in Jerusalem. This quarter was demolished in 1897. Today, there are 6 synagogues, the Jewish City Hall and the Old Jewish Cemetery from the 15th century. Notice the Rabbi’s house has gold decorations and the clock with hebrew letters which dates to 1674.

In 1389 the biggest anti-Jewish pogrom in the Middle Ages took place here, when about 3,000 citizens of the Jewish Quarter were killed, turning the walls of the Old–New Synagogue dark with blood. Their homes were plundered and burned.

However, in the 16th century, this quarter was thriving. Some of the synagogues we can still see were built then. The Maisel Synagogue houses an exhibition of the Jewish Museum in Prague. In the 1950’s, the Pinkas Synagogue became a Memorial to victims of the Holocaust. The walls of the nave, gallery and vestibule were covered with names of about 80,000 Bohemian and Moravian Jews. You can also see drawings of Jewish children made in the Terezin concentration camp between 1942 and 1944. There were more than 10,000 children under the age of 15 there. In 1577, the High Synagogue was built as a part of the Jewish City Hall, and the original vault with some Gothic features and stucco decoration still can be seen.

The Rabbi's House

The Rabbi’s House

Nowadays, Paris St. in this area is one of the most popular places to live in Prague. If you get hungry, you can eat at the King Solomon kosher restaurant. Michelle Obama ate there when she was in town.

www.cosmos.com/Product.aspx?trip=46050

 

Germany: Munich: Michael Jackson Memorial Here

Michael Jackson wanted to live in Munich in the Hotel Bayerischer Hof.  He never got to do it, but the people of Munich have set up a memorial spot to him on the base of a statue of composer Orlande de Lassus (a Renaissance composer) in the grassy median facing the hotel. His loyal fans have put up photos of him and leave flowers, candles and handwritten notes.

michaelj

Germany: Munich – Jewish Premier of Germany

EisnerPlaqueKurt Eisner, a Socialist and a  Jew became the first Republican Premier of Bavaria. In November 1918, at the end of WWI, Eisner, a socialist journalist and statesman, organized the Socialist Revolution which overthrew the Wittelsbach monarchy in Bavaria. He declared Bavaria to be a free state and republic on November 8, 1918.

His leadership didn’t last long as he was assassinated in Munich when German nationalist Anton Graf von Arco auf Valley shot him  in the back on February 21, 1919. After his death the in-fighting amongst left wing parties led to the seeds of the National Socialist Party and the rise of Hitler.

In 1989 a memorial was placed on the sidewalk on the ground at the site of his assassination.
Eisner1

Members of the Wittelsbach family are still alive, still own property in the city and are honored by the people of Munich and are invited to events.

www.muenchen.de/int/en/tourism.html

South Africa: Visiting Robben Island, UNESCO World Heritage Site

By Adele Shapiro – March 2012.

As a child I used to visit Robben Island with my grandmother. Her son, my uncle, was a warder in the prison services there. The name “Robben”, despite sounding very English – is in fact the Dutch for “Seal” – and the name derives from the extensive seal colony that was found on the Island by the first Dutch settlers.

We would go to the Cape Town docks and from there, take a boat ride to the island, where we would spend the day with family. I was vaguely aware that there were bad people on the island, and that it was a prison…. but little did I know then of the role it was to play in South Africa’s later history. Years passed and now as an adrobben1ult, I found myself revisiting the place where “the bad people” were kept, only now I realized that some were not so bad after all.

I bought a ticket for the tour some days before the trip, (advisable, as they fill up quickly) and took time out to examine the display at the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.

There were many photographs of the political dissidents, the calls for boycotts, the anti-apartheid marches and there was also a prison cell that had been reconstructed for the purposes of the exhibit. I strongly recommend a visit to this exhibit before going to the island as it helps to contextualize the experience.

The trip began, as in times of old, with a boat ride from Cape Town docks, but this time instead of my uncle meeting us, we had a pleasant tour guide who told us jokes on our bus trip, whilst pointing out various sights on the island. Our bus was parked under a sign that said: “Welcome. We serve with pride.” I wondered if that sign had been there when Robben Island had been a prison as it was so sharply incongruous to the environment. I hoped not.

robben2Robben Island has had a long history. First as a lighthouse to warn ships of the VOC, the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie), of the rocks that surround the island. But since the end of the 17th century, Robben Island has been used for the isolation of (mainly) political prisoners. The island was also used at various times as an animal quarantine station, a home for slaves, a leper colony, a hospital for the mentally ill and as a prison for French Vichy prisoners of war.

First we saw the Leper Graveyard and then house where Robert Sobukwe (Founder of the Pan Africanist Congress) had been kept separate from the other political dissidents.

It seems that Robert Sobukwe had special status in the prison. He was kept in solitary confinement at all times, but allowed certain privileges including access to books, being permitted to study, being permitted to wear civilian clothes, and being permitted bread. His children were allowed to visit him and they had their own bedroom in his “house”. Robert Sobukwe was convicted of incitement for demonstrating against and defying the Pass Laws, and in particular, for his connection to the PAC demonstration (although he was not present) which became known as the Sharpeville Massacre.

The notorious Pass Laws required black people to carry a pass book at all times when outside their compounds or designated areas, and were designed to limit severely the movements of the non-white population. This legislation was one of the dominant features of the country’s apartheid system.

Sobukwe was sentenced to three years in prison. After serving his sentence, he was moved to Robben Island for internment, as a new law called the General Law Amendment Act had been passed, which permitted his imprisonment to be renewed annually at the discretion of the Minister of Justice. This procedure became known as the “Sobukwe clause” and Robert Sobukwe was the only person whose imprisonment was extended under this clause. Imagine how special one has to be in order for parliament to pass a law just for you!

We also learned from our tour guide that the American politician and Pastor, Andrew Young, had fostered Sobukwe’s children in the USA, while Sobukwe had been in prison.

Our tour continued to the lime quarry where the political prisoners had worked. At the entrance to the quarry we saw a small cairn, and learned its history. In February 1995, (the landmark change of government was in 1994), about one thousand former political prisoners gathered again on Robben Island, but this time as free men, and to mark the occasion, each one placed a small stone from the quarry in a pile, making a small memorial to their years of hardship and struggle.

As we continued on our bus ride, we were shown a church, a hospital, a school and a mosque, and realized that far beyond our expectations, the island had supported a whole community. We duly arrived at the prison and tumbled out of the bus for our tour of “the real thing”. We were excited and filled with high spirits and I wondered for a moment where my heart would have been had I not been a tourist.

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Inside we found grey walls. It was cool at midday; it was clear that at midnight it would be very cold. The communal cells were large and each had a bathroom attached.

Here we met our prison tour guide, Derrick Basson, a former political prisoner who served time on Robben Island for sabotage.

Derrick was very patient, humble and remarkably, not bitter. He answered all the insensitive questions calmly and without anger. In addition he explained the grading of the prisoners by race and also the diets that varied due to the racial classification of each prisoner. One of the curious facts he told us was that black prisoners were not given bread. As they were Africans their “natural” food was considered to be maize meal. The mixed race prisoners were allowed bread as they were considered to be more western or European and less African. The black Africans were also not allowed jam or syrup. I suppose you do not need jam if you have no bread.

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Then I remembered that Robert Sobukwe, in spite of being black, was allowed to have bread, and it struck me that this must have been because he had been a university professor, and since this is a very “European” and non-tribal job, maybe he was considered eligible to receive bread.

Derrick further explained how prisoners slept on mats on the floor and how 5 blankets had not been enough to keep them warm at night. I suddenly remembered an interview with a former Alcatraz inmate who spoke of the extreme cold and of how prisoners had learned to sleep with only their elbows and knees touching the floor, hands locked behind the head. I became very grateful for my duvet.

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We were told that in the beginning the political prisoners had been kept with the ordinary criminals, but later on, they were, thankfully, given their own “wing” and kept together. They came to call this place “The University” as they learned many things from each other and many of them also obtained degrees while in prison.

Derrick then took us to a yard where the prisoners had chopped rocks and turned them into stones, day after day in the sun. They were told that these rocks were used for roads built on the island, but no one seemed to know if this was true or not.

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We were then taken to Nelson Mandela’s cell. Mandela was a militant anti-apartheid activist, as well as the co-founder and leader of the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC), Umkhonto we Sizwe or “Spear of the Nation”. He was arrested in 1962 and convicted of sabotage, (amongst other charges), after he admitted to manufacturing explosives and acts of public violence, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Mandela served 27 years in prison, 18 of these on Robben Island. After his release, he served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999.

My very first impression was of how small the cell was. No, not small, tiny. And then I thought that at least he could stand up and lie down in it, but not much more than that. At least it was larger than the dreadful box that I had heard was used in China. But there was no toilet. Just a metal bucket with a lid. At least a lid. And no tap, so no water. And if you are thirsty during the night, what should you do? And of course there was no electrical socket and no radio nor TV. And all I could think of was 27 years. TWENTY SEVEN YEARS! There was no door handle on the inside. The door was only operational from the outside, not unlike a cage. I remembered that Nelson Mandela had once remarked that the hardest and most traumatic experience he endured whilst on Robben Island for all those years was that he never ever saw, or even heard, a child. Can you imagine that? Now he insists on being photographed with children, whenever possible.

robben10And then it was all over. We walked out to the yard, Derrick took us to the exit, and we said our goodbyes.I felt an odd mixture of elation and depression. Very happy that I had been to a UNESCO World Heritage Site of such importance, happier still that it was no longer a prison, and most happy that I was leaving. Yet also depressed and ashamed because of the suffering this place represented.

Duly subdued, we gratefully returned to our boat to ponder our feelings of inspiration and shock, enjoy the beautiful sunset cruise back to Cape Town, and watch a school of dolphins at play in the sea.

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Remember when planning a visit to Robben Island, that the tours don’t always run on time. There was no snack bar on the boat. Our boat was 1 hour late in leaving Cape Town harbour and then we were rushed through our tour, which was a pity as there was too little time for questions.

A suggestion would be to make no appointments after the visit as the timing can vary, and also, take a snack pack. A sun hat and sun block are also good ideas.

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Ferries depart (supposedly) at 9am, 11am, 1pm and 3pm, weather permitting, from Nelson Mandela Gateway, at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. Tickets costs are R230 for adults and R120 for children (U/18). Telephone: +27 (0)21 413 4200
Fax: +27 (0)21 419 1057

Marting Luther King Monument – Washington DC

Yesterday the skies shed tears for Martin Luther King with Hurricane Irene pouring down. After 27 years in the making, a memorial to him opened to the public on the 48th anniversary of his “I have a dream” speech.

The Mall in Washinton, DC was always a sacred place for monuments dedicated to ex-presidents so okaying a spot for an African-American who was just a “common” man was remarkable; Of course he was an amazing man of peace who changed America for the better.

The MLK memorial was conceived in 1987 by members of the Alpha Phi Alpha, the oldest African-American fraternity in the US and authorized by Congress in 1996. The sculpture shows King emerging from rough stone with his brow furrowed, arms crossed and looking out over the horizon. Long granite walls flanking the sides feature 14 of King’s most famous quotes.

The Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin wanted to show him deep in thought and named it the Stone of Hope. The words were borrowed from his speech “From a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

King proves that one person can truly change a nation.