POLAND, JUNE / JULY 2002
Part Three: July 12 - July 21
Friday, July 12, Bydgoszcz. weather: warm and clear
“Sniadanie” (breakfast), called Basia at 9:00 a.m.. We quickly ran downstairs and said “dzien dobry.” Stefan had to work and he was already gone. Breakfast was delicious. Basia knew I preferred cappuccino to the dark Polish coffee so she had a cup set out for her and me. Josh was offered several flavors of yogurt as well as the kielbasa biala (fresh sausage) that was made just for him. He was in heaven.
This was the day Karol needed to apply to the engineering school in Bydgoszcz so we all drove to the school and waited while he filled out the necessary papers. When Karol was finished we drove to a little amusement park in Bydgoszcz. The great thing about this park is that the rides are just like they were when I was a kid; before all the law suits and safety standards. We all jumped into the little bump-em cars. We ran into each other just like the “good old days.” It was great fun! Next Josh and Karol rode little pieces of carpet down a very tall slide. We all took a train ride around the park. Well, actually it was a truck towing trailers made up to look like a train. There were several other rides but most were too small. We did go into the fun house and made each other laugh in the mirrors. We took a break with - what else - ice cream and then hiked over to the zoo. The zoo is quite small and old. The enclosures are such that if we had wanted to, we could have put our hands into the bear cages. The bears were the largest animals. There were also many birds and small furry animals. Rather than walk back to the car we decided to take the zoo train, a real one this time, back to the park.
Back at home Barbara went right into the kitchen to start making make obiad. Stefan got home shortly after we finished eating and went out the new grill to put meat on for kolacja (dinner). Stefan had built this grill from scratch and was quite proud of it. It was made from stonework that he had laid. He also added a stainless steel tripod and pulley system to support the grill itself.
While waiting to eat (again), we were shown the new windows and porch door, the roll down outside blinds, the new marble floor at the back entrance, the new water heater and tank, the new clothesline poles and the additional plants that were added around the pond. I had also spotted the new mirror in the bathroom and we had already noticed the new wood floor in Stefan and Basia’s bedroom and the new wall that sealed up the outside door in the bedroom. Unfortunately, the pond itself had not been finished and Basia now just wanted Stefan to give up and fill it back in with dirt. They had a lot of plants, flowers, trees and a kitchen garden like most Polish families, but Barbara just didn’t have enough time to tend all of it. Still it looked really nice.
In about 2 hours it was time for dinner. We were not hungry but knew better than to say “No, thank you.” We had dinner outside and sat outside talking until about midnight. Karol’s English had improved a little since my last visit.
Saturday, July 13, Torun. weather: hot
Stefan had to attend the funeral of a distant relative who had died two days earlier in an industrial accident. Basia, Karol, David, Josh and I were going to Torun so Josh and Karol could go swimming at a public pool. Josh didn’t have a swimsuit so we went into Solec Kujawski to buy him a pair of soccer shorts. Josh refused to wear the same kind of trunks most Polish men wear - Speedos. We went into two stores but had no luck. We decided to pick up a few other things while we were out and take a walk through the Saturday bazaar. I bought some candy for the family and Dave bought a power adapter we intended to give to a cousin of Karol’s. We hadn’t been able to find one in the US that would allow a CD player to be plugged into Polish outlets. We finally found Josh some nylon shorts that he could use for swimming. They have since turned out to be his favorite shorts.
We drove the three minutes back to the house, picked up Basia and left for Torun. Waleria rarely joined us on outings. The weather was too hot, she said. We parked the car in the old part of Torun and walked to the public pool which was near the Wisla. Karol and Josh went by themselves and we agreed to meet them at 4:00 p.m. Dave, Basia and I walked to the old city and visited a church, a few stores that were open, and enjoyed some, - drum roll - ice cream and beer. Not at the same time. We sat outside in the rynek enjoying our refreshments. Dave went to look for fountain pens but found most of the stores on the rynek closed. It was Saturday and most stores closed at 2:00 p.m. We were able to browse through a couple of bookstores and, as usual, Basia bought us a couple of things against my protests. One book was about Poland that I should have bought earlier in the trip. Another was a great Disney picture book for Josh that has Polish and English words for the kinds of everyday things that you don’t find in the usual phrase books. It was great! In fact, the Tomalski family wanted a copy too.
We still had some time so we walked around the outer streets of the rynek. There were quite a few groups of school children on field trips. We decided to pick up the car and then go get the boys, so we wouldn’t have to walk back and forth. We had no trouble locating Josh and Karol. They had a good time even though the pool was very crowded. At home we had obiad and kolacja. Stefan didn’t return home until about 6:30 p.m. He had worn a suit to the funeral and looked quite handsome. The baseball cap from David’s company was a nice touch. He tried to convince us that he took it off at the funeral and he probably did. We sat up until about 10:00 p.m. going over family information. I asked lots of questions. It becomes very confusing when you research two families with the same surname from the same area, and then add in two more families from the same general area. Karol did not go to bed early. Instead he went to the disco in Solca (Solec Kujawski) with his friends. Karol loves to dance. He walked to the disco because his dad would not let him take the car. Karol dressed nicely and made sure his hair was just right. He never took a girl dancing he said because he preferred to dance with everyone. He certainly wasn’t a little boy! It cost 5 zloty to get into the disco. We found out the next morning that Karol got home about 4:30 a.m. It was daylight by then, so I guess it wasn’t dangerous walking home at that time of the morning. He was very quiet coming in and none of us heard him. Karol has not been in any kind of trouble so his parents trust him.
Sunday, July 14, Trutowo, Ruze, Oborowy, Szafarnia. weather: warm but nice.
We slept late, awaking at nine, but we still had sniadanie. We had to take two cars because Stefan was joining us today. Stefan and Basia rode with me in the rental car and Dave and Josh rode with Karol in his dad’s car. Stefan wanted to see what it was like to be in air conditioning. I think he also wanted to see how Karol drove.
Our first stop was in Szafarnia, Chopin’s residence for one summer. The large house has a grand piano in the main room surrounded by chairs. A recorded explanation was given about the house and Chopin. Afterwards we heard some of the music composed by this famous Pole. In another room are many pictures, letters, awards, and the like relating to Chopin and his family. We took a stroll around the grounds before going on.
Our next stop was at the parish of Trutowo, one of Basia’s ancestral parishes. This is a true baroque style church. A priest met us at the church, let us in and told us some of the history of the church. Basia had called ahead and made arrangements for the priest to speak with us. She explained that we were from Texas and that I was doing family research. The priest gave us a rather large brochure about the church and let us out. We left an offering in the collection box.
We were now on our way to Jan and Zofia’s farm. Zofia is Basia’s sister. The Zachowskis live in Ruze, which is south of Golub-Dobrzyn in the old wojewodztwo of Wloclawek. We were familiar with the roads, having been down them a couple of times before. We wondered what new things Jan had added this time. Last time it was a cylindrical, stainless steel milk container so he could store more milk for the commercial dairy. Two of their dogs greeted us as we parked off to the side in the main yard. Jan, Zosia and Paulina, their 12 year old daughter came out to greet us with hugs and kisses. Their 14 year old son, Tomasz, was at a lake swimming with two other cousins. We immediately went inside and sat down for obiad. We sat at two tables in the living room that were lined with chairs on one side and the couch on the other. Basia went into the kitchen to help her sister get the food on the table. We all sat down and enjoyed this wonderful Sunday dinner (knowing of course, that in about an hour we’d be having kolacja). We had chicken soup, kielbasa biala, and cutlets as well as a vegetable salad common in Poland. So much food. Dave and I always go on a diet before we leave for Poland. While we were finishing, Tomek came in with his cousins. Magda and Kasia were the daughters of Basia’s other sister, who lived close by. We had only met Zosia and Adam, two of Basia’s 5 other siblings, so this was a treat. We also met Kasia’s boyfriend, Marcin. Kasia and Marcin were about 22 years old and had been dating for five years. I asked if marriage was in the future and was told, no, neither one of them had a job. Magda understood and spoke a little English but was shy to try it in front of us. As she relaxed a few words came out and I could see that she understood some of what I said. Paulina is doing quite well with her English though she is a very shy girl. Her mother was able to coax her into speaking and translating a little which gave Karol a break.
It was now time to go outside to rest before kolacja. Jan delighted in showing us the goslings, baby ducks, new cows and the resident storks who lived in the big tree next to the barn. The goslings were so cute and fluffy. I pictured pillows full of goose down. We walked around the farm a little, with Magda and Kasia joining us. Josh, Tomek and Karol played a little soccer. We were surprised by the storks when they suddenly flew home to fee their babies. I took several pictures of them, this being the only time I had a chance to be so close to these big birds. We saw Jan’s new car, which replaced one that had been stolen out of his barn a few months before. Unfortunately, Jan had left the keys and ownership papers in the car. Who would come to his farm to steal his car? Evidently whomever it was gave the dogs, including “bear” who is never let out of his cage, a nice treat since they didn’t even bark.
Jan has more than 10 cows now and a few calves. He also had a few pigs and piglets. He has quite a bit of farmland, on which he grows vegetables. He had also planted a few dozen fir trees “for his children.” This year the big crop appeared to be corn. After visiting for about an hour it was time to eat. Magda, Kasia and Marcin joined us. After dinner we were served dessert. The weather was rather warm so we skipped coffee. We had brought gifts for the Zachowski family, but since I had nothing for Magda and Kasia didn’t I held off giving the gifts until after they left.
As soon as the cousins said goodbye, I brought out the gifts. We gave Janek two shirts, Zosia received an embroidered blouse and a summer nightie. Tomek had grown from 5 feet 3 inches two years ago to 6 feet so I bought him a couple of large t-shirts. We also gave him a CD player and some CD’s. I had no idea what kind of music he liked, or if he had developed that sort of interest so I gave him a small assortment of CD’s. I could tell he was thrilled. I gave Paulina some young lady jewelry, hair accessories, and a pretty box that held a pen with feathers on it, a small notebook and other desk type accessories. The best gift for her, though, was a pretty pink short sleeved shirt and a pair of embroidered denim short-alls. Paulina absolutely loved the clothes and tried them on immediately. Our visit and gift were timely because Paulina was leaving for camp the next day. Now she had something special to pack. I imagine she wore those clothes most of the time she was there. The Zachowskis are not rich farmers . If it had not been for a small inheritance from an aunt in the U.S., Jan wouldn’t have been able to buy the milk tank. These folks, like most Polish farmers, work seven days a week. They never visit Basia in Solec Kujawski because it would mean taking too much time away from the farm. This farm has been handed down from Jan’s grandfather to his father and then to him. Tomek will inherit it from his dad.
When everyone was finished admiring their gifts, we were presented with ours. Paulina had picked them out. Joshua received a little bank with a grosze in it (so that’s where that custom came from), I was given a very pretty little flowered jar with a lid and Dave was given a fairly large framed picture of horses. These gifts mean a lot to us because we know how hard they have to work to make a living.
When Stefan told us it was time to go we said our goodbyes with more hugs and kisses and were told that we are always welcome at the Zuchowski home.
When we visit Basia’s sister we usually have obiad and kolacja at Zosia’s house and desert at her brother Adam’s house. This was not the case this time. I had brought presents for Adam, his wife Jadwiga, their three children and Basia’s mother who lives with Adam, the oldest son and inheritor of the family farm. I ended up bringing the presents home. Instead of the family visit we stopped at Oborowy to see a sanctuarium of Mary. The sun was going down so I had to be quick taking pictures. We happened to arrive at the church just as a priest was returning from an evening out. He unlocked the church doors and gave us a brief history of the church. Above the altar is a picture of Mary and Jesus which is covered by doors. At the flip of a switch the doors opened revealing an ornately adorned Mother and Child. This display reminded me a great deal of Czestochowa. We thanked the priest and on our way out we placed some money in the box. The grounds were quite lovely with large outdoor stations of the cross. I had lagged behind taking pictures when the priest ran up to me with several 2003 pocket sized calendars. Each one had a different picture of the church on it. He also gave me two brochures and a hanging calendar. I was very pleased to get these and thanked him again. I rejoined the rest of the group and we walked across the street to the cemetery. We had to walk up quite a few old steps. The cemetery wasn’t very large but it was picturesque and interesting. There were several old crypts in an outdoor mausoleum.
On our way home we stopped at a gas station. Our rental car was guzzling gas. Dave suspected it was due to the air conditioner. This was also an opportunity to use the rest room.
We arrived home at about 11:00 p.m. Waleria was still awake watching television in her room. We visited with her for a short while and then we all went to bed.
Monday, July 15, Wloclawek, Lubien Kujawy Lake, Plock. weather: warm and humid
We were up early, had breakfast and left for parts unknown. Stefan was with us again so we took two cars. Stefan, David, Karol and Josh went in Stefan’s car and Basia and I were in the rental car. The family had bought a car for Basia a couple of years before, but it was in the repair shop and had been there for some time. The shop couldn’t locate the part needed to put the car back on the road. Karol had said they would probably have to buy another car. This lack of standardization seems to be a continuing problem in Poland.
As often happens when we visit Stefan and Barbara, we weren’t told where we were going. Driving out of Solca we passed a couple of prostitutes. They work during the day, walking up and down a short stretch of road that runs past a forested area with a turn-off. I kept trying to get a picture of these women as we drove past them. Each day we drove this road I noticed that there was one woman who was always sitting. We joked that she probably wasn’t making very much money because she was so lazy.
After driving a little more than an hour we stopped at a skansen in Klobce in old wojewodztwo Wloclawek, Kukjawsko-Dobrzynski Park Etnograficzny w Klobce. There really wasn’t a parking area so we stopped right in front of the gates which were closed. Stefan and Basia got out, walked up to the gates and talked to a man who was inside the skansen. I got out of the car and after reading the sign realized the skansen was closed on Mondays. I mentioned to Dave that most skansens and museums were closed on Mondays, as I had found when making up our itinerary. This skansen was open year-round, which surprised me because of the heavy snow that accumulates in winter. The cost of admission was 4 zloty for an adult or about $1.00.
Basia was allowed to go in to purchase a small booklet and some postcards about the skansen. I slipped in and took a couple of pictures of the buildings that are near the entrance. The woman in the gift shop would not allow us to walk around the skansen. We stood outside the park area while Stefan and Basia discussed what to do. I noticed that two more cars had pulled up hoping to visit the skansen. I took a picture of a postman who drove up on his motorcycle to deliver mail to the skansen.
We drove towards the city of Wloclawek. There is a huge dam over the Wisla here with a memorial to ks. Jerzy Popieluszki, the priest who was killed in 1984 by the Communists during the Poles’ fight for Soldinarosc. We parked on the dam and walked down the steps to the memorial site. I took several pictures of the plaque as well as a few of the big blue memorial cross. I mentioned to the Tomalski family that I had recently seen a movie on T.V. about this priest. Before seeing the movie, I had not known the priest’s name.
We drove farther south to Lake Lubien Kujawy. There were very few people here and though there was a beach, no one was in the water. There was a small snack shop so we decided to have coffee and ice cream. Karol had a zapiakanka and Josh had french fries. On the way to the lake we passed a little restaurant, “Swietizianka” where we had eaten during our very first trip to Poland in 1996. I had taken a picture of the restaurant but I hadn’t written down its location. Now I knew it was in Lubien Kujawski.
Stefan asked if we had ever been to Plock and since we hadn’t we decided to drive the short distance for a visit. We drove along the Wisla River to the bridge that crosses over to the city of Plock. The bridge is only two lanes. We noticed that the traffic coming out of Plock seemed exceptionally heavy but later found out that it is a major route into Warsaw, and is always like this.
Plock sits on a hill with its cathedral spires peeking out above the trees. We found our way to the rynek and parked the car. This large square is very pretty with a pink gmina building and a large fountain at one end, with lampposts running down the center of the rynek from the gmina to the opposite end. Red flowers hung in baskets from each lamppost. Buildings with outdoor cafes in front of them line the perimeter of the rynek, protected by the standard beer umbrellas. I needed to use a restroom so we walked around the rynek until we found a public bathroom. This was the first time we had encountered a co-ed public restroom. I don’t remember paying for this restroom but we must have. There was a male attendant and one room with several cubicles with doors. Josh questioned this arrangement but I told him it was OK and normal.
We headed down a cobblestoned pedestrian-only street. I went into the Cepelia but was quite disappointed in their offerings. We went into a couple of bookstores and bought a small booklet about Plock. We walked to the cathedral which is very impressive. A large statue of John Paul II stands outside. I took pictures of a memorial plaque which lists people of Plock who died as victims of WWII. We walked down a couple of side streets and visited the Jewish memorial which is on the site where the Jewish cemetery was until it was destroyed by the Nazis. The design of this memorial is quite interesting. There is a large shadow of a man sculpted into the wall of the memorial. It is an impressive interpretation.
While walking through the area a woman approached us asking in Polish if we were from America. Stefan said something to her and we walked on. At some point I became aware of the fact that this woman was following us. She was carrying what appeared to be an album or notebook. She was a little disheveled but not conspicuously so. I assumed she was very poor and possibly homeless. The woman finally approached us. She had heard us speaking English and wanted to know if we would take her story to the police in America because the police in Poland didn’t care about her. The book she was carrying evidently contained her story. She talked on for a few minutes and I noticed that Basia was listening intently. I thought Basia was probably trying to decide what was wrong with this woman. After a few minutes Karol and Stefan told her no, we wouldn’t do that. We walked on and the woman went on her way. That was pretty interesting!
It was about time for obiad so we stopped at an outdoor café on the rynek. Bees were everywhere and we had to change tables a couple of times. At 6:00 p.m. a trumpeter on the rynek played a tune similar to the Hejnal played in Krakow every hour. Josh found a couple of gum ball machines on the rynek. One sold gum and the other sold little toys. Ah, one of the better imports from the West. Based on the cost of the toys, I doubt that very many children actually put their coins in the gum ball machines.
On our drive home we stopped in Wloclawek. On our second trip to Poland in 1998, we had stopped at the diocesan archives in Wloclawek on our way from Solec Kujawski to Warsaw but didn’t have the time to look around the city. Unfortunately, everything was closed and the sun was setting. I took photographs of the diocesan archives, the bishop’s home (palace) and the outside of the cathedral.
On our way home we stopped near Otloczyn at a roadside grill famous for its pea soup. The soup is made in army cook trailers and is wonderful! You can also buy kielbasa and a few other dinners. Most people, however, were enjoying the soup. There was a little dog that wandered from table to table, stopping for a minute at each. If he didn’t get fed he’d go on to another table. He didn’t beg so he wasn’t bothersome.
We drove home and arrived at about 9:45 p.m.. We had hoped the soup was kolacja and it was. We greeted Waleria and told her about our day. Then it was upstairs for coffee and vodka shots. Stefan, Barbara and I went over more family information while Dave, Karol and Josh watched a Sylvester Stalone movie dubbed in Polish. At about 11:30 p.m. we said dobranoc. Dave and I packed up more books to send home. We had acquired another good-sized stack. This would make the fourth postal bag I’d have at home.
Tuesday, July 16, Solec Kujawski, Lake Jezuickie. weather: hot and humid.
Up at 7:00 a.m. Barbara had made a special treat for breakfast: nalesniki! I had not had this since I was a little girl living in my grandmother’s house and David and Josh had never had them. We all thoroughly enjoyed this breakfast of very thin pancakes.
Josh also had two containers of yogurt. Karol had keflir on cereal and offered Dave and me a taste. Dave said it was probably thick buttermilk without the butterfat. We gave Josh a taste too. He didn’t care for it even though he wanted a glass of milk. Milk is not generally served but Barbara bought some for Josh. The milk came in a collapsible container which I thought would be difficult to handle, Barbara had a little plastic container that held the milk container thus making it possible to pour the milk without spilling it everywhere. Apparently Poles are not big consumers of milk.
After breakfast, I washed out a few items of clothing to last through the end of the trip. I knew they would be dry by the end of the day because it was so sunny. Dave and I decided to go to the post office and mail our accumulation of books home. Karol went with us to act as our interpreter. Good thing!
Karol and I explained to the clerk that I wanted the books sent in the “worek.” The clerk at the post office could not find the correct rate in her book or on her computer. The postmistress was called into the conversation but she, too, couldn’t help. Karol was ready to leave but I wasn’t. I didn’t want to carry these books in our suitcases. They were too heavy and I needed the space for the china. I had to insist that I knew what I was talking about and told them that I had mailed other books in a bag four days before in Gniezno. The postmistress ended up calling Dorota at the Gniezno post office! She came back saying, she was still learning new things everyday. I told her we are all still learning. I got my bag and rate! The books weighed 8.04 kg and the charge was 47 zloty ($11.75).
I asked Karol to write down the exact words I needed to say at the post office so I wouldn’t have these problems in the future. I’m not sure this is enough but here’s what he wrote, "Cenik zagraniczny strona". I’m sure mentioning "worek" wouldn't hurt. On both address tags I listed my name but used a Polish return address. This time I had a mailing tag ready, which I had covered in clear tape so it would be protected. I also had my name and U.S. address on each book packet inside the bag.
Instead of going back to the car we walked a block to the grocery store. Karol needed to buy a razor because his mother was insisting that he shave. His “beard” is so blonde it really doesn’t show, but I understood a mother wanting her son to look presentable. I bought a box of Kleenex to leave at the house. Packaging Kleenex in boxes is new for Poland. Prior to this trip you could only buy Kleenex in pocket sized packages. This new boxed Kleenex was expensive, too. I also picked up a box of candy to take home and some candy for Josh. It was chocolate with a little container inside that held a toy. Josh liked to buy these every time we were in Poland.
Back at the house Barbara, Waleria and I sat outside in the shade. Waleria’s daily routine was to sit on the front porch in the morning. Barbara and I decided to brush Atos. Barbara found several large patches of matted fur which she had to cut out. Atos shed so much fur that Basia collects it in a bag. I asked if she knits sweaters with the dog’s fur and she said they used the fur to knit socks. Atos is a huge, white, Polish mountain dog. He is a wonderful watch dog and aggressively protects his territory. Even though it was two years between our visits, Atos remembered us. Cika is a small dog about the size of a large Chihuahua. It’s always fun to watch these two dogs play. I haven’t mentioned Filomon, the cat or the two new parakeets. The last time we visited there was only one bird which Filemon had subsequently eaten. These birds were a replacement and were never let out of their cage if Filemon was in the house. The birds were fun to watch and listen to during sniadanie.
We visited most of the day and I took the opportunity to get more family information. At about 5:00 p.m. we left for a nearby lake, which was about 15 minutes away. The lake was in a forested area and we had to drive down narrow dirt roads. The beach was full of people. People were sunbathing, swimming, playing volleyball, and riding in paddle boats.
Karol wanted to go swimming but deferred to Josh and rented a paddle boat. Basia and I also rented a boat. Dave sat in the shade and read a book while Stefan took a nap; something he did often if we stopped for more than 15 minutes.
Karol, Josh, Basia and I took our paddle boats onto the lake, which turned out to be very large. Even though the sun was still hot, it seemed cooler on the lake. I was surprised to see swans swimming on the lake. We passed a family who was swimming and picnicking. Two little boys swam behind our boat and snuck up behind us. They grabbed hold onto our boat and let us tow them for a short distance. We pretended we didn’t know they were there and paddled in circles to give them a treat.
After about an hour on the lake we pedaled back to the beach. Josh and Karol had stopped a couple of times so Karol could swim. When they finally came back to the beach we bought them ice cream bars. Stefan and I had one too. Basia and Dave had beer. The sky was filling up with dark storm clouds, so we decided to leave. On the way home we stopped at the cemetery in Solec Kujawski to visit the grave of Stefan’s mother, Florentyna. It was difficult to see Florentyna’s name on the headstone and her family gathered around praying. Florentyna shared the grave with her mother, who died in 1976. Florentyna had raised Stefan by herself after her husband died when Stefan was 3 years old. She and Waleria had lived together almost all of their adult lives and they both had lived with Stefan and Basia for the last 4 years. I took a few pictures and Stefan relit the candles that had been placed around the grave.
At home Barbara gave me photos that had been taken during the funeral. One was of Florentyna in her coffin at the chapel. Basia’s brother took pictures of all of Florentyna’s family gathered around her grave. It is obviously a Polish custom for the family, no matter how large, to pose for pictures around the grave.
We enjoyed obiad and an hour or so later we had kolacja. Stefan grilled meat on his masterpiece of a grill and we ate outside. After dinner, Josh and Karol set off bottle rockets. It was not legal to do this within city limits, but since there wasn’t a neighbor living in the house next door we didn’t think we’d have a problem. Having never used fireworks, Josh thought this was the best. The mosquitos were out in full force, and even though we put on repellant, we decided to go inside after dinner. We continued to talk and visit until about 11:00 p.m.
Wednesday, July 17, Solec Kujawski weather: rain
Dave drove to Bydgoszcz by himself. He was going to look for either a battery charger or transformer for Tomasz’ CD player so he would be able to listen to his CD’s. We knew that once the batteries ran out that we gave him, he wouldn’t be able to buy any more. We had bought a transformer in Solca but it hadn’t worked in Tomasz’ house. The CD player worked on the batteries though. I wondered if there was an electric problem in Jan’s house and that was really the problem. We had tried to buy a transformer in the U.S. but we were unable to locate the kind we needed. Dave was also going to pick up some more film - 50 rolls hadn’t been enough! He also looked around for fountain pens to add to his collection.
Josh played on the computer for awhile and then went with Karol and a couple of his friends into town. One friend spoke some English and they all seemed to like Josh even though he was quite a bit younger then they.
After Josh and Karol returned, Karol, Stefan, Basia and I worked on genealogy. A lot was a repetition of information they had given me in 2000 which was lost by the airlines. We worked until about 5:00 p.m. - time for obiad. Dave returned just in time. The only thing he bought in Bydgoszcz was film. He didn’t have any trouble even though he doesn’t speak Polish. Obiad, as usual, included cutlets, other meats, cheese, potatoes, bread and cauliflower. During dinner conversation, Karol remarked how surprised he was at the amount of meat we eat in America. He was referring to his visit with us in 1997 when he stayed a month. It was an interesting observation, I thought, considering he was only 14 at the time.
After obiad we continued working on genealogy, using Karol as an interpreter when necessary, while Dave and Josh watched T.V.. No kolacja this evening which was really fine with us. We did, however, have “liquored” cherries and shots of vodka. Maybe that’s why the work went slowly. We occasionally yelled downstairs to Waleria for answers about her side of the family. We went to bed at 11:00 p.m.
Thursday, July 18 Solec Kujawski, Osieciny, Belszewo. weather: warm and sunny
This was the day before we were to leave. Basia made a wonderful breakfast as usual; meats, cheeses, breads, yogurt for Joshua, deviled eggs, and coffee. After breakfast Dave and I started re-packing and got most of it done. We could have used a little more packing material for the china, but hoped our clothes would do the trick. All of the film, camera equipment and genealogy would have to go in the backpacks and my carry-on bag. We still couldn’t expand our suitcases because they wouldn’t fit in the trunk of the car. This wouldn’t have been a problem except that we planned to make at least one stop on our way to Warsaw. We were either going to stop in the city of Wloclawek or stop in the ancestral parish of Kruszyn and the village of Poddębice. Since we hadn’t had time in Wloclawek yet, we decided that was going to be the place.
Karol and Stefan drove to Bydgoszcz to find out if Karol had been accepted into the engineering program. Waleria brought out her photo album. It was a lovely book but it had only a few pictures in it. None of the photos were pre-WWI. I asked if she had pictures which were taken before that time but she said no. I also asked if her sister, Florentyna, who had died the previous November, had her own photo album and Waleria said no, they shared that one. I saw many pictures of the whole family around graves. There were wedding pictures and pictures of Stefan as a baby and in the 1970's with very long hair. There was also a picture of him in his army uniform from when he was stationed in Israel for NATO. I was surprised that kids in 1970 communist Poland had been allowed to wear long hair. There were cute pictures of Karol as a baby and a few of Waleria’s siblings and their families. Waleria also had a large framed picture of her parents which was taken in 1917. I noticed that nothing was written on the back of the pictures, so I told Waleria she really needed to do that before she forgot who all those people were. As it turned out, she labeled them that afternoon. Joshua had occupied himself riding Karol’s old skateboard. Josh only had a short section of sidewalk to ride on as the street in front of the house is not paved. All the streets one block away are paved so I imagine it is only a matter of time before their street is also paved.
Karol and Stefan returned from Bydgoszcz with bad news. Karol would not be going to Bydgoszcz for college. He would instead be going to Torun University. Torun is a better school but it is farther away. This would probably mean that Karol will have to take the train to school every day. His parents were not happy with this situation. They both felt that Karol had not studied hard enough. Karol’s response was matter of fact; typical teenager. I told him that now he knew what happens when you don’t study and that I hope he will pay more attention to school. I pointed out to him that whatever he does now in school, will effect the rest of his life. I’m sure he wanted to hear all that from one more adult.
We all got into the two cars and drove to see two Chojnacki/Tomalski ancestral parishes. Of course, I didn’t know where we were going until we arrived and I saw the village signs. We drove through Stuzewo, Koneck and Badkowo on our way to Osieciny. One of the roads took us through a sparsely forested area that is also used for army maneuvers. There was a caution sign with a tank on it and off the road we saw an old tank that obviously didn’t run anymore. There is sort of a flag system to let people know when the area is being used for maneuvers.
In Osieciny we first stopped at the cemetery. I was pleased to see that this cemetery had walls and a gate and an entrance that would make a nice picture. Many of Stefan’s family (Malecki) were buried in this cemetery. His grandmother was Wladyslawa Malecka, the mother of Waleria and Florentyna. Florentyna was now buried with her mother in Solec Kujawski. A second cousin of Stefan’s, Marek Malecki, owns a large cement block manufacturing company in Solec Kujawski, where Barbara and Stefan work in management capacities. The business is doing quite well and is a good example of a successful company that privatized after the communists were thrown out of Poland. Marek and his wife donated the large bronze statue of Pope John Paul II that stands in the courtyard of the parish church in Solec Kujawski (see Poland trip, 2000).
We walked through the cemetery while Stefan pointed out his known ancestors and explained to me their familial connection. This was a well-tended cemetery and, in fact, we happened upon a babcia and her granddaughter tending to a family grave. The oldest family grave we found was for Mieczyslaw Malecki who died in 1933. However, the oldest family member we found was Walenty Malecki who was born in 1857. This was a typical Polish cemetery and the graves were re-used. Mieczyslaw’s grave was interesting indeed, as you can see from the picture. When the Nazis came through Osieciny they broke off the head of a statue of Mary which was in the cemetery. The head fell onto the grave of Mieczyslaw and there it has stayed. The grave now has the appearance that someone is rising out of it. Amazing that no one has moved the head in almost 60 years.
The cemetery in Osieciny had a large memorial situated near the front in honor of those who died in WWII. I happened to spot a grave with the same surname as Joshua’s math teacher from the previous year. When we had met Mr. Depta, he had said that his name means “person who cleans up after a horse.” I went home that evening and looked up his name in Fred Hoffman’s book and delighted in writing Mr. Depta a note correcting him on the origin of his surname. It actually means “a piece of wood placed on the hoof.” I took a picture of the grave just for laughs to give to Mr. Depta hoping to spark an interest in genealogy. I have no idea of course, if the person named on the headstone was even related to the math teacher.
Joshua spotted a large snail on one of the graves. It was larger than any we had seen in Bukowsko, which I had dubbed the snail capital of Poland. This snail was about the size of a lemon so it was still a little small. While the adults walked around Josh and Karol teased each other by writing each other’s names in large letters in the dirt with their shoes.
Our next stop was at the parish in Osieciny. Inside the church are two graves of priests who were killed during WWII. The priests, ks. Walenty Matuszewski and ks. Jozef Kurzawa, had been beatified in 1999 and there is a side altar devoted to them. The main altar is quite impressive with a large statue of Mary above the altar and two kneeling angels in pink on either side of her. I found this church to be interesting because of the muted, soft shades of color used in decorating the inside.
Back in the car we drove to Belszewo, parish of Osieciny, to visit a cousin of Stefan’s. We visited the home of Anana Rzepoluch. Trying to understand the familial connection took a lot of concentration. The tie-in is through Anana’s deceased husband, Gwidon Rzepoluch. Gwidon’s grandparents were Stefan Malecki and Helena Chojnacka.
Stefan Tomalski’s grandparents were Jan Chojnacki and Wladyslawa Malecka. Stefan Malecki and Helena Chojnacka were Stefan Tomalski’ s great uncle and aunt, both by blood, before they married each other. Without making a family tree, the other significant point is the relationship between both set of grandparents. Jan Chojnacki and Helena Chojnacka Malecka were brother and sister as well as sister and brother-in-law. Stefan Malecki and Wladyslawa Malecka Chojnacka were half brother and sister as well as brother and sister-in-law.
Anana’s house once belonged to her husband’s grandfather, Stefan Malecki. Stefan Malecki and Helena Chojnacka only had one son and daughter. Their son, Gwidon, died during WWII at the age of 19, so the house was left to their daughter, Irena Malecka. Irena married Aleksander Rzepoluch and their son was Gwidon Rzepoluch who married Anana, owner of the house now.
You can barely see the house from the road even though the house is only about 10 feet off the road. The front is shielded by large trees and bushes. We parked on the shoulder of the road and walked through the gate to the back yard. Anana heard us and came out of the house to greet us. Stefan made the introductions and tried to explain the connection of our families. Anana invited us to have a seat outside next to the house while she made coffee and brought us fruit from her own trees. Anana also had bee hives at the back of her property and gave us all some honey to taste. I was hoping she would give me some to take home but she didn’t. While the adults sat and talked, Karol and Josh explored the run down farm. I don’t know how much property Anana owned or if she really farmed it. There were no animals to be seen except for her very docile dog.
The original house, which was built before 1913, still stands in the back yard. I had no idea it was a house. It looked more like a barn. Upon closer inspection one could see that the house was indeed divided into rooms. What I thought was the barn was actually used for discards. All kinds of things had been tossed inside this long building. I even saw a spoon on the ground. Anana had said that she wanted to tear down the old house. I thought this was sad, but it was obvious that it couldn’t be repaired. Across from the old house was another building which was connected to the house Anana lives in. Karol was looking through the “antiques” and came up with an old bread board. I was surprised that he was interested in these things. Karol had some reason to go into the house (the rest of us did not go inside) and when he came out told his father that he had seen a very old rocking chair and he suspected it belonged to Anana’s grandparents.
Anana showed us a gold chain necklace that her grandmother, Helena Chojnacka Malecka was wearing in a framed photograph that Anana also brought out. Helena had a sister who emigrated to America and married three times, but had no children. In examining the necklace, Dave noticed that it was made in America and we decided that this chain must have been sent to Helena by her sister. The broken chain was not real gold but costume jewelry. It was interesting that Anana had kept this little memento for so long.
We stayed for about an hour. When it was time to leave Anana gave us bags of fruit from her trees. We thanked her for her generosity and drove back to Solec Kujawski.
Upon arriving at home Basia started right in on obiad; our last dinner with the Tomalski family. At dinner I mentioned how much we again enjoyed our visit and the hospitality. I also mentioned how we missed Florentyna and that we were still saddened by her death. Even though that last statement brought a silence, I wanted the family to know that we too felt their loss.
Towards the end of dinner, Monika called from Krakow. She had received a call from Katarzyna, the church history author who was trying to get in touch with me. Katarzyna had not received my two letters; mail was being stolen from her mailbox. I called Katarzyna, who spoke English, and tried to explain what I wanted. I was hoping to pay her to write books about my other ancestral churches, have them published, take some for myself and then give the rest to the parishes to sell. I thought this would help the churches, Katarzyna and the publisher as well as me. I also told her that there might be other people in the states who would be willing to do the same thing for other parishes. Considering the economic situation in Poland, I thought that this small project would at least help a few people.
Unfortunately, Katarzyna was going to be busy working on her master’s thesis and would not have time to take on my project. I asked her if she knew of anyone else who might be interested. She told me that the people she knew were historians who probably would not be interested in my idea because they only publish their work in professional journals. In talking to Dave about my disappointment, he pointed out that the person I needed would have to be very hungry and without a job, but intelligent and skilled enough to do good research. This will have to be put on the back burner for awhile.
The rest of the evening was pretty low keyed. Stefan photocopied the will that I had photographed a few nights previous. I was really surprised to see that they had a photocopy machine in their home! Dave and I finished packing and then we joined the family in the living room to have a few vodkas. I brought up the possibility of Stefan, Barbara and Karol visiting us the next year in Texas. Stefan and Karol were all for it but Basia does not like to fly. I knew this and suggested that maybe she could have a few vodkas before she got on the plane and then it wouldn’t bother her so much. Everyone laughed, but I’m not sure I can talk Barbara into flying to the U.S. We went to bed about 11:00 p.m.
Friday, July 19, Wloclawek and Warsaw. weather: cloudy, cool but humid
At about 8:30 a.m. Dave, Josh and I went downstairs for breakfast. Waleria was already sitting at the table. We all said, “Dzien dobry,” and sat down to wait for the others. Karol appeared after having spent time in the bathroom gelling his hair and getting it to stand up just right. Basia and Stefan came out of the kitchen with platters of food. I went back into the kitchen to help and to get the drinks. Basia had made a surprise for Joshua. She boiled some “kielbasa bialy”, put them in a glass jar and gave them to him to eat on the road. Josh was very happy about this. Basia and Stefan also gave us a canned ham from Poland and Waleria gave Josh a little white vase with an elephant. She explained to Josh (in Polish) that the elephant was good luck.
While Dave, Stefan and Josh packed up the car with our suitcases, Karol, Basia and I made some phone calls. The first was to LOT airlines to confirm our reservations for Sunday, leaving Warsaw for Chicago. LOT requires you to confirm your reservations 48 hours prior to departure. Unfortunately, some airlines and travel agents fail to inform their customers of this requirement and it causes great problems (as you’ll read later). It took four attempts to finally reach the correct phone number. I’m not sure why there was difficulty but I had the feeling there was miscommunication between Barbara and the information operator on the phone.
We like to spend our last night in Poland at the Dom Poloni in Pultusk, but I wanted to try to locate the publisher of my favorite atlas, Polska Atlas Drogowy. I had written down all the information from my 1997atlas. That edition was the last one printed that listed the old wojewodztwo for each little village. This had proven to be a great tool when trying to locate villages in Poland, not only for myself but for others. The current atlases are fine but they don’t list the old wojewodztwo. I already checked bookstores during my last trip and found that all they had were the most recent editions. I wanted to find out where the publisher unloaded the remainders because I wanted to buy them. I asked Karol and Basia to see if they could get a telephone number and address for GeoCenter, the publisher. This, too, required several calls, none of which produced the result I had hoped. I probably should have worked on this before Friday.
As usual, just before leaving we took a few group pictures in front of the house. The farewell hugs and kisses were tear-filled. It was, as always, difficult to leave “our family.” I couldn’t help wonder if I would see Waleria again, since she was diagnosed with cancer before Florentyna. Drying my eyes, I got behind the wheel of our car. As we drove off we waved until we couldn’t see them anymore.
At the corner of the main highway and the road to Solec we were surprised to find that the improvements were completed. We turned left (east) and headed towards Wloclawek so we could take a quick look around the rynek and the surrounding streets. As always, we took the secondary roads. This put us on the same route we had taken with the Tomalskis a few days before. We drove through the “Obszary Lesne Niebzpieczenstwo Pozaru,” where the army maneuvers were held, and through Gniewkowo and Sluzewo. When we reached Wloclawek I didn’t have my city map with me (I packed it) so we had to guess where the rynek was located. Once we found it we decided to park on a side street and walk around. Even though we parked on the street, we had to pay an attendant. I asked him if he knew where there was a souvenir store and he directed us towards the rynek. We walked along the street window shopping. We happened on a china and glassware store that I had to go into. I was so glad I did! I bought a small crystal box for a friend and a small pottery milk pitcher from the Wloclawek area of the Kujawy region. The store carried glassware from Krosno, porcelain from Chodziez and other areas, and crystal.
Back on the street we found the Cepelia store. It was right where it should have been; on the corner of the rynek. This was the smallest Cepelia store I had yet been in and somewhat disappointing. The only thing I really wanted was a china thimble from Wloclawek and, wouldn’t you know, they were out. The clerk said they’d have more the next day, but we would be in Warsaw. We left the store and took pictures of the war memorial in the center of the rynek. I turned and took pictures of the buildings surrounding the rynek. I spotted a hotel that was recommended to me by Ted C., a friend on one of the Polish genealogy listservs. The hotel was the “Zajazd Polski.” It was difficult to see it with all the beer umbrellas open and lining that side of the street. We walked over and went in to take a peek and pick up some information. The door and the inside rooms were done in heavy, dark wood. I went to the front desk and asked the clerk for information. She called a young woman who spoke English very well who gave me a brochure, told me the rates and said that parking was behind the hotel but handled by a separate company. She had me look through an office window to see the parking. I thanked her for her kindness and left. Outside I told Dave about the hotel and also told him that Ted had said the hotel was charming and had more atmosphere than the other good hotel in Wloclawek. Ted had also told me that the best cukiernia in Poland was located around the corner and down one block from the hotel. Sadly, the pastry shop was gone. Stores change hands and fail in Poland as often as in the U.S. I made a note to tell Ted.
We ended up spending about an hour and a half in Wloclawek. I realized that we would owe the parking attendant for an extra half hour. He hadn’t walked down to our car by the time we were ready to leave, so when we drove down the street I stopped and paid him the additional fee.
We were now on our way to Warsaw. We made a wrong turn and ended up crossing the bridge into Plock. Remembering how bad the traffic was when we were there a few days before, I was concerned that we’d end up arriving in Warsaw very late. As it happened, we found our way out of Plock without much difficulty and it didn’t take up too much time. As was par for the course, I took pictures of churches, cemeteries and monuments as we drove through Kamion, Zelazowa Wola, Kampinos, Grady, Zabarow and Borzecin Duzy, taking the northern road into Warsaw.
We stopped for gas and a bathroom break along the way. The restaurant section of the gas station had an air conditioner positioned above the pass through from the kitchen to the restaurant. Cold air was blasting out of this 18" x 8" white metal box! I passed it on the way to the co-ed bathroom and thought, “I’ve got to buy one of these to carry with us during our next trip! “ The bathroom was only the second co-ed facility we had seen/used during our trips to Poland. This one cost one zloty per person.
As we approached Warsaw traffic was heavier and there were more homes and buildings. Since I had brought the address for the atlas publisher that I found in my atlas, we decided to look for the street. Businesses were closed for the day, but I thought that if I could at least locate the company I would have accomplished something. This was very interesting. When we were within a block of the address (ul. Kolejowa) we found ourselves in an area that seemed to have only publishing companies offices. There were tall office buildings with a driveway leading to them, either guarded or with locked gates in front. We drove down one driveway which we thought was the one we wanted and Dave got out to walk around. There were tiny little shops lined up in rows that apparently were owned by different publishers selling books and maps of all kinds, including comic books. Wow! Too bad it was Friday and we were too late! I was confused by the number of large buildings and small stores in this one area affiliated with one type of product. I wondered if this was similar to a merchandise mart found in some large U.S. cities. Although I hadn’t seen a guard when we drove in, a couple of them came out of their guard shack at the front of they driveway and started walking around. I was sure they were wondering what we were doing there. Dave got back into the car before being approached by the guards. He, too, was intrigued by what we had found.
It was now time to check into our hotel. We had no trouble locating the Hotel Mercure using the map I had printed off the hotel’s web site. We pulled into the driveway in front of the hotel to check-in.
Mercure Fredryk Chopin Hotel
al. Jana Pawla II 22
Two nights, three people (one roll-away bed), breakfast included but parking was extra.
Price including VAT 522 zloty = $130.50 per night. This was much much more than we usually paid for a hotel room in Poland (or the U.S.) but it was difficult to find a hotel that had three beds and air conditioning. I just knew we’d want air conditioning in Warsaw. This hotel was considered a 5 -star but it wasn’t up to par with other 5-star hotels we had seen in Warsaw.
After we checked in we drove the car into the underground parking lot which was locked and supposedly guarded, although we always had to ring the bell in order to have the gate raised. Parking was 50 zloty per night. This would end up costing us $25.00 for our two night stay. Pretty darned expensive, I thought. The Mercure was a tall, quite modern hotel with a large lobby, bar, two restaurants, gift shop, pastry shop and a gym. The toilet in our room was in a completely separate room from the bathroom, which had a shower and vanity. The room included night stands, a desk, dresser, TV, telephone, clock radio, chairs, ample closet space and a fridge with mini-bar. Also included were shampoo, soap, conditioner, kleenex and a sewing kit. The big surprise was that bottled water was not included but had to be purchased from the mini-bar. We were still carrying our own liters of water, so we had what we needed. The weather when we arrived in Warsaw was still quite warm and for all intents and purposes our room was not air conditioned. There was one very small vent which must have used a straw to get the “cold” air into the room. We had all been looking forward to air conditioning and it wasn’t there. The windows were not made to open so it was even worse than a room that didn’t have air conditioning to begin with. There were numerous, large stains on the hallway carpet. Although the hotel had elevators, you could not take them to the lobby level because of renovations. If you carried your own luggage you had to get off the elevator on the second floor and walk downstairs with it to the lobby.
We settled in and decided to go for a walk around the block. Since we were downtown there weren’t too many people out walking. We stopped in a small grocery store for soft drinks and juice to take back to the room. Josh and Dave watched TV while I got caught up with my trip diary. Aren’t you glad?
Saturday, July 20, Warsaw weather: cool and rainy.
We continued to wear shorts since we were determined to be cool. Breakfast was in a very nice dining room. It had the first real buffet we had during this trip. There were plenty of eggs, sausage, cheese, breads, cereal, salads, fish, sweet rolls, juice, coffee and tea. We enjoyed the assortment. After breakfast I stopped at the front desk and asked for the location of a bazar that was held on Saturdays in the Kolo district. The clerk knew exactly what I was talking about and gave me directions. I also asked her if she would check her telephone book for the address of a company called, “Dounpal”. One of the people Basia had talked to while she was trying to get me an address or phone number for GeoCenter Publishers, told her the new name was now “Dounpal.” Instead of looking in the telephone book, the clerk called information. The operator evidently couldn’t locate that company but gave the desk clerk the address of another company. This, of course, wasn’t what I wanted. I thanked her and we headed out for the bazar. It was raining so we took the umbrellas I had packed. We had no trouble finding the bazar and parked on the street. Actually we parked on the sidewalk. We found a city block full of people selling all sorts of items. This was a glorified garage sale but it was obvious that most people were selling items that had not originally belonged to them. Due to the rain, not everything was displayed and we didn’t see many books or paper items. However, there was furniture, silver items, jewelry, WWII medals, statues, dishes, working Victrolas, decorative items, and tableware. Most interesting was the abundance of church icons, crosses, statues, censors, altar items and Jewish items. It was clear that synagogues and churches, both Catholic and Orthodox, had been robbed of their contents. We didn’t buy anything because I know nothing about antiques. I made a mental note to come back here on our next trip with someone who not only speaks Polish and English, but who knows something about antiques. Also, to bring an empty suitcase.
When we got back in the car I checked the map to see how to get to Plac Konstytuti. We still had hopes of finding a soccer Lego set for Josh. While looking at the map what should jump out at me? “Dounpol!” It was either a building or place on the map. Still not knowing what Dounpol was, we drove to the location on the map but found nothing to indicate what Dounpol was. We found a building with no sign or information. Oh, well. On to Plac Konstytuti. It was already 2:00 p.m. so most stores were closed. We parked about two blocks off the Plac. We made a quick stop at the American Bookstore. We didn’t buy anything but found many, many books that were also for sale in the U.S. These books were very expensive, however, since they were imports.
We decided to go to the rynek in the old city. It seemed as if every church had weddings going on. It was fun to see the brides and grooms and their transportation; often a rented antique U.S. car. The newly built, Palace of Justice, the modern seat of law courts, had been built next to the monument of the Warsaw Uprising, making it even more impressive. We parked across from the main office of the civil archives on Dluga. This street parking was free but there were two men offering, for a price, to watch the cars. I declined.
We walked to the rynek and found the new home of syrena (mermaid). She is now atop a marble base with a water feature. The only stores open were souvenir shops and restaurants. The buildings along one end of the rynek were being refurbished and huge commercial screens with advertising covered them. We walked down a few of the rynek side streets and then to the square that holds the palace and the statue of Zygmunt. There was a police festival taking place with representatives from many different departments agencies in Poland. Booths were set up, each with information about a particular police department. Children could have their fingerprints taken and have a picture taken while sitting in an electric chair. There were police dogs, motorcycles, vans, cars and a small police boat. I didn’t see any cardboard police cars though. Many booths were handing out brochures, posters about not doing drugs, balloons, and visors. Police women put on a karate exhibition after doing a choreographed “karate” dance to the song, “Kung-Fu Fighting.” I couldn’t help but laugh. There were police bands playing in front of the palace, a balloon release and a presentation of what seemed to be important policeman and their wives. The uniforms were very interesting and varied. We were quite pleased that we stumbled onto this festival.
At about 5:00 p.m. we decided it was time to eat and chose an outdoor restaurant in the rynek. Again, a determining factor on which restaurant we chose was whether it had pierogi or kielbasa. Dinner cost 188 zloty ($47.00) for three of us. During dinner we had another surprise! A modern jazz band performed on a stage in the rynek. Weddings were still going on and about every twenty minutes a bride and groom would walk through the rynek to the palace.
After dinner we drove to a mall. I wanted to buy several packages of dried mushrooms and we needed to buy some vodka to take home. We found the “Geant” mall by following their signs. This mall is two stories and has a large grocery store. Most of the stores were closed. We went into the grocery store and found the mushrooms. Dave went to the liquor department while Josh and I checked out the toys. We didn’t find the Lego set he was looking for. There was a little boy about 8 years old in the toy aisle picking up Legos and then putting them back. One he had picked up cost 10 zloty. I picked up the box and it to him along with 10 zloty ($4.00, big deal) and said, “Prosze.” He gave me a puzzled look and so I said it again. I then said, “Nie mowie dobrze po polsku, “ to which he responded, “Nie mowie po angelsku.” I laughed and handed him the toy and money. He protested but I insisted. He finally took both and said, “Dziekuje.” I immediately went to the liquor department as I didn’t want the boy’s mother to find me and give back the money.
Dave and I picked out a few bottles of vodka and paid for them in the liquor department, as required. We paid for the mushrooms at the cash register at the front of the store. This cashier took our receipt and compared it to the liquor we had already purchased. On our way out of the mall there was an area set up with tables that were loaded with books. We stopped, of course! We didn’t buy anything, but just as we were ready to leave, my 9-11 bracelet broke. The beads, blocks and flag scattered. We found everything. The bracelet was a gift from a neighbor at home and it meant a lot to me. I had worn it every day while in Poland. I was grateful that it hadn’t broken in a cemetery or on a cobblestone street.
Back at the hotel we found the room was hot even though it had been chilly outside all day. We were going home the next day, so we packed everything we didn’t need for the morning. The backpacks and my bag were full of camera equipment, 54 rolls of exposed film, my research folders, notes and special books.
Sunday, July 21, Warsaw/Chicago/Dallas-Fort Worth weather in Warsaw: cool and cloudy.
We awoke at 6:30 a.m. hoping to be at breakfast by 8:30 and out of the hotel by 9:30 a.m. The dining room had a few more guests than the day before but was not full. From the conversations we could tell that some people were natives, plus some Brits, Japanese and Belgians. We ate quickly, went back to the room to pick up our luggage and checked out of the hotel, paying with a credit card. I turned in the comment card I had filled out and expressed my displeasure about the lack of air conditioning. We took the elevator to the parking garage and drove to the rental car company’s office. Once we found the office, we drove to a gas station to fill up the tank. Back at Le Car, a man let us in the gate. He must have been a guard of sorts because he said he had to call his boss. While we waited for the owner to come, we checked out the other cars that were available for rental. We carefully made note of the vans in case we wanted to try one of those next time so that the Tomalski family could all drive with us in one car. Some of the vans were low to the ground and were not suitable for the kind of “roads” we occasionally find ourselves on. Some vans had tinted glass in the back so suitcases couldn’t be seen from the outside. Some held 6 passengers while others held seven. We also noticed the American cars; Cadillac, Chevrolet, and Buick.
The owner arrived within a few minutes. After an exchange of pleasantries he drove us to the airport. We had plenty of time, but a long line had already formed at the check-in. The lines must have started to form more than two hours prior to flight time, because we had two hours left when we arrived. As usual, the airport seemed to be in chaos with lines snaking around the terminal. I suspected that we’d be allowed to go ahead of everyone, since we were flying business class. Sure enough, Dave asked an agent and instead of showing us to a separate line, he just moved us ahead of everyone else.
While waiting for Dave, an Asian-looking woman asked me if I was an American. I told her I was. She and her husband were from the U.S. Midwest and were only in Poland as a stopover from a short cruise they had taken. Their cruise purser had not confirmed the couple’s reservations (also business class) and there was a question as to whether they would be able to get on the one flight that day from Warsaw to Chicago. The LOT ticket agent put them on standby but, I later found out that they had to spend the night in Warsaw and take the flight out the next day.
We still had a little time before the plane boarded, so we bought a few small, pretty bottles of vodka. I had wanted to take home a few hundred zloty to send back from time to time as donations, but I didn’t think of it when we were near a kantor.
The LOT flight to Chicago was not as luxurious as American’s overseas flight had been, but it was far nicer and more comfortable than sitting in coach. We arrived on time in Chicago. Since this was our first U.S. stop, we had to claim our luggage and go through customs. I handed the customs agent our declaration form. She didn’t even turn it over to see what we had listed. She only looked to see from what country we had departed. I noticed that every passenger from Poland was sent to the “Customs Agricultural” lines to have all of their luggage and carry-ons x-rayed. This had not happened before on any of our trips. My guess was that they were being very careful about meat coming into the U.S. Poland isn’t really the problem, but Ukraine had mad cow disease and since the two countries border each other, our customs officials aren’t taking any chances.
We had no problem getting through, and I didn’t notice that anyone had been pulled out of line and asked to open a suitcase, though I’m sure it happens.
Our next stop was to check our luggage with American Airlines for our trip to Dallas. This brought back the nightmares of two years before when two of our suitcases were stolen from American after we checked them in at this same place. American’s baggage check-in next to customs was pure chaos! Men, who I assumed worked for the airlines, but weren’t in AA uniforms, were trying to grab suitcases from people and put them in an area behind them where there wasn’t even a conveyor belt. I wasn’t going to hand over my bags to these guys especially if I couldn’t get “priority” tags. Dave checked with an agent and found out there was a line for business class passengers which was empty. We walked up to the agent and answered all the silly questions. At our request, he put the “priority” tags on our luggage and assured us that our luggage would travel on the same flight as us. I watched each suitcase be put on the conveyor belt and disappear out of sight.
To make a long story a bit shorter, we arrived at Dallas/Fort Worth only to find that, indeed, one suitcase had not come in on our flight. You can’t imagine the sick feeling I had. I think Dave wished he could have snuck out of that terminal until I was finished “venting,” to put it mildly. As it turned out, our suitcase arrived two flights later. Dallas/Fort Worth baggage claim areas are like most others today; there is no security and no one checks your baggage claim checks, so anyone can walk off with your suitcases. In fact,we saw about 100 suitcases just sitting around on and off the carousel waiting for their owners.
All in all, we loved Poland. I’m not sure I can get Josh to go again now that he’s a teenager. I know I’ll go back. The question is when and with whom.
I subsequently received an apology letter from Mercure Hotel in Warsaw regarding the lack of air conditioning. We also received a voucher worth $300.00 from American Airlines to compensate for the lost day in Poland, car rental and hotel charges, soaked clothes and gifts, broken seat in business class and, of course, the “misplaced” suitcase. The $300.00 voucher is only good on a full fare ticket. This would, of course bring the price almost down to the price of a discounted ticket, which is what we normally purchase. So, once again, we received nothing from American Airlines.
If you have read this whole, long diary you deserve applause. I didn’t realize it was going to rival War and Peace when I started out. I hope you enjoyed it though and have decided to plan your own trip to Poland.
End of Report
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