Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Praha and home

Our last full day of Eastern Europe was again spent in Prague, or Praha as the say it over there. We were able to connect with Nancy Hugg once again for pivo near the Charles Bridge and got to meet a couple of her friends from Minneapolis who were visiting. Nancy was in the process of packing stuff and giving away things she had acquired during the last year. She was scheduled to take a couple of weeks of travel and then back to Minneapolis on the 15th.

As we strolled around this last day, it was with a little less enthusiam. Perhaps the most came from Susan and Joan when they realized they could still do a little more shopping. I have one picture here of Sue as she posed in front of a statue dedicated to failed ballerinas everywhere. Although many of you know the story, for those of you that don't, Susan was an aspiring ballerina in her youth. Unfortunately that all ended when her brother dropped a six pack on her ankle. And now you know the rest of the story.

Although I was just too tired to take any more pictures, I regret not taking one of a 5 person construction crew in Old Town. We watched as 2 people on the 3rd floor with a hoist and wench attempted to bring up a single bag of cement on a wooded pallet. The other part of the story is there were an additional 3 men on the ground supervising the loading of the one bag and watching it as it inched skyward. Both the patriarch and I looked longingly at the situation and dreamed of being the paid union steward for this local organization.

We got back to the hotel fairly early and spent the rest of the day improving the Pivo economics at the hotel. We continued imbibing and playing pinochle. The only incident of the day was when Susan erected a beer glass barricade which I very appropriately crashed into. Dinner was sumptuous as usual.

Saint Joan has a bit of a phobia about being on time for our flights, so we were out the door on the hotel shuttle bus that took us a whole 2 blocks a few minutes after 7am for our 9:35am flight. In retrospect, it was a good thing we did go early. We stood in line for close to 45 minutes where only 2 agents were working. Mind you there were only 6 other people in front of us. Finally another agent opened up and "helped" us. First she gave us hell for using their web site to try and get our reservations confirmed. Then we were scolded for trying to get seat assignments via the same method. After about 15 minutes she checked our bags, somewhat grudgingly and gave us our boarding passes. As we left her station, she abruptly left. This left the orginal 2 agents with what was now a line of about 80 passengers waiting to check in.

And it gets worse. As we looked at the boarding passes, she issued 2 to me and none to Joan. Guess this was retribution for Joan trying to be so damn nice to this chicklet. I sensed a little anger in Saint Joan's eyes as we looked on in disbelief. Armed with what could have been unmentionable 4 letter words in her arsenal, Joan proceeded back to the counter to one of the 2 agents and promptly got our correct boarding passes. Hey, the look in her eyes would have been enough to scare me. As it turned out, the temporary agent had the last laugh. She issued 3 of the baggage claims to me and none to Joan and Frank who each had 2 bags. At MSP, it was determined that 2 of Joan and Frank's bags did not make it.

In a nutshell, I think much of the Czech economy still operates in union mode with a small dash of the old days of communism thrown in for good measure.

Prior to boarding the plane we did a little more shopping to get rid of those Czech Klotchies. A few reasonably priced $40 airport t-shirts and we were ready to roll once again.

Shopping was again at the top of the list for Susan when we reached Schipol international in Amsterdam. Frank and I went to the gate and waited. We were a little amazed to see the lines to get on the flight. After waiting for a short period, the Patriarch instructed me to go find the shoppers and hurry them up. I did and we were able to make our plane. A couple of things of note were that Northwest had apparently cancelled some flights and people were waiting to get home on standby. And, for some reason security and the interview process you go through in Amsterdam seemed a little more tight than usual. Perhaps it had something to do with the recent Glasgow event, but we will probably never know.

And such ends the cousin's trip to the Czech Republic and Poland. As I may have said before, it was a once in a lifetime trip and very enjoyable by all measures. And, regardless of my comments in these blogs, all members of our crew were great to travel with. I'd do it again, but I can't imagine every getting another invitation after all of these shots.

If anyone wants a CD of all the pictures, just let me know and I'll ship you one.

Posnan - Berlin - Prague

Monday the 25th was another travel day for us. We were greeted early by another knock on our door from Maria wanting to see us off. All 5 of us walked to the train station with bags in tow. Since Dominic was not with us, the conversation between us was tough at best. Maria however had a dictionary and tried her best. We just looked dumb and smiled a lot.

As we waited for the train to arrive, Maria looked at our tickets and tried to tell us something. It was in vein, but we did find out after the fact. Basically we had reserved seats and a compartment, but we jumped on the wrong car. Eventually we found out otherwise and walked the 3 cars back to find our seats. Maria kept pointing in that direction and smiling, but alas we were clueless. I wonder what she must think of her American visitors?

Our train ride this day back to Prague took us through Germany, Berlin being our first destination. If I didn't mention it before, the Berlin train station was something out of Futurama. It had a minimum of 5 levels and shopping galore. Very modern and functional. Much like the Germans themself. "This train VILL be on Time!

While the girls shopped a little more, Frank and I waited for the train. He must look like a local because this little old 90 year old lady came right up to him with a problem about where her train was going to depart from. Frank took it in stride and helped the lady out. I think these acts come from living with Saint Joan a little too long. Nevertheless I have a picture of the Patriach and "Eva".

On our last train ride of the trip, we got on a bullet train and this time our tickets were pretty much of the first come first served nature. We ended up standing for the first few minutes until things settled down. Eventually we found this nice young German kid that invited us into his cube. His cubemate wasn't exactly all that excited about the idea of us 4 joining them, but then again we didn't speak the language, body or otherwise so we barged in. As we tried to converse with these 2, it was obvious they were from Dresden. What wasn't so obvious was which one was most interested in Sue. I've attached the pictures and perhaps you can make the determination.

As the younger man was getting out at Dresden, he told us to watch for some nice scenery just as we pulled out of the station. I've included a picture of that city from the train. In addition, I snapped one more picture of Susan at the station as she tried to hide behind a bottle of pivo. I didn't want to hurt her feelings, but let's face it, it's going to have to be a little bigger bottle.

The last few hours were pretty uneventful as we rolled along the Volta river valley into Prague. Other than me tipping the garbage can where someone had poured part of a beer. It was a mess, but Saint Joan cleaned it up and we stealthfully moved to the cubicle next door.

We arrived a little after 8pm as I recall and navigated the Metro back to our stop at Devijka, then on the 119 bus to our airport hotel. Another fabulous meal and our travelling days were short in number.

Another Sunday day trip in the country

Well, Sunday arrived and as we groggily chomped down our breakfast buffet, the knock on the door signaled the arrival of Maria and our translator for the day, our cousin Dominic. We pulled ourselves together and headed downstairs to the awaiting red van, complete with driver.

Our mission this day was to find the home town of Antonia Januzik in Kosztowo, then on to towns nearby and Szubin where the Wilebskis may have been from, and a few towns at the end of the loop where the Soberiaski (Frank's ancestors)family was known to be from.

After about an hour, perhaps an hour and a half of twisting and winding roads in the country, we arrived at Kosztowo. We pulled right up to the church where it was time for 10am mass to begin. There were 2 gentlemen in the parking lot, probably in their 60's who were smoking their last cigarette. It reminded me of Kroze from my youth. Through the help of Dominic, we had a conversation with them. They pointed out the cemetary was a couple of meters down the road. We also learned that one of the men's wife's family was Januzik. So, we knew we were at the right place.

We decided to go to the cemetary first and then back to the church after the last mass that dismissed at noon. FYI, great grandma's hometown looks like it had a population of less than 500, maybe even less. It was surrounded by farmland and rolling hills with a little river flowing through it.

We hit the jackpot at the cemetary. There were 6 Januzik gravestones. The oldest one I have attached. And based on everything we know, this person could have been a sister or other close relative of great grandma. We also saw another Januzik relative name of Budnik, in addtion to Michalecs, Jaszczaks and Urbaniaks. Funny how these familys seemed to move together when they migrated.

We spent quite a bit of time here and as we approached the van again, Maria had packed yet another picnic lunch for us. She kept feeding us all the time, even though we didn't see her eat that much. I wonder if they have been reading about how overweight us Americans are and wanted to play into the reality? Who knows, we chomped down more goodies and unknown protein balls with bread. At this point, the passport pictures were starting to look good.

Since the ladies needed a rest stop and we still had almost an hour to kill before the church would be vacant, our driver headed toward a town with a "nice" bathroom with paper. We ended up at a BP station out in the country. It was kind of ironic, but as we drove to this rest stop, I saw a sign post that said Glesno. That triggered something and I mentioned to Frank that we should probably stop there on the way back since it was only 4 kilometers off the main road.

Upon arrival at Glesno, we stopped at the church. But, it too was closed up, so we proceeded to the cemetary nearby. Although we were looking for Januzik, we did stumble across another name from that side of the family, Budnik. So, it was worthwhile to make this short sidetrip. It is also here where I got a shot of Maria with her pink purse she picked up when she was in the U.S. several years ago. It is the "Mrs. Timberlake" item I mentioned in previous posts.

Since it was now noon plus, we headed back down the road a few miles back to see the Kosztowo church. It was abandoned by now, at least as far as people and priests were concerned, so we had our run of the place. I have included a couple of those pictures so you can see where great grandma and her family in all likelihood liveed and worshipped in the 1800's.

From Kosztowo, we headed toward Szubin. This is a relatively large city, so we were fortunate to find the community cemetary on the edge of town as we approached. It was huge and with 6 of us looking for ancestral names, we still came up with a blank. However, we did see headstones of Jaszczak, Masloski, and Gorski.

We now headed for a town that was the baptismal village/church of Frank's Sobieraski ancestor. Even though we had one of those LARGE maps of Poland, this village was not on the map. Our guide and Dominic however figured it out and before long we were at the church and its cemetary. Unfortunately, we came up empty in terms of that name. We went to the neighboring town, whose name I forget at this time and walked through another huge cemetary which was even larger than that of Szubin. Again, a blank. But, we did stop for a bottle of wine and some flowers for our next stop along the way.....Maria's daughter's place.

Based on how small Maria's place was in the city, we didn't know exactly what to expect out in the country. We were pleasantly surprised to pull up to a large 3 story house which was gated and had a huge yard. We were greeted by Maria's daughter's husband and ushered to the second level of this very large modern house. Apparently the husband's parents live on half of the lower level, while Christine (Maria's daughter) and her family live on the next 2 levels. It was quite nice to say the least and now I know why she kept insisting we go out here to see her daughter. I think it was more for us to see just how well she was doing. Whether they have money, the husband's parents are supporting them, or they are up to their eyeballs in debt we don't really know. But, they certainly have a decent place.

We again were served another 15 courses on different china, followed by a choice of 6 different deserts in the loft area. We swapped stories as best we could and found out their son whose name I fail to recall is in line to compete in the upcoming olympics in Vancouver. He has a bunch of huskies (?) outside in a pen which are part of the olympic sport of skiing and something else. So, we promised to watch him in Vancouver if that turns out to be the case. I will have to get the last name from Saint Joan the next time I see her so we can post this little tidbit of Wilebski family success stories. Well, we can hope can't we?

I'm posting a couple of pictures of the family so you can tell me if there is any resemblence to any of us.

Since we were heading back to Prague early in the morning, we bid goodbye to our relatives and headed back to Posnan. At the hotel, Maria followed us in and gave us more gifts and we gave them a couple of thank you notes. Well, it was the thought. I hope we hear from them again, since they were absolutely the most gracious people. Perhaps we can talk them into visiting us on this side of the pond in the not too distant future.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Touring Posnan

Saturday we awoke to a huge breakfast at the pink chalet. It was massive and under no circumstances could it be confused with a healthy diet. It was at this point when we reached for the warm sausages wrapped in bacon that we thought we may be starting to look like our passport pictures. Oh well, I guess it makes sense given the heavy Slavic food we always have on our tables at family reunions.

We had not finished the last of our sausages, tomatoes, assorted meats and cheeses, and breads when Maria arrived with Dominic and Marta in tow. They were ready to go and wanted us to get moving so we could really appreciate the city. Our translator Natalia arranged to meet us at the old square.

We again walked through the park just across from our hotel as we made our way to the downtown area and eventually the tram. As we were walking through the park, we notice a large monument honoring Woodrow Wilson. I don't know if it was coincidental or not, but we also saw one in the main train station in Prague. For those of you history buffs out there, we need some further insight into the relevance of this American president in Poland and the Czech Republic. I've included a photo of us marvelling at it. And that of the newer part of Posnan close to the train station.

We were taken to an older part of the town where it was apparent if you were a tourist, this is where you were directed. It was a large square surrounded by restaurants, much as you would find in any European city. On this day they were having some sort of regional displays and there was a huge stage set up for bands. We positioned ourself in front of a clock which chimed and had 2 goats butting heads at noon. It was a big deal to most, but I concentrated on drinking my beer while the rest of the group watched the display. I'm sorry I don't have a picture, but you can imagine a couple of sorry looking wooden goats almost butting heads as the clock tower chimed.

Incidentally, from what I have been told by everyone, Posnan was pretty much leveled during WWII. So, what we did see was reconstructed. I hate to use the old adage, "chamber of commerce 1952", but that is really what the majority of the town was all about. But, if you didn't know any better, you'd think some of the structures and churches had been there for centuries.

We saw several churches and the Posnan cathedral. I have a few shots of the interior of one and of course the cathedral. You'll notice near the base there is yet another statue of Pope John Paul II. But then again they are everywhere. We were warned by "Clavin" that the poles take him very seriously and we should not make any jokes. It seems to make sense in that 80-85% of Poles consider themselves practicing Catholics. Need I say more?

Eventually we made our way through this older part of town and on to a very swanky shopping mall. According to our translator, the guy that put the deal together bought this old brewery for a couple of Klotchies and now given how successful it is, there are people demanding a "do over". The shops are very upscale and according to our translator, the hottest shopping mall in all of Poland. Well, it may be Polish pride, but it certainly does rival MOA, albeit on a smaller size.

After the mall we had another person called "Dorothy" join our group. She was intent on showing us many of the historic sites. All of which was translated via Natalia. Dorothy also informed us that an uncle(?) or friend of hers has a film about WWII that he produced, and asked if any of our group wanted to see it. I and Susan begged off and headed back to the hotel, while Frank and Joan went on yet another excursion out to the suburbs of Posnan. You will have to get their take on that sidetrip. As for Susan and I, we rounded up some Pivo and we started using the bird call I picked up in Krakow. We sure had the locals looking for a crazy bird up and down the lane. The patriarch and Saint Joan arrived at dusk exhausted. But, they told us we were on for the trip to the country side the next morning and we had hired a driver and a van so we could all go, including Maria and her grandson Dominic.

So ended another day of power travelling.

To Posnan

Early on Friday morning (22nd) we bid our farewells to Jim and Sheila. They were heading for Warsaw to look for some of Jim's family roots and then on to Budapest for the remainder of the month. The Wilebski cousins however were off to see the ancestoral home of the Wilebskis and Januziks in the Poznan area.

The train ride from Krakow to Posnan was long, but it again provided a glimpse at the countryside. A lot of agricultural areas, a few fading factories that may have been holdovers from the communist regime, and some large cities. One thing in particular that struck us was the little garden plots on the edges of the bigger cities. They weren't all that large, but every family in the city must have had one. And, in addition to the vegetables and fruit trees, there would always be flowers. In some cases these little postage stamp plots were almost entirely comprised of flowers. I've included a couple of pictures from the train ride.

As previously mentioned, we were a little unsure what to expect in Posnan. Frank had been in touch with our distant relative Maria Wielebski and we were under the impression that she would be lining up a room for us. Yes, we were a little apprehensive during the 10 hour ride, but we were here for an adventure, so we were ready for anything.

Much to our surprise when we got off the train in Posnan in the late afternoon, a nice young man came up to us and asked us if we were from the U.S. Perhaps Posnan is not high on the tourist spots, since I don't think there were 4 others that got off with all of the luggage we had. Saint Joan even carried off an additional acquired piece of "baggage" which she toted down and up the train station. Joan, Joan, Joan!

In any event, the young man was named Dominic and his grandmother is Maria. She along with her grandaughter Marta were also there at the station waiting for us with presents, food and flowers. Introductions and hugs ensued, but the English was very limited since Dominic was their interpreter, and his English left a lot to be desired. On the other hand, it was a hell of a lot better than the combined Polish our group of 4 spoke. We already knew the pivo part, but after that we were pretty much at the mercy of the country and its citizens.

They shuttled us into awaiting taxis which took us to our room. There we unpacked and tried to converse with our relatives. I probably already mentioned that Maria's favorite color was pink, so thought I'd pass along a picture of our room with St. Joan and Susan toasting their morning beverages. That's the partriach taking yet another of his mini naps sprawled out on the bed in front of them.

Anyway back to our arrival. Dominic told us that Maria had been cooking all week in antipation of our arrival and that we were to go to her apartment this evening for supper. Although we were bushed from the travel, we pulled ourselves together and asked them to give us an hour to get ready. Given we had no gifts in hand when we met our relatives, Frank and I were designated to go get some flowers and drink to give our host. We dutifully did just that and when we returned with the goodies, our loyal guide Dominic was waiting for us with tram tickets in hand.

We ended up several miles away at a very nice apartment building. As we understand it, the apartment is used by Dominic and his father during the week when they work and Maria stays there all the time. It was cute but very cramped.

As soon as we arrived we were shown to a table with all kinds of china settings. As we came to realize, these multiple rounds of china place settings is the custom here. A dishwasher salesman would be in heaven, for sure. Maria served up about 15 different dishes. Many were starters like pickled mushrooms, dill pickles, assorted meats and cheeses, breads,and of course an absolutely excellent mushroom cream soup. Best I have ever had for sure. Then it was on to courses of sausage. One the girls didn't exactly care for was dark in color and didn't suit their palates. When asked what kind of meat it was, we didn't really get a good answer. So, that is probably part of the reason why they didn't care for it. I think they referred to it as "pudding".

As we were finishing the 15th course and toasting with a small glass of wine (too small for me), another young girl arrived who we were informed was our interpreter. Her name was Natalia. She was a cute young blonde thing and her English was a major improvement over Dominic's. But, it was still quite a stretch at times to complete the conversation. We chatted for several hours about family and of course the Wielebskis over there in Posnan. It still is not clear just how Maria's family and ours may be related, but then again we need more research. I'm guessing that cousin Kathy (Schafer) will continue down that path until we get a definitive answer.

I've included a shot of Maria with her grandchildren Dominic and Marta. They were all great people and even if we never confirm them to be relatives, they treated us like royalty our entire time there.

Eventually we concluded our conversations and made plans for the next few days. One of the unknowns was that of trying to get to the Januzik and Wilebski home villages. Renting a cab for the day seemed to be the way to go. But, since Maria wanted us to see Posnan and be our guide, we decided to see the city the next day while we firmed up plans for the countryside.

We made it back to the pink palace and crashed immediately thereafter

Day trip to the village of Frank's ancestors

On thursday the 21st, it was again the 4 cousins that started the day with a light breakfast in the square in Krakow, watching another group of kids parade by. The plan for the day or should I say destination was a small town where Frank's ancestors the Gorka line came from, named Spytkowice. Getting there however took some work.

First there was the bus from Krakow to Rabka. That was the easy part. Then it was trying to find a taxi driver that would take us the rest of the way from Rabka to Spytkowice. We found the taxi stand and of course numerous drivers, but as is always the case, the farther you get from a major city, the more difficult it is to find someone who speaks English. Thank goodness for the younger generation. Note to fellow travelers. If you can't find an adult that speaks English, start looking around for a kid or someone under the age of 25. Almost all of them can speak some English. It has been our experience that while most know it, many are embarrassed by their lack of skill and so some feign ignorance. If you are desparate, like we usually were, they will come to your rescue.

Anyway, I've thrown in a picture of the car we wanted Frank to rent for the ride, and of course the smaller one we got. There is also a picture of us trying to negotiate with the cab driver. Essentially we wanted him to take us to the neighboring town and wait for us, since there were no cabs at that distant town. Frank and Susan, with the help of a couple of youngsters, did successfully get this across, and before long we were on our way to Spytkowice.

Spytkowice was a lovely little town and it took no time at all to spot the church. They even had some of the information about it in English, so they must get a tourist or 2 from time to time. From the church we walked about another block to the cemetary. But, alas, we could not find any graves of the Gorkas.

We ended up getting a little lunch at the neighborhood hotel/disco which was sandwiched between 2 schools. At least one of which was parochial. We seemingly ordered a little too much, but then again it's difficult in this Slavic land to ever get the weight watchers portion. The kluski and perogi were good here also.

Having seen the majority of the town, we walked back to our awaiting taxi and road back to Rabka to catch the bus. We were in luck as the bus back to Krakow was waiting, so in we went. It was a little uncomfortable on the bus that afternoon, given the heat and humidity. Needless to say, they are not big on air conditioning over there and if you or your neighbor don't have good hygiene, well you can pretty much get the picture.

One of the passengers that staggered on the bus took a seat opposite Susan. Given the 90 degrees and no air circulation, it was a little humorous and perplexing to see him in long pants, a shirt and long-sleeved wool sweater. But, given his condition, I don't think it mattered too much. An older woman with babushka sat next to him also. During the trip, he kept blowing kisses to Susan. The older woman seemed to approve, as long as it wasn't her that was the object of his affection. So you see, it doesn't seem to matter where we go, Susan has that animal attraction that has men of every nationality after her. If he wouldn't have gotten off a couple of stops before ours, who knows what may have happened. An addition to the cousins perhaps?

As is usually the case, by the end of the day we were all pretty much fading. I include a shot of the Patriach and Saint Joan of trophy bride fame to give you an indication of our energy level.

Another dinner at the Vulcano, some cards and pivo, and it was another good day in Krakow

Monday, July 2, 2007

Salt Mines and Schindler's Factory

On the 20th, the cousins Wilebski decided to stay close to Krakow. The plan for the day was to visit the Salt Mines a few miles outside of the city, and if time permitted the Oscar Schindler Factory of Schindler's List fame. We made both of them. Sheila and Jim on the other hand took a day trip to Dachau, which we understand was quite moving.

The Salt Mine tour was pretty incredible. We went down about 400 steps into the bowels of the mine. As we made our way down, every few hundred yards was another stop to see a shrine or something carved out of salt. Perhaps the most impressive of the lot was a giant room about 40 feet in height they called the great hall. It was entirely carved out of salt and had multiple salt chandeliers, statues and pictures. Again, all out of salt. Even Pope John Paul II was immortialized in salt via a free standing statue.

After the Salt Mines, we caught the bus back and dropped off just before the river at what was termed the Jewish Ghetto. This is where we walked about a half mile to visit the site of Oscar Schindler's factory. The place is currently undergoing construction, but a limited amount of historic information is available. Like Dachau, as you read about the factory and the holocaust, it is difficult not to be moved recognizing that each life that was saved most likely spawned several hundred current descendants.

Prior to heading over the the Schindler factory, we stopped at a "po po" physician for one of our travelling members. This was followed by a Pivo stop, which also had some pretty tasty perogis.

Upon hooking up with the other 2 members of our group, we again went to the Vulcano for dinner and followed up with Pinochle.

One small side note was that during our stay it was quite humid and we needed fans. One of these was on a stand and rotated. I cautioned my roommate about being careful when moving it, since it seemed like it was very precariously perched. These cautions were for not, since upon the breakup of the pinochle game she decided she wanted it moved. The inevitable happened. But, since it was still warm,the fan had to be used. Unfortunately it looked much like one of those jokes about what you call a person with no arms and no legs. It kept rolling from side to side on the floor. Not to worry, on the day we left, Jim took out a roll of duct tape and pieced it back together again.