Poland Trip (8/21/2008)
July 29-30: Seattle – Chicago[San Francisco – Frankfurt] - Warsaw

Following a harried week of gathering together clothing; buying maps, a GPS and presents; getting International drivers’ licenses and finally getting the suitcases packed by 2 AM on Tuesday, Mommy and Daddy took a two hour nap before waking up at 4 AM in order to get to the airport for their 8 AM flight to Chicago.

We left the house exactly on time at 4:40 AM and felt confident that the day had started off well. Unfortunately the breakfast snack on the way out the door proved to be disastrous. On top of Novelty Hill, Izabela’s tummy rebelled and her entire cheese stick, curdled quite pungently, ended up all over her clothing and car seat. Mommy and Daddy frantically stopped at a parking lot and proceeded to use an enormous amount of wipes and bottled water in an attempt to wash Izabela’s clothing and car seat.

Delayed by at least a half an hour, Daddy drove to Grandma and Grandpa’s house rather quickly in an attempt to make up some of the lost time. Grandma greeted us and as we waited and waited for a taxi to take us to the airport from there (so we wouldn’t have to pay for long term parking at the airport), she helped Oxy the car seat and Izabela’s clothing to remove some of the smell.

As we arrived at the airport, we were met by an anxious Baba Yaga, who informed us that our United Airlines flight to Chicago had been cancelled for mechanical reasons and that although she had been rerouted to an American Airlines flight leaving half an hour later, the line for check in for the cancelled flight was now quite long and the likelihood of our foursome getting to Chicago in time for the LOT flight to Warsaw was quite low. Baba Yaga was forced to board her flight without knowing anything about our fate.

Almost an hour and a half later, we finally found ourselves at a counter being helped by a woman who had come in on her day off to aid with the “disaster” of two simultaneous planes being cancelled (the other to San Francisco). At first she was confused because the electronic ticket indicated the tickets had been purchased from Polish Airlines (which wasn’t on her list of Star Alliance airlines and thus meant she couldn’t reissue the tickets), instead of LOT (which is a member of the Star Alliance). After that misunderstanding was straightened out, it then took almost 45 minutes to figure out a course of action that did not involve trying to get on a plane via Stand By. During this time, Dante and Izabela did an admirable job of being patient and Mommy and Daddy received numerous compliments about how impressive it was that the children managed not to cause any problems or throw any tantrums.

The new flight itinerary required a five hour wait at SeaTac, a flight to San Francisco, a three hour wait, a flight to Frankfurt, a two hour wait, and then a flight to Warsaw. Mommy called Dziadzi to let him know the new plan, which made everyone sad because we had been looking forward to seeing him in Chicago. Mommy charged him with sending email to Ciocia Grazyna to let her know of the changes. Unfortunately, there was no way of contacting Baba Yaga at this point.

The flight to San Francisco was uneventful and almost comfortable, as we were upgraded to Economy Plus and thus had room for our legs without cutting off circulation. In San Francisco, the check-in desk felt so bad about the situation that after some clever rearrangement of seating, we all ended up sitting in Business class (though Daddy was several rows away). The flight was truly the most comfortable trans-Atlantic flight in Mommy’s experience and the upgrades were very well received. Mommy was most amused as she was handed a glass of champagne upon situating the munchkins. Of course Daddy came to give her a kiss and promptly spilled it all over her and the gigantic floor space between her and the next row. Not a problem, as a new glass soon appeared…

Dante and Mommy spent at least half an hour getting themselves acquainted with all of the controls on their chairs and adjusted everything from headrest height to footrest lounger to lumbar support positioning to their hearts’ content. When dinner was served we watched the Spiderwick Chronicles, fell asleep and were eventually awakened by the appearance of breakfast.

In Frankfurt, Dante and Izabela were both overjoyed by the bus ride to the plane from the gate. Dante found the different airline colors interesting and loved watching takeoffs and landings, while Izabela excitedly pointed out which vehicles were “ay-paine”, which were “ow-toe” and which were “bus”.

The last flight was an hour delayed, so we finally arrived in Warsaw at 8 PM, instead of at 9 AM, on July 30th, 2008, 31 hours after leaving our home in WA. The luggage made it too, though the beautiful brand new rainbow luggage strap Daddy had bought Monday night had mysteriously disappeared. Ciocia Grazyna was thankfully at the airport and hailed a taxi for the ride to her home, where a very worried Baba Yaga was waiting.

July 31 – August 2: Warsaw

The first night was difficult. Izabela had napped on the final flight as well, and was firmly convinced it was NOT time to sleep. Daddy was exhausted and fell asleep at 1 AM, only to be kicked awake by a fidgeting Izabela at 4 AM. Mommy couldn’t sleep with Izabela fidgeting either, but finally dozed off at 5 AM and woke up at 8 AM, only to discover that although Izabela had finally managed to fall asleep, Daddy had not and instead had a headache the size and intensity of which was unparalleled in his experience. After a large dose of pills and massage, Daddy finally managed to fall asleep again around 10 AM, while Mommy got up. Dante, Izabela and Daddy stayed unconscious until noon, when Mommy decided to wake everyone up to go do some sight seeing with Baba Yaga.

As there had been no opportunity to experience Polish trolleys during the last visit, Baba wanted desperately to fulfill Dante’s dream and the five still weary travelers set off for a trip to Warsaw’s Royal Baths (Lazienki) Park. Unfortunately, many attractions in Poland seem to close at 4 PM, so by the time we got there, the castle was closed. The gondola ride on the moat surrounding the castle, however, was still operational. We visited the Chopin statue (where we heard bits and pieces of a concert similar to one which Dziadzi had played there in his youth), the Old Greenhouse and the amphitheater. We ate ice cream, saw many peacocks and fed the nearly domesticated Polish red squirrels. Finally, we found the giant sundial which, although difficult to read as it was surrounded by grown trees, was a great science exercise. Another trolley ride took us back to Ciocia Grazyna’s home. Late that evening, Baba Yaga left to get on a train to stay with Pra-Dziadzi in Grybów.

The next morning, we took a taxi to the Column of Zygmunt and began our exploration of the Old Town with a 90 minute guided tour of the Royal Castle. Dante was suitably impressed with the inlaid floors, though Mommy prepared him for greater beauty in that department in Łańcut. The tour guide did her best to abridge the tour and engage Dante. He enjoyed the 300+ year old clocks that did not require batteries. He couldn’t truly comprehend that the paintings, some of which covered entire walls, were not just photographs and that someone actually spent years of their life using a paintbrush to paint them. He also really enjoyed the infinite mirrors effect that fascinates children and adults alike. As Izabela tended to wander off in search of pretty shiny things to touch, she was confined to her stroller for much of the tour. She wasn’t particularly happy about it, but her incarceration was broken up by brief sessions in Mommy or Daddy’s arms. The tour was a bit long for Dante, who declared his favorite room to be “the last one”. Daddy had no doubt had his fill of paintings and coats of arms and inscrutable knick-knacks about halfway through. Mommy, however, enjoyed herself tremendously.

After the Royal Palace, Ciocia Grazyna joined us for lunch (pierogi, of course) and then we went to the Old Town Square, St John’s Cathedral, Church of St. Martin, the Barbican and city walls, and then back to the Krakowskie Przedmiescie area, where we went into church after church, including the Church of St. Anne (in which Pra-Dziadzi participated in historical events that occurred there and about which he reminisces in his book), and the Carmelite Church, stopped by the Presidential Palace, the Statue of Mickiewicz (behind which Dziadzi shared a room with three other musicians in the Academy of Music dormitory), and the University of Warsaw. After some trouble locating Chopin’s heart at the Church of the Holy Cross, we caught taxis back to Ciocia Grazyna’s home.

While the sites were interesting both from a historical and aesthetic standpoint, the most memorable experience was hearing the sounding of the air raid siren at 5 PM commemorating the beginning of the Warsaw Uprising on August 1st, 1944. The moment was incredibly poignant as the people-filled streets fell silent and motionless, all vehicles stopped and many people got out of their cars to stand in silence. Daddy later remarked to Mommy that he found himself moved by this completely non-Hallmarked non-marketed event, in which it was obvious that the people treated this as a serious day of remembrance. Everyone’s eyes reflected the sorrow of the tragedy, death, and devastation that had occurred.

In front of the Church of St. Anne, Ciocia Grazyna received a phone call from the rental car agency informing her that the car that had been promised to be delivered to her home the following morning had not been returned and wouldn’t be available until Monday. She had been assured that it would be available but as always, especially in Poland, things don’t go as planned. The agent said she could find a different car and would bring it instead. Ciocia Grazyna had scheduled an English tour guide for 11:30 AM at Wilanow Castle, which would unfortunately have to be cancelled.

The car finally arrived around 11:30 the next day. Unlike the one that had been promised, it was quite small. Although in truth Mommy and Daddy were non-plussed as long as they could manage to fit, it only seemed fair to give the woman a hard time and to get some compensation for the mess up and the time lost. Ciocia Grazyna had been warned that there would be a “show” and not to worry, but she was unprepared for Daddy’s explosive slamming of doors and Mommy’s angry condemnation of the woman’s inability to run a business and even her lack of human compassion. The woman stood her ground, however, and would not budge, as Ciocia Grazyna had predicted. In the end, it seemed more sense to take the car than not, as Daddy figured that somehow things would fit, so we grudgingly capitulated, but took our sweet time writing down every tiny nick and scratch on the car so as not to be later tricked into losing part of the deposit (we had been warned this was frequently done to foreigners). We watched with pleasure as the car rental rep squirmed while we pointed out every scratch, as she had said that the car was brand new. And we smirked as she fielded calls left and right from people wondering what was taking her so long.

As soon as the car problem was “resolved”, Daddy, Mommy, Ciocia Grazyna, Dante and Izabela left for Wilanow. Ciocia Grazyna barely squeezed between Dante and Izabela in the back. It was still to be seen if Baba Yaga would fit along with her luggage. Mommy got the GPS working and with a little adjustment from Ciocia Grazyna, who had insider knowledge on what to avoid, we arrived in Wilanow and Daddy magically found a parking spot right in front of the castle.

Guideless this time, the walk through the castle was gated by the attention span of Dante and Izabela, which unsurprisingly wasn’t altogether long. Several pieces of armor and swords seemed most thrilling to Dante but everything else pretty much failed to impress. In truth, he neither understood nor was interested in “just looking”. After explaining the detrimental effects of so many people touching ancient artifacts, he said “I wish they had special gloves we could wear so we could touch everything”. And the endless corridors of paintings were deemed “boring”. So in hindsight, it’s probably a good thing that the guided hour and a half tour had to be cancelled, as it would probably have been overkill. Especially since there were still Wawel and Łańcut Castles to visit.

Outside in the gardens, adolescent swans and ducks were eager to eat animal crackers that Dante would have happily handed them all day. The map of the gardens was unfortunately incorrect as many sections were closed off due to reconstruction efforts, and just as we thought we were near the entrance, it turned out we had to retrace our steps a long way. But in the end, we arrived back at the car and began our trip to visit Mommy’s childhood friend, Maya, and her parents, in Czarnów.

But of course the GPS did not have Maya’s street in its list. After much fiddling, Mommy set the GPS to get to one of the handful of streets in Czarnów, and we were on our way. Maya’s email directions became more comprehensible as the GPS route seemed to confirm what she wrote and we were amused to find that the random address Mommy had picked on the GPS corresponded exactly to Maya’s home.

Maya and her parents had prepared a wonderful feast and everyone sat on the beautiful deck under a canopy of vines overlooking a breathtaking landscape of gardens and park-like lawn and trees fading into forest. Dante found Wujek Tomek a kindred competitive spirit and they played with Jenga blocks by trying to build structures that could not be easily knocked down with a breath of air. Mommy was thrilled to see some of Maya’s beautiful artwork, somewhat reminiscent of Georgia O’Keeffe. Izabela enchanted everyone by smiling, chatting incoherently to everyone, and by being remarkably friendly. She even graced Maya, Ciocia Monika and Wujek Tomek with a goodbye kiss. Mommy had forgotten to recharge her camera battery and there were no batteries left for more than a few hurriedly taken pictures, which Mommy sincerely regrets, as it would have been wonderful to photograph the entire gardens as well as much more of Maya and her family.

August 3: Warsaw - Nowy Sącz – Złockie

The next morning, we squeezed into our smallish almost brand new Skoda Octavia, waved goodbye to an apprehensive Ciocia Grazyna, and set the GPS to our destination in Złockie, about 250 Miles (400 km) away. Everyone was skeptical as to Daddy’s ability to handle Polish non-documented “rules” of the road on top of unfamiliar signs, constant construction, and one-lane “highways”. Baba Yaga probably drove Pra-Dziadzi crazy that day in Grybów with her worrying, as she was fearful the trip would take forever or that we would end up ticketed for speeding or even worse, in a fatal accident. Daddy, however, had been paying attention and quickly adapted to the Polish style of driving, including passing slower vehicles driving halfway on the shoulder and dodging quickly oncoming trucks on the two lane roads. The bigger highways were kind enough to announce photo radar opportunities, and Daddy’s own sixth sense kept him safe from other speed traps. Thus the trip passed rather quickly and uneventfully.

It was, however, quite filled with conversation. Dante spent the majority of the drive (and future long drives) processing, discussing, and analyzing historical events (especially wars) and the basics of economics. As Poland is a country filled with people who surround themselves with memories of the many wars that essentially formed their economic, social, and psychological culture, he found himself naturally plagued by questions asked by the great philosophers and expounded upon by many PhD candidates. Mommy and Daddy sought to answer his questions in an age-appropriate fashion.

Dante was most burdened by the knowledge imparted to him by the well-meaning tour guide of the Royal Palace in Warsaw: that at any given time, there was a war going on somewhere in the world. Dante was shocked by this revelation and immediately wanted to know where today’s war was happening. He needed to be frequently reassured that he would not be forced to escape his home in Monroe through the sewers of Seattle. Dante did not understand how wars got started; why, for example, children could die in them; how they were “financed”; how entire countries could become involved; why people would want to kill entire groups of people; how entire cities could be burned to the ground and rebuilt, and of course how it was decided “who won” and why (and how could the “bad guys” ever win?). These conversations continued to evolve over the next couple of weeks.

Along the way, Mommy contacted her cousin Przemek and arranged to drop by his house in Nowy Sącz for dinner and to obtain the key to his house in Złockie. Dante and Izabela enjoyed meeting Przemek’s wife, Ola, and their two children, Zosia and Kuba. Przemek and Ola both speak nearly fluent English, so even Daddy found himself at ease. We were reluctant to leave, but wanted to be in Złockie by the end of the day, so the journey continued. With only minor problems locating our final destination due to darkness, we arrived at the place where Mommy spent most of her childhood summers. As always in the past, Wujek Krzysztof and his family were vacationing in their house, which is adjoining to Przemek’s, and were waiting, eager to help. Baba Yaga no doubt breathed a big sigh of relief knowing that the first 250 mile journey had gone without incident.

The last time Mommy had been in this house was when it was still undergoing construction. She had vivid memories of giant rough-sawn logs, pots of tar, windowless walls, and then later of a progressively more complete bedroom in the front and a bathroom with a curtain-less shower on a concrete floor with a drain. The second floor rooms and the kitchen were all new to her. Unfortunately, due to various last minute changes in Pra-Baba’s will, Baba Yaga’s house, the summer cottage in which Mommy had always slept in as a child, had been demolished and was in the process of being replaced by a new year-round construction intended for Ciocia Malgosia’s daughter, currently engaged and residing in England. Ciocia Malgosia was also currently in England, and her house stood locked and empty. The property was overgrown but flourishing. The apple trees were heavily laden with fruit and surrounded by mounds of ripe apples, and the currant bushes were everywhere, making snacking a delightfully easy task. Mommy mourned the loss of the giant family pear tree which marked the family estate and could be seen from miles away. The linden tree planted in its stead was still decades away from the ancient pear tree’s former majesty.

August 4: Złockie - Muszyna – Krynica – Grybów - Złockie

In the morning, Baba Yaga arrived. Squeezed in between Dante and Izabela’s car seats, the first stop was the Złockie church (an Eastern Orthodox church which was converted to a Catholic Church but maintained its original architecture and iconostasis) where Mommy was Baptized, had her First Communion and attended mass every Sunday during the summers. In her opinion, its interior is the most beautiful of any church in existence and the only one in which she feels the presence of a God. Unfortunately, as there was no mass scheduled at the time, the church was locked - a policy which had been instituted in order to thwart vandalism over the recent years. As such, we just went to the cemetery to light candles in honor of Baba Yaga’s mother, Baba Yaga’s two brothers, and both sets of Baba Yaga’s grandparents. Dante also enjoyed seeing the older Eastern Orthodox part of the cemetery, where the graves were marked differently, had older dates on them, and seemed to be disintegrating into the landscape. From the church, which rests on top of a hill, it became apparent what had changed since Mommy was little. Many of the green forests and golden fields were gone, replaced by more and more houses. And yet, much was still the same.

Years ago, Mommy frequently traversed the distance between Muszyna and Krynica on foot. Every summer included a special family hike from one city to the other not via traditional roads, but rather over Jaworzyna mountain, which is the highest mountain in the Beskid Sądecki mountain range (3650 ft (1114m) above sea level). In single digit age, Mommy recalls the trek being an all day affair, with many stops along what seemed like a steep ascent, including a visit to the famous Devil’s Rock, a delicately balanced freak of nature. As she grew older the trip seemed to take less and less time and Mommy recalls it taking a mere couple of hours as a teenager. While reaching the summit of Jaworzyna was once a noteworthy achievement, the mountain became less imposing as Mommy’s stride grew and her endurance increased. So Mommy laughed when she discovered that not only had the entire mountain “shrunk” in her eyes, but the tourism industry had shortened it further by providing lazy tourists only interested in skiing with a gondola to reach the summit in seven minutes.

We decided that partially due to lack of time and partially due to Izabela’s extremely small stride, we would succumb to the label of tourist. So we enjoyed a breathtakingly beautiful ride in a small though non-air-conditioned gondola up the side of the mountain to the top. Years ago, the summit was little more than a big stick with city labels and distances pointing in various directions. Weary travelers would take a picture of the marker before beginning the arduous hike back down the other side of the mountain. Today, aside from a slightly more stable and readable stick, the summit now houses several restaurants, a skiing school, and various amenities. Once there, Baba Yaga treated everyone to a delicious lunch, after which Dante conned the group into a small hike down to the “shelter”. Once merely a roof under which to stop and rest during torrential downpours, the shelter had expanded into a 34 room hotel! Daddy humored Dante and they did a bit of cross-country hiking while Mommy, Baba Yaga and Izabela relaxed by a picnic table to Izabela’s endless rendition of the ABC song.

Having “conquered” Jaworzyna, the next logical stop was the city of Krynica, where Mommy was born. From the road, Baba Yaga showed everyone the second floor window of the hospital in which Mommy took her first breath. After a stroll through the famous Deptak, Baba Yaga took Mommy and Dante to the Main Pump Room (Pijalnia Glowna) and tried to convince them that Krynica’s mineral water would cure all possible maladies and was virtually the fountain of youth. Neither, however, found it particularly tasty. After a brief stop by the statue of Adam Mickiewicz, the tour continued with yet another ride, this time on a ground cable-car up to Parkowa Mountain. Both kids found this ride fascinating but everyone was somewhat surprised that the cable car was almost empty. Once at the top, Dante spied some interesting inner tube rides and slides. Unfortunately, as soon as Mommy got to the ticket window she was informed that no more tickets were being sold because of the impending rain storm. Sure enough, within a few minutes the so far only slightly cloudy sky turned dark and opened up as if the mountain peak had poked a hole in a dam.

Unprepared for the sudden change in weather (having left all outerwear and rain gear in the car way down below) we ate dinner at the outdoor restaurant, shielded by a roof but attacked by angled sheets of rain reaching for the silly tourists incapable of reading the mountain weather signs so obviously known to the locals. It was here that Daddy discovered his favorite Polish food aside from meat pierogi: traditional breaded pork chops (kotlet schabowy). After dinner, the downpour continued but it was getting late and it was time for the last cable car to descend the mountain. After the descent, Baba Yaga, Mommy, Dante and Izabela waited while Daddy sprinted to the car parked on the other side of the city and attempted to find a parking spot closer to the cable car station. Regrettably, Baba Yaga’s description of where to bring the car was not entirely accurate and Daddy spent a great deal of time in pointless pursuit of a church as a landmark. He finally decided to give up on parking formalities and chanced a ticket by parking directly at the bottom of the cable car station entrance and ran up several flights of stairs with coats. Ticketless and safely in the car, we drove Baba Yaga back to Grybów and then headed back to Złockie to get some rest before Pra-Dziadzi and Mommy’s Birthday Celebration the next day.

August 5: Złockie – Grybów - Wysowa - Złockie

For the first time in her life, Mommy spent her birthday in Poland with her mother, Baba Yaga. The event was primarily organized in honor of Pra-Dziadzi’s 90th birthday, which was actually on June 14th, but was moved to coincide with Mommy’s birthday. Perhaps this was a mistake, as it was a Tuesday and many family members were unable to attend, so instead of being what perhaps should have been mostly a family affair, it turned into a grand party with extended family, including Ciocia Grazyna, her sister Iwona, who spent the entire night on a train in order to get to the event, and many old friends of Baba Yaga and Pra-Dziadzi. There were at least 30 people present.

The party was held at Dziurnówka, a Goral-style restaurant in a little town called Wysowa, not too far from Grybów. The setting was beautifully traditional, the food delicious, supplemented by four amazingly tasty cakes made by Marysia Grybos and Marysia Czaplinska, two of Baba Yaga’s friends. The guests all brought flowers and gifts, including some for Mommy, who was both surprised and humbled by the gestures on her behalf, many of which were from people she had never met. There were beautiful speeches and toasts in memory of times past, friendships that have withstood the tests of time, hardships, and tremendous earthly distances. Baba Yaga read aloud cards from the family members that were unable to attend. Pra-Dziadzi was treated with great reverence and honored not only by his friends, but also by Mr. Jozef Bronski, a representative of the Nowy Sącz County Council of Elders, who presented Pra-Dziadzi with a special “Silver Apple” award for his many years of contribution to the development of the area as the director of the Wood and Building Products Factory and then as a professor of dendrology and of vocational classes concerning the wood products industry. Daddy weathered the chaos, keeping Izabela distracted and occasionally reigning in Dante, who as always was eager for interaction with guests, especially with the young ladies that were daughters of Baba Yaga’s friends.

After the celebration officially ended, it was deemed necessary to continue the affair and move it to Złockie with whoever could continue partying. Daddy lead the caravan of cars, though this time the GPS decided the shortest route to Złockie was via some very questionable terrain, so everyone had to turn around and go back a more sensible way after Daddy decided to follow his own nose instead of the GPS.

Once in Złockie, Mommy, Daddy, Wujek Krzysztof and his wife Marysia scrambled to get place settings and tea for the party leftovers. Normally such an event would have occurred under the giant pear tree. Still in the same location, it was now witnessed by the new linden tree. Pra-Dziadzi was presented with gifts drawn by Dante and Izabela. After Dante did a few cartwheels, round-offs and splits in the grass and the guests continued talking, Mommy took Dante and Izabela around the villa, telling them about her memories and the many adventures she had as a child with her cousin Rafal. Wujek Krzysztof’s daughter, Ewelina joined out of curiosity and amusement as Dante attached himself to her quite firmly due to his flirtatious nature and her ability to speak English with him.

Over the course of the next couple of days, whenever we were back in Złockie, the answer to the question “Where is Dante?” could usually be answered “With Ewelina”. Poor Ewelina soon found herself subjected to Leapster games, math “tests”, and in true Dante fashion, games with rules that took hours to explain, thus leaving little to no time to actually play them. For some reason the name Ewelina (pronounced Eh-veh-leena) was somehow difficult for Dante to remember, so when asked, he always referred to Ewelina as “Her”. You could hear the capital H in his voice.

After the party ended in Złockie, it was time to take Pra-Dziadzi and Baba Yaga home to Grybów. Daddy made the 50 mile round-trip once again, while Dante played with Ewelina and Mommy got Izabela into bed and then talked with Wujek Krzysztof and Marysia.

August 6: Złockie – Poprad (Slovakia!) – Niedzica – Szczawnica – Nowy Sącz - Złockie

The next morning, Przemek, Ola and Zosia (Kubuś was deemed too little to go) arrived in Złockie with two more “cousins” (Przemek’s father’s brother’s son’s children) slightly older than Dante. We followed Przemek for about an hour and a half down the windy yet picturesque roads of Southern Poland and then into Slovakia until we arrived at our destination, the Aquacity in Poprad. Mommy’s blood pressure soared as the border approached and she anticipated all sorts of possible trouble, but the border crossing was so uneventful it was even difficult to discern where it happened, exactly.

Completely unfamiliar with this type of theme park, Mommy and Daddy were pleasantly surprised that there was indeed something for everyone. Dante was completely in heaven and couldn’t get enough of the Mayan Pyramid, the Toboggans and the slides. Izabela and Zosia had a great time at the toddler pools and Izabela later insisted on “moon bubbles” (more bubbles) in some of the indoor pools. There were hundreds of people there (most of whom spoke Polish, rather than Slovakian), so it was a bit difficult to keep track of each other at times. Mommy did not bring her camera into the park, as she was afraid of losing it or having it get wet. Next time she will have to buy a tiny super spy camera and mount it in her hair. Unfortunately time flies when you are having fun, and three hours passed rather quickly. Izabela managed to not drown (though she had one close call). Dante managed to not get lost (though he had one close call). Mommy managed to keep track of everybody’s towels and shoes (with no close call). And Daddy managed to survive the chaos (no comment). And Przemek graciously treated Mommy to a drink at what was quite literally a wet bar.

Having resurfaced from the various waters of the park, everyone was hungry. A Slovakian restaurant nearby filled our bellies with delicious soups, breaded chicken and cheese, and other goodies. During the meal, Dante finally had some time to speak and play with Mikolaj and Mateusz, who it turned out spent some time in Ireland and spoke English. Between a coaster-flinging game, a hand-slapping game, spilled drinks and frantic attempts to ward off, capture and eventually free a marauding honeybee, they clearly demonstrated that boys will be boys, regardless of culture. Unfortunately their bonding was cut short as the ride back to Poland was in separate cars. This time the route went by Niedzica Castle, where we watched the sun set, and through Szczawnica, where the older boys were redeposited with their Grandma.

Przemek and Ola invited us to continue on to Nowy Sącz instead of returning immediately to Złockie, as they had been invited to a musical performance at a café near their home and wanted to share the experience. The stereotypical European café was an outdoor garden transformed by painted walls, vines, stage lighting and outdoor seating. Much to Daddy’s horror, it turned out that the music on the menu was Opera. But strangely enough Izabela, Dante and Zosia all seemed to enjoy it. So armed with grilled sandwiches that magically appeared in the dark along with some wine for the adults, everyone enjoyed the performance until the kids were clearly too tired to stay awake. By the time we arrived in Złockie, Dante and Izabela were already asleep.

August 7: Złockie – Nowy Sącz – Grybów - Złockie

Essentially on our own on this day, Mommy took Daddy, Dante and Izabela up the mountain to take a look at the land on “The Hill”, which lies undeveloped and fallow as a result of the miscommunications and disagreements between certain siblings. The view is spectacular and Dante eagerly ran around trying to decide where Baba Yaga’s house should be located.

Worn out from the uphill and downhill roadless climb, the kiddos were happy to rest in the car during the next drive to Nowy Sącz. After much consideration, Mommy had decided to follow Przemek’s suggestion and go visit the Nowy Sącz Ethnographic Park.

This expansive park was great for walking (and strolling, in Izabela’s case) and taking a look at the rural architecture of several of the ethnic groups of the Sącz region: the Lacki gorale (highlanders), the Lachs of Sącz, the Pogorzani, the Western Lemkos and Gypsies. The poor village cottages fascinated Dante with their tiny rooms, low ceilings, hanging bassinets, various chimney/heating methods and cow quarters located right in the “master bedroom”. The country estates of the wealthy captivated his engineering mind, as he wanted detailed descriptions of the mechanisms used to make cheese and shoes, and he loved seeing ancient spinning wheels and looms “like Annie has” and wooden egg holders. His favorite wooden gadget turned out to be what in Polish is called a “piesek do butow”, which translates to “dog for your shoes”, as it obediently stays under your bed (like a dog is supposed to) until needed. After some research, Mommy discovered the English name for this device is simply “Boot Jack” or “Boot Remover” and is commonly used in the horse riding industry today. Strangely enough, this invention actually originated in Ancient Egyptian times and was used to remove sandals from the feet of the pharaohs so they would not have to get their hands dirty. Mommy especially enjoyed seeing the beautiful organ in one of the churches. Dante’s favorite parts of all the churches were quickly becoming the variously shaped confessionals, the purpose of which he was both terrified and fascinated by. Daddy enjoyed seeing the gypsy houses. Izabela’s favorite place was the 19th century elementary school where she felt at home while Mommy translated to Dante all the antiquated “student rules” which Dante would have broken a dozen times each day.

It was a very hot day and after a long afternoon baking in the sun, the tired time-travelers returned to the present and we decided to go visit Pra-Dziadzi and Baba Yaga in Grybów one last time on our way back to Złockie.

August 8: Złockie – Muszyna - Łańcut

Abandoning Złockie as our home base, we made a final stop in Muszyna to visit Szarotka Cafe, Mommy’s favorite ice cream and pastry stop from her childhood. Somewhat lead astray by the GPS, the 2 hour trip to Łańcut turned into a 4 hour drive, followed by a frustrating time finding the entrance to the hotel, which was within the castle itself. After being told that hotel parking would cost us 6 Zl per hour (thanks to the falling dollar, over $3 per hour), Daddy decided to park outside the castle grounds and instead of bringing luggage into the hotel, we made do with backpacks and just a change of clothes.

After finally checking in, it soon became clear that the castle was closing imminently and that tours would not resume until the following morning. Disgruntled by this turn of events, it was time to find some food. Unfortunately the Castle Restaurant was filled with smoking visitors and the plumes of smoke in the air chased us away. When Mommy asked the hotel receptionist about “a non-smoking restaurant”, she was met with an apologetic stare and a stammer that indicated the poor girl had no idea that such a thing even existed. Determined to find sustenance, we set out into the town of Łańcut and finally found a place with outdoor seating where we could breathe while eating.

There was plenty of daylight left, so Mommy took on the role of tour guide and led her merry band around the castle park, to the music school in which she practiced and to the Romantic Castle in which Mommy played a concert when she was 13. She showed them some of her favorite trees, under the canopies of which she spent many hours practicing the violin.

The castle is surrounded by a tall fence that alternates between concrete/stone and wrought iron. The grounds are closed to the public after dusk and as such the participants of the International Music Courses which Mommy had attended were technically not supposed to be on the grounds at night, unless there was a concert in the ballroom that night. But of course teenagers have their ways. Convinced that almost 25 years later these ways would have been discovered and eliminated, Mommy was astonished to find that all of the illegal entrances to the park were still available for clandestine use. She photographed them for her own amusement, but will not post the pictures so that future generations of teenagers can continue using the hidden pathways to enjoy the beauty of the gardens within the walls during the warm moonlit nights of July.

Back at the hotel, Dante watched parts of the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in Beijing on the television, while Mommy and Daddy discussed sleeping arrangements. Dante had a twin sized bed for himself, but there was no crib available for Izabela and the double bed was too small for all three of us. The royal-looking chaise lounge in the hallway, however, looked like a perfect sleeping place for “our little princess”, but required Daddy to rearrange some furniture in order to prevent Izabela from falling out at night. Meanwhile, since there had been no bathtub in Złockie, Mommy and the munchkins each enjoyed a much needed relaxing bath before retiring for the night.

August 9: Łańcut – Tarnów – Cracow

Awake bright and early in order to eat breakfast and get the earliest possible tour of Łańcut Castle, Mommy discovered that on Saturdays tours begin at 10:15 AM, rather than at 9 AM. The tour promised to be about two and a half hours and unfortunately the hotel required a check-out at noon. Mommy negotiated with the receptionist, who finally agreed to let us depart immediately following the end of the tour without incurring additional charges.

The castle was mostly as Mommy had remembered it. Dante was suitably impressed by the inlaid floors that Mommy had so often raved about. Izabela had plenty of pretty shiny things to look at, and even Daddy was impressed by the magnificence of the ballroom in which Mommy had also played the violin. The tour included the famous Carriage House, above which Mommy had lived the first time she attended the International Music Courses, in the home of Dr. Teresa Żurawska, world renowned specialist on horse drawn carriages. Unfortunately, there was no time to go check if Dr. Żurawska was even in the country at the time, and we rushed off to check out of our hotel and start driving to Tarnów, where we met up with Baba Yaga at her childhood friend’s house.

Ciocia Krysia Grobecka had prepared a tasty traditional Polish dinner with borsch and gołąbki (stuffed cabbage leaves). As you can probably guess, Daddy isn’t fond of either beets or cabbage, but he enjoyed the meat filling. Izabela was cranky, tired and really wanted a nap (a foreshadowing of her upcoming illness). Dante and Mommy made up for Daddy and Izabela’s lack of culinary enthusiasm and tried everything. After dinner, Dante and Izabela found themselves playing with Ciocia Krysia’s grandchildren. It was then decided that everyone would go visit with Ciocia Krysia’s other son and his family for tea, before setting off for Cracow.

“Stopping by for Tea” in Poland frequently turns into quite a lengthy detour, so by the time we arrived in Cracow with Baba Yaga, it was quite late. After finally locating Ciocia Krysia’s third son’s apartment, we were horrified to learn that poor Darek, who had arrived from Częstochowa the night before to get it ready for guests, had lost his car keys and had spent the entire day looking for them. Daddy, Mommy and Darek drove to a mall to go buy some inflatable mattresses as the apartment had plenty of rooms, but not so many beds. Upon returning, the search for the keys continued, but to no avail.

August 10: Cracow

The next morning, Izabela was visibly ill. Daddy decided to stay inside with her so she could sleep herself to health as she always does. Later in the afternoon he took her for a stroll: their tourist attraction for the day consisted of a nearby McDonald’s. Darek continued looking for his keys all morning and finally sometime in the afternoon they made their appearance in his clothing in the one closet that had not yet been looked through. As always, things are in the last place in which one looks for them...

Meanwhile, Mommy, Dante and Baba Yaga took a Cracow trolley (which Dante was thrilled to find were light blue, in contrast with the red ones in Warsaw) to Wawel Castle. The Wawel complex contains much to visit, and no doubt requires at least two days to see it completely, but Dante’s 5 and a half year old self was already saturated with rooms upon rooms of old finery, furnishings, and paintings, so Mommy and Baba Yaga took a totally different approach.

The first item of business was, of course, the Dragon’s Den. Dante had been told the story of the Cracovian Dragon and he visibly trembled with excitement as he descended the narrow staircase of the brick tower. The murky darkness of the cave made decent photographs basically impossible, so suffice it to say that Dante scampered happily in between the craggy rocks in search of evidence of draconian presence. When he emerged from the cave, he was pleased to find a giant statue of the dragon, which he then proceeded to climb, as did all of the other tourists of all ages. Once every few minutes, the dragon let out a breath of fire from his open jaws, to Dante’s great delight.

Dante decided he absolutely needed a Cracovian Dragon replica for his room, so spent some time perusing the souvenir booths for just the right one. He was most disturbed that each “replica” depicted the dragon in an entirely different way, and he really wanted the “real one”. He also decided that Izabela, who was not to be trusted with a heavy and sharp metal object, should have a softer version of the dragon in the form of a stuffed animal.

The dragon out of the way, Mommy and Baba Yaga thought they’d go straight to The Crown Treasury and Armory. In the main courtyard of the castle, however, there was a Court Dance Festival presenting performances of Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque dances by various dance ensembles. Dante, always interested in dance, found himself drawn to the front row of the event and stood there gaping at the dancers for the duration of the performance, which was over half an hour. The dancers took a break then, and Mommy and Baba Yaga persuaded Dante to enter the armory.

The armory proved to be an excellent choice. Dante, who has been avidly participating in the playing of adventure games on the Playstation at home, was familiar with different types of weapons as seen miniaturized on the television screen. Here he finally encountered real spears, axes, daggers, swords, flails, maces, morning stars, bows, crossbows, pistols and cannons. Mommy, well educated by now through her role playing adventures, carefully pointed out the various types of damage (slashing/piercing/bludgeoning, short range/long range, etc) each weapon delivered, stunning a few English speaking tourists with her realistic descriptions along the way. The same occurred with armor. Dante was thrilled to put a picture to the things Mommy and Daddy talked about while playing video games while they discussed the pros and cons of each weapon, and the differences in weight versus protection of various pieces of armor.

After a jaunt through the Royal Tombs, which impressed Dante only insofar as he kept asking if someone was really dead inside and didn’t care less about the actual personages interred in them, Mommy and Dante went up to visit Zygmunt’s Bell. The almost 500 year old bell was so huge that Dante couldn’t believe it could move, much less ring.

After Wawel, we took a “taxi” more closely resembling a golf cart than an actual car to the Main Market Square, where we visited St. Mary’s Basilica, the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) and ate lunch. Dante was ecstatic to finally hear the famous heynal he had heard so much about. It was actually somewhat difficult to hear amidst the hustle and bustle of the people (and the pigeons which Dante relentlessly chased at every opportunity), and to the amusement of all, he kept shushing passersby as he strained to hear every note. We also enjoyed the various musical groups, most notably a quartet of accordion players from the Ukraine, calling themselves Harmonia. Mommy promptly bought their CDs, and highly recommends anyone visiting Cracow to buy some, as they do not seem to be available anywhere else.

August 11: Wieliczka

Aside from the Dragon’s Den, Dante’s biggest wish for this trip to Poland was to see the salt mine Mommy had told him about: Wieliczka. Izabela’s day of sleep cured her of her cold and her corresponding grumpy demeanor, so after depositing Baba Yaga at the train station so she could return to Grybów, Mommy, Daddy, Dante and Izabela drove to this much anticipated location.

The place was swarming with people, but thankfully English tours were entering fairly frequently, so we only had to wait about an hour in the scorching heat before we began our descent into the nice and cool mine.

Dante counted all 378 stairs (Izabela lost count at about 13) before the tour truly began. He found everything fascinating, though while Mommy reveled in the beauty of the salt sculptures, salt chandeliers and salt dwarves, Dante was most interested in the treadmill devices, the mine carts (“roller coasters!”), and the codes on the doors marking the depth and shaft names for each region. Daddy found the various salt formations on different mediums interesting, and with a little encouragement from the tour guide, Izabela discovered that the walls tasted REALLY GOOD to her. She spent a great deal of her time licking the walls and then running after Dante to catch up to him. Dante, who found the concept “gross”, finally agreed to lick a wall. Having tasted it, he could NOT understand Izabela’s attraction to them. Instead, he declared “Next, we need to go to a SUGAR MINE!”

After the approximately one mile long tour ended, we were still at the bottom of the mine, and quite hungry. We ate at the restaurant there, some 400 feet below the surface of the earth. While most of the meal was delightful, the Polish French fries were terrible. They were completely unlike the ones Mommy remembered from years past, as everywhere we ate they seemed to be mimicking their Western counterparts but failing miserably. In an attempt to make them more palatable for Izabela (who normally abhors French fries anyhow), Daddy poured ketchup on her plate after she had inhaled all of her pork chop. Izabela promptly took a fry, dipped it in the ketchup, and began painting her empty plate with ketchup dots, dashes and swirls, stopping to exchange French fries only when it no longer functioned properly as a paint brush! Daddy dubbed this new art form “Ketchupalism”.

Energized after a good meal, Mommy and Daddy decided to do something about their missing anniversary presents. Due to the craziness of Izabela’s adoption the year before, they never got themselves any crystal for their 15th wedding anniversary in 2007. As non-drinkers, wine glasses did not appeal, and very few crystal products seemed appropriate for an anniversary gift. But they both grinned at the thought of Wieliczka, knowing full well that salt is, after all, a crystal.

But what could one do with salt? Quite a lot, it turns out. But most of it would have made Mommy happy (baths salts) but Daddy quite sick from the perfumes. So when they saw the salt lamps, they both agreed one of those would be perfect. After looking at all the salt lamps available, Mommy began asking a few questions, and discovered that all of the pink-colored lamps were not in fact from Wieliczka, but rather from another salt mine not too far away, called Bochnia. Wieliczka only produced clear, white, or grey salt. So after some digging around in the various shops, Mommy and Daddy found a rather heavy but beautiful white pyramidal mound of salt that had been cut into a lamp.

Having made our purchase, we continued on our journey, assuming we would be leaving the mine right away. But we discovered it was possible to continue the tour in another part of the Museum. We waited in the English speaking line for quite a while. As it was getting late and no one else was adding themselves to the line, an English speaking tour guide took us on what turned out to be a private tour of the rest of the museum. A perfect solution for Dante, he could spend as much time as he wanted in each section, asking questions when he was interested, and moving along quickly when not. Mommy chatted with the tour guide in Polish to clarify things that didn’t translate well while Daddy and Izabela found things to examine at their own pace in relative peace and quiet. Altogether, we spent almost 7 hours in the depths of the mine.

August 12: Cracow – Częstochowa - Sokolniki

Mommy decided that perhaps it would be interesting to stop by Częstochowa on the way to Sokolniki, as she herself had never been there. The GPS proved remarkably efficient and we were making great time, until, 14 km outside of the city, we found ourselves completely stopped in traffic. After inching along for some time, we noticed some of the cars were breaking out of the lineup and searching for other ways to go. Daddy started playing with the GPS and decided to take an unplanned left turn through a small opening in the highway. The GPS recalculated our route and we continued on through roads which rapidly degenerated into trails and finally into little more than fields where the grass has been matted down a bit by passing cows. Mommy feared the car would become scratched by the encroaching vegetation on the sides. Chickens were frequently the vehicles with right of way. After a while, however, we managed to emerge back into civilization and found ourselves in Częstochowa.

City traffic was still essentially paralyzed, so trying to find somewhere “good” to eat was not an option. Dante cried out at the sight of a McDonald’s and that’s where we headed. Finding a parking spot was a nightmare and Mommy had to walk several blocks in order to find a kiosk that would sell her a parking ticket. It was there that she was informed that she was extremely lucky to have found a parking spot where she did, as everyone from all over Europe was converging upon Częstochowa over the next 3 days for the celebration of the Assumption of Mary. Mommy, having lapsed in religious holidays other than Christmas and Easter, had totally forgotten about this.

But as it turned out, it was fated that we make this pilgrimage to Jasna Gora. Mommy, unprepared for such a long walk, was wearing “nice shoes”, so by the time we arrived at the base of the monastery her feet were blistered and beginning to bleed. Quite fitting for a pilgrimage! Along the way, we found ourselves suddenly alongside a wildly dressed group of people carrying guitars and tie dye banners decorated with peace signs and wearing strangely colored wigs and Birkenstocks. The group leader talked to his flock as TV cameras appeared from nowhere. While we made progress on the road to the monastery, something was clearly being televised. But in an abrupt hoopla of noise, the “Polish Hippies for Mary” (as an amused Daddy referred to them) all began running uphill toward their destination. Mommy took a few photographs of the colorful characters involved as she painfully hobbled the rest of the way in order to beat the crowd.

But they weren’t the only crowd there. Pilgrimages from all over were oozing their way into each other, all heading the same way. Feeling a bit like sheep, we became part of the current flowing into the monastery, getting sprinkled with holy water in the process. Mommy had no idea where to go, but it seemed like everyone else did, so she followed. The crowd stopped in front of what appeared to be an entrance of some sort within the monastery. There was a large entrance in the middle, and a small entrance on the side. The side entrance line was considerably shorter, and the big entrance was being used by the massive groups carrying banners announcing the city or region from which they had walked. So naturally Mommy led Dante, Daddy and Izabela towards the side entrance, completely unaware of the difference between them. Daddy and Izabela were a bit further behind Mommy, who was by this time carrying Dante (despite her bleeding feet) in order for him not to get lost or trampled by the mesmerized mob.

In our move towards the side door, we became separated into two groups. Mommy entered with Dante first and realized they were in the actual Chapel of the Black Madonna. The walls were covered with jewelry and rosaries fashioned from jewels, amber, gold and silver. Dante, of course, wanted to take some of them home with him. Mommy continued moving with the line of people, finding herself cut off from the center of the chapel by a metal barricade. A man noticed her holding Dante, stumbling on her now visibly bleeding feet, trying to answer Dante’s constant questions and trying to keep him reasonably quiet. The man motioned for her to pass in front of him. As she thanked him for his kindness, he held out a religious picture and gave it to Dante. Then he looked at Dante and spoke softly to Mommy: “Take care of this little one; he is special.”

And that is when Mommy realized that everyone in front of her was becoming rather short. It suddenly became apparent that the entrance which Mommy had chosen was reserved for those devout Catholics who wished to approach the icon of the Black Madonna on their knees. As soon as the altar was visible, everyone knelt, shuffled around a path behind the altar, and re-emerged on the right side of the altar on their knees and in prayer the entire time. Dante found this terrifically exciting. Mommy tried to glance back to find Daddy and Izabela, thoroughly horrified at the thought of her agnostic husband going through with this kind of ritual. She couldn’t find him anywhere and literally spent the duration on her knees praying that they would find each other somehow among all these people, that she would still be married at the end of the day, and wondering what the man had meant about Dante being “special”.

After the kneeling path ended, Mommy was able to move to the side and wait for Daddy and Izabela. Thankfully, Daddy found the whole experience fascinating and felt that it was destiny that had led them to Częstochowa on that day, under those circumstances, with those people, and into that particular line.

Having completed our pilgrimage, we left Częstochowa and proceeded on our way to Sokolniki, where we were anxiously awaited by an enthusiastic Ciocia Ewa, Mommy’s cousin Tomek, his wife Malgosia, and their five and a half year old daughter, Julka.

August 13 – 17: Sokolniki, Kołacinek, Łódź, Sokolniki, Warsaw

The next few days were especially meaningful for Dante and Izabela as they thoroughly enjoyed having a companion closer to their own age on a regular basis. Daddy was able to get more sleep, which is always a good thing. Mommy had always loved spending time with Ciocia Ewa, and now she grew closer to her cousin Tomek. Eight years older than Mommy, he had probably found Mommy simply an “amusing little girl from America” during the summers in which they found themselves together and had never had much to say to her unless it was in the context of a family card game. But now they found many interesting things to discuss and would stay up after everyone had gone to bed to talk late into the night. Tomek’s wife, Małgosia, is a preschool teacher, and wonderful to talk with especially when comparing Polish children’s development and activities, as well as the school system. Cousin Marek, six years older than Mommy, was once a blond curly headed cherub with a twinkle in his eyes and a crazy idea constantly lurking behind them. The years had carefully groomed the unruly curls from his face, added a distinguished beard, and had made him serious and reserved. And, like Daddy, he did not feel the need to waste words, though his poignant comments were always well placed, witty and frequently humorous. His wife, Joasia, matched his personality perfectly. Mommy found this reversal of personalities (or at least her perceptions of them) interesting.

Tomek and Małgosia’s house, which was still empty the previous year when Mommy and Izabela had briefly visited, was still not completely finished, but was now inhabited, and Mommy and Izabela had their own room, while Daddy and Dante shared another.

Mommy described some of our erstwhile adventures to everyone and as Dante’s enthusiasm for our trip to the aquapark in Slovakia was noted, Tomek mentioned that Łódź also had similar, though not quite as large-scale, attractions. The next day the weather was somewhat rainy and Daddy and Izabela were too exhausted to go sightseeing. Since Dante was quite eager to go swimming again (especially if slides were involved), Mommy, Dante, Tomek and Julka drove to Łódź’s largest aqua-park: Fala (which translates to “Wave”). Fala is well named, as part of the complex is a pool which has a wave generator simulating the motion of the ocean! Dante’s enthusiasm for the water was infectious, and Julka, who recently had been mostly terrified of swimming, found herself warming up to the idea and battling her fears bravely. Dante tried every activity, including the super fast “crazy river” ride.

He also observed something which neither he nor Mommy had ever seen before: a giant clear plastic ball which is filled with air around you and pushed onto the surface of one of the pools for several minutes. Dante patiently waited for a turn and thanks to his good behavior while asking constant questions about the mechanics of the activity, the attendant allowed him at least 10 minutes of floating on the water in his “water ball” (most people only got about 5 minutes but since he was small there was enough air for him for a longer period of time). It took some practice to figure out how to maneuver it, and he especially enjoyed doing silly things just to see what would happen (usually involving him falling and laughing very loudly). Mommy watched with great amusement as her son reminded her of a hamster trapped in an exercise ball floating on water. She now deeply regrets not having her camera with her (once again not wanting to get it wet).

The next day was warm and sunny once again, so it made sense to go sightseeing. But after having already seen so many traditional landmarks, Małgosia suggested a more family-friendly adventure. So we were joined by Tomek, Małgosia and Julka on an expedition to the town of Kołacinek, where we found ourselves transported back in time to the Mesozoic Era and surrounded by that period’s most famous inhabitants: Dinosaurs. The Dinopark is filled with beautiful and fascinating plants (including even some remarkable ginko biloba trees) and is situated about a swampy lagoon from which a Loch Ness-like creature emerges at certain times. The plants and paths wind around life-like models of dinosaurs, gigantic insects and reptiles. There is an animatronic dinosaur nest that “hatches” every once in a while, a fossil hunting area and a “gold” prospecting area, where the kids eagerly attained Gold Digging Diplomas. There is also a play structure for more traditional climbing and swinging play, a small “archeology museum”, and of course a place to snack and buy souvenirs. Mommy and Daddy found it rather strange to have traveled all the way to Poland for such an adventure, but what kid can resist the wonder of dinosaurs?

After the Dinopark, the time-travelers returned to the present, met up with Ciocia Ewa and went to visit the cemetery in which Dziadzi’s parents and other family members were buried. Daddy taught Dante how to light a match for the candle for Pra-Dziadzi and Pra-Babcia while everyone else roamed from one family grave to another.

By then everyone was ready for dinner, so we set off to the Manufaktura Mall, which Mommy had visited for the first time the year before. We ate at the Pierrogeria, wandered around a bit, watched the kids playing on the fake “sandy beach”, and let them play in a bouncy house for a while. We then had scrumptious desserts at the Wedel Café and returned to Sokolniki quite exhausted and full.

August 15th was the celebration of the Assumption of Mary and as such travel was unadvisable. The weather was also being somewhat confusing. So once again Dante requested a swimming interlude. This time, Daddy and Izabela also came along to Stacja Nowa Gdynia Aquapark. Dante was an expert slider by now, and Izabela soon followed suit, motivating Julka even further in her swimming endeavors. And although Daddy was not interested in getting wet, he did join in for a game of bowling afterward under the guise of helping Izabela.

That evening, Marek and Joasia arrived in Sokolniki after a hard week at work and Marek supervised an outdoor family dinner barbecue. Daddy determined that the potatoes cooked by Małgosia, which he had assumed were only tasty because they were “drowned in butter” (but in fact had not a drop of butter on them), were absolutely amazing. Mommy considered sneaking a few into her suitcase to plant in her garden, but she agreed their discovery at the airport in the US would be rather unfortunate so she did not in fact take any with her. Mommy hopes she can one day find a variety in the US that even comes close to those they ate in Sokolniki.

The food was nicely complemented by sour cherry and grape vintages from Tomek and Marek’s separate “labels” (they both make their own wine) which Mommy thinks are far better than anything coming out of the California or local Washington wineries. Unfortunately the dinner was somewhat hurriedly moved inside when the sky finally opened up and it started pouring.

The weather across the entire country was rather bizarre over those few days, including tornadoes and flooding in the south. Mommy really wanted to show Dante Biskupin, but as the weather was not cooperating and it was at least a two and a half hour drive in each direction, it just didn’t seem to make much sense to make the trip this time around. We were also really tired of driving, so we spent the last day in Sokolniki lounging around. Mommy’s body, which had been valiantly battling Izabela’s cold, also finally succumbed, whether it was due to constantly being wet or just sheer exhaustion, so a doctor was called in. He determined Mommy had bronchitis and quickly prescribed an assortment of drugs, which Marek purchased from the pharmacy in which he worked.

The kids spent most of the rest of their free time dancing together, chasing each other, playing with Dante’s games, Julka’s toys and her guinea pig, and generally making a lot of noise. In the early afternoon of August 17th, we departed for Warsaw where we were soon joined by Baba Yaga, who also apparently had bronchitis, at Ciocia Grazyna’s home.

August 18: Warsaw

On our last day in Warsaw, Baba Yaga introduced us to Mirek Lissowski, Pra-Dziadzi’s cousin, who was the Polish Consul General in Australia and the Secretary of the Polish Embassy in Ottawa, Canada. Afterwards, we went to the Palace of Culture and Science, where we saw the best view of Warsaw (as it didn’t include the Palace of Culture and Science itself!), and some kind of science exhibit. Ciocia Grazyna joined us then and treated us to dinner at a restaurant inside of the Saxon Gardens, where Dante accidentally bit through a wine glass while drinking his juice (but somehow managed not to get hurt). Then we went back to Ciocia Grazyna’s home, where the rest of the day was spent packing.

August 19 – 20: Warsaw – Chicago – Seattle

On the way home, we were spared any difficulties with cancelled flights or missed connections. However... Mommy purchased some Wedel chocolates at the airport in Warsaw, which Daddy dutifully declared on our customs form. There was no room in our carry-ons for the chocolate, so it was stuffed into Baba Yaga’s carry on. Unfortunately, once in Chicago, Baba Yaga went on ahead through customs, getting separated from the rest of us, and when the customs agents randomly decided to inspect Baba Yaga’s carry on, they found the (undeclared on her form) chocolate. Her baggage was consequently violently inspected for the presence of other dangerous chocolate contraband. She explained the situation, and stubbornly refused to pay the $300 fine for not declaring $30 worth of chocolate. After she gave the customs officers a piece of her mind, they waved her through.

Meanwhile, we were finally able to meet Dziadzi at our now traditional O’Hare meeting place: the Pizzeria Uno. We tanked up on decent pizza and as much soda as we could drink (after being subjected to tiny and expensive 6 oz servings of drinks in Poland), and spent some time with Dziadzi, who had presents for both Dante and Izabela, which were originally intended for the kids to have while in Poland. Izabela received two Eric Carle board books that remain favorites of hers to this day, an Elmo phone which is personalized to say her name, and the palm-sized PC Playbook by Learning Journey with alphabet, number and letter learning activities. Dante received a new travel sized Etch-a-Sketch, a Dora Invisible Ink activity book, and the piece de resistance: the VTech KidiZoom Camera, with which Dante was supposed to have documented his trip to Poland. Hopefully, Mommy’s photos will do, however. Out of over 800 photographs, Mommy has chosen the best 80 to show to you (but stay tuned for future updates, in which the VTech camera will soon play a larger role).

In the end, we arrived home safely and returned to our “normal” lives. While Izabela will have little memory of this particular trip due to her tender age, Dante will have some. Seeing the photographs as Mommy has been working on the website has elicited many exclamations of “I remember that!” and “Oh, yeah, that was really cool!” from him. Mommy hopes one day many years from now this journal will jog those memories just a tiny bit again.