Part Six : Poland

July 15 - July 22

Going to Poland was probably the most exciting part of the trip for me. I had had to purchase a Visa to go to Poland and it cost about $100 - Rick didn't have to purchase one since he was born in Poland and carries dual citizenship. About a week before going to Poland, Rick began teaching me what little Polish he could in the time provided. We took a train from Dresden to Wroclaw (pronounced "Vrotswav") where Rick was born and where his grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins still live.  The train trip was exciting for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the train stopped at the last station in Germany and all of the German crew got off the train. At the first station in Poland, a Polish crew got on to replace the German crew. Every other train journey we took had the same crew throughout, even if the train crossed a border. Secondly, our passports were scrutinized for the first time - my visa was stamped with a flourish and for the first time I really felt like I was entering a different place.
We arrived in Wroclaw fairly late, and it must be said that it was certainly the "dodgiest" of all the train stations we visited. We were met at the station by Rick's uncle Zbyszek ("Zbishek") and cousin Grzesiek ("G'jeshek" or Greg). Pictured here are Grzesiek, Rick, Rick's aunt Danusia ("Danusha"), Zbyszek and Bingo. I guess I should add that Rick is not really named Rick but Wojciech ("Voycheh") and was called Wojtek ("Voytek") by most of the relatives. Too much Polish for you? Imagine being me! Entering Poland was like being plunged into instant ignorance...the following week would be filled with hours of excited conversation of which I understood only a fraction of a fraction. Despite the language barrier, I must say that the warmth and friendliness of Rick's family was apparent. Every one of them welcomed me with open arms and all expressed regret that they could not understand me. I became a very quiet person that week, saying only "Please," "Thank You," "Goodnight," "Hello," and other polite-isms. I did pick up a few Polish words that stuck, mind you. The most notable Polish word (which I still use) is plecak ("pletsack" = backpack). You will come across it again later in these pages.
We stayed with Rick's grandmother most of the week. Babcia ("Bobcha") was the person I understood most of all. It seems that Grandmas are understandable regardless of language barriers. She and I could communicate remarkably well, and only once in a while would we fall into smiling silences when understanding was lost. Babcia was a fabulous hostess (as any grandmother would be) and we were fed better in Poland than anywhere else on the trip. It took me a while to adjust to eating in Poland. Sniadanie ("shniadania") is breakfast served early in the morning, obiad (just like it looks) is supper served between  2 and 5 PM and then kolacja ("kolatsia") is a late meal served right before bed. Eating before bed was strange for me - I would be dead tired then suddenly bread, meat, tomatoes and soup would appear before my eyes. By the end of the week I was used to the system, though, and after leaving Poland would get hungry late at night! 
Babcia not only cooked our meals and gave us beds - she also did our laundry! Unfortunately, the weather was bad while we were there, and she couldn't hang our clothes outside. Instead, she had our things hanging in her bathroom and in the attic of her apartment building. The clothes took the better part of two days to dry, during which Rick and I each had very little to wear. Babcia came to the rescue, though, and lent us pajamas. As you can see, Rick is dressed in the latest pajama fashion for men...and I appear below in the latest women's fashions. Notice the matching slippers! The laundry fiasco didn't stop there - I only had shorts clean for wearing during the day, and everyone was just horrified that I would go outside dressed that way. The weather was cool and wet but not cold - still, I think there was a fear that I would catch my death! Despite everyone's worries, I ventured out into the world wearing shorts, and Rick uncle Zbyszek showed us all around Wroclaw. The town square was beautiful, newly renovated since it's the city's 1000th birthday. There are beautiful Japanese gardens in Wroclaw as well, right next to a huge sports complex that was built earlier this century and used as a centre for propaganda speeches by Hitler. We also went to the zoo in search of the "Polish animal." For those of you who have not heard the story of the Polish animal, I guess I should explain. Rick told me a while ago that he had once seen a picture of his dad at the zoo in Wroclaw with an animal he could not identify. Not only this, but Rick and his sister had never seen another animal like this one! Naturally, I was excited at the prospect of seeing this mysterious "Polish animal" on my trip to the zoo. Unfortunately, there was no Polish animal to be found. I refuse to believe Rick unless he can produce the picture of his dad with this creature. If we do find the picture, I will get Rick to scan it and add a link for all of you. Right Rick? 

Oh - wow! Rick and Jadzia (his sister) have finally found the picture of the Polish Animal! I think you'll agree that it's quite amazing. I don't know what it is, but if anyone knows what kind of animal this is (and it's english name) please let me know.

Here is a picture of the other side of Rick's family. From the left, Rick's cousin Edyta ("Idita"), myself, Rick, Dziadek ("Jadek" = Grandpa) and Jadzia ("Yaja") who is a longtime friend of Rick's mom. Rick's reunion with his grandfather was by far the most emotional - Dziadek was so overcome he could hardly express how he felt. We went with Rick's grandpa to visit his wife's grave at the cemetery. This may sound a bit gruesome, but it was actually really interesting. Everyone in Poland goes to the cemetery  - every single stone was surrounded by numerous vases of fresh flowers. This made me curious, and Rick and I later found out that the cemetery was one of the only places where people could go freely during communism. The fact that so many people still go today simply shows that old habits die hard! Another interesting story is that Jadzia (far right) made a fortune after starting a business selling flowers outside the cemetery. She is filthy rich compared to the average person in Poland, meaning that she has a house and a new car instead of a small apartment and a jalopy. 
After nearly a week of meeting Rick's family and exploring Wroclaw, we set off to see more of Poland. First Jadzia and her family took Rick and I to Czestochowa, which is a pilgrimage site for Catholics from all over the world. There is a painting of Mary and Jesus there that has seen many miracles over the years. Later that day Jadzia and family went back to Wroclaw while Rick and I took a train to Krakow ("Crack-oof") which is Poland's pride and joy. We were lucky to find a nice woman at the train station named Elzbieta (Elizabeth) who offered us a bed-and-breakfast type accommodation at her apartment which was right between the train station and the city centre. She was a fabulous hostess, and fed us almost as well as Rick's grandma had. Her dog Bari (pictured above with she and I) was really cute and had orange eyebrows. We did a whirlwind tour of Krakow, visiting a stunning salt mine that had underground chapels bigger than some churches I've been in. Everything in the chapels was carved from the salt - altars, chandeliers, statues - you name it! The zamek (castle) in Krakow was also amazing, with an incredible armory display - you should have seen some of the axes! I wish we could have stayed a week in Krakow, but the impending arrival of Irene in Paris finally drew us away...

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To Part Seven : Paris...and Irene!