Walentynki — Valentine’s Day in Poland

Valentine’s Day has been celebrated in Poland in recent times–since the collapse communism and the opening of Poland’s borders. Poles were very quick to adopt Valentine’s Day, and now it’s very popular, as much in Poland as anywhere else.

Poles celebrate Valentine’s Day (Walentynki) with heart-themed items including greeting cards, candies and cookies and other gives. Many restaurants and resorts offer special romantic packages as well.

Some Poles make a pilgrimage to Chełmno, a small town in west-central Poland where some relics of the real St. Valentine have been preserved for hundreds of years at the local church. In fact, it has become a multi-day event in Chełmno where the main square becomes a fairyland with a huge electronic heart that glows in the night. The festivities end with a spectacular fireworks display.

Wszystkiego najlepszego z okazji Walentynek!  Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Map of My 2010 Tour of Poland

Today I began work on a map of my 2010 tour of Poland. You can see that map here: https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=zf-Bw1ukhngc.kjCrn7mPDsEA. On the map are links to some of the pictures I took as well as many of the cities we were in. It was a 10-day tour, we put on a lot of miles and saw a lot of stuff. It was the most fantastic time I’d had in my life to date (later surpassed by my next tour of Poland, but that’s a map for a different day. Take a look, you can relive my tour with me. If you’d like you can start with what I wrote here in this blog beginning with day 1:  http://poland.leonkonieczny.com/blog/?p=50. Or you can see the whole tour as one document from here: http://poland.leonkonieczny.com/blog/?p=176.

Next up, to create a map of the amazing journey I had in 2011 when I visited my cousins Alicja and Wojtek (and a lot of other family) who live near Gdańsk. With Alicja, Wojtek, and Filip, we journeyed 3000 kilometers and visited our relatives in Ukraine, and saw many other historic sites there. Now that map will be really something. Stay tuned…. You can read about that 2011 trip in my blog starting on Day 1 here: http://poland.leonkonieczny.com/blog/?p=385.



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Trail of the Eagles’ Nests

Are you interested in seeing a great view of “old Poland” along with some of the new? Well, you can. The Trail (route) of Eagles’ Nests (in Polish, Szlak Orlich Gniazd) is a marked hiking/bike trail in southwestern Poland generally running from Kraków to Częstochowa. It is a chain of about 25 castles built in the 14th century by King Kazimierz the Great and marked and protect what was then the southern border of Poland. Most of the Castles (along with some other defensive watchtowers) were built high atop tall rocks and cliffs, hence the name “eagles’ nests.” The trail is about 161 kilometers (101 miles) long and is the most popular trail in Poland.

Would you like to visit it? Well, you can, from the comfort of your own home. A great video of the trail and its environ is posted you YouTube here:  http://youtu.be/CQDx7yvI0IY.

Some of the castles are but ruins today, some restored, some in between. Some have activities, some just silently stand guard these hundreds of years later. The commentary in the 13-minute is in Polish, but that does not matter. Just sit back, enjoy the music, tune out the dialogue, and get a wonderful glimpse into the past and the present. Many of these places are not directly accessible by car and are definitely “off the beaten path.” Or, if you’d like, see some of the photos of these and learn a bit more in this Wikipedia article. However you do it, you owe it to yourself to take a few minutes to enjoy this wonderful footage, a glimpse into the 14th century, life in Poland, as well as a bit of today’s modern Poland. You will not regret the time spent.

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Opłatek — A Polish Christmas Tradition

Today is December 24th, Christmas Eve. In many Polish households in Poland and throughout the world, tonight they will celebrate Wigilia, a traditional Polish Christmas Eve meal. Traditionally, once the youngest child see the first star in the sky (gwiazdka), the traditional, meatless meal begins. You can read more about Wigilia itself here.

Wigilia begins with the sharing of the opłatek, a thin, wafer-like piece of unleavened bread, similar to the catholic communion host. The opłatek is a rectangular piece, often embossed with a scene from the Nativity or such. At the beginning of the Wigilia celebration, the head of the house says a short prayer, thanking God for the blessings of the past year and asking for God’s continued blessings for health and prosperity in the coming year, and hoping that the group will be again together to celebrate the next Wigilia, next year. Then the opłatek is passed around. Each person takes a piece and shares it with those around them, giving wishes for health and prosperity.

There are various traditions surrounding the sharing of the opłatek. In my family, my grandfather would say a prayer as described above in Polish. Then, the opłatek would be passed around. Each person would take a small piece, dip it in honey, and say “daj Boże miłoszerdzie“–God have mercy.

Tonight, in my home, we will have Wigilia, and will begin with the sharing of the opłatek. A similar scene is taking place this Christmas Eve in millions of homes in Poland and throughout the world. In my sister’s home, they’ll share the opłatek. My folks are hosting a good portion of my family. They will begin their Wigilia by sharing the opłatek. My cousins are doing the same, and second cousins likewise, as are aunts and uncles, and many, many more. And in Poland, my cousins there will be doing likewise. We’ll all be thinking of each other, wishing each other the best in the coming year, celebrating a tradition that is many centuries old:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_wafer.

Wszystkiego najlepszego z okazji Świąt Bożego Narodzenia,
zdrowia, szczęścia, miłości i pomyślności.
Niech się spełnią wszystkie Twoje marzenia,
niech nie zabraknie ciepła i rodzinnej, wspaniałej atmosfery.

Pozdrawiamy serdecznie,


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Life in Faschivka–where our Cousins Live

In 2011 my cousin Alicja and I (along with her husband and son, Wojtek and Filip) visited the town that was home to my great-grandfather, Aleksandr Cymbał and my great-grandmother, Katarzyna Kucharska, before they emigrated to the US in the very early 1900s. We stayed with my third cousin and his family, Michał Griciw. Michał, Alicja, and I share a common great-great grandfather, Jan Cymbał. I wrote about our visit to his old house in Faschivka here.

But today’s posting is about the town of Faschivka and our cousins who still live there. Michał is a farmer, but it’s a difficult life in Ukraine. At the time I was there, they were working on building a bathroom–their first. When we were there, the outhouse by the pig barn was all the toilet they had, and a shower stall outside, and a nearby well, were all they had. But they were making good progress on the bathroom, and I’m sure by now they are enjoying it. They have a nice but mostly older home. The front room a dining room, is a recent addition with a beautiful entrance door. There is no A/C and in the summer they cook and prepare a lot of food in the outdoor kitchen, though they have an indoor kitchen (refrigerator, gas range, etc.).

Michał raises sugar beets and buckwheat. They have a cow or two and some pigs and chickens. Around him are some very large farms, properous people who pay very low wages for long work days. Michał says these landowners track their workers with GPS devices on the tractors, to ensure they are working. Ukraine is a poor country with just a few very wealthy landowners. Anyway, I took a bunch of photos that show a glimpse of what life is like in Faschivka. You can see them here: http://photos.leonkonieczny.com/Poland%202011/Faschivka/index.html.

Faschivka is a very small town today. Today it has 50 houses and about 149 inhabitants. In 1924 there were 171 houses and 950 people. At that time maybe 1/3 of the population was Jewish, 1/3 Ukrainian, and 1/3 Polish. Today it is all Ukrainan. The Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary Naivity is a Greek Orthodox church in town. My Polish relatives would have gone to the Roman Catholic Church in nearby Tarnoruda. My Ukrainian great-grandmother was baptized at the Greek Catholic church in nearby Łuka Mała.

Faschivka sites on the Zbruch River (Ukrainian: Збруч, Polish: Zbrucz), a left tributary of the Dniester River. From the late 1700s until about 1916 it was the border between Austrian Galacia and Russia. From 1922 to 1939, it was the border between Poland and the Soviet Union. Prior to 1939 it was known by its Polish name, Faszczówka.

You can read a bit more about faschivka and its history here: http://dvasela.at.ua/blog/faschivka_from_the_history_of_our_village/2013-03-21-29.

Finally, near the end of the photos, you can see some of the delicious food were had to eat. I’ll say one thing for sure, “presentation” seems to run in our family, look how delicious it all is. Smacznego!

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The Home of Jan Cymbał

Jan Cymbał is my great-great grandfather. He was born somewhere in the mid 1800′s in Tarnoruda in what was once Poland, but at that time was in the Austrian province of Galacia. At some time, he moved to the nearby village of Faszczowka (now Faschivka in Ukraine). When I visited our cousins in Faschivka in 2011, Aunt Hania took us to see the house that was once Jan’s. The house is there to this day, but appears abandoned, and is locked. There is a shed/barn nearby, and along with a root cellar, the buildings form a U-shape. The place is in disrepair. Like about half the dwellings in Faschivka today, the owners have left, abandoning them. But I got to visit the home of my great-great grandfather, Jan Cymbał and his wife Rose (Rozalia Suszczynski). It was awesome to stand on the ground that he stood on, and the home that I presume my great-grandfather Alex Symbal left when he came to America in about 1906.

You can see the pictures here: http://photos.leonkonieczny.com/Poland%202011/Jan%20Cymba%C5%82%20House/index.html

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2013 Pierogi Party

Leon and Ewa’s 9th annual Pierogi Party is over, and once again it was a resounding success. We made 8 batches of the world’s best pierogi dough, filled 343 pierogi, and did a mound of dishes. Along the way we drank a round of Żubrówka, had a few other drinks, had many snacks, and also sampled the pierogi we made. It was a grand time.

The evidence of the party, besides the little darling dumplings themselves, are in these pictures which you can see here: http://photos.leonkonieczny.com/2013%20Pierogi%20Party/.

And, I published the pierogi dough recipe here last year.


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Szczęśliwego Święto Dziękczynienia

Yes, that’s “Happy Thanksgiving” in Polish. It seems from what I’ve heard that people in Europe (including  Poland) are very cognizant of our US-American holidays… but we in the USA–not so much about theirs. Anyway, America (the USA) is a big, powerful country and others in the world are very cognizant of what we’re up to.

And today here in the USA it is Happy Thanksgiving, Szczęśliwego Święto Dziękczynienia. But what does that mean for a person like me? A person whose heart is in Poland, whose ancestors came to the US to make a better life? A person whose ancestors left behind family, friends, all that they knew to try to find a better life? I cannot imagine what it must have been like, to leave all you knew and set off for a far away, foreign land in hopes of a better life. Wow, it must have been quite daunting.

My ancestors left behind their loved ones and ventured to the United States, hoping for a better life than they left behind. What did they leave behind? Well, i have some inkling of what that was like. It was a life of diminishing returns. A farm could only be split so many ways. It was a life where there was no Poland, and young men could only expect to be conscripts into the Emporer’s army–and they’d be in the front lines. It was a life where their heritage, culture, and language was at times severely repressed. And so they came to this county in great droves, looking for a better life for them and their children. And guess what??  They found it.

So they came to the USA. They were at the bottom of the social class. They were called “dumb Polaks.” They worked in the coal mines. They were maids. They did the work no one else wanted to do. And, you know what? The did it well. They excelled! They worked the jobs that no one else wanted to do. The bought the land that was full of stumps and no one else wanted. But they were free, they could do what they wanted to do…they could succeed–or fail. But they succeeded, and succeeded greatly. They built homes and farms, the created communities. The started churches and other social organizations. They prospered.

And so, today, I am happy. No, I am really ecstatic. You see, I am the descendant of those “dump Polaks” who came to this great country, who worked hard, who made a great life here. No, they were not at all “dumb Polaks,” they were the smartest and hardest working people I’ve ever known or heard about. And I am so proud to be one of their descendents. I am truly blessed!  Jestem Polakiem!  I am extremely proud of that fact!


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Zdjęcia z Polski i Kresów — II

I wrote about my Photos from Poland and the Borderlands a while back. In my trips to Poland, have have been fortunate to take a number of photographs of the sites and people of Poland and of the the borderlands–specifically Ukraine so far. Some of them are just OK, yet remind me of the places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen. But a few of them are really very good, in my humble opinion. I have begun collecting, framing, and exhibiting them occasionally as a part of my collection titled “Zdjęcia z Polski i Kresów”–Photos from Poland and the Borderlands. Today I am posting a few more.

You can see many of my photos from my two trips in these online albums:

Two of what I think are the best will be displayed at the Sanford Welcome Center for this month’s Sanford Art Walk. The show opens on the day of the Sanford Art Walk, Friday November 22nd,, from 6-9 PM at the Historic Sanford Welcome Center,  230 East First Street, Sanford, FL 32771. I hope you can join me there. But for those who can’t, here’s a bit about what you’re missing.

This month’s theme was “November Rain” and so anything having to do with water somewhere. It is in all my photos below, but only the main theme in one:

  • Rapids on the Prut River (near Yaremche–The Pearl of the Carpathians– in Ukraine)
  • Archcathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Andrew (on the Baltic Sea, Frombork, Poland)

And finally, this last picture is not from Poland or the borderlands. It’s actually a photo i snapped with my iPhone at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on a dreary, rainy, foggy day in October 2012. Somehow, I just had to capture that mood and I think I did:

  • Here Rests in Honored Glory an American Soldier Known but to God (Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington, VA)
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Battle of Khotyn (Chocim): November 11, 1673

It was 340 years ago today that a significant battle was fought at the fortress of Chocim (today Khotyn in Ukraine) between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth’s forces led by hetman (miliary chief commander) Jan Sobieski and the Ottoman Empire forces let by Hussain Pasha. The 30,000 strong force of Poland soundly defeated the 35,000 strong Ottoman force.

The Battle of Khotyn in 1673 was significant for two reasons, somewhat related to each other:

  1. In part due to the success of Hetman Jan Sobieski in this battle, he was soon thereafter elected King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, at that time the largest and most powerful country in all of Europe.
  2. It was a prelude to King Jan III Sobieski’s brilliant defeat of the Turks at the Battle of Vienna a mere 10 years later, in 1683. After that, Sobieski was hailed as the savior of Europe by none other than the Pope. And indeed, they did save Europe from the Turks.

I am fortunate in that I visited Khotyn and the fortress in the summer of 2011. I wrote about that visit here in my blog and posted many pictures as well. It is truly an amazing fortress, sitting high up above the Dniester River, it’s tall beige walls overlooking the river and the countryside. The fortress is very impressive and much of it is being restored and can be visited. I was able to climb some of the battlements and descend into the cellars. There are exhibits of war weapons and demonstrations as well. It really is an amazing place. And, 340 years ago today, an important battle was held there.

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