Poland 2019 — Day 05

Wow, another fantastic day. After out late night yesterday, made later still by my blogging after midnight, we slept in just a little this morning, though Tommy did go out for a walk while I caught up on my “beauty rest.”

Once up and moving, we went down for breakfast. We were amazed, it was very, very good. Tommy said it was the best yet.

I should tell you a bit about breakfast in Poland. Variety. Yes, variety. While there may be some eggs, bacon, sausage, and bread, you are also likely to find cold cuts, cheeses, salads, pickles, olives, various fresh fruit, often fresh cheese, and so much more. There may be dry cereal, even warm cereal/porridge. Quite a vareity. Breakfasts in Poland are generally fantastic, and you can be as healthy as you want—or not. And there is also juice, tea, and coffee. It is or can be a very hearty meal.

After breakfast and getting cleaned up, we headed down to the Motława River and on to the town square, just a bit, but then back to our hotel—Wojtek, Alicja, and Filip were due to pick us up at 11, and they were very prompt. We gave them a tour of our hotel and room. And then, we were off.

Our first start was the famous Sopot Pier, beach, and Monte Cassino Street, in Sopot. At over 500 meters, the Sopot pier is the longest wooden pier in Europe. It’s quite an experience itself.

Then we went down to the water—Tommy wanted to wade in the Baltic Sea, and he did. Wojtek and Filip, too. While at the pier/beach we saw the historic grand hotel. Notable guests in the past have been both Hitler and Nixon, to name a few. Next it was on to Monte Casino Street, lined with restaurants, shops, and stuff. We passed by a church on a hill and there was a ceremony there remembering the start of World War II, 80 years ago today (and that’s a story for another day).

Eventually we headed out for our next stop, the Cathedral at Oliwa. Lots of history there, but it’s home to a massive organ as well. The current church was built in the late 1500s, but the organ dates to the 1700s and currently has something like 5100 pipes. The church was originally part of a Cistercian Monastery and has 23 mainly Baroque and Rococo altars. It is quite something to see.

There is a nice park around the church. And we had a nice Polish lunch there—I had pierogi with meat, and Tommy had potato pancakes—both were very good. Eventually it was time to go. We had some very long and tearful goodbyes at our hotel, and then my cousins were off. It was hard to say goodbye, but we promised to visit again next year.

Tommy and I were tired and rested a while, but eventually headed back to the square. We were still thirsty from the hot day and ordered water along with a few drinks. After more walking and some shopping (I got a “Solidarność” t-shirt), we had a light dinner which was an excellent tomato soup, and a pepperoni pizza that we shared. It was also very good. Finally we started Back to the hotel, but not before we stopped for a nightcap. Żubrówka for me is the perfect way to end the night.

I’ve been to Gdańsk before, twice. The first time I was part of a tour group, so we saw stuff but it was pretty well orchestrated for us. The second time I flew into and out of Gdańsk, but was only in the city a short time. But thanks to the family wedding we attended two nights ago, I’ve now had three wonderful nights in Gdańsk and have fallen in love. It is a marvelous, beautiful, rich, vibrant city. Builders in Gdańsk have figured out how to make new, modern construction fit in with 500-600+ year-old buildings. It’s absolutely astounding. I love it here and expect to be back again next year. And best of all, I have precious family in the area. What a place!

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Poland 2019 — Day 03

I do not have lot to say—at this time— about day three of our trip. We started our day in the morning with a walk around the square. Got some good pictures as it was very quiet early in the morning.

Eventually we returned to our hotel for breakfast until, which was very good. Later we took off for our main goal of the trip, the wedding of Bartek and Asia. But that detail will be a follow-up post later, after I return. Suffice it to say, it was amazing.

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Poland 2919 – Day 02

We started today at out hotel in Warsaw with breakfast, a hot breakfast, and it was very good. They had a wide variety of selections and we got full. After that, we got cleaned up and hit the road.

The trip to Malbork Castle took about four hours ,mostly express roads, but some slower roads as well. I drove about half, and Tommy about half. We arrived at Malbork a bit after one.

We signed up for and took the full audio tour. It was fantastic. Malbork is Europe’s largest (in area) brick castle and dates from the 13th and 14th centuries, though much was also damaged by various wars, but has been in large part meticulously restored. We saw lots and even climbed the 200+ Steps to the castle tower which gave a commanding view of the countryside. It’s a castle that was never captured and has a rich history.

Eventually we headed to our hotel in Gdańsk. It is one block from the square, and one block from Neptune’s Fountain. Talk about location. We walked to the square, had a drink, then walked some more. The square and old city were packed with people—on a Thursday night!

At one point we visited St. Mary’s Basilica, one of the largest brick churches in Europe, said to hold 25,000 people. There was a service going on so we only saw it from the back.

Later we walked along the Motława River a ways, then back. Eventually we had dinner—a very good dinner—at Mono, the restaurant attached to our hotel. Afterward we walked around even more, and eventually stopped for a nightcap.

Gdańsk downtown is a vibrant city, busy on a weeknight, full of people, music, food, drink, vendors, and even buskers. It is really an alive, vibrant city.

We are having a blast. But tomorrow will be even more so when we attend a Polish wedding in Poland.

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Poland 2019 – Day 01

Our “day” today really started yesterday. We had about 18-20 hours of travel time, plus lost 6 hours to the time zone change. And so got to Warszawa about 1:30 today. After a wait for our luggage, and then getting our rental car, we were on our way to our hotel about 3 PM. We spent a bit of time to settle in, then began our adventure for the day.

We headed off to nearby Wilanów Palace, built by King Jan III Sobieski. Sometimes compared to Versailles and considered a small Versailles, it is really something to see. Sobieski has a special place in my heart as he’s known as the King who saved Western Europe and Christendom from the Turks in 1683. It was that important a victory, but too often overlooked or glossed over in modern history books.

Some years ago, I read a book about Sobieski that I highly recommend, “Jan Sobieski: The King Who Saved Europe,” by Miltiades Varvounis. It’s one of a very few biographies in English about Sobieski, and is excellent. I plan or reread it soon.

Anyway, today we got to see this magnificent palace, inside and out. It is beautiful beyond words. I will post some pictures later, but just Google it for more info.

Wilanów, a spectacular piece of architecture.

The rest of our day was uneventful. We managed to find a Kantor with a rate far superior to that at the airport, and had a nice dinner with a few drinks at our hotel.

Stay tuned, tomorrow we plan to visit Marlborok, then on to Gdańsk.

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My Great Adventure — Time is Getting Short

In just about 24 hours, we’ll be arriving in Warsaw, Poland where the time zone is CET, Central European Time. That’s 6 hours ahead of US Eastern Time Zone. We are looking forward to it very much. It’ll be a long day of travel including about 12 hours in the air and plenty of airport layover time. But soon I’ll be “home” in Poland.

I plan to write in my blog as I go, so check back here daily for updates. I wrote a recent post that gives a general itinerary. After the wedding on Friday and a weekend with family in the Gdańsk area, we’ll be doing some touring and seeing of sights for a total of two weeks in Poland. Who knows what adventures we’ll have or what we’ll encounter, but i’m sure there’ll be lots to see and do. We’ll both post on Facebook as well, so follow us there, too.

Do zobaczenia!

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The Countdown to Poland 2019 is on….

The time for our trip to Poland is fast approaching, and we’re getting excited about it. Yesterday we picked up our International Driving Permits–we’ll be renting a car to get around Poland. That will allow us to stop where we want, go where we want, and maybe see a bit of the countryside and less touristy places.

In my last post about our trip ( https://poland.leonkonieczny.com/blog/?p=1303), I basically outlined our itinerary, though in part it’s still under development. I’ve saved a lot of online articles that give a lot of good advice of what to see and do, so those will help us along a lot.

In general, this will be our route, though it’s certainly subject to change:

Mostly we know where we’re spending the nights and some of the highlights in between cities. In the cities themselves, we’ll see how much time we have. My current plan is to get to the hotel and park, then walk to whatever we want to see. If we walk too far, we can Uber or Taxi or some other way get back. We also plan to take a scenic route into Zakopane, that should give us a great view of the Carpathians.

So, right now, we are busy planning, reading, and dreaming. But most of all, we’re looking forward to attending the wedding of Bartosz and Joanna–that will be the highlight of our trip!

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Wola Massacre 75th Anniversary

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Wola massacre, the systematic murder of 40,000 to 50,000 innocent civilians, residents of the Wola are of Warsaw, be the SS (Nazis). Sadly, not many know of this event which I wrote about in my blog 4 years ago: https://poland.leonkonieczny.com/blog/?p=1027.

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Our 2019 Adventure in Poland

This is my “advance warning” post: Look out Poland, here we come. Tommy and I are heading to Poland for two weeks later this summer. The reason? The marriage of my 3rd cousin’s son! I first went to Poland in 2010 and met my third cousin Alicja there, along with her oldest son and some other family. Then I returned to Poland the next year, 2011, and had a 3 week adventure of a lifetime, staying with and travelling with Alicja, her husband Wojtek, and their youngest son, Filip, who traveled with us as we visited our mutual cousins in Ukraine, as well as saw many great sights along the way. That was a fantastic trip, and I wrote a lot about it in this blog.

But this time, we’re going for the wedding of Alicja and Wojtek’s oldest son, Bartek. I am so excited that we’ve been invited and we are very excited that we’ll be able to go. Just imagine, I’m going to attend a real Polish wedding, in Poland. I could not be any more excited.

So the planning for this trip has already begun, and I’ll give a short outline of it here. I hope you’ll like and follow my blog and I plan to write more as we get closer to the trip, and them even more as our adventure in Poland unfolds.

In brief, here’s our plan:

  • Day 0 — we leave Orlando, fly to Chicago, and they fly overnight to Warsaw on Lot Airlines Dreamliner, a Boeing 787.
  • Day 1 — We arrive in Warsaw after our overnight trip. We’ll pick up our rental car at the airport–look out, Polish roads, I’ll be driving. We have a hotel booked in the Mokówo area and plan to visit Łazienki Park and Wilanów.
  • Day 2 — We drive to Malbork to visit the largest (in area) castle in Europe, then head on to Gdańsk where we’ll be staying in the city center, steps away from the Main square and Neptune’s fountain.
  • Day 3 — This is the day we came for, Bartek and Asia’s wedding. Bartek has a room for us arranged at the wedding venue, so we’ll head there in the late morning or early afternoon to check in. And then the fun wedding festivities begin. I’m sure it’ll be a great time. I may even get a chance to use my rudimentary Polish skills, but better pack my English-Polish dictionary and phrase book, too.
  • Day 4 and Day 5 — we have nothing specific planned on these days, nor a hotel booked as of yet–we’ll just go with the flow of things. Hope to spend some time with family, but also to see some of the sights of the Trojmiasto area (the tri-city area of Gdańsk-Gdynia-Sopot). And relax after the wedding, of course. I’d also maybe like to visit the museum of Polish Emigration in Gdynia, if time. And the Sopot pier would be fun as well. We’ll see what time we have. Family is important, too.
  • Day 6 — We leave the Gdańsk area early in the morning and head to the historic site at Biskupin, an open-air museum and archaeological site that I’ve longed to visit. After that we’ll head to our hotel in Gniezno. We’ll spend some time in Gniezno, arguably Poland’s oldest city and it’s birthplace. Lots of history, churches, and a museum at Poland’s oldest Archdiocese.
  • Day 7 — We get up early today and drive to Częstochowa where we’ll visit the shrine of the Black Madonna at Jasna Góra. That will be a wonderful experience. Then, time permitting, we’ll head to Zamek Ogrodzieniec, a 14th century gothic medieval castle that is part of the Eagle’s Nest Trail of castles in southwest Poland. Finally, we end the day in Katowice and spend the night there.
  • Day 8 — This will be a somewhat somber day, we plan to head to Auschwitz in the morning and visit that concentration camp. I know it’ll be emotional, but it’s a story worth remembering, and remembering the Holocaust and all who perished as a result. Then, later, we’ll take a hopefully scenic drive down near the Czech border and eventually arrive in Zakopane where we’ll spend two nights.
  • Day 9 — We have this day in Zakopane, we’ll see what there is to do. I’d like to take Tommy to the top of Gubałówka, the view from there is stunning. And of course we have to be tourists and visit Krupóski street. We have bicycles on reserve at the place we’re staying, too. Who knows where else we’ll end up? Visits to Morskie Okno or Kasprowy Wierch would be nice, if we have time.
  • Day 10 — Today we leave Zakopane, headed to Kraków. But first a stop and tour of Wieliczk, the salt mines. I’ve been there, and they are amazing. I want to see it again, and I know Tommy will enjoy it. We’ll end up at our apartment just outside the old city, where we’ll spend two nights.
  • Day 11 is reserved for Kraków. Of course on the list of things to see and visit it Wawel, the Sukiennice, and the Mariacki basilica. I’d love to climb the tower again, too. And we’ll see what else there is to do. There’s a lot of history and many museums and galleries in Kraków. And I’m sure we’ll eat well, too.
  • Day 12 — Today we leave Kraków and head to Warsaw where we’ll stay two nights. Not sure what’s on tap for this day, but in Warsaw we’re staying in New Town (Stare Miasto) but right outside of the old town. I believe this is the same hotel where Wojtek, Alicja, Filip, and I stayed when were spent a night in Warsaw in 2011. It’s pretty convenient to old town and to many sights.
  • Day 13 will be a day spent in and around Warsaw. There is lots to see and do. One pace I want to visit is the Palace of Culture, and to see the view from the top (said to be the best view in Warsaw because you cannot see the Palace of Culture from it). There are many other places to see.
  • Day 14 — Today we leave our hotel, return the rental car at the airport, and return home. Again we’ll be taking a Lot Dreamliner to Chicago, then a flight to Orlando. It’s a long day of travel and we arrive in Orlando after 11 PM, then have to get our car and drive home. But we’ll have a pleasant sleep that night with dreams and memories of a fantastic time, a Polish wedding, and a great vacation.

That’s it, that’s our tentative itinerary, all summed up. We are very much looking forward to it. I hope to keep my blog up-to-date during our trip there, as well as time gets closer.

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About a week ago, here in the USA, we were all about Independence Day, a celebration of our own country’s history and founding and freedom. That was on July 4th, recalling the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. We tend to celebrate our accomplishments and ignore our darker days, though. But the very next day, July 5th, is another famous day in our history–or should I say, a rather infamous day.

On July 5, 1945, the US government (and that of Great Britain), formally turned their backs on the legitimate government of Poland, a country whose people fought side-by-side with them to help defeat the Nazis. On July 5, 1945, the US and Great Britain formally recognized the puppet, Soviet-controlled, Communist government of Poland, Stalin’s Provisional Government of National Unity (TRJN). This was the final nail in the coffin of Poland’s legitimate government in exile, though the process had begun 5 months earlier at the Yalta Conference when the allies “divied up” a post-war Europe and handed Poland to Stalin on a platter.

This treachery by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill should be remembered as well. Though they knew all along what was going on in Poland during the war, though they knew about the holocaust for years, and though they knew the truth about the Katyń massacre–and though they knew what a tyrant Stalin was, they consciously chose to abandon their faithful ally and hand Poland over to Stalin.

As a result, many tens of thousands of Poles could not return to their homeland after the war. As a result, many loyal Poles who remained in Poland were arrested, tortured, even murdered by the secret Police. As a result, many Poles (and others)–including some of my relatives–were forcefully relocated after the war, forced out of their homes, forced to abandon their land and posessions, are relocated to make the Soviet-controlled area of Europe more “ethnically pure.”

What a sad day in history July 5th should represent. It was the day on which Poland was abandoned by her allies. But, the hope of a free Poland, once again, did not die. It’d be nearly 45 years, but eventually Poland managed to free itself from Soviet control, and emerge once again as a proud and free nation and throw off the shackles of Communism. But never forget that it was Roosevelt and Churchill that turned their backs on their loyal ally, Poland, and betrayed her, sealing her fate on July 5, 1945. Those two–they may have done some great things for which they are now remembered, but we should also remember the bad things they did. Treachery! Betrayal! Shame, shame on them.

To learn more:

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Cursed Soldiers: “żołnierze wyklęci”

Today is the Polish National Day of the Memory of the Cursed Soldiers, or Damned Soldiers: in Polish, the żołnierze wyklęci. But what does that mean, and what’s it all about.

After the end of World War 2, when Poland was handed over to the Soviet sphere of influence, few Poles were happy with that outcome. Some who had been active in the resistance movement, fighting the Nazis, continued the underground fight to free Poland from the new oppressors, the Soviets. But just having been a member of the anti-Nazi underground movement, in the eyes of the Soviets, made you a traitor. These soldiers were considered “damned” or “cursed” by their own (Soviet puppet) government.

These Cursed Soldiers numbered in the thousands, but some paid the ultimate price for their patriotism. In a staged trial in late 1950, seven of these brave Polish heroes, after having been tortured and beaten and forced to make “confessions,” were sentenced to death in a staged trial, not even allowed to defend themselves.

On March 1, 1951, the were each murdered with a shot to the back of the head on the grounds of Warsaw’s Móktow prison, executed in the same NKVD manner as the 20,000+ Poles where were murdered at Katyń. There bodies have never been located.

In about 1992, after Poland threw off the shackles of Communism, these men had their rightful titles and rights restored, posthumously, and received many awards. And in 2010 the government instituted this day of remembrance.

You can read more about their story here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cursed_soldiers.

You can read more about this National Day of Remembrance here: https://realpoland.eu/polish-national-day-of-memory-of-cursed-soldiers/.

For more information about this year’s remembrance, see this post here.

Hopefully, now, you won’t forget that freedom is rarely free.

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