Lodz: Gorkiego 1A – childhood home till age 10

Thursday afternoon we arrived in Lodz, the city where I called home till I was 10. I have not been to certain parts of this city since childhood. Jason, Nicholas, and I parked at my old elementary school, painted since the last time I saw it. The old store and office complex next door has aged significantly, but the post office from which I would call my Mom after school was there, and so was Stokrotka – the little restaurant where I would sometimes go for potato dumplings. I could see the 13 story building where I lived on the 10th floor (we don’t count the first floor in Poland since that is 0, so in Polish its 12 stories, and I lived on 9th). The highlight of walking around in this old neighborhood was the forest where my parents would take me for walks, to the giant sandbox near the play area, or a play day in the forest with school. There are many paths in the forest and its not the kind of wild forest where animals live and you can’t see other people’s feet in front of you because its not thick at all. This is the kind of forest that was most likely planted about 50 years or os (my guess only) because the vegetation is thin on the ground, it was a great place to play and not get lost.
The next day we walked down Piotroska street, a little shopping, a large mid day meal in a traditional Polish food restaurant and of course ice cream at the “Hort Cafe”, where I use to go with my parents to celebrate birthdays. The ice cream sundays where incredible. Will upload pictures soon. And that was the last day in Poland. On Friday evening we drove to Warszawa, packed and then woke up at 2:30 am on Saturday for our 6 am flight home.

Hello! Hello!, Goodbye! Goodbye!

On Monday we left grandma Halinka, aunt Bogusia (my Godmother), uncle Krzysiek, and cousins Artur and Renata, and all the family on my Dad’s side that came to Renatka’s wedding. It was a hard day, but then goodbyes are always hard. How can we know when we will come back again and for how long. I was trying to fit three years of catching up into three days during which there were wedding preparations, a wedding, and then recovery time. I managed to hang out a little bit with everyone, but it did feel like a speeding express train skipping over tracks.
We drove 3 hours from the village of Piaski, near the town of Lututow, to the town of Tarnowo Podgorne near the city of Poznan. At the end of the day we saw my uncle Mietek, aunt Krystyna, their daughters with husbands and children: Gosia – husband Jacek and son Ziemek, and Kasia – husband Krzysiek and son Kacper. It was a house full of children and grandchildren for uncle and aunt and with me, Jason, and Nicholas it was even more louder. In the next two days, Tuesday and Wednesday we saw grandpa Jozef at noon and aunt Krystyna and uncle Mietek with family in the evening. Dziadek Jozef lives on the farm where he moved with his wife and children about 40 years ago. His son Piotrek works the farm with his wife Renata and their children David, Lukasz, and Evelina who is married to Marcin and has a daughter Nichole. The last three were on vacation at the Baltic Sea. We chatted, watched Nicholas play with everyone, and ate good Polish food. On Tuesday Jason, Nicholas and I drove to Rogalin to see the palace there, only to discover that the palace is closed till September for renovations. It was 5 pm and the castle in Kurnik near by would have probably been closed too. Plus it was late, we were tired and the bugs were eating us alive. We are sick of the bugs, not just the mosquitoes but all the other country bugs that take nibbles at us. We also miss our own bed and basement where we can escape the heat, there is no escaping it here. Yesterday we said our goodbyes.
Today is Thursday and we are driving to Ludz, where I lived till the age of ten at which point I came to United States. Till next time.

A Polish Wedding – Eat, Drink, Dance, Be Merry, and repeat every hour till sunrise

We are now the third day in my Dad’s family’s region of Poland. First day we relaxed in the Piaski village where Grandma Halinka lives with my aunt Bogusia (my godmother), and uncle Krzysiek, their son Artur and daughte Renatka. Renatka just got married yesterday. Today we are recovering.
At a Polish wedding it is possible to drink over 10 shots of vodka in a night and wake up without hand over. How you ask. Well there is a formula to this fun madness. First you eat, then you toast to the happy couple and make them kiss, next you make fin of them for kissing badly by singing songs about it ( all the gusets in unison at the same time) and you make them kiss 5 or more times, then you dance. Next you eat more, drink more vodka an play some wedding games, and dance. You reapeat this process every hour and drink nothing but vodka, coffe, hot tea, and the ocasional juice. You end the party at 6 in the morning, wake up at 11 and start over again more slugishly now. And here we are, slumped over coffe and a fabulous breakfast, I don’t know how Polish women stay thin after weddings like this. On a few hours there will be dinner and the waiters have already replace the empty bottles of vodka with fresh ones for today. In Poland dinner is between 1 and 3, the evening meal is supper.
Nicholas slept through most of the church wedding ceremony, and then he danced with everyone at the wedding. Finaly crashed at 10, our borrowed video monitor lasted for an hour (we acidentaly fried our baby monitor due to voltage being higher then it could handle) so I went to bed at 12 and Jason kept on going till 4. We both had a great time. Jason just stepped back inside from a quick game of after wedding volley ball game and Nicholas is napping in the banquet hall in his stroller as I type this and drink more coffe.

Cousin Gosia & Family/ Czestochowa – hotel Sekwana best location ever

We had a great time visiting with my cousin Malgosia, her husband Jacek and their three year old son Ziemek. They live in Kozienice, about an hour south of Warszawa. From there it was a three and a half hour drive to Czestochowa, which means “hides a lot”. This is one of the most important places for the Polish Catholics, in other words for most Poles. Czestochowa is home to the church containig the “Black Maddona”, a very old icon of Mary and Jesus. Wikipedia has a good description and history of the “Black Maddona” so I won’t go into it.
Our hotel Sekwana, was in a great location to take the stroller up the hill where the church was. There is the museum where you can see a copy of the icon up close and without the centuries of damage, as well as other interesting things, however with the baby we focused only on the church, which was beautiful and very cool versus the sweltering heat outside. We could not have found a better location for lodgings. On the same street as our hotel there was a pharmacy, a medical suply store (get your wrist brace here if you forgot to pack it like we did), an electronics store where we got a three-way power splitter, a grocery store and restaurants. We could have even gotten haircuts if we wanted to at the local salon. All this and that’s only on the hotel side of the street. It was a good time to be in Czestochowa because it was between the religious holidays and pilgrimage seasons so the streets were not swarming with groups of pilgrims (tour groups, scouts, church clubs, and religious personale from all of Poland and surrounding countries). Be warned though; Pilgrimage season starts sometime in the summer so check before you visit, especialy if traveling with children.

Our flight to Amsterdam and why we wont fly NWA again

We made it. We will not fly Northwest again but at least we made it. To start with NWA is recently ran by Delta and the management does not know how to organize people trafic at the airport. You will no longer see sighns for NWA in Seatac. After an hour in line to get our tickets, no the machine was not an option, went through security, and finaly three trains later, we emerged by the gate only to hear our names being called. Nicholas, it seemed, had no ticket, even though we called NWA a month ago and purchased one for him, NWA never charged us for it hence there was no ticket on the books. The NWA lady behind the counter was franticaly trying to resolve the situation with customer service while another lady was making an announcement that who ever has not boarded yet will have their lugage removed from the plane. Finaly they jotted our credit card number and let us board the plane. In the plane we were expecting to be sitting at the bull head and having Nicholas in an attachable basinet. As we got to our seat it became aparent that this detail of our trip which we also arranged with the airline a month ago was also screwed up and we spend the next ten hours with Nicholas in side by side seats of aile and windndow in between rows. It was a long ride. On the bright side: we got to hold our son while he was sleeping, and looking peaceful, which helped ease our frustration.
The flight from Amsterdam to Warszawa was a breeze. No basinet but it was only a 2 hour flight, airline was KLM, much better service. Got an almost brand new rental car. Had issues with the car seat but finaly got a different car seat from Budget and headed out on the road. Our For Focus is a comfortable car, holds all the lugage well, Nicholas is comfortable.


Aug 20

We had to leave Piaski today. Jason promised Uncle Krzysiek to practice volleyball. He also promised to improve his “Dart” technique, especially since he lost miserably to Uncle Krzysiek. It was once again hard to part with family; but at least Renatka and Artur were going to the city of Wroclaw with us. We saw the “Raclawice Panorama”, a giant canvas painting (15 meters by 114 meters, and to give you an idea of how large that is: I am 5 feet 1 inch tall, or 1.55 meters). The painting is wrapped around the internal walls of the rotunda in the form of an unbroken circle and viewed from an elevated central balcony. It depicts the battle of Raclawice fought on 4 April 1794 between the Polish insurrectionist peasant army, lead by Tadeush Kosciuszko, and Russian troops.

In the evening we went to Old Town with my cousins and Renatka’s boyfriend. His last name literally means “little fishy” so we had to joke that we are related to him because Sturgeon is a fish also. We finished the evening by teaching Renatka, Artur, and “little fishy”-Lukasz, Texas Hold’em Poker. The pretzels we had with us made good chips to bet with, although we kept on loosing them through the cracks in the cafe table.
In the morning Renatka and Artur took us to the train station and we parted one last time with family in Poland. And then I felt very sad. We had one more week in Poland and we would not see any more Cousins, Uncles, Aunts, Grandma or Grandpa.

Mushroom Hunting

August 19

When you ask someone who has just come from the forest with a basket full of mushrooms “Where are the mushrooms?” they will look at you, smile, and say “In the forest.” they just won’t tell you where in the forest. The places of where mushrooms can be found are carefully guarded by mushrooms hunters/gatherers, and Uncle Krzysiek took us to just such a place. Unfortunately, no matter how much Jason, Renatka, Artur, Uncle and I looked they just were not there. It was too dry and too early, but we did not give up hope. As we drove through the forest on the designated/(ridden into a permanent state by other drivers over the years) road, we looked at the forest road till we heard Renatka scream, “Stop! I see a big one!”. Unfortunately there was only one. A few yards up the road I screamed “Stop! I see one.” there were three. A few miles further there were some more and eventualy we had half a basket of what I think in English are called “The King Boylean” or “Boylin” – Prawdziwki (look it up I don’t have an encyclopedia on me). And that was that for the wild forest, of course like true mushroom hunters we had that undying hunger to fill both of the baskets. This need brought us to Uncle’s home made forest which was crawling with Maslaki (rough slang translation accumulates to “Butter Mushrooms” because they had a slimy top, they are tasty but icky to touch).

So with these we filled up our baskets. Back home Grandma, Aunt Bogusia, and I peeled them. My finger tips were brown for three days straight from peeling those fungi. In the evening over sausages from the grill and vodka we all sang old Polish Campfire and Scout songs, even grandma surprised us by singing with us. When it was Jason’s turn to lead us in song he choose “We all live in the yellow submarine…” refrain, and we all followed to it since Beatles were big pretty much everywhere.

So here are some yummy recipes, remember you need cook the mushrooms first before canning, making soup or sauce out of them.

Cooking fresh mushrooms:
Peel mushrooms, chop from stem to cap checking for bugs, if you find holes, the worms are close and you might as well throw them away.
Put mushrooms in cold water (twice as much water as mushrooms) for 4 handfuls of mushrooms put in a tablespoon of salt. If you know now that you want to make soup now add 6 leaves of Italian (flat leaf) parsley when mushrooms are not cooked yet (remove before they become mushy). Add one small onion the size of half of a fist (or quarter of a fist if you are a football player)
Boil/simmer for an hour or until soft (thoroughly soft, not just squishy).
Next, well it depends what you want to do with them. If you want to can them then put them drained in a jar quickly, well packed, close jar, store in cool dark place for up to 3 months. Or you ca put them in zip lock bags (minus the water) and freeze them.

So you just cooked them and they are soft enough to eat pleasantly. You will use the mushrooms and the water they are swimming in to make soup. Add a pinch of pepper, 200 grams (8oz cup) of sour cream (although its in a firm state you may want to stir some of the mushroom water into the sour cream to liquid it up) and 1 tablespoon of flour for thickening (add the flour into a cup first and a tablespoon of cold/ice water to the flour and work into a thin paste). Hopefully you removed the parsley before it disintegrated. At the very end right before serving you can chop some Italian Flat Leaf Parsley and throw some on the soup. You can eat it straight, with boiled barley, or with pasta (I suggest Angel Hair pasta).

Mushroom sauce
Saut̩ chopped onions, 2 handfuls (roughly) for 4 handfuls of mushrooms, when transparent add the freshly cooked mushrooms, saut̩ till it smells yummy, add 2 Р4 tablespoons of sour cream (with water worked in for smooth texture), bring to boling stage, add flour (with cold water worked in like for soup). Add more salt/pepper to your liking, sprinkle some freshly chopped Italian Flat Leaf Parsley, eat with boiled potatoes.


We are the Champions, Well sometimes

August 18

Another relaxing day with family, chatting with Grandma, looking at her garden and the enormous Magnolia tree, watching Uncle Krzysiek get excited about sports (expecting to win with Jason on his team). And so in the afternoon, after a nap and a coffe, we were all ready for the big game, the players: Uncle Krzysiek with Jason (once again showing team spirit by wearing matching shirts) against Renatka and Artur, with me as the official Volleyball photographer. Aunt Bogusia came to the beach volleyball court in the village next door where the match took place later with her girlfriend to watch and support the players. The stakes were high: the loosers would have to buy beer for the winners. The first match was won by the very joyful Uncle Krzysiek and Jason. In the second match just as Renatka and Artur were coming back almost matching the opositions, again, high score, rain broke out and poured so hard that all the players, photographer and fans escaped to the comfort of their dry cars. So the winners were Uncle Krzysiek and Jason and they were presented with the beer/edible trophy during the championship photo session. All were celebrated that night with food and Hazelnut Vodka. Good game, good game Everyone.


Travel to Piaski

Aug 17th

Thursday we took a train to the city of Sieradz where my Aunt Bogusia Hofman (also my Godmother) and her daughter Renatka picked us up and drove us home to the village of Piaski. The railroad does not go through Piaski. I have not seen them since our wedding. When we got to Piaski we were greeted by my Dad’s Mom, Grandma Halinka, Uncle Krzysiek (Aunt Bogusia’s husband) and by their son, Artur, Renatka’s brother.
When Uncke Krzysiek saw Jason he said that in our wedding pictures he looked like Hurcules and Uncle was glad that Jason was not bigger then him but the same size, and he immediately recruited Jason to his Voleyball team. The practice match took place that evening in the back yard against the opposition composed of Renatka and Artur. Jason even got a matching t-shirt to play in while on Uncle’s team. After the practice Jason was told that the game will take place the next day in the town on a beach volleyball court.

We took a walk with Uncle Krzysiek, Renatka, and Artur to the forest of pine trees that Uncle planted 5 years ago. It was thick and taller than Jason with ediable mushrooms growing under the trees.
It was great being with family and taking a break from the traveling. We even got to do laundry.

Just so you get an idea of my cousins’ ages:
Artur just finished his first year at the University and Renatka just finished her Masters’ Degree and will be starting a job shortly where she will be speaking with customers in German.


Museums and Adventures in Warsawa

Wednesday, August 16th

We had a late start to the day, after slugishly pulling ourselves out of bed we went to see the Palace at Willanow in the south outskirts of Warszawa. We are feeling more tired even though we are cutting down on some of the museums and sites. The palace has an amazing collection of paintings with the rooms kept the same way the Royal Family Sobieski kept it when they lived there in the late 1600’s. What was most touching was that at the time when royal and noble families married to gain land, allies, and power; King Jan the 3rd Sobieski was trully in love with his wife and would write romantic letters to her when he was away, or so our English speaking guide told us. The letters are considered classic romance and studied by Poles to this day. She was a small delicate woman who’s spoke slowly with a thick Polish accent. We are guessing that she was in her late 70’s, and we were very happy to have her explain the history of the Sobieski family and move us along the large palace for over and hour and a half. By ourselves we would have been there 3 hours and very grouchy at the end, I can honestly say that we were sleepy and hungry after just an hour. We went back to Old Town to roam and watch the Warszawians in their native habitat and when we tried to get back to our hostel our adventures started. Apparently, when we got back the previous night to our hotel we were not paying attention to which bus took us there because the one that theoritically should have, went every where but to our hotel. And so, by accident we saw most of Warszawa’s monuments to victoms, soldiers, and the Resistance fighter of World War 2, as well as the Jewish Ghetto. Eventualy we got fed up and walked back to the hotel. That was a long, long day and a very long walk.


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