Monthly Archives: June 2016

How Could I Forget??!!


WE WON!  Poland beat Switzerland in a shootout in the Euro Cup.  We were part of the excitement!

When we were in Hungary they tied Portugal.

And again onGermany—WE WON !! Germany beat Slovakia.
news flash —the Insight Vacation tour bus has been invited to be present at whichever country bids the highest to have us attend so they’ll WIN!!

Warsaw and Poland–finishing up 


So here in no particular order are bits’n’pieces about Poland I don’t want to forget!

  • There are more Polish people in Chicago than in Warsaw.
  • Madame Curie was Polish.
  • The opera house in Warsaw has the longest stage in the world.
  • Rising 44 is a book I should read.
  • So is Life in a Jar, the story of 
  • During Soviet times the Trabant car in Poland took 10-15 years to receive after you paid in full.
  • Son of Saul is a film I should see.
  • Polish soups and food are hearty and filling !
  • The Chopin gardens and other locations around Warsaw feature benches with his music. He is truly the heart and soul of the Polish people.
  • Polish weddings , as described by Tim our Australian guide who married a Polish girl, last at least 3 days and at theirs guests drank 250 bottles of vodka.  Traditionally weddings could last until the food ran out, which could be weeks or a month!
  • Polish village Christmas celebrations are events I could only dream about in terms of the sense of family and community!

I’ve really enjoyed my time here.  (I’ll include a short blog about Czestochowa later because my phone ran out of juice and I took pics on Marty’s camera.  We did visit there, saw the Black Madonna and the shrine.  Beautiful!)

Farewell Poland! I won’t forget you!

Warsaw, continued 


At the end of WWII Warsaw was a pile of rubble. The war ended on September 2, 1945 and the people of Warsaw started reconstruction on September 3.  

The photos above show a 200 year old painting and a less than 50 year old building.  Strolling through Warsaw you get the feeling of a very old, medieval town.  Not so.  It’s all been rebuilt with as exacting detail as possible, from paintings and first-person recollections.

During our afternoon free time I discovered a ceramic shop.  I couldn’t help myself–I’m now toting around a beautiful Polish ceramic bowl!

So is the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen Danish?  No, she’s actually the twin sister of the polish mermaid.  Here’s the legend of Syrena

(She’s behind us)

Our lunch was iced coffee and doughnuts but Don needed more!

We had a post-chat with our guide about the WHY of the Polish reputation, butt of jokes, no respect.  With a shrug of her shoulders, Sabrina told us the country has been continually invaded. They’ve never won a war.   Children are taught to be loyal to Poland.  Life is hard, yet the sense of family and community is vital, strong, and at the heart of Polish life.  

They are a strong people. Unwavering. Brave. Extraordinarily hard-working.

Should I admit to having mentally dismissed Poland in the past as a place I had no need to visit? Ok, guilty.  

Travel changes people, and this short visit had shifted me totally!



To fully express my personal admiration for the people of Warsaw, and more widely, the Polish people, would take a more lengthy treatise than I probably have energy to write.  But if I were Polish, I would be undaunted, and though tired, would continue on for the good of myself, my family, my country.  I would remain unwaveringly LOYAL.  

We’ve been filled with Polish history but I’d like to write about WWII. On September 1,1939 they were attacked from the West, south, and north by Nazi Germany. They were surprised, shocked, and unprepared.  Ten days later they were attacked from the East by Russia.  Surprised, shocked, unprepared again.  Hmmmm.  A conspiracy by the invaders to occupy and take over Poland?  You betcha.  

Warsaw itself was battered and lost 85% of its buildings and 80% of its population.  The city and its people were virtually annihilated yet a vigorous, courageous underground movement armed with homemade weapons and grenades, rocks, and whatever else they could find mounted an attack against the Nazis.  Their intelligence indicated that the Russians, who were camped across the river, would come to their aid.

The Russians watched.  They never helped and after 2 weeks the fight ended.  In Retribution Hitler ordered the town burned.  So if it wasn’t already bombed, now it was burned 

The memorial to the underground army.  We watched an excellent CNN documentary about them.

And of course, the Jewish annihilation.  Jan Karski, a resistance fighter, escaped from the country to inform the world about Suschwitz-Birkenau.  However. He was instructed to tell Roosevelt,  “Things are very difficult.”  The West didn’t want to know.

The Polin museum Is on the site of the Jewish ghetto and has been named the top museum in Europe.  “Polin” means “rest here.”  The building consists of glass panels with the letters spelling “Polin.”

One could spend a day there and we had about 1.5 hours.  The displays are magnificent and take you from pre-historic Poland through Jewish history to the present day, helping you understand the position of the Jewish people throughout history.

This is just one beautiful recreation of a temple.  And here’s the cover of the book a nasty Russian wrote in 1897 naming  Jews as genetically viral and unfit.

There’s much more to write about Warsaw but for now I’m leaving the blog to go visit Berlin!  I’ll end with a photo of a display of garlic, a staple of the Jews in Poland, as they claimed it was useful and necessary for all variety of conditions.

Dumpling Making


After a somewhat harrowing day of Nazi atrocities and traffic jams, we arrived in Warsaw.  It was time for some fun!! 

Our restaurant was a funky, family-run place with the typical foods we’d been eating–sausages, pork, potatoes, and did I mention pork?!  

And of course, dumplings aka pierogies.  And a few of us got to try our hand at making them.

To be honest, they weren’t great.  In fact, after a few doughy bites we hid them in our napkins, like we used to hide the liver our mothers tried to get us to eat!

It was a long day filled with strong emotion yet ending with camaraderie and laughs.

Auschwitz and Birkenau


The extent of human massacre and suffering of the Holocaust is something we read about but when you stand in the place of that horror, well, there are simply no words.  Our local guide was Simon, who spoke with an edge and a smoldering anger.  Enroute to Auschwitz we viewed two documentaries on the bus which made me close my eyes more than once.

Six death camps existed in Poland, and Auschwitz was initially a concentration camp, although a section was built as a death camp.  The Nazis rounded up the educated elite first and murdered them.  Educated people pose the threat of organizing others.

A concentration camp was not the same as an extermination camp – as a concentration camp was not constructed with the purpose of mass murdering Jews and other victim groups. Despite this fact, the concentration camps claimed many thousands of victims.

As Simon unrolled his story, we learned of the cold, calculated methodology of the Nazi Germans to maintain control and order in the camps with no riots or panic.

A photo of men and women patiently waiting in line after arriving in Auschwitz.  “No panic, very orderly,” says Simon.  The Nazis were masters of mass crowd control and were able to murder 2,000 within an hour and a half of their arrival. At nearby Birkenau it was an efficient process of unloading the train cars and within exterminating thousands daily.

There are 208 actual photos which were uncovered and some of them are enlarged and displayed. They were hard to look at.  “And why were photos taken?” asks Simon. “Trophies!!! Hey, look what we did!” As the Nazis showed off to their comrades.

200,000 children were murdered at Auschwitz.

All personal possessions were stolen, sorted, recycled, and sent as needed back to Germany.  The section of the camp where goods were kept was called ” Canada” because that represented prosperity.

We viewed about 1% of Canada.

The two tons of hair on display is not photographed out of respect.  Hard to look at long braids, long silver locks.  Nazis used hair for mattress stuffing, collars in uniforms, and fabric.

I simply couldn’t photograph the shoes, luggage, children’s clothes. I couldn’t photograph the ovens.

A short bus ride away was Birkenau, and if it wasn’t enough to visit Auschwitz, off we went to the place which was constructed as a death camp.

90,000 prisoners were kept in one square mile.  Barns designed for 52 horses housed 1000 prisoners.  430,000 Hungarian Jews were executed at Birkenau.

My knowledge of WWII, the Polish people, the Russians, the Allies ( who knew and didn’t want to believe despite photographic and first-person reports) expanded.  I kept asking myself why Poland isn’t more respected on the world stage.  

Warsaw would provide more answers. 

Old Town Kraków 


Any ideas what this object is?

It’s a dragon’s bone!  There’s a fascinating story about the dragon, the founding and naming ofKraków, and of course a sweet  love story. You can read it here because it’s just too long for me to paraphrase!

But as long as this dragon’s bone remains , Kraków will exist!  

The old town of Kraków is charming, walkable, friendly. 

Over and over again we were reminded of the origin of Karol Woktyla, one of the most illustrious and important men in Polish history, better known as Pope John Paul II.  His ties to Kraków  include his early education, his priesthood, and his archbishop assignment.  

He with Lech Walesa were instrumental in ending the communist occupation of Poland in 1989. He was the first non-Italian pope in more than 400 years.  The Polish people adore him.  

Our photo framer Alexa backin PA told us,   “. You simply MUST go in the church on the main square.  Look left and it will be there.”  

St. Mary’s is an iconic symbol of the town and the interior is breathtaking.  I’ll admit to taking no photos (you had to buy a special sticker to take photos) but finding these online.

Really, it’s spectacular, especially the altarpiece which is opened daily.

 One of the city’s most enduring traditions is the trumpeter who plays a partial tune on the hour, every hour, to the four directions of the town. His tune breaks off mid-melody in honour of the mythical trumpeter who was shot in the neck while belatedly warning the city of Mongol invaders.
The cloth hall houses Polish made goods–Amber jewelry, furs, embroidery, crystal–sort of a Polish flea market with stands selling similar goods but all genuinely made in Poland .


In 90 degree heat one must drink , and eat.  We did.

Marge and Marty posed for a red, white, and blue photo.

Mike and Linda posed for another in the series of pics I’ve posted on our HS Facebook page.  (we’ve k own each other since third grade.)

Amidst the fun and frolic, the five of us each began to talk and acknowledge our growing amazement and admiration for Poland and the Polish people.  Kraków itself was basically spared during WWII because the Nazi Germans used the town to billet soldiers.  We began to learn the long and tortured history of this totally disregarded and dismissed country, even to the present day.  This is a country and its people that’s been chopped up, invaded, burned, exterminated not just once, but many times —-and they pick themselves right back up and move ahead.  

We were to learn oh so much more in the days to come.