How dreams become reality, even if painful at my parents house. The first few weeks of our Sabbatical are nice and quiet. Not really…

The road is wide open, the sun is high and except for a few birds in the sky, there is no one around. There is no wind, it’s warm and pleasant. The only sound is my motorcycle engine roar. I ride on a country road, no traffic what so ever. Suddenly a road cleaning vehicle is passing on my right. It’s rollers systematically scrubbing the asphalt. At the same time a garbage truck is approaching from ahead. I turn left and there is a constant flow of vehicles going in both directions. I look up and I see a large passenger jet descending in approach for landing.

I wake up in horror. The traffic quickly disappears, replaced by the familiar surroundings of my Parent’s house attic, but the terrible sounds still rumble in my head. The road is near-by, so is the airport. Today is Friday, hence the garbage truck and the road cleaning vehicle. I’m not sure about the motorcycle – was it part of my dream or was it just one of the noises from outside…? I’ll never know, it’s 7.30 AM and the neighbor started drilling and knocking again. He just bought the adjacent townhouse and is determined to complete all repairs within a month.

I’m not sure if that’s related, but my headache started few days ago. I have no problems sleeping, and quite frankly a horizontal position is much more bearable, but days at the house are rather painful. At first I thought the pain is related to excess partying in the last few weeks, but despite laying low last few days, the pain didn’t go away. The next suspect was my occasionally high blood pressure, but after putting coffee and salt aside, my blood pressure is so low, I’m falling asleep all the time, and yet the pain is still here. At one point, my wife thought it might be allergic, but her medicine didn’t help me at all.

I don’t know what it is and how long it’s going to last, but the trip around Europe is at risk if it doesn’t go away soon. I am sure that living in a city is definitely not my cup of tea. It’s only been few weeks, but I already miss our quiet house in the country, where the only loud noises are the birds in the morning and the frogs serenades at night…

I Desire You, I Want You

How crossing a bridge I stumbled upon an interesting story and why I had to spent hours researching Italian love stories.

While in Opole yesterday, I had to go the City Center to find an ATM. It wasn’t far, so I took a walk rather then driving. Turns out it was an excellent idea. Despite a really terrible weather forecast, it was still very warm, a little muggy, but it wasn’t raining. To get to the commercial part of town from the German Consulate, I had to cross the Młynówka river using an old, beautiful, green bridge called “Most Groszowy” (Penny Bridge) or “Most Westchnień” (Bridge of Sighs). I’m usually not the type of guy to notice that, but the bridge surroundings were quite nice –  birds singing in the nearby trees and bushes, the quiet river underneath. I can see how on a starry night, with the soothing sound of water and under moonlight, this can be quite a romantic place.

A local tradition - many locks on the foot bridge over the Odra river.I’m not the most observant person, but crossing the bridge for the second time, on my way back to the Consulate, I’ve noticed a few padlocks hanging on the painted green cast iron fencing of the bridge. I decided that with a right angle, this could be an interesting picture. Without thinking, I aimed, shot and I was back on my way. Only later I started asking myself, what’s the meaning of those locks…?

After getting back home I researched the subject on the internet. Few years ago, local students in an attempt to create a new tradition, adapted an Italian custom. Apparently, the practice was first described by Federico Moccia, an Italian writer. In his love story novel called Ho Voglia DI TE (I Desire You, I Want You), the main characters close a padlock on with their names engraved on it on a bridge, than kiss and throw the key into the Tiber river, near Rome. Today, one can find similar bridges in Paris, Florence, Venice and Moscow.

While researching the subject, I found that Federico Moccia is very popular among especially young readers across Europe. Ho Voglia DI TE (I Desire You, I Want You) is a continuation to Tre metri sopra il cielo (Three Steps Over Heaven). They tell a story of Babi, a girl from a so-called “good home”, a great student and exemplary daughter, who as a result of a coincident meets Step, an aggressive hooligan, whose life consists of exercises in the gym, races on a motorcycle and senseless fighting. Despite the radically different characters they fall in love, and… so on, and so on. I’m not going to spoil it for you. There’s also a movie version of the “Ho Voglia Di Te” for those who don’t like or have no time reading.

Obviously, I didn’t read those books, just the teasers I’ve found in the internet. Sounds like a great read for my wife and something I want my daughter never to put her hands on!

German Consulate in Opole

Weather in Poland can change in an instant. Today the sunny, hot and humid turned into cold and soaking wet in just few minutes. Fortunately at the time we were in the car, unfortunately we had cover 60 miles in very limited visibility.

Yesterday Grandma took Agnieszka and the kids to a large pool complex, where the kids had a really good time. Alex doesn’t want to do anything else now – he constantly talks about the slides and tubes. He wants to go to the pool every day.

In the meantime, I took my Father to Opole – a town about 100 km North West from Chorzów. We had some business at the German Consulate, and despite the bad weather forecast I decided to take the camera with me. I’m glad I did. Opole is an old German town and thanks to significant support from the European Union it starts to look nice again. I didn’t have much time to walk around, but due to my credit card failure, I had to find an ATM. The German Consulate is very close to the center of the city, where I’ve found the nearest machine. That gave me an opportunity to take a few shots.

On the way back it started raining. First it was just a few drops, but then the temperature dropped from 33C (92F) down to 17C (62F) in just half an hour and the clouds spilled tons of water. In Poland usually everyone drives on a highway slightly (<10%) over the speed limit of 130 km/h (80 mph). Some people drive significantly faster (125 mph or more). And that regardless of weather. For them pouring rain and poor visibility is no excuse to slow down. Good thing the road between Opole and Chorzów is kept in excellet shape.


Chorzów City Center

Today we have failed. We didn’t manage to arrange everything we needed to at the Registry Office, we run of of cash and patience. Instead we’ve taken a stroll in the city center.

Even though Chorzów’s history dates back to 13th century (or even 12th according to some sources), the city became an important landmark of Upper Silesia only towards the end of the 18th century. For centuries, until the end of the Second World War the city was known as  Königshütte or Królewska Huta. There is about 113 thousands people living in Chorzów today – same as before the Second World War, but the number is slowly declining. Back in 1977, there’s been almost 157 thousands people.

The bureaucracy in this country is still enormous and it took us almost half a day and tons of money to achieve… almost nothing. Apparently the road to Polish passports for our kids is more bumpy than the cobblestone streets in some parts of this city. We also wanted to renew Agnieszka’s Polish passport which expires next year, but run out of money and patience. We’ll do it next year in Mexico City or New York. Fortunately today we took the camera with us, while trying to finalize the official matters in the Registry Office. Unfortunately, I didn’t check the camera settings before shooting and it looks like most pictures are over exposed. I decided to post them here anyway and made a mental note to myself to always double check the settings before pressing the trigger. Or take my wife’s point and shoot camera, which despite being pink is probably more suited to my photography skills. But hey! It’s one of my goals for this trip to learn digital SLR photography, so you’ll have to suffer and watch my progress (if any).

Chorzów – Amelung

International language school at Amelung pond or how to teach your kids few words you’d prefer to forget yourself.

Amelung is a name of a small pond, which has been recently revitalized. Located in the middle of a large residential district, this body of water attracts mostly children and anglers. Not sure about fish, but there is a large playground area, where local youngsters with or without their parents spend countless hours swinging, sliding and building sand castles.

Since we were too lazy to do anything more challenging in the afternoon, we’ve decided to spend a few hours watching our kids integrate with the locals. It quickly became apparent that even though Nadia and Alex speak perfect Polish they have a tendency to build sentences in English. It doesn’t seem to bother other kids, so they had a really good time playing. The one thing we’re a bit afraid of is that they will learn few new words from the angry anglers, which even though very popular, are not among the ones to be used in company…



Chorzów Stary

A few pictures taken in the oldest part of Chorzów on a cloudy day. This part of town reminds me the most of the hometown I remember from times growing up here.

Chorzów Stary is the oldest part of my hometown. Supposedly it’s roots date back to the 13th century, when it was first mentioned as a village established by the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem – a Roman Catholic order of knighthood under the protection of the pope. There isn’t much left from that distant past. Most of the buildings have been erected in the 19th century, and quite frankly haven’t been well maintained ever since. It’s been a cloudy day today, but I think the weather suits this dark and rather dirty district very well.

European Vacations Planning

The road trip planning began. How we plan to spend the next few weeks travelling around Europe and how tight keeping family helps with tight finances.

View Larger Map

After a few days of partying, it’s time to start road trip planning. My Father offered us one of his vehicles, which means that we can do a small loop around Europe. We don’t want to spend on the road more than couple or three weeks, so the loop will be rather tight. Especially, as we plan to stick with our kids friendly driving habits. That means no longer then four or five hours of driving a day. In order to accomplish that task, we’ve decided to look at the map, see where do we have Friends or Family and plan around that locations. We will take some camping gear for those parts of the trip where there will be no friendly accommodation available.

Since large part of my Family is German, the route will be mostly around Germany, but also Austria and the Czech Republic. We will start by visiting my wife’s Family in Zgorzelec – that’s still in Poland, but it’s a German border town. From there we will go to the region of North Rhine-Westphalia, where lives a large part of my Family, but also number of old friends. We may need to overnight near Leipzig, as this leg of the trip will be significantly longer than the daily allowance set by the Captain. Then we will turn South and drive through Luxembourg to visit my Father’s sister in Saarland, near the French border. After few days of recovery, we will head towards Austria, where my Father’s brother lives in a picturesque little village. Again, due to the limitations set by the Captain, we may need to overnight at my wife’s friend house half way to Austria and then again somewhere in the Czech Republic (most probably around Brno) before arriving back at my Parents house.

Upper Silesia

What is “Oberschlesien”, why I call it home and why my Parents hate my guts at four o’clock in the morning.

It is 4 AM. I wanted to start this post by saying that I’m sipping my coffee and enjoy the bird’s morning concert out my Parents house window. Instead, I’m sipping my coffee and listen to my parents going back to bed after I offered them a rude awakening. Going down the stairs I forgot about the security system installed in the house. Normally, at night the upper two levels of the townhouse are defined as a safe zone, free for everyone to roam around, while the lower two are guarded by movement sensors and therefore off-limits, unless deactivating the security system. It’s been two years since my last stay at the house and frankly speaking, I forgot all about it. The kitchen is downstairs, and trying to get there I didn’t switch the damn alarm off. The sound of a siren was loud and it waked up everyone in the house. Well, except my Father, who needed to turn it off. I could tell he wasn’t happy, when he finally got out of bed. He had to call the security company and explain the situation, so that they don’t expedite a commando to the rescue…

We arrived yesterday. The trip was good, excellent in fact. Flight from Rochester was one hour delayed – no surprise. The one from Newark arrived in Munich 20 minutes early and to my delight, there’s been no queues to the immigration booths, no security checks, no customs. The gate for our connecting flight was on the other side of the terminal, but after a brisk walk we arrived there in time to have a cup of a good European coffee before boarding the last leg of our trip. My Father picked us up at the airport.

Even though I grew up around here, I couldn’t recognize the surroundings. There’s a lot of new developments going on, especially roads. The predominantly industrial identity of the region is nowhere to be found. The coal piles, the shafts, the smokestacks – they’re all gone. The region is promoting it’s tourist attractions instead – old castles, mountains, natural resources. I never thought about Upper Silesia in those categories before, but it is a very diversified region.  Rich and complex  history, multicultural influences  over centuries slowly shaped it’s today’s unique identity. Before the second World War as an autonomous region, with it’s own treasury and parliament, it’s certainly still capable of managing it’s destiny today.

In the afternoon we took a walk to my in laws apartment, which is within half an hour from where my folks live. I didn’t take a camera with me, but this part of town isn’t the nicest anyway. It’s the type of neighborhood we will try to avoid in our travels. The houses are old, the streets narrow and dirty. Plenty of filthy joints selling cheap beer, some passing doorways smelling like urine. It would definitely not be a good idea to walk around here after dark. The “hood” always been like that,  it always will be.

There are things that change rapidly in my hometown,  others seem to be stuck in the past for eternity. It’s now 5 AM in Chorzów. I sip my coffee and listen to the sounds of my Parents trying to go back to sleep. It’s hot and I wanted to go outside and enjoy the morning breeze, but I’m not going to risk that the security system is not fully deactivated.

I’m back home and it is my birthday today…

European Man Bag

What’s the fastest way to attract male companions using female accessories and how to squeeze your house to a shoe box.

My wife, the Captain is a great driver. She’s been driving a car for many years without an accident. Well, I don’t count busted mirrors, fender benders or door scratches. Those are quite common and happen to both of us… sometimes. Anyway, she’s an experienced, confident and very safe driver. However, keeping things organized in the car is definitely not her forte. There are always thousands of items laying on the floor, on the seats, anywhere and everywhere. Obviously she knows exactly where to find stuff, and yet to a by-standing observer the inside of her (now our) car appears as chaos. Even incidents like one that happened to her girlfriend last winter can’t seem to influence her at all. In January, we went sledding together with our close friends and their kids. While we were enjoying the fast melting snow some thugs used a curbstone to get to our friends car and steal a handbag that was left on the passenger seat. I believe there was also one other car that got robbed that day, for some reason ours was left untouched. Good fortune, I guess – even though the passenger seat happens to be also my wife’s favorite place for her usually large, bright colors, very feminine and visible bags.  She was very moved by such invasion on her fiends privacy and promised to be much more organized and careful about leaving stuff on display in the car. And she was. For about a week…

Today was the last day before departure. Our flight leaves Rochester tomorrow afternoon. Most of the day we were both frantically packing the remainder of our belongings. The house is empty now. Our four bedrooms worth of junk is squeezed in a 8′ by 11′ storage unit. How’s that possible? It wasn’t easy – the trick was to use as many as possible boxes of the same or at least similar shape. Put those larger and heavier ones on bottom and make you way to the ceiling using ever smaller and lighter boxes. At last stuck individual items in any visible holes that threaten the structure stability and you’ll conserve a lot of space! It took me several trips back and forth to transfer all our stuff. Those extra empty water bottles, coffee mugs,  lipsticks, mascara and other non-identified cosmetics items on the floor weren’t exactly helpful, but they didn’t disturb me either. What got my attention was the fact that one of the tires showed less then half of the required air pressure. It only had 15 PSI, which forced me to make an emergency stop at local gas station. When I watched closer, I found a piece of glass pressed into the tread and heard a quiet whistle of escaping air. I watched the pressure reading on the on-board computer display. In couple of hours I lost 5 PSI. There was still stuff at the house that needed to be moved to the storage in the morning. Since I don’t have a compressor, I decided it will be safer to transport whatever can be transported tonight and then leave the car at the local service garage. They can fix it first thing in the morning and we will be back in business before breakfast.

I parked the car at the service garage, wrote a two post-it’s long letter to the owner and was ready to drop the keys into the drop-off box, when I looked at the passenger seat. There it was… To my horror this one was large, bright yellow with a huge embroidered flower. It’s a very safe town, but I didn’t think that leaving my wife’s purse with all her credit cards and ID in the car overnight would be a smart idea. I had no choice, but to take it back home.

During a brisk, 15 minutes walk with a fashionable “European man bag” on my shoulder, I got couple of “Hello’s” from stranger men. The Sheriff also slowed down, but decided to let me have my evening stroll undisturbed. I guess, he wasn’t in mood to learn if I like men in uniform…

Reisefieber – Travel Fever

It’s about sixty hours till departure. The house still isn’t rented, but it is almost empty now. Thanks to Eric and his pick-up truck, all have items are gone. It took three trips to get rid of the trampoline, the treadmill, freezer, couch and a buffet. I’ve spent most of the day re-arranging boxes in the storage unit, but now we have enough space to comfortably walk in and out without having to jump over stuff. Now it’s time to relax, but our bedroom TV is gone too. Looks like I have no option, but to finish up yesterdays bottle of wine and call it a day. I could use some good night sleep. Tomorrow I hope to have the rest of our junk moved into storage and finish packing for Poland. On Monday we’ll have to clean up the house, mow the lawn and clean-up the shed. All utilities are cancelled, just need to drop-off the cable modem at Time Warner and call the water and sewer authority to figure out how to cancel that.

Slowly, we start to shift our focus from the current chaos and think about what we are going to do in Poland. I can’t imagine spending all seven weeks only with our Parents, so chances are we’re going to make a little trip around Europe. We’ll need to borrow a vehicle suitable for our crew and we may end up visiting the Czech Republic to see the villages of my ancestors, going to Austria and Germany to meet up with my Family, maybe even taking a brisk tour of France. As an alternative, if we can find some inexpensive tickets, we may end up flying to Bergen in Norway to see my wife’s cousin. We will see in just few days. The first trip will be for sure with my Father to the German Consulate in Wroclaw to file a passport application. Hopefully it will be processed quickly enough for me to get it before our departure. We’ll also file appropriate papers for our kids to obtain Polish passports. My personal objective is to… sleep a lot. Shouldn’t be too difficult as this is one of those things, I’m really very good at! I’ll also take the time to start drafting the route for the road trip. After talking to many friends, I’m starting to consider the western option. Apparently if we get to Yosemite before mid October, we’ll be fine. OK, at times it may get chilli, but at least it should be almost completely tourists free. And from there we’ll be moving south, so the weather should be fine. It’s supposedly also advisable to get to Grand Canyon between November and April if we want to get down to the canyon. The temperatures there should be very comfortable that time of year (as opposite to over 100 degree Farenheit in the summer). I’ll do some proper research in few weeks. I’ll post the route one we decide on it.

I just remembered that we need to find someone to drive us to the airport on Tuesday morning. Coming back from Poland will be even more complicated, as we’ll arrive in Toronto rather then in Rochester. Such a pitty the ferry went bancrupt few years ago. Now it would be so convinient to just cross the lake. Oh well, we’ll figure it out somehow. After all we still have seven weeks until we face that problem. For now, lets fix the ones we have at hand.

I think the best method will be to get some rest. I’m off to my tent upstairs. Since there is no TV, maybe I’ll just read a few pages of my Mexico guide. Good night!