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Return to Poland-Leg 2

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Return to Poland - Leg 2: Kraków to Gdańsk
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I have decided to go with John Gora for the group tour, however, I plan to take two side trips on my own so I can visit family and friends in Zator/Podolsze (west of Kraków) and later explore the ancestral villages of my paternal grandmother in north-central Poland. [Leg 1]Rochester - Toronto -  Kraków - Zator/Podolsze  [Leg 2]: Kraków to Gdańsk (Tour with John) [Leg 3 ]: Gdańsk to Stopiński Ancestral Villages in North Central Poland. The group will depart from Gdańsk, and so will I, but not with them. I will stay behind, rent a car, then drive to Grudziądz or Łasin to begin my tour of the Stopiński family villages. After a few days, I will return home to Rochester via Toronto. Then I'll begin to but together several videos documenting my experience. In the meantime I'll start posting updates of the trip as time allows.

RETURN TO POLAND: Follow me as I continue my quest to visit the ancestral villages of my Polish grandparents. I say "continue" because in 2012 I already visited the villages where three of my grandparents grew up. (You can read all about that HERE.) The goal of my return to Poland in 2015 is to visit the final village. Finding out where my babcia, Ewa Stopińska, grew up required a fair amount of research and luck. To make a long story short, I discovered that generations of Stopińskis resided not in one, but several villages within close proximity of one another. The villages are located east of the town of Łasin in the north central part of the country -- and I plan to visit them all on bike, documenting the experience with photos and videos along the way. You are invited to check my progress by following me online right here. 
Wednesday - July 29, 2015
So what are we going to do today?
Today we are planning to visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine. This amazing UNESCO Heritage Site has been operating since the 13th century and is now Poland's most visited attraction, which includes underground chambers, grottoes, and chapels all carved out of salt. Then we will have a light lunch at the underground restaurant. Continue to Zakopane where we will arrive late in the afternoon. Free time until we meet for dinner.


UPDATE: We went to Wieliczka Salt Mine and everyone loved the visit. Then we had lunch nearby before boarding the bus for Zakopane. Along the way we stopped in the village where John's wife Dianne's family lived before emmigrating to Canada. What a cool village! (I have a nice photo of Danusia talking to her mom back home in front of the village church and their former land.) We also stopped at a woodcarver's shop just before arriving in Zakopane. I swear John knows everyone here.

Dinner was a lot of fun. I liked the górale music during dinner and the food was really good. 

Is this exciting or what!

Thursday, July 30, 2015
It's almost time for breakfast and we will then leave for the river ride. Unfortunately it's drizzling out, so that may be called off. See ya!

GREAT NEWS! It cleared up and it turned into a most salubrious day! (I save that word "salubrious" for extra nice days.)

Our group rafted down the Dunajec River for about two hours. We had so much fun! First of all the scenery was beautiful. Part of the voyage passed through Slovakia and pristine forever-wild land. Everyone in our group is friendly and likes to joke around. John Gora brought along one of his accordions. (He keeps a selection of musical instruments here in Poland for these occasions.) John played pretty much the whole time. Often the rest of us sang along, or at least we tried to. We must have been quite the spectacle as we passed onlookers and other parties of rafters. Many of the songs John played were topical. If ducks approached us, he played a song about ducks, if a raft of pretty girls came near, he sang a song about pretty girls. At one point he played "Hava Nagila" to a group of the Israeli rafters. So you get the idea; it was fun.

After lunch we visited an old wooden church, then headed back to Zakopane where the group took the funicular  to the top or Mt. Gubałówka. Now I have to tell you that I had a different idea. When I was in Poland in 2012, I took the funicular with a group to the top of the mountain, which has splendid views of the Tatry Mountains. On the way up I noticed that many people were hiking up to the summit on foot, but at the time didn't realize that was an option. I thought that would be a good thing to do someday, but never thought at the time that I would ever return to Zakopane to do it. I did it today. Scratch another item off by bucket list.

The hike up was a little tricky and slippery in places, but totally doable. The walk down was slightly more difficult, but still not a problem. About halfway down, I left the trail and went to sit on some logs and enjoy the sunshine and the mountain view. The village of Zakopane was at my feet and the famous mountain they call the "Sleeping KnIght" lay right before me, in a distance but at eye level. So nice....

Tonight's full moon will be a blue moon.
Friday, July 30, 2015
Before leaving Zakopane, we bid farewell to Wanda of Chopin Tours and her daughter, Nicole. They will be missed. Then it was off to the city of Wadowice to see Karol Wojtyła's hometown. It took us longer than expected to get there because our bus broke down along the way, so we spent a couple of extra hours in the town of Sucha-Beskidzka. Actually it was a very cool place to hang out so no one minded the delay.

Wadowice is much bigger than I had imagined and  is teaming with people from all over eager to see where the man who was destined to become a pope and saint grew up. Most of use stopped to get a piece of Kremówka, which was the Holy Father's favorite pastry. A very tasty treat... heavenly!   

After Wadowice, we continued north to Częstochowa. I was amazed to discover that we would be passiing through the village of Podolsze where my maternal grandparents grew up. It was nice to see it again. What a wonderful surprise. I used the mic to point out Podolsze's beloved bociany (storks) to our group.

Częstochowa is beautiful; a place every Pole should visit. As we approached the shrine, I was reminded of Henryk Sienkiewicz's description of Pan Michał Wołodyjowski in the novel "The Deluge" when he first caught sight of Jasna Góra. Pan Michał saw something glimmering in the distance and wondered what it was. Finally he realized it was the monastery of Jasna Góra (Bright Mountain), which happened to be his destination. He was traveling there to defend the monastery (and Poland) against the Swedish army. Now, believe it or not -- and maybe this is just the romantic in me -- I had the same apparition. The late-afternoon sun was low and bright in the sky and the partly-gilded steeple shimmered with light. If you don't believe me, go there yourself some sunny afternoon and check it out.

We arrived in Wrocław late and tired, but very content. I have computer problems -- my computer screen is displaying negative images --  so please be patient with me. Thank you and good night.
​Saturday, August 1, 2015
Good morning! 

Today our morning starts with breakfast at the John Paul ll Hotel then a visit to Ostrów Tumski ("Cathedral Island"), one of the most beautiful and perfectly preserved sacral architecture complexes in Europe. This is where the city was originally settled in the 9th century by a Slavic tribe. Also we will see the Centenial Hall University buildings and then continue until the end of our tour at the Market Square where we will have lunch. The rest of the day should be free, so may then I will be able to spend some time posting photos on this page. 

COMPUTER UPDATE: Fixed! I can now see what I am doing. 
Karol Wojtyla lived in this building when he was young.
Gas lamps are still used in the old part of the city. The lamplighter has 130+ lamps to take care of every night.
Lover's Bridge
Wrocław: I really love this city! Our guide showed us around town and pointed out this and that, the usual thing. It was informative and fun; I enjoyed his sense of humor. The best part was strolling around Ostrów Tumski and photographing its numerous churches, which are all clustered together in a relatively small area. (As I am writing this update I can hear the cathedral bells strike 10 o'clock.) Wrocław Cathedral, by the way, is just down the street. We will attend Mass there in the morning.

The Market Square was fantastic. We had lunch there, then later explored the city on our own.
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Jasna Góra
The Legend of Lech, Czech, and Rus
        Once upon a time, there lived three brothers, Lech, Czech, and Rus. For many years, they had been content in their villages, but the families grew larger and they needed more room to live. 
        The bothers decided to travel in different directions to search for new homes. They rode their horses over mountains and rivers, through forests and wild country. There were no people to be found anywhere, not a town or tine village. On the crest of a mountain top, 
they separated, each going in a different direction. Czech went to the left, Rus went to the right and Lech rode straight ahead, down the mountain and across vast plains. One day Lech saw a splendid sight. He and his troops had come to a place where a meadow surrounded a small lake. They stopped at the edge of the meadow as a great eagle flew over their heads. It flew around in great swooping circles, then perched on its nest, high on a craggy rock.
        Lech stared in awe at the beautiful sight. As the eagle spread its wings and soared into the heavens again, a ray of sunshine from the red setting sun fell on the eagle’s wings, so they appeared tipped with gold. The rest of the bird was pure white. “Here is where we will stay!” declared Lech. “Here is our new home, and we will call this place Gniezno…” (The Eagle’s Nest/Biały Orzeł). He and his people built many houses and it became the center of his territory. They called themselves Polonians, which means “People of the Field”. They made a banner with a white eagle on a red field and flew it over the town of Gniezno, which became the first historical capital of Poland.