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.
Is this exciting or what!
Leg 3: Gdańsk to Stopiński Ancestral Villages in North Central Poland
Each of my babcia's villages is near the beautiful town of Łasin. The map at left is less than ideal, but if you look carefully, you can see the village of Święte directly east of Łasin, then go north to Nw. Jankowice, then further north to Szynwałd at the top of the map; Nogat is west of Szynwałd. Ideally, I would like to visit east of these villages by bike. Either Łasin, or the important and historic city of Grudziądz could be my homebase.
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.
Friday, August 7, 2015: I don't know if I mentioned it before, but Wanda of Chopin Express Tours suggested that I hire a driver to take me to the town of Łasin instead of renting a car and driving there myself. I decided that she was right and asked her to make the arrangements. Patryk, my driver, arrived when the gang was boarding the bus to catch their flight to Warsaw. After all the good-bye hugs, we were on our way. I should mentioned that John did not leave me until I was in the van and ready to go. Later he called the driver to make sure everything was okay. Thanks again John.
The drive to Łasin took one hour and 45 minutes. No problems. I checked into CASUS RESORT and made it to my cabin. The people here are very accommodating and the cabin is rustic, but I like it. It's a very hot day with temps in the nineties, but no worries; I went for a dip in the lake (they have a nice beach) and there is also a refreshing breeze.
I am sitting on my front porch right now in my bathing suit typing on my laptop. I did not expect wi-fi, but they have it here and so far it seems very fast. I do have one problem, however: no bike. I would like to bike to the villages of Święte and Nowe Jankowice tomorrow. I see the guy who owns this place has a couple of bikes in his yard. I'll try to make a deal with him first chance I get.
After dinner, I plan to walk into town and maybe take photos of the many wood carvings they have here. UPDATE: I took the photos and walked into town to scope it out and do a little grocery shopping. I also talked to Pan Tomasz and he and his wife are trying to find me something more suitable than the bikes in the yard, but I'm not fussy -- those bikes are good enough.
There must be fifty of these on the grounds.
BIKE UPDATE: At about 6:30 this evening a guy by the name of Marcin showed up with a bike for me to use this weekend. It's a good thing I went to the grocery store earlier so I could offer him a beer. We talked for a while, mostly about the war years in
Poland. Oh by the way, he speaks English and three other languages. He lived in the UK for a few years making carbon-fiber bikes. I enjoyed the conversation.
Saturday, August 8, 2015
BIKE TRIP: I left at 6 am to take advantage of the cool morning air. First I went to Święte, which is where my great-grandfather was born. I found the church and looked over the tombstones to see if I recognized any family names. I found one that might have been related to me, but that's all. Next I went north to Jankowice and Nowe Jankowice. (Babcia was born in Nowe Jankowice, but they very close together, separated by a nice walkway.) There, I stopped at a store to get a bottle of water and rest a bit. Then I road further north to Szynwałd and bought another bottle of water. I also visit the church and cemetery. By now the temps skyrocketed to the low/mid thirties and I decided it was much too hot to be biking. Finally I road back to Łasin; I am now sitting on my porch enjoying a nice breeze, good wi-fi and a BIG, cool bottle of water.
I had lunch at the restaurant here this afternoon. I had something I think they called Placek Cyganeczki, which was a potato pancake (but folded like a crêpe) with mushrooms and tender chunks of beef all covered with tartar sauce, and a salad that was unusually flavorful. They shred, mince, slice and dice salad greens and veggies here, and whatever dressing they use gives it a sweet yet tangy taste. Not bad, not bad...
TOMORROW: I had hoped to go to church in Święte, but my only means of getting there is by bike and I do not want to leave Marcin's bike unattended during Mass. This is my last full day in Poland, so I will leave early in the morning for Nogat. Either my great-grandfather or great-great-grandfather got married there... I think. I can't really remember because I left that information at home.
Another one of Bob Johnson's Great Polish Adventures
Sunday, August 9, 2015
Speaking of rain, I was awakened at 3:15 this morning by heavy rain, thunder and lighting. It is almost 5am as I write this and it is still raining. In fact rain is predicted throughout the day, so I guess the ride to Nogat is out. That's okay; they need the rain here. I will try to make the 8:00 Mass at the church located about one mile away from my cabin. I packed a rain jacket, so I will put it to good use.
UPDATE: So I walked to church under cloudy skies and got there early. I bumped into a kindly, elderly priest as we were entering the church. He said hello and I ended up explaining to him who I was and why I was there. He told me most of his family is in New York and he sometimes goes there to visit. Then he talked a little more in Polish, but he lost me. That's okay; I think it was a positive interaction.
The church was packed; Mass was said by three priests assisted by four altar boys. To tell the truth because I had such an active day yesterday followed by very little sleep, I was dead tired and had to struggle to stay awake during the service. When I got back to my cabin, I lay down on my couch and slept until half past noon; then went to the restaurant for something to eat. The good news is the weather made a dramatic change for the better: sunny, warm and breezy - and that meant of course that the ride to Nogat was back on!
Along the way I met a young couple in their twenties who were also biking to Nogat. Lukasz is a soldier and Anna a professional photographer. At first I tried communicating in Polish, but I soon discovered that Lukasz, who lived in Boston for a few years, spoke fluent English. We parted ways at their home and I continued at little further to the manor house just down the road. I snapped a few photos and took a slow ride back to Łasin. Words cannot adequately express how beautiful the countryside is here, especially the sweet smell of freshly cut wheat. That's just the way it goes. Language and photography have limitations.
The distance to Nogat is 15 kilometers and there is some sort of castle or manor house there, and I believe it is open to the public. Of course, I may get there too early to get inside and I don't want to leave the bike unattended there either, plus I can't wait around because by then the temps will be dangerously hot. Today's high was 36.2 degrees celsius. If it rains, I won't go. By the way, they really need rain here. Local legend has it that during WW2 five Russian soldiers were playing cards in the manor house and ended up killing themselves. Russian stand-off?
Monday, August 10, 2015
Patryk, my driver, is supposed to pick me up at 7:30 in the morning to drive to the airport in Gdańsk. We may stop for coffee on the way.
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Returned home safely at 2:15 a.m.
Do widzenia i Dziękuę
I would like to thank the Masialski, Kowalski and Adamski families in Podolsze for their kindness and warm reception. Also the John and Dianne Gora and Wanda of Chopin Tours for the best group trip ever; (I don't know how you do it!) Also my travel buddies, who were so much fun the ten days we spent together; and the folks at CASUS, especially Grzegorz and Marcin for their hospitality.
GONNA MISS YOU GUYS!
Also thanks to my FB friends for following me and for your encouragement.
To my family: missed you -- see you soon. Hugs to all!