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My Trip to Poland
My Trip to Poland: August 25-September 10, 2012
Monday, September 3, 2012
Radocza ---> Krakow ---> Warsaw ---> Bydgoszcz ---> Sępólno Krajeńskie ---> Piaseczno ---> Bydgoszcz


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I am still ruminating over my time in Podolsze. Before leaving my hotel in Radocza, I had some of Marysia's delicious apple pie for breakfast; then on the way to Warsaw I snacked on the sweets Maciek's family gave me before we said our goodbyes. It's been a long day on the road, but a tasty one. Smacznego! [Hey kids, Zbigniew, Marysia's dad, gave me mushrooms!]

​There were quite a few Yanks on the plane to Bydgoszcz; in fact the most Americans I've seen all in one place since arriving in Poland. Our plane landed in Bydgoscsz late in the afternoon and, as you can imagine, I was anxious to see what this part of the country looked like. From what I could tell on the road north to Sępólno Krajeńskie, I won't be seeing multitudes of tourists like I saw in Krakow. This part of the Poland is all about serious agriculture: field after field of crops... Beautiful woods too. 

My hotel is on a pretty lake. Here are some pics:
Hotel Jan
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
After breakfast I took a stroll ddown to the lake. Jezioro Sępoleńskie -- that's the name of the lake here -- is very nice. Waterfowl and beauiful scenery abound: ducks, geese, swans, (but no pink flamingos. Sorry). A few people were out on the lake fishing, and I bet they had pretty good luck. I could hear the fish popping up out of the water from time to time as I walked along the pier. I bet if I had had a frying pan in my hand, the fish would have jumped right in -- already cleaned. Everyone is so accommodating here.
ŁAAŁ! This morning the sky and water were so blue they were thinking about becoming purple. (My photos don't really do the colors justice.) Here are a few more scenes from this morning. 

Fishing on Jezioro Sępoleńskie
Time to head into town now. Do zobaczenia...

So before heading into town I asked the receptionist "Czy Hotel Jan ma rower?", and I was told that of course they have "rower", and was given a key. That was great because, although walking into town and then into Piaseczno at least once while I am here is a must, I also want to do a little biking. So I went down to the lake area (where I was directed to go) expecting to find some bicycles, but didn't see any. To make a long story short, I looked everywhere yet had no luck. 

So  went back to the hotel and told the receptionist that I couldn't find any "rower", so she and her girlfriend smiled and walked out with me the short distance to the lake and pointed to the "rower".... 

I guess "rower" also means "paddle boat" in Polish. Lol. That's okay, I will soon use use their paddle boats to explore this beautiful lake. But today, I will walk to town.

An the way into Sępólno Krajeńskie, I stumbled upon the parish cemetery. One of the ladies there asked if she could help me find some one, so I told her my story. She said I might better look in the Piaseczno cemetery, so I thanked her and left.

Sępólno Krajeńskie proper is a nice town. The church was easy to find, but locked as expected. Lots of hustle and bustle in this farming town. I also noticed lots of straw was being hauled from one place to another. We see lots of hay in New York State, but I have never seen so much straw before in my life. Nice lakeside facilities too.

After poking around the business center for a while, I headed toward Piaseczno, the place where my great grandfather and grandmother lived before moving to America. I didn't take long for me to get to their village. Fortunately almost the entire route was nicely paved with paving stones. Such a luxury!.

The first important thing you see upon arriving in Piaseczno is its cross; the next thing is its cemetery. I looked, but did not see any Jasiek family graves in this very small cemetery. Upon exitting, I met a lady on her way to get milk from a farmer just down the road. We walked together and she told me where the Jasiek's live today, and said she thought the Jasiek gravesite was in Sępólno Krajeńskie's cemetery. I'll go back there tomorrow.

I thanked her, then scoped out the rest of the village for a while before heading back to my hotel. I must admit that the experience of entering Piaseczno was a bit emotional for me, just like it was in Podolsze. I had never seen any photos of my great grandfather, Ambrozy Jaisek, or of my great grandmother, Marianna Swakowska; but as I walked through the village today, I felt very, very close to them. Maybe they were walking with me today. Maybe they walk with me every day.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012
First thing after breakfast this morning, I grabbed a copy of my family tree and set out for the cemetery in Sępólno Krajeńskie. Now believe me, I did not expect to find the actual graves of my ancestors; just seeing the graves of their distant cousins would be enough. The cemetery is large, but not so large that I couldn't check every grave. After about a half hour of searching, a lady approached and asked me if I needed help. I told her I was primarily looking for the names Jasiek and Swakowska. She told me that although she knew the Jasiek family, she did not know the location of any of their graves. She was, however, able to direct me to the grave of one of Jasiek's cousins having a different surname. She also was able to show me a Swakowska grave. This, in my opinion, was the best find of all. My great great father's first wife was a Swakowska, but she died soon after giving birth to my grandfathers little sister. I was also able to find headstones with other family names. 

Two world wars have taken a heavy toll on Polish cemeteries, and any pre-war gravestones that somehow made it through the turmoil unscathed are nevertheless too difficult to read. What a morning!

It started to rain on the way back from the cemetery, so I cut through the woods for shelter. Hopefully it will clear up later. 


Local flag
St. Barthalomew the Apostle Church in , the family church

Parafia pw. św. Bartłomieja w Sępólnie Krajeńskim
Cemtery in Piaseczno
Lucky day, it did clear up. (You know I am a lucky guy. When I was in college, some of my friends used to call me LBJ, "Lucky Bob Johnson"; so it HAD to clear up; plus they said it would on TV -- the weather people, not my friends. Anyway, as I headed for Piaseczno, I remembered that the kindly
pani I spoke with yesterday advised me the next time I walk to Piaseczno to cut throught the woods. The nicely paved route I took yesterday is a bit out of the way, she said, so they don't use it that much. Through the woods is definitely the way people got to town/church years ago, so it's the way for me. Glad I did; a true pleasure and a shorter walk... and no trucks like on their main drag.

When I got back to the hotel last night, I checked Piaseczno on Google Earth and was reminded that there are really two Piasecznos. The first is the original Piaseczno, and Piaseczno (bloki). "Bloki", if I am not mistaken, refers to the austere, communist-style housing the Russians built all over Eastern Europe. I thoroughly enjoyed the walk through the woods from my hotel to Piaseczno, then another 1.2 kilometers to Piaseczno II. Along the way I saw large fields, fruit trees, and very little traffic. The hamlet itself was quintessentially pastoral: cottage farms, country sounds, the fragrance of dill in the air. Loved it!

I headed back to Piaseczno proper, where I thought I might knock on the Jasiek family's door and introduce myself. (I was in the neighborhood and thought I'd say hi.) I caught Pan Jasiek just as he was leaving. We talked briefly and he thanked me for the visit, but said he really did not know much about his/our family and suggested I speak to some of the village elders instead. That's okay, I said, there is really nothing more I need to know -- just wanted to say hello. Then I thanked him and said goodbye.

I said a final prayer at the cross before heading back to my hotel, very grateful that I at last had the good fortune to see where my dziadek lived before coming to America. I am indeed a lucky guy.

Now if you like, we can tour the lake then you can waltz with me through the woods: jeden, dwa, trzy; jeden, dwa, trzy...
Thursday, September 6, 2012 -- Follow the Red Brick Road: 
For two solid night now, I have been harassed by a mosquito that keeps dive bombing me whenever I poke my head out from under the pierzyna. This has got to stop!

I just got an email from Marysia saying she heard about the big fire in Sępólno Krajeńskie, wondering if everything is okay. For me everything is okay, and I am unaware of any fire here in town. I did, hear the sirens, however, and walked out onto my balcony to have a look around but didn't see anything. I am okay, everyone; hope everyone else is okay too. Thank you, Marysia.

So the big thing on the agenda today was going to church in Sępólno Krajeńskie. (You didn't think I was going to forget about that, did you?) Mass was at 9:00 a.m., but I left extra early so I could take pictures along the way. I took the path along the lake leading from my hotel right into town. This "path" is very wide, more like a street than anything else. I cannnot get over the miles of beautifully paved walkways in this town. Do you know how much I paid to have a little patio built in my backyard a few years ago? Plenty! Also, you could rollerblade on these paths because the bricks are all laid out so perfectly smooth. Too windy for any skating today though. 

Parafia św. Bartłomieja Apostoła is lucky to have such a beautiful church. It was amazing for me to go inside and see the place where generations of Jasieks had worshipped throughout the ages. I was one of the first ones there and the church was still mostly empty, so I don't think I disturbed anyone by snapping a photo of the altar. I hope not. The priest heard confessions before mass, and if you listened carefully, you could hear the whispers of the Ojcze nasz and Zdrowaś Maryjo. About 50-60 people were there for Mass; about 15% were men, in case you were wondering. Two priests said Mass.

After church, I walked over to the library to see if I could scrounge up any old pictures or any other information about the town. The librarian gave me the URL for their website and told me to check there: [www.biblioteka-sepolno.pl] Good enough!

The following video will be our last look at this area. Tomorrow morning, I'll be on my way to Warsaw to wear out the pavement there for a couple of days. Some of my friends are there now, but I don't think I'll get to see them unfortunately. Hope they are having a good time.

Hej, that reminds me. The first Thrusday of the month is Polish Happy Hour night at the Back Nine in Rochester. Na zdrowie!
Here's my video:

Parafia św. Bartłomieja Apostoła
Sunset over Jezioro Sępoleńskie
Sępólno Krajeńskie Region

2. Here is a map I found of the area around Sępólno Krajeńskie during the Partition Period. At that time Polish place names were replaced with German names. Sępólno Krajeńskie was called Zempelburg by the Germans.

1. Polish hospitality is supreme. I still can't get over how wonderfully I was welcomed by my friends and family in Podolsze. I would never have expected anyone to take the time to show me around town the way they did. Of course, I was not exactly a complete stranger to them, so let me tell you about Staś, my driver from Bydgoszcz, who in fact was a complete stranger, but who nevertheless went way beyond the call of duty to invite me to his home to meet his family.

Before leaving for Poland, a friend of mine told me that instead of trying to get around Poland by train or bus, I should make arrangements for drivers to pick me up at my hotel or airport and take me to my various destinations. Although I did at times use public transportation both in Krakow and later in Warsaw, I did take his advice and  when appropriate arranged for drivers to take me longer distances. By the way, in each case their fees were very reasonable. 

When I arrived in Bydgoszcz, Staś was there at the airport to greet me and take me to my hotel in Sępólno Krajeńskie. The ride to  Hotel Jan took more than an hour, but we managed to chat along the way so time passed quickly. Proficiency in each others languages was mutually limited, but we did okay. On the way back to the Bydgoszcz airport, Staś knew that I would have a long wait until I could get my boarding pass, so he generously invited me to his house for lunch. After having already spent a total of more than two hours talking to Staś, I felt comfortable with the suggestion. Of course I did not want to impose, but he insisted. At his home, I met his wife and his five year old granddaughter who was home from pre-school that day because she wasn't feeling well. After lunch we talked about life in our respective homelands and looked at family photos. Before leaving for the airport, Staś also gave me a nice photo of Bydgoszcz as a keepsake. Very nice people! I just can't get over it. I guess there is a lot of truth in the Polish proverbs:

“Gość w Dom, Bog w Dom.”
 When a guest is in the home, God is in the home.

“Czem chata bogata, tem rada.”
 The little cottage shares what it has.
What's ours is yours.

The well-known Polish correspondent Robert Strybel recently described Polish hospitality as "high-powered, can't-do-enough-for-you, bend-over-backwards even arm-twisting, gościnność". Such a great description of a truly wonderful Polish virtue.

Keepsake glossy photo of high-wire act performed in Bydgoszcz in 2010

Someday I would like to return to Bydgoszcz to explore this amazing city. Of course I suspect the same could be said for any place in Poland. Poand is that nice! 

According to a brochure I received from my friend Staś, Bydgoszcz was established by King Casimir the Great in 1346. The city stands on the banks of the Brda River, not far from the Vistula, and is an academic, industrial and sports center, as well as an internationally recognized center for the study of music. Located on the amber trail, Bydgoszcz was up until the 17th century one of the most significant trading towns in Poland and the only town in Poland with a royal mint. In 1775 a canal was was built making it possible to ship grain and other products to Berlin. Today a network of canals within the city, its many parks and 19th century buildings, make this a beautiful city for all to enjoy.
3. In 1854, fire destroyed half the city of Sępólno Krajeńskie. I wonder if maybe that, combined with the death of his first wife, had something to do with my grandfather deciding to move to America. 

UPDATE: It should also be noted that the time was ripe for Polish emigration to America. As noted by Stephen M Szabados in the Polish American Journal ...

"One factor that affected the increase in emigration after 1830 was that European rulers had granted the peasants freedom to move from their lands. This change allowed many peasants to decide to emigrate to America. The second major factor was the growth in the imports of raw materials -- cotton, tobacco, grain, and timber, for example --  from America in the 1800's. Instead of sending empty cargo holds, shipping lines began offering low-cost passage in the cargo holds. The revenue generated  from their new class of passengers not only offset the cost of the voyage back to America but increased profits for the shipping lines. Note that the reasons for early Polish emigration were to escape the political and religious persecution by their Prussian rulers. However, the low cost of steerage was significant because it sharply increased the number of emigrants who could afford to leave." - Source: Polish American Journal, March 2017, p.15

I am also aware that many Germans from the area were already moving to America en masse, so why not join them!