Poland Travel Journal - Lodz, Krakow, Warsaw (plus London!)

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April 2013 travels in Poland: Lodz, Lututow, Krakow, Nowy Sacz, Warsaw, plus a visit to London, including surrounding areas of Stonehenge, Bath, and Stratford-upon-Avon

April 2013 travels in Poland: Lodz, Lututow, Krakow, Nowy Sacz, Warsaw, plus a visit to London, including surrounding areas of Stonehenge, Bath, and Stratford-upon-Avon

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  • 1. The Poland Journal(with a London coda)April 5-16, 2013By David Berkowitz
  • 2. Saturday, April 6, 20139:22pm (Poland time)Andels Hotel LodzHow many worlds are we in right now?The Williamsburgification of Lodz: our hotel is a reclaimed factoryin a new, upscale shopping and cultural neighborhood
  • 3. Theres the hotel itself, a microcosm among microcosms, a renovated factory that was turnedinto one of the nicest hotels in Poland, replete with high ceilings, wrought iron, skylights, and asushi bar. The hotel is the heart of the new Manufaktura district, bustling with shops andgalleries and restaurants. Its beside the Poznanski Palace, now a museum (one we couldnt getinto just before closing time), built originally by the second wealthiest factory owner in Lodzuntil going bankrupt just before the Nazis took over.Lodz (pronounced “Woodj” in Polish) once boasted 230,000 Jews (now there are only 300known Jewish families, while some may be descended from Jewish converts without knowingit). Most wound up in the 4km-sq ghetto, and then wound up murdered. In recent years,memorials have sprung up to honor them, such as the chilling Radegast train station that onceserved as the gateway for sending Jews to the death camps, and now serves as the mostprominent testimonial to what happened in Lodz. There seems to be an effort to make peoplerealize what happened in their own hometown. Some families undoubtedly have lived in Lodzsince well before the war. Others, as our guide Piotr noted, were imported later – a Communistresettlement program to purify nationalities, uprooting ex-pats and sending them back towhere they came from across the Communist bloc.The smokestack memorial at the Radegast railway station reminding all: “Thou shalt not kill”
  • 4. Its hard to escape the signs of Judaism. Rarely have I felt so Jewish as I have in Poland. Part of itis because I am here in my fatherland; my people lived here for hundreds of years, so why notembrace it? Part of it is an act of defiance; Im the descendant of those who were forced out,and now Im back, a testament to those who survived and remember where they come from.How much of this is a triumph? Its hard to say. Its fascinating being here, and its hard to gaugejust what emotions one might feel at any given moment. The train from Warsaw to Lodz wasparticularly rough. Through the sound of the wheels, I could hear the screams of people whoperished here. I dont know what they were saying, just that they demanded to be heard. It wasa living horror film. I managed to drift to sleep.The day started in the air. Thanks in part to the NyQuil sleep aid, I managed to crash early onthe 6:30pm flight to Warsaw, passing out by 7pm and sleeping until around 8:30am Poland time(2:30am US) just before the plane landed. While not perfect, it was one of the better planesleeps Ive had. Arriving at the airport was easy, though it took a bit to find our checkedluggage, given that the top handle had broken off along the way and it thus wasnt as easy toidentify. It was a rough and tumble crowd on the flight, with lots of feisty, older Poles whowould elbow their way into any spot and not listen to anyone, including flight attendants whohad to flight back with equal force. This is Grandmoms stock – her people. Only by coming toPoland can I appreciate just how Polish that woman is. Meanwhile, I was surprised to see ourneighboring passenger (who I nicknamed “Featherhat”) need a wheelchair given the gusto withwhich he was maneuvering around the plane. C has no clue how I slept so well.The LOT Polish Airlines flight promoted kosher vodka –the first of many signs we’d encounter of Poland embracing its Jewish heritage
  • 5. At JFK, we left from Terminal 1, which is not just a United Nations terminal but a UN committeeof a haphazard medley of countries, with airlines from Jamaica, France, Korea, Morocco,Poland, and Russias Aeroflot all intermingling. Most of the food is before security, and theKorean/Aeroflot/LOT lounge [really] wouldnt let us in, so we had to settle for a salad (C) andsandwich (D) at some sort of wine bar.Back to Poland: we got through security at Warsaw, and my contact Bartek was kind enough topick us up, drive us to the train station, and then have breakfast with us (I had a chickensandwich, C had egg whites – a large portion that wasnt so large; my tea was okay but I had afresh orange/pineapple/kiwi juice that was delicious). He further gave us the train tickets forthe rest of our journey as well as a phone we could use, and then escorted us all the way on tothe train. Once there, C had to inform a couple of Poles that they were in our window seats.Later, the train conductor had a very lengthy exchange with them as they clearly didnt havethe right seats, though I slept through most of anything that happened on the train.We arrived and found a cab waiting for us (thanks to Bartek) and made our way to the AndelHotel Lodz, magnificent in its bright, red brick, and they were kind enough to upgrade us to asuite. This may well be the first hotel room Ive stayed in with a switch to heat the bathroomfloor – a nice bonus in this frigid country, with temperatures hovering around the freezingmark. Granted, theres something fitting about being here in the cold. A dusting of snow wasfalling as we stepped out of the Warsaw airport, and snow may well hinder our trip to mygrandmother’s hometown area around Bolkow, but it seems to be a country designed torequire that kind of hardiness. It also makes emotions run even deeper here. Its hard enoughto imagine how people lived in the ghetto in the months and years leading up to theirslaughter, but as we travel around in our warm clothing with breathable fabrics to withstandrough weather, all the while plenty well fed and hardly exerting ourselves in the slightest, itmakes one wonder how so many people survived such hardships for as long as they did.The starkness of the extended Polish winter only made the trip more emotional.
  • 6. With our guide Piotr, our main focus today was touring the addresses of C’s ancestors in Lodz.The homes in central Lodz were once prime real estate but now are in a neglected urban core.We entered a few courtyards, and in the most neglected building, we went up to the secondfloor to see if we could get in an apartment, but no one would let us in. Piotr noted it was dueto the remnants of Soviet times when anyone could have been spying on their neighbor, so acoldness pervades. While some apartments have been divided and likely renovated, thebuildings themselves remain, and one wonders how long some of them will hold up. We did getto walk the streets of Cs ancestors, and perhaps even some of their courtyards and stairwells,seeing much of what they saw, albeit during very different times. The graffiti was disquieting,with many using the symbol of an R and S flanking a Jewish star, a symbol of anti-Semiticallycharged slurs about one of the soccer teams. Piotr woefully noted that younger people todaylack awareness of and sensitivity toward what it all means; such graffiti started in the 1950s and60s. At the last stop on our list, we had just enough time to take a few quick photos outsidewhen a pack of drunken late-teens or twentysomethings was approaching singing whatsounded like soccer chants, so we decided not to stay long and darted back to the car.No Jews are here – just soccer hooligans
  • 7. We got to see some other monuments, including Survivor Field from afar, honoring thesurvivors of Lodz as well as the righteous gentiles. I got a few quick photos of the monument towar hero Kosciuszko – also a hero of Americas Revolutionary War. There was also the park inthe former ghetto with the statue of Moses and the Decalogue – an unusual sight givenJudaisms aversion to graven images, but striking nonetheless, and Piotr noted it was for thelocals, not the Jews.This statue of Moses may not play well in a synagogue due to Judaism’s prohibition againstgraven images, but it’s important for the locals
  • 8. Piotr dropped us at the hotel at around 5:40. After a stop at a grocery store in Manufaktura, weheaded near the main drag, off Piotrkowska St, to the restaurant Anatewka. It was an unusualsensory feast from the start, with the Jewish lettering and numerous security system signs inthe window. Inside the front door was a mannequin of a Hasid at a cash register. The room wasbedecked in Judaica – ritual objects, artwork, photos. The owner, who we first met when hewas going around pouring shots of an outstanding honey vodka, later said much was fromVienna, and that others continually give him more now. C asked our server if the owner wasJewish, and the server replied, "No, hes an atheist." The music played was mostly Yiddish, withfamiliar songs like Az De Rebbe Tantst (“As the Rabbi Dances”), Rebbe Elimelech (“RabbiElimelech”), Oyfn Pripetishik (“On the Cooking Stove”), and Tumbalalaika (some Yiddish evencame back to me – a surreal experience in the middle of Lodz). I wish I could have taken a menuhome – a page just for herring, dishes dedicated to various people, goose, duck, kasha,beetroot, kosher vodka, Jewish tea with rum, and pages full of delights familiar and unheard of.C started with a hearty broth soup which was perfect for this weather, while I enjoyed a specialsour herring with pickle and carmelized pears, plus a bit of cheese – fantastic. Then came themain course, with C getting a chicken thigh, and I had a beautiful spread: half a roast duck(succulent, with crispy skin), potatoes, cranberries in a baked apple, a side of beets, andprobably more Im forgetting. I kept eating, and there was constantly more to sample. TheUkrainian beer Obolon helped wash it down, along with the bit of vodka. Outstanding. But whata way to make the head spin.This duck and potato dish was one of the best dishes I had in Poland(and way up there among any meal I’ve eaten)
  • 9. This is the 19thcentury version of multitasking: praying and counting money at the same timeTime to wrap this up. Its hard to make sense of so much of this, but we made it. The biggestchallenge was getting here (perhaps more on that soon). Now its time to soak in the rest.Sunday, April 78:37pmAndels Hotel Lodz, 176Heres much of the story of today, as told in an email to my father (slightly edited for clarity):Dad,Today was really fascinating, and you should really see if theres any way possible you can makeit to the Wielun area. It was amazing what we were able to dig up, and none of it was exactlywhere we thought it would be.We actually didnt go to Wielun at all [the town my grandmother says she hails from]. We didgo to Bolkow [the tiny village where she said the family mill was] just north of there, though wewere told by a friendly local theres another village just east of there that was possibly whereour family was from (though it didnt turn out to be the case). We also saw a bit of Niemierzyn(possible birthplace of your father) and Skrzynno (birthplace of your grandmother Branna,
  • 10. according to aunt Esther’s testimony at http://www.zchor.org/wielun/berkowicz.htm -- whichyou must reread, as I think theres a lot more info now than there was before).Entering the town (street) where my grandfather and namesake quite probably came from,I left it moments laterWhen we were searching for the other Bolkow (now renamed something else), we wound up inthe village of Okalew, There, we were a major attraction at the local market, and one personcalled another until another neighbor showed up who seemed to know more about the townhistory. Most seemed familiar with the Berkowicz family formerly living there and noted weowned a windmill, a saw mill, and the water pump at the fire engine. And yes, we had toconvince several people we had no interest in the land – just the history of the family. Ourguide Piotr was extremely helpful with all of that.The neighbor, whose name was Tadeusz (Tadek), accompanied us for quite awhile after. Hetook us to someones house in a neighboring town and, after he went into someones house tocheck on the situation, had us follow him in. The man there, very Catholic given all the crossesand Pope pictures on the wall, is also a local historian specializing in fire brigades. He gave me acopy of the book with the photo in it thats now on the Zchor page, the one with Reuben andBerek in 1935. The book has many other references to the family, including how many hectaresof land our family owned. This author and historian is named Miroslaw Jedrzejewski, and hisaddress is in Ostrowek [Note: all the records in the book note it was the property of DawidBerkowicz, Brannas father.]
  • 11. Reuben (far left) and Berek (second from right) Berkowicz, when the fire broke out at the mill,from the book co-authored by MiroslawAfter spending some time with him, we then went on to the next part of the journey. ItsMiroslaw who would love to see you, and on Monday he is going to go to the Wielun museumwhere the director might have more info. He will send what he can to my guide, but he wouldlove to meet you in person, especially as you can understand at least a bit of Polish and areeven more closely connected to the family history. He was incredibly warm and its quite anopportunity to get to talk to him, as he knows quite a bit about the area.
  • 12. With my new friends Miroslaw the author and Tadek the local connectorThen we headed out once more. Now, we asked many times about the mill and specifically amill that later became a gas station [as has been mentioned often in family lore]. Its prettyclear to everyone there that they knew about the Berkowicz mill, they knew we actually hadtwo mills (windmill and saw mill), and they seemed to know pretty well where it was; it wasmore of an issue of me not seeking any claim to the land (I told them Im quite happy in NewYork, though Poland is quite lovely, thanks).What did happen was Tadeusz had us drive to another home nearby. After a bit of convincing,the man living there (seemingly a farmer, or at least keeping a small farm along with whateverelse he did), agreed to meet us, and the owner continually warmed up. He said that, yes, thiswas the Berkowicz property. The house had changed hands several times in the years after thewar. He knew, without us prompting at all, that the house was lived in by a worker from theBerkowicz mill (presumably the worker who killed [Grandmom’s brother] Avram, but he didntknow). Whoever lived there wound up moving shortly thereafter to Skrzynno, and probablylives there still. His family came a few years after the war, originally working the land in hopesthat they could later buy the property, and ultimately they were able to buy it, and it was thismans father who built the current home and buildings on the land.
  • 13. He took us into the snow-covered field where a mound remains that was the site of the oldwindmill. Nothing has been built on top of that site, and one can even see a millstone and a fewremnants of the foundation. He pointed out to another area further away in the same field thatwas the site of the sawmill. There was no doubt to him this was the Berkowicz property. He alsomentioned the name [Grandmom’s brother] Berek, and said two women related to him visitedthere perhaps in the late 1980s. I wonder if his daughters went out that way.Our host at the site of what may be the old Berkowicz millHome?
  • 14. We left the property owner, declining his invite to have us over for coffee, so we could makeour way to Lututow. There, in the town square, we found the 2010 memorial to the Jews ofLututow. We know that Branna, Dora, Goldbart, and Doras 2 kids were all in the Lututowghetto before being deported to Chelmno. We also know Uncle Meir spent some time goingback "home to Lututow" when he was in the Ostrowek work camp. [Meir’s wife] Estusha wasborn there, and there was a sizable Jewish population. Cousin Oded and others traced much ofour family ancestry to Lututow, and its even possible, based on a researcher I contacted yearsago, that Meir was born there. After paying my respects at the memorial, we visited the oldsynagogue, a building that had various uses since the Holocaust and now seems to be in disuse.You can read more about Lututow here: http://www.sztetl.org.pl/en/city/lututow/ .Apparently an "R. Berkowicz" was the cleaner of the synagogue.A memorial to Lututow’s Jewry, 1650-1942; my family was there until the very end
  • 15. This sums up an incredibly moving day. Our guide, Piotr, would be most happy to help you ifyou are able to make it out this way, as he was an able translator and driver, and he now knowswhere all the relevant locals and spots of interest are.See you Wednesday.DaveThe letter misses a lot. It misses the three pre-teen girls who were fascinated by our arrival, andthe barking dog in Niemierzyn that led a man in a wife beater to come out and approach memenacingly before I jumped in the car. It misses the adorably fluffy pooch near the authorshome, bouncing around in the snow and waking up the chickens, and then quickly coming to arest once we got in the car.More importantly, it misses the real sense of emotion, and emotional confusion. Today was aday that could not have been planned better. Our guide, Piotr, may well have had the best tourof his life – one where he was the link to revealing parts of a familys history, while he is tryingto do this for his own familys history (with many obstacles behind and ahead of him). As abonus, he got to show us the more amicable side of his countrymen. Instead of the distrustfulcity dwellers in Lodz, we got the kindhearted (albeit initially suspicious – and justly so) localswho were willing to share what they knew and kept collectively bringing us toward the thrillingclimax at the mill itself. Yet I still dont know what it means for me. Its a place of history for myfamily, but close relatives of mine were murdered there. I will never know my father’s cousinZygmus, someone who would have been not much older than my father if he had the chance tolive his life. So many possibilities were cut short. And I cant even feel that ill will toward thePoles themselves. Its this sadness that the homeland is not a land to call home. I did not knowwhat to make of it, and Im not sure Ill know for awhile.The remnants of the family mill
  • 16. I knew what to make of the Lodz Jewish cemetery though. That was a memorial site. I couldntfind great uncle Avrams grave – there were six Avram Berkowiczes buried there, and it was notpossible to find him in one day, especially on a day where much of the cemetery was covered insnow. I couldnt even find Caras relative Abram Pitel when we knew which area he was in. Ofthe hundreds of graves, none of those legible in Hebrew said Pitel, though many were coveredin snow, some had fallen over, and others were impossible to read. Dodging thorns andbrambles, I still couldnt complete that mission. Yet it was a mission I could take on, and I knewhow to handle myself at a cemetery, albeit one with 180,000 graves, including more than40,000 who died in the Lodz ghetto.The Lodz Jewish cemetery covered in snow was one of the more beautiful places I’ve visited,but it wasn’t so accommodating for finding relatives interred there
  • 17. Here lie the Jews of Lodz.
  • 18. Among the living inhabitants of the Lodz cemetery was this adorable and shy hedgehogSimilarly, I knew what to make of the Lututow memorial. I could place a stone at it, and feel theloss of way too many in my family, let alone the thousands of others. The church in the squarethough – was that the church used as the way station for Chelmno? That part I couldnt quiteprocess. A synagogue thats now used for perhaps little more than storage is also tough tofathom, given its likely the synagogue some family members belonged to until they moved andwere ultimately forced out of Poland, one way or another.The true meaning of today will probably not be clear for some time. But I am glad it happenedas it did.
  • 19. More:While it seems anticlimactic to note as much, meals today:- Breakfast: vanilla wafers – perhaps the best wafers I ever had (devoured a huge pack last nightand this a.m.)- Lunch: none really. Stopped at McDs by a gas station before heading down to Bolkow area. Cand I got Diet Cokes, and we got "American" fries – thicker cut seasoned fries, served with apretty good sour cream sauce, and not at all American- Dinner: Tumidaj, a side-of-road hotel and restaurant that Drew Carey once ate at. It waspretty good – had soup with fermented rye barley broth with egg and kielbasa, on the table wassome kind of bread with animal fat spread, a beer called Zywiec (decent, but not as good as lastnights Ukrainian selection), then a plate of potato dumplings (pretty good) and a great friedcheese dish.
  • 20. Also: Justin Bieber, Sting, and other luminaries stayed in our hotel when performing in Lodz. Itsoften the only Polish city they play. Madonna played Lodz but stayed in Berlin instead. I asked ifthat offended the Poles and Piotr said she was let off the hook as a celebrity.Monday, April 8Hotel Stary, room 5009:48pmToday, we checked out of Andels Hotel Lodz, a remarkable place, even down to the heatedfloors in the bathroom. We had a quick breakfast there (me: salmon and trout, OJ, minidoughnut, mini cinnamon roll, sauteed mushrooms), then checked out and got a ride to thetrain station. We picked up a couple Diet Cokes at a newsstand with a magazine featuring aconcentration camp prisoner – typical media fare here in Poland. Then we enjoyed a leisurelyfour hour ride through the countryside to Krakow, though I slept for a good deal of it afterreading some. No fighting with feisty Poles for our window seats this time.Light reading in Poland
  • 21. Then we met our guide, W____, who has a comfortable car but not the most comfortable graspon the English language or Krakovian history. But hell do. He seems like he can get us aroundNowy Sacz, which is the main objective. We checked into Hotel Stary – beautiful, charming,with a more rustic feel to it and missing a few of the amenities of the last one. We then hadlunch in the Michelin rated restaurant thats part of the hotel – a wonderful meal of salmonwith sour cream and caviar (both of us), a salad (C) and then beet risotto with frozen sourcream that melted into it (D), along with some outstanding hot bread, and some Perrier.Then we met W to hit Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter, a lively place today thanks to some Marchof the Living groups around, and very, very Jewish – Hebrew and Yiddish writing everywhere, agood number of Jewish cafes, and quite a few synagogues. We ducked into several includingRemuh, with the cemetery (the "New" synagogue), Tempel synagogue restored with gorgeousartistic detail, and a couple others. The best find, for me at least, were the sculptures of hasidsby a local artist in a bookstore. The Jew town was quite surprising, and wed go back later fordinner.The stars come out in Kazimierz.
  • 22. The wooden carvings of Jews by Jozef Regula alternated between whimsical and,as shown in the image above, hauntingAfter a bit of a detour with our guide, we stopped by the hotel and went walking around themain market square. It was getting cool by then, after a brief flirtation with jacket-free weatherearlier, but we walked around quite a bit, with the highlight being the incredibly overdone (in agood way) main church (St. Mary’s Basilica), with such attention to detail going up scores offeet high, to the point that few could ever possibly discern the subject matter of the paintingsand glasswork toward the top. Remarkable in every sense.
  • 23. In the main square of Krakow’s Old Town (Stare Miasto), it’s possible to get inside someone’shead for a different point of viewWe went to the lauded underground exhibit about the medieval history of Krakow. It wasmultimedia exhibition porn, with reality being augmented, virtualized, and twisted in all sorts ofunholy ways. It seemed to tell no story and wasnt particularly interesting until walking out,where a tunnel passed through the original foundations of the market, which are nowunderground – a similar scenario to the subterranean Wailing Wall add-on in Jerusalem. Yet bythen, our senses were shot, and we needed to get the hell out of there.We then kept walking all around. We saw a bakery with cookies that resembled the Stella Dorokind with the chocolate pillows in the middle, but the Stella Doro cookies are much, muchbetter. Oh well. And we saw various sites connected to local legend John Paul II, a Catholic thatthe Jews can love – such a perfect icon for this town. We saw the great sculpture of Grunwald.And all in all, we got to soak in a lot of what the city has to offer, namely a captivating oldEuropean city that somehow didnt get bombed by the Germans and was a once-thriving seatof government and trade.
  • 24. For dinner, we got a cab to go back to K-town, aka J-town, and ultimately ducked out of a hotspot with an odd Italian-infused-with-Polish-food menu and went over to a well-reviewedJewish spot Ariel – very traditional with lots of decor of pictures of Jews, in what looked like a100-year-old Jewish dining room, with some odd Greek art scattered around. The best dish forme was the vodka infused with grass from the bison forest. The gefilte fish had too much jelly(it was drowned in it) and some odd skin on it that didnt work for me. Then the turkey cutletwith mushrooms was oddly reminiscent of something – not Grandmoms home cooking butSwansons Salisbury steak. Eh, nostalgias nostalgia. Cs Jewish dumpling and chicken with somekind of plum & mushroom sauce were better.We headed out, C going straight into the hotel, and me going out looking for dessert. I passedby places that didnt quite do it for me, and then I settled on a grocery store to get C some DietCokes and then some amazing Milka chocolate-coated cookies. On the way back, I found astreet food stand (Placki Ziemniaczane) where someone was making fresh potato pancakeswith various accompaniments (plain, mushroom sauce, paprika sauce, etc), and I got one withgarlic sauce – just fantastic.Now that’s a latke!Now back at the room and winding down, ready for the Nowy Sacz adventure tomorrow.
  • 25. Tuesday, April 9Hotel Stary, 5005:29pmI slept well last night, aided by the NyQuil, which, combined with Airborne, helped avert thecold that was coming to me. A couple naps in the ride to and from Nowy Sacz made todayespecially restful; that has been a bonus of all the ground transportation. Saturday we had thetrain to Lodz, Sunday the ride to Bolkow, Monday the train to Krakow, and today the car toNowy Sacz. Tomorrows a train to Warsaw, and then Thursday and Friday we stay put for a bit –not a bad change of pace.This morning, we met W and headed out, me having a pack of Belvita crackers beforehand. Wewanted some breakfast, especially for C, so W had a real treat for us: an old school, Communist-style milk bar, a dreary breakfast counter with some local specialties in an area near the oldKrakow ghetto where no foreigner would ever think of going. The food – generally dough withvarious stufffings or bread topped with cheese or jam, was warm and filling (I had a Polish hotpocket stuffed with seasoned eggs; C had that and some other kind of stuffed crepe).The Soviet occupation generally left a bad taste in Poland;the milk bar offered some of the better tastes of Communis.
  • 26. Then we hit the road. I napped and missed most of it. C said there was a pretty churchsomewhere along the way and that W only drove the speed limit (very true – and sometimesapparently slower, as I could tell on the way back when I only slept for half of it). Then it wastime for Nowy Sacz, starting with the cemetery. We needed a key to enter, which wasunfortunate enough, though the most important thing was that the keeper was home. Shespoke a bit of Yiddish, which didnt help me all that much and didnt help C at all. Few stoneswere remotely legible, as most were worn and faded, and a massive number were broken.Making it worse, the Hebrew emphasized first names over family names, so what I could readusually wasnt that useful. We did get to meet the resting place of tzadik [a renowned righteousJew] Halberstam and family. The tzadik did have visitors recently, as a pilgrimage was therewithin the past week or so for the Yahrtzeit (Halberstams death anniversary). [Aside: I met avery friendly dog outside who kept giving me his paw. Loved him.] [Aside 2: It’s amazing thatmore than one non-Jewish guide we met used the word “tzadik” as casually as if they werespeaking English. Which reminds me of a Jewish joke…]Cara returns home
  • 27. A surprise across from a cemetery: I made a new best friendTzadik Halberstam gets far more mail than I do
  • 28. The cemetery was probably the most depressing Ive been to – a bleak setting to begin with,devoid of life, in disrepair. At least it exists though, unlike the one in Lututow. The site VirtualShtetl notes of the latter: "The Jewish cemetery located in so-called Młynek (a settlement thatis presently a suburb of Lututów, on the road from Łódź to Wrocław) was destroyed during theGerman occupation, as well as in the 1970s. A gravel and sand quarry followed, and the skullsand bones that were excavated in it were scattered in the nearby forest and roadside ditches.The area presently serves as an illegal trash dump."( http://www.sztetl.org.pl/en/article/lututow/12,cemeteries/1740,cemetery-mlynek-/ )Compare the Nowy Sacz Jewish cemetery with the cemetery in Lodz, or even the RemuhSynagogue cemetery in Krakow. It’s one of the bleaker, rougher spots I’ve visited.And onward we went. We had a quick visit to the site of the old castle or fort for a nice view ofthe city. The next stop was the former Orthodox synagogue thats now an art gallery but also aresearch center, right in downtown Nowy Sacz. Theres a lovely exhibit right now, and we met avery helpful woman close to our age who spoke great English and filled us in on some of thelocal history, and she gave C some useful genealogical info – not a ton, but at least somethingto go on about her familys history there.
  • 29. Then we walked through the old city, including the massive town square as big as any weveseen in Europe or South America, more or less, and the main streets. Its again very charming,and very European; W noted it was part of Austria for awhile and resembles Austria to a largedegree. I got an obwarzanki along the way – a twisted, O-shaped roll like a bagel, but more ofthe thickness of a large pretzel. Mine had some sesame and was really good.Pope John Paul II greets us from the Nowy Sacz main square.Then we made it to the records office, where W helped translate. They couldnt do much today,but C made a personal contact there and has some follow-up action items that she can moveforward with.Lunch: Restauracja Ratuszowa, right in the main building in the main square. It looked old-fashioned and pretty local, though menus were also in English and German – a plus. We eachgot borscht soup (mine with cabbage dumplings) and pierogi (C: spinach & cheese, D: anincredible cottage cheese and buckwheat groats, Galician style). I also had flat 7UP (C: sparklingwater).
  • 30. It could be another European capital: the Nowy Sacz main squareWe drove a long way for the best pierogies we ate in Poland.
  • 31. Then the trip back. Not too notable, except at some point in the car we did hear Macklemores"Thrift Shop," a very hot rap song and my recent favorite. So odd to hear it in Poland. Its funny,because before we left, I asked C how to say "pop some tags" (a line from the song) in Polish.Apparently they just listen to the English version.We headed back to Krakow and stopped by the one remaining gate from the Krakow Jewishghetto. Its chilling, looking like large tombstones stitched together into a wall. Later, Id noticea ghetto survivor relate the same comment about the walls as he saw them going up, posted inthe Schindler museum. The museum itself, our next stop as we took leave of W, was one of themore visceral Ive been to, one thats made some of the best uses of video and multimedia thatIve seen, along with a disorienting while logical design, and rooms configured to perfectly tellthe story of each subject, from the transparent panels with photos of residents of the ghettowhen describing life there, to the blinding white and the gravel floor in the room about the endof the ghetto as the last Jews were transferred to a local concentration camp.The Nazis signaled what was coming with Jewish ghetto walls that looked like tombstones
  • 32. It was beyond intense, and I could have spent a full day there. We went back to our hotel andrested a bit. Then we hit up the most popular restaurant on TripAdvisor, a sushi joint calledYoumiko with just a handful of seats (we sat at the sushi bar), soft drinks from Hamburg, andfish from local sources, plus some from Norway. Two Poles were the sushi chefs, serving mostlyexcellent creations (including a ridiculously good one with a roll of sorts made of salmon,topped with salmon tartar). I just wish they served sake; the cherry tea was pretty good.We settled up – it was $50 total including a generous enough tip, under 150 zlotys – and wehad five rounds of the omakase, maybe more. Whatever it was, we were very full at the end. Iwalked C back to the hotel, just next door though the restaurant was hidden in a deep alleywith no signage out front. I went around the block to a well-reviewed chocolate shop,Manufaktura something, and the mint chocolate bar was pretty intense (and great). Aftergetting a few Diet Cokes and some Milka cookies at a convenience store next door (a 24 hourone – there are a number of 24 hour spots around here, something I didnt expect, since its notlike you see a ton of that outside of NYC beyond some chains like McDs), I made it back to thehotel. Now I must finally rest, as its almost 12:30am and we must rise in 7 hours or so to hitWawel Castle.Yes, like Andel’s Hotel Lodz, the sushi bar Youmiko is another sign of Poland’s gentrification;this may as well be Brooklyn
  • 33. Wednesday, April 10Hotel Bristol, 53611:18pmThis morning: up at 7:30, packed, checked out within the hour, and then breakfast at the MilkBar restaurant (a modern one; not the Communist era one far outside the Old City). I gotbanana crepes with chocolate sauce – really fantastic, and some of the better hot chocolate Ivehad, plus fresh squeezed orange juice. I didnt realize the waitress who brought the apple juicemisheard my request for apple fritters. C got a good egg dish. It wasn’t quite like yesterdaysMilk Bar as there was English on this menu – though the clerk didnt quite understand itnonetheless.Then we hit Wawel Castle, which may be well restored but it still maintains some of the iconictouches of Communist bureaucracy. It was beautiful on the outside, and the cathedral wasoverwhelming. A big highlight was going down to see the royal tombs, including the ol heroKosciuszko. We also got to see the tomb former Polish president and his wife on the anniversaryof their death – an all the more striking feat given that we also got to join the demonstrations inWarsaw outside our hotel, all on the same day. Theres a conspiracy theory now that theRussians were responsible for blasting the plane of the nationalistic Poles out of the sky; thecurrent administration is decidedly warmer with Russia, according to our driver W, whowholeheartedly believes the Russians were behind the officials deaths.The death of the Polish president, his wife, and other senior officials in a 2010 plane crash hasled to conspiracy theories similar in tone to those surrounding JFK’s death
  • 34. We then got some souvenirs and tried to figure out the whole ticket procedure for the rest ofWawel, which entailed buying tickets to each exhibit piecemeal and then doing timedadmissions at each one. That way we were able to see the armory and the chambers, but notthe royal apartments. The best plan would have been to get the exhibit tickets first and thensee the Cathedral exhibits in between, but the signage was as minimal as the helpfulness ofanyone around the castle. There was a bonus though: we got to see a lot more in the process.Some royally magnificent artwork adorned Wawel Castle
  • 35. We tried heading to Czartoryski Palace to see the museum, but that was closed and looks like itwont open any month soon. We had our cab take us straight to the Pharmacy of the Eagle nearthe Schindler factory. Outside was an exhibit of empty metal chairs, with each one signifyingthe loss of 1,000 Krakowian Jews. The inside of the exhibit was well put together but didnt tellmuch of a story. It was more interactive a museum than most, with not just touchscreendisplays and the like, but cabinets and drawers to open and even chemicals and minerals onecould smell, with many hidden stories revealed through exploration. But the story of therighteous gentile who saved many lives and avoided the Nazis catching on to him wasntremotely clear; brochures about the museum told far more of the story, and I bought a graphicnovel based on the autobiography to learn more.Each chair tells 1,000 stories.We couldnt find a cab, so we took a 15-minute walk to the Old Synagogue, the oldest inEurope, dating back to the 1500s, with a thorough exhibit on Judaism itself – some of the bestphotos Ive seen of pre-war Jews in Europe, and a well assembled track on Jewish athletes inpre-War Krakow.
  • 36. We then had to head out to get our bags, so we cabbed it to the hotel, briefly stopping by themain square to look for something quick to eat, to no avail. Wed grab some sandwiches at thetrain station. W was there at our hotel to greet us, and we loaded up our bags just as it startedto rain. We fortunately missed the showers, perfectly timing our day. W insisted onaccompanying us until after we got in our cabin, which proved especially useful since the trainwas delayed and then switched tracks. After staying with us and chatting a bit, W helped loadus on, and then we were on our way, drifting through the snow-dusted countryside in ruralPoland for about three hours until we got to Warsaw – on time, no less. The chicken sandwichfrom the station was edible, and the milk chocolate from Manufaktura last night was quitegood; a Cherry Coke washed it down.We got a cab to our hotel, Bristol, dubbed the nicest in Poland, and wed soon see why – itsoutstanding, with that perfect balance of modernity and elegance. We couldnt quite get therethough, as a demonstration with hundreds of people was blocking the plaza in front of thehotel, and the road was closed [only later would we realize our hotel was literally right next tothe Presidential Palace]. We love a good demonstration and bought pins and flags, thoughwhile I started to shoot photos, a woman was talking to C about how there seemed to be a lotof crazies in the mix.We had no idea we’d have so many guests at our hotel
  • 37. After checking in and settling in for a few, enjoying the comforts of what will serve as our homefor the next few days, we headed back out to enjoy the demonstration for a bit more and learnsome new Polish songs. Then we got a cab and headed to the Polonia Palace hotel to see mydad. We caught up with him for awhile, telling him largely about our adventures in his ancestralhometown area of Bolkow, much to his amazement about how it all happened. We spent a bitlonger deciding where to eat, and wound up going with U Fukiera, a restaurant largely housedin a vaulted brick basement thats been the choice of celebrities and dignitaries for decades.First though, we just managed to get a call from P____ of Lodz, whose family hails from Wielunas is a contact of another family member’s, as we were leaving the hotel. He had just returnedfrom the March of the Living tour and was able to join us for dinner.The food was fine, though nothing special, and hardly worth the price. I had a decent herring insour cream dish, and a very good pike/perch over a leek puree and spinach, while Cs goulashand crab crepes were so-so. The conversation was fascinating though, as P has lived on severalcontinents and achieved a lot of success business-wise before devoting himself in a large way tohelping people understand a slice of what happened before, during, and after the Holocaust. Hehas rich knowledge of Poland and Europe, and he shared some of his story: he was a Hasid whoescaped Lodz as a crypto Christian (for a train ride) only to get caught in the Warsaw ghetto andthen Majdanek before building his life in Israel, Cape Town, Sao Paulo, London, Paris, andultimately Toronto. It was wonderful company for the evening, and rare for me – while nostranger to Jews who lived through that period – to hear the thoughts and experiences of asurvivor who was in the eye of the storm, especially one whos not a relative, which makes iteasier to value the person and his story on their own merits rather than with familialattachment.A couple of Wieluners back in the homeland
  • 38. Now it is well past time to shut down, as touring is ahead, as well as meeting the other hostbehind the scenes, Czarek. It still is amazing that W was paid for courtesy of the Irish embassy.P noted, "No wonder the country is bankrupt."Thursday, April 11Bristol 53611:57pmOkay, so its actually post-midnight on Friday....Anyway, its been another great adventure in the land of our forefathers. This morning, werushed out (me having set the alarm for PM rather than AM) to meet my father at HotelPolonia, getting there just around 9:30 where we met our guide Magdalena, a non-JewishPolish woman getting a PhD in Hebrew Studies. She had a wealth of knowledge on Warsaw,Poland, and Judaism, and proved to be a great person to lead what was mostly a walking tourthrough central Warsaw. The first area of note was that of the main synagogue, and there wassomething striking about it: it was currently being used as a synagogue. Everywhere else wewent, the Jews were museum exhibitions; here, Jews were using a house of worship amidst anarea that included kosher restaurants and other signs of life. At the local Judaica and kosherfood shop, we bought a gorgeous kiddush cup that works well as its own art piece. My dadenjoyed meeting a couple of young Hasids who walked in.Signs of Jewish life in Poland: Hasids shop at the Jewish general store
  • 39. An old building downtown features the faces of the former Jews of Warsaw looking out fromthe windows – an exhibition called “I Can Still See Their Faces.” Its architecture as art, and assad as it is beautiful. Whats especially touching is that this city would want this, or could eventolerate it. How could any population continually stomach passing by the faces of the residentswho were murdered there? And yet, by a grand church in a bustling area, here they are, lookingout at everyone. Theyre still there, and yet theyre not.
  • 40. A pit stop: Kafe Komediowy Chlodna, a very funky, Bohemian coffee shop with some fantasticand rich hot chocolate.Then we headed to the Warsaw Ghettos former walls, and the Ghettos story became the focusfor much of the rest of the tour. We saw the sculpture thats a rendition of where the Ghettobridge used to be crossing the two sections of it (“A Footbridge of Memory”). We saw thememorial for Mordechai Anielewicz and other martyrs who died in the Ghetto Uprising. Wewent to the Umschlagplatz memorial denoting where Jews were shipped off to the camps. Andthen there was the massive monument to the victims and fighters, with the emphasis on thefighters, looking more like Greco-Roman soldiers and Olympians than Jews in a ghetto. Itsempowering, but also puzzling. Did they have to turn Jewish heroes into something theywerent?Father and son checking out the memorial demarcating the bridge that spanned the two sidesof the Warsaw Ghetto
  • 41. A look inside the viewfinderWarsaw Ghetto Uprising memorial
  • 42. A note left by Israelis at a Warsaw Ghetto memorial: “Together we have walked in the footstepsof the six million. While we walked, they crawled. While we cried, they suffered…”Ghetto heroes or Greco-Romans?
  • 43. Theres a new focal point for Jewish history in Poland: the massive museum opening covering1,000 years of Polish Jewish history. We got to enter the lobby, and Id love to come back afterit opens. The emphasis is on the 1,000 years, not just the six of the Holocaust. Its beenfortunate for us that our trip has focused more broadly on Polish and Jewish history and notjust the destruction itself. The Poles have been through centuries of oppression andoccupation; "partition" is all too common a word in Polish history. And yet Poles have madeoutsized contributions to America, Europe, and mankind, so lets not forget the destruction, butlets appreciate who the Polish people are and what so many of them stand for. In my WWIIeducation, Poles and Germans were all too readily conflated, and its a great injustice done tothem. The kindness weve felt from the Polish people here also goes a long way.At the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, we met a fellow New Yorker, who also happens tobe Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich (second from right)We said farewell to Magdalena and also my father. Then we went out for lunch. The Pierrogeriaby the Barbican was closed indefinitely, so we found another spot nearby and had some greatPierogis – mine Russian style with cheese and - um?, and Caras with mushroom and cabbage.Both excellent. I had a beer with some kind of flavored syrup, a thing here (piwo smakowe).Pretty damn good.
  • 44. C rested up. I then met the hosts who flew us out to Poland (initially for a conference, thoughthat was canceled). We had coffee (well, I had vanilla tea) in the hotel and we talked shop for acouple hours.Then I joined C to rest before heading out in the rain. I enjoyed the evening, getting lost in theold city for an hour and a half. I picked up some sundries at a Polish gourmet shop that justopened, and the proprietor was kind enough to walk me through pretty much everything thereand where it came from. His good advice: dont bring horse meat to someones house fordinner. They may not eat it. Thank you again, Poles! [While I wasn’t in the market for horsemeat, it was especially good advice in the middle of a tainted horsemeat epidemic in Europe.]I then spent some time at the striking bronze WWII war monument.The haunting faces of the Monument to the Heroes of the Warsaw Uprising
  • 45. Then I picked up C at the hotel and we headed across the street to U Kucharzy, one of thehottest Warsaw restaurants, one my father went to and my Polish hosts recommended. Afterwaiting a bit in the smoke-filled bar, we got our table, a prime seat right across from the guyrolling wafers that hed fill with cream. It was a perfect seat, not near the noise of everyoneelse, and in an area that smelled especially good. People kept coming by for a wafer sample,and C had our waiter give us one as well before dinner. So good. I had a beer, which hit thespot, and then my fish soup came, which was some of the best soup Ive had. C had to waitawhile for her goat cheese salad, which was pretty good too. Entrees werent as hot. Herdorado was so-so, and my duck – a specialty there – was mediocre, with none of the juicinessor crispiness of the one I had at Anatewka in Lodz. We had a great waiter though. Dessert: wehad a couple more cream-filled waffle cones, but both of us felt they werent as sweet orflavorful as the ones before dinner. The meringue cake with berries (currant?) was amazingthough, washed down with some honey vodka. This was the only meal that cost us anywhereclose to $100 total, and still not quite, even with the tip. Now back at the hotel. C had her DietCoke. Time to sleep shortly.Oh do you know the wafer man?
  • 46. Friday, April 12Bristol, 5368:41amA dream:Im walking by some ballfield in Poland. A Pole, perhaps in his 60s, starts shouting at me inEnglish to go home. "But Im supporting your country," I said. He yelled back, "Go home andtake your money with you." I kept walking, at that point knowing he was not just xenophobicbut anti-Semitic and had pegged me for a Jew. As I was some distance away, he called out, "YouJews stole everything from us, even our recipes." I was offended enough and far enough awayto tell him, "My grandmother didnt steal her recipes from you." He shot back, "Well then, whoDID she steal her recipes from?" I deadpanned, "A penguin!" The dream ended.Bristol 5364:03pmOnce we got moving today around 10, we headed to the Warsaw Rising museum, which issimilar in many ways to the Schindler museum in Krakow. First off, its not what we expected.Just as we thought the Schindler factory would be largely about Schindler and it instead told thebroader story of Krakow under Nazi occupation, we thought the Rising museum would be moreabout the Ghetto uprising, and instead it told the broader story of the Polish fight – specificallyin Warsaw – to take back its city from the Germans.Warsaw suffered an even worse fate, as the Germans retaliated against the Polish by levelingthe city (our guide Magdalena had noted German bombs are still found under the city on aregular enough occasion; they were far more frequently discovered in the 80s and 90s but nowdont even warrant a mention in the news). The Polish in turn fought to get the Germans out ofparts of Lithuania and the Ukraine, and the Soviets thanked them by disarming the Poles,arresting, deporting, and sometimes killing their leaders, and then, oh, taking advantage of theflattened and spent Warsaw by taking over the country; the Allied Forces were also tooweakened and appeasing to put up a fight against Russia. This is another museum that couldeasily take up a full day, and theres SO much content through the various multimedia andhands-on storytelling formats that one could probably be there a week or even a month beforewatching all of it. While the Schindler museum was even more impactfully designed, with eachroom arranged in yet another artful way to convey the atmosphere surrounding the story itself,the Rising museum holds up plenty well on its own merits, especially compared to othermuseums Ive been to, historical or otherwise.Then we were off to the Palace of Science and Culture, a Soviet relic thats generally disliked bylocals, not just because of its reminders of all things Soviet but because so many people weredisplaced to create this largest architectural complex in Warsaw. It was so massive that we keptgetting lost looking for the elevators to the top for a view of the city (fine, but nothing toospecial). We did get to spend a fair amount of time in the science museum, which must be one
  • 47. of the stranger museums on Earth. There are exhibits featuring old appliances, computers,telephones, model space shuttles from the USA and USSR, smelting, forestry, and other oddsubjects. In a side room on the top floor, we ran into a curator sitting there who didnt scowl atus like all the others. Instead, he got up and locked us in a room full of mirrors. Then he tookour picture. And then he spent the next 10 minutes showing us all kinds of science experiments.I dont think he gets a lot of visitors.Please go visit the Polish Bill Nye. He is desperate for more visitors.Rooting for the home team!
  • 48. After finishing there and exploring the terrace above the city, we headed back to the old cityand stepped into Zapiecek, a pierogi chain that had some great options, including individualpierogies and a difference between a grandma portion (9) and grandpa portion (11). Cara had 9steamed Russian ones, and I had 9 fried ones (surprise: mine were better). I also had a greatmulled tea type of drink that was comforting and warm on this cool and rainy day. C thenheaded back to the room and rest up, and I went out for a long walk for a couple hours. Fairlyearly on, I got a bottle of Jack Daniels honey whiskey for our hosts tonight and then a couplebottles of Diet Pepsi for C; Id get a razor later. After hitting the limits of the Old City, I keptwalking – first past a church I hadnt seen, and then past a school just outside the old city, andthen I have no clue where, but it was fun exploring it. I wound up at a beautiful monument ofcrosses in a cart, and then at the fun Pegasus sculptures outside the National Library rightacross from the Supreme Court, which was adjacent to the bronze monument to soldiers. Afterthat, I was able to find the Nike monument we kept passing by and got a better look at thissymbol of Warsaw. Then I made it back to the Bristol.A couple of the more haunting war monuments of Warsaw
  • 49. Pegasus sculptures adorn the lawn of the National Library.
  • 50. Scenes from the Monument to the Heroes of the Warsaw Uprising
  • 51. Bristol 53611:46pmPacking up, it will be as strange to leave Poland as it has been to be here. This was anunexpected trip that arose from unanticipated circumstances, and we didnt expect just howmuch wed enjoy the food, people, history, genealogy, and overall vibrancy of the country. Itsalso especially fascinating to visit now, as it still grapples with what it means to be a trulyindependent country – as it only emerged relatively recently from the Soviet sphere. Freedomhere is still new, and valued. Cities are still being built and rebuilt. English has replaced Russianas the second language of choice. Coke has replaced Pepsi, practically everywhere outside ofthe Soviet hall of science.Tonight, we had one more unusual experience here: a home-cooked meal. Thats unusualenough for me as-is, let alone on a trip abroad. One of our trip hosts had us over for dinner attheir suburban home, in a new development on land that used to be owned by Polands king.We ate like royalty, having salad, chicken soup, zucchini, red peppers, roasted potatoes, meat,homemade tiramisu, some desserts that I brought, and probably more – plus lots of wine andthen tea (in a lovely pot no less). American TV was a hot subject once we wrapped up discussingour trip and what weve gotten out of Poland.A fine final dinner in Poland (until we make it back again)
  • 52. Now were back, as I navigate Ryanairs site and policies, C checked in, and we plan to go ourseparate ways tomorrow unfortunately. Im booked on the London Eye, so thatll be a treat.More adventures to come...I still cant believe not just that Ive been to Poland, but that Ill miss the place. Thank you,Poland.Further reading:The Peasant Prince: Thaddeus Kosciuszko and the Age of Revolution by Alex Storozynskihttp://www.amazon.com/Peasant-Prince-Thaddeus-Kosciuszko-Revolution/dp/0312388020A populist Polish war hero with progressive views on equal rights honed his skills in America’sRevolutionary War – a war that could have gone quite differently without him. Meet the builderof West Point, one of Thomas Jefferson’s great friends, and a general whose name GeorgeWashington would spell 11 different ways in his letters.A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron: Forgotten Heroes of World War II by Lynne Olson andStanley Cloudhttp://www.amazon.com/dp/B001334IVU/ref=r_soa_w_dHow well London would have fared without the service of Polish airmen in World War II’s Battlefor Britain and beyond? Many of Poland’s bravest men and women joined the Allied forces as itcontinued to run its rebel government in exile, though the Allies spent six years dragging theirfeet before capitulating entirely to Stalin.A sign from 1944 shown in the Warsaw Rising Museumplaying off Poland’s unofficial motto, “For our freedom and yours”
  • 53. Saturday, April 13Park Plaza Westminster Bridge, 133910:35pm12 hours ago, I was about to lift off above Poland. It wasnt the easiest ordeal to go throughRyanair. I got to the ticket counter, having checked in online and my baggage allowance alreadycovered, but they needed a printed boarding pass – or it would cost $100+ to print one. Andthen that had to be stamped at another desk. By the time I went back on line, got throughsecurity, and got a Diet Coke, I then was on a VERY slow passport control line, and by the time Igot to the gate, it was already boarding – though then there was another VERY long wait on thebus to the train parked way out in some remote spot, and then I had to contend with things likehaving a reserved seat on a flight where they dont do that kind of thing, and then having issueslike all bags and jackets up top in exit rows, and the seat in front of me not having a pocket, andthe window shade not going down, and the credit card machine on the plane not working formy US credit card to buy a train ticket to London, and other odds and ends.But I got there. And then I got through another slow passport control line to finally get my bag,get a ticket (again, the card wouldnt work – good thing I got British pounds), and then rushdown to the train with a whole bunch of Poles. The train was modern and pleasant, and for the30GBP for the train and metro, it was about a quarter of what would have been about $180 US(with tip) to take a cab to my hotel.The Liverpool Street metro station for the transfer was dizzying. All kinds of trains, ticketmachines, etc. It was like going from being a country bumpkin to being back in a big city, and aforeign city, and yet a city where everything is in English and pretty much everyone speaksEnglish. People say things like "Cheers" and they are saying so sincerely. I finally managed to getoriented enough to get my Tube ticket and made it to Westminster station, and there the daybegan again, as I was right there in front of Big Ben, and the London Eye, and double deckerbuses and bobbies and the adorable old taxis and thousands upon thousands upon thousandsof people.One of my first views of London this trip: the London Eye
  • 54. The weather was actually miserable. It was drizzling and misty when I got off the train, andwithin an hour it would start raining consistently. It was cold enough that later I regrettedleaving gloves in my room. But that wasnt stopping a single person, so it seemed, fromenjoying their Saturday in London. And it of course wasnt going to stop me.I checked into the hotel, one even more conveniently located than I remembered given whatsaround here, and the Park Plaza associate, Irona, was helpful in combining two separatereservations that I had, upgrading my room in the process. The suites fine, including enough ofa kitchen to use, and I cant say Ill need all the space, but it is fun going in the secret elevatorexclusively to my floor and two others. Really, thats why people would normally get this room– for the elevator. Theres a lesson in there somewhere.I reworked what I needed to have on me and darted out to the London Eye, picking up my FastTrack ticket, which was a good investment, especially on this rainy day, as it allowed me to cut asnaking queue and walk right on to the capsule as it was opening. There, I not only got views ofBig Ben, Whitehall, 10 Downing St, various churches and palaces, modern structures like theShard (the tallest building in the EU), and others, but I got to photobomb a lovely Muslim familyenjoying their London tour.Meet my adopted family!
  • 55. Big Ben from above on a perfectly dreary London dayThe Samsung tablet helped orient this new tourist to many of the main sights of London
  • 56. Then I went walking. I went along Whitehall, saw the monument honoring the pilots of theBattle for London – looking for the Polish squadrons that Im currently reading about, goingthrough Trafalgar Square without realizing it was Trafalgar Square, going through LeicesterSquare which I thought might have been Trafalgar Square, getting Indian food at Dishoom (aspot recommended by my friend Nihal on Foursquare), and then taking a leisurely walk homevia the Hungerford Bridge. Dinner: amazing calamari (some of the best Ive had), some decentchicken curry, a couple great glasses of masala chai tea (again, some of the best Ive had),decent garlic naan, and a really oddly spiced cider that wasnt quite drinkable. For such a hotspot and a filling meal, it wasnt bad at 30GBP/$45.The Battle of Britain monument, and the insignia for the Polish Kosciuszko Brigadein the Royal Air Force
  • 57. Walked back and dodged more rain. Enjoyed the views. Then got caught up on email to somesmall degree – a start. Touring tomorrow. C got home safe - miss her terribly. Must finally winddown.Oh and PS: I went to Marks and Spencer at Charring Cross and got ham flavored chips(vegetarian), chocolate covered cookies that are mostly chocolate, and a great microbrew(wheat). Made for a nice dessert.Monday, April 1412:49pmPark Plaza, 1339Tour day!This time though, it was all touring, and all as a tourist. Woke at 7am, got ready, and joined afew people from the hotel getting picked up from different tours for the same company. Wewere on the road by 7:30, ultimately to the Victoria bus station. An hour later, our bus of about37 people was moving, plus the amicable driver and the cheeky but sometimes overly crotchety50-something Brit (much of his shtick was an act, but his lack of interest in anything others saidseemed authentic).Our cheeky guide was a little sheepish
  • 58. After traveling outside of the city, we made our way to Stonehenge just after 10. Itappropriately started to rain and did for almost the whole time we were there – all of 45minutes. I dont mind London (and environs) in the rain though given the character it adds tosuch a rainy place. Stonehenge, though, isnt that interesting in pretty much any weather,though perhaps the solstice is fun there. I was drawn more to the sheep. Stonehenge may wellbe a fantastic ploy by the Brits to get people outside of London and then see how beautifuleverything else is. Perhaps its a ruse by John Cleese working for the Ministry of Propaganda.The end of the audio guide, which I mostly listened to for a change (ahh, the joys of being on atour group), was all about how if the stones werent there and there was no mystery aboutthem, it would still be such a magical place. Its a field. A somewhat chalky field. Lots of grass.And some adorable sheep. Thats it. The only real magic act is the audio guides enthusiasm.Elaine: “I went to Stonehenge, yada yada yada, there were some adorable sheep.”Jerry: “But you yada yada’d over the best part!”Elaine: “No, I mentioned the sheep.”
  • 59. The point of the whole 12-hour trip: a selfie from Stonehenge
  • 60. Also: I ate a cheese and onion hot pocket - a pasty.More road tripping, passing tank crossings and other oddities. It was good to hear bits andpieces of British lore. We then got to Bath, and I stunned our guide with my lack of knowledgeabout the white & red flag of St. George. Later on the bus, hed bring it up again and spell outSt. Georges name for me, and I replied, "St. Jeff? St. Jerry?"Bath is a striking city – so unbelievably beautiful, and so worth staying in for a long weekend.The Roman museum was fascinating, with all the rich history intact there, though I didnt get tostay long. An Indian American from Hyderabad originally (now Chicago and/or London) wastagging along and slowing me down a bit – nice enough chap though, also traveling alone. Hewas rather shocked at my carelessness with street crossings; its much easier in London whereroads tell you which way to look. I got a Thai chicken pasty at a pretty impressive shop, andthen a Caramel Chocolate shortbread slice elsewhere, while soaking in what more of the city Icould.When in former Rome…
  • 61. After this, I should give up on selfies because they’re not going to turn out better than this
  • 62. More driving, more Spotify on iOS. More cheeky one-liners.Then we made it to Stratford-upon-Avon, a lovely hippie college town, like Woodstock orBerkeley or Asheville or Madison or Austin, but one obsessed with Shakespeare, and rightfullyso. At his birthplace, there was a mercifully brief video intro, an also brief performance of a fewpassages by a woman in Elizabethan dress while there was OJ and champagne for the audience(also scones with cream and jam, but I didnt want a raisin scone), and then a quick tour of thehouse he was born in – by far the most interesting part. Then I toured around, bought awooden duck at the market, soaked in the swan and Shakespeare statues (all in the rain), andsnacked. A gourmet lunch and snack spot (Carlucci’s) had massive flavored meringue cookies,and as I ate one under an awning around the corner, a few 40-ish British women passed by. Idont know if one of them was on something, but the last of the three to walk by not only askedfor a bite (and took one out of the cookie), but was hoping for the rest – and I gave it to her, as Icouldnt even finish what I had broken off. I cant tell if she was on drugs or just British.So yeah, I wonder if a local woman was on drugs, and yet after getting my Shakespeare fix,THIS is what I was doing on the street?Made it back to the bus. Drove a couple hours (well, not me) as I read my book on the Britishand Americans shafting Poland in WWII. Got back to Victoria station. Walked a bit and woundup by Buckingham Palace and the gardens – another marvelous sight not even a half hourswalk from the hotel. Basked in Big Bens face lit up at night. So beautiful – I mean handsome.
  • 63. A glimpse of the beauty by Buckingham Palace
  • 64. Got back to the hotel. Room service: garlic naan, pineapple juice, shrimp Caesar salad, salmontikka with cucumbers and raita. All very good.Now catching up on lots of work stuff. Winding down soon.Tuesday, April 1612:30amPark Plaza Westminster, 1339And the final hours in Europe (for this trip) are upon me.Today: walked an hour this morning to the office of Peerindex, north of the Southwark Bridge,though I took Blackfriars Bridge to get there. Its a city of wonders at every turn, with thebiggest surprise on this leg being walking past St. Pauls Cathedral. Signs are already popping upacross the city of Margaret Thatchers funeral; I missed a rowdy protest by an hour or two inTrafalgar Square Saturday night. Perhaps its for the best that I didnt want to stay out too latethat day.A sign of a great city: this is what you find when you’re aimlessly strolling along
  • 65. I had a good 90-minute chat with Peerindex CTO Phil Guest. Then I walked Southwest down to360is office. Starving, I grabbed a Chinese chicken and mushroom bun, then a couple Vita Cocodrinks, and then stumbled on the international food stands on Whitecross St. where I bought acouple brownies, and then a spicy chicken sandwich that proved a bit too messy and spicy toenjoy.Made it to the office after a good 45-minute walk or so, thoroughly enjoying it all the way. Theoffice is in a great little building just north of Covent Garden, and Rob Connolly, the 360ierrunning it, gave me the grand tour, with the team offering a kind reception. I gave a talk forabout an hour on ways to work with 360i and Steak there.
  • 66. A bit later, Rob and I left for dinner. He was going to take me to Dishoon, but alas, I had alreadybeen. He brought me through Covent Garden to an old bar – a wine bar no less – set mostlyunderground, Gordons, where we had a couple glasses of Shiraz. Then we headed acrossHungerford Bridge (the other side of where I crossed before) and stopped at Canteen fordeviled kidney on toast (great), fish & chips (good, but fries better than the fish), some localbeer, and enjoyable conversation – about religion, food, culture, some work, and whatnot.Made it back to the room. Plenty to catch up on but not terribly behind. Had more chocolatecovered biscuits from Marks & Spencer (same package as before). Quite a delicious lot. Cheers.Kidneys never looked (or tasted) so good
  • 67. PostscriptSomehow I must have been too exhausted, or perhaps just out of it mentally, to bother writingup the end of the trip.Here’s the gist, written a few weeks later (May 5, 2013):I packed up the next morning and took a fairly short walk back to the Covent Garden area tovisit Google’s office – very much a typical Google space, though I did note they had soft drinksprominently, rather than fruit juices and the like. I had a great catch-up with former 360i’erRobert Wollner over a filling spread from Google’s cafeteria.I’m feeling lucky: a reunion with former colleague Robert Wollner at Google UK
  • 68. Then I had a much shorter walk to 360i’s London office, where I worked for a bit and chattedwith a few blokes before heading around the corner to Hospital Club, a swanky spot similar toSoho House, founded by tech magnates who reclaimed and renovated the building. There I metwith Andrew Grill, CEO of Kred / Peoplebrowsr, and had a fun discussion about influencermarketing. Lunch was some kind of fish dish, I believe.Then I took the Tube to Heathrow, getting through security quickly and well ahead of when thegate was announced for my flight. Soon, I was one of the first in the waiting area for KuwaitAirways, where I went through another security check but no passport control. The planes werestandard – neither too modern nor scarily antiquated – but the service in coach was courteous,I had room to spread out in my row, and even was served a menu for the flight (Halal – no porkor alcohol).Kuwait Airways: no alcohol, but adorable safety announcementsSoon enough, I was back home in New York, with a newfound appreciation for the fatherland,and some fond memories of the UK.Here’s a phrase not uttered enough: Thank you, Poland. (You Brits are alright too.)The End