Back in 1995 I just happened to be looking at the "Wampum;" a little newspaper that was thrown in my driveway, in Eagar, and noticed an add for exchange students. On a whim I responded to that add, and "a lady" (sorry, I can't remember her name) came over and helped me fill in all the paperwork and told me I should plan on a student either during the spring semester or the following year. This was okay by me becuz we needed to finish up the room that had originally been planned as a nursery.
But, within a week, the "lady" called, and asked if I could take a student, whose host family had cancelled on him, last minute. That student was Przemeslav (Przemek)Baszynski, from Poland.
Gary and I weren't the richest people, but we did our best to show him the state... we went to Rockin' R Ranch, we went to the Grand Canyon, Sedona and Slide Rock. We took him to Luna, New Mexico (just so he could say he'd been there). We went to Las Vegas, to pick up Linda (my sister), and took a tour of Hoover dam on the way back. We went to an NBA game--the Suns beat the Minnesota Timber Wolves. His senior class trip was Disney Land and Magic Mountain. It really was a fun year!
Being a host family was a wonderful experience, maybe because I had an awesome student! Saying goodbye, in May 1996, was horrible, not knowing if we would see each other again, but I promised him that some day I would go to Poland... It took 18 years, but on September 2, 2014, I boarded a plane.
I booked a flight on USairways, that left Phoenix at 10:00am, on September 2nd, and took me to Chicago. The 2nd half of the trip was on Air Berlin; it left Chicago at 3:45 (9/2) and arrived in Berlin, the next morning, at 7:00am.
I'd never been on a flight like this before. For starters, the plane was huge (it sat 8 people across)! On each of the seats there was a blanket and a pillow, and since the plane wasn't full, I got two seats, and 2 pillows and blankets... This was great, cuz I could put my feet up, and kind of lay down. We were barely in the air when they started serving drinks, and then dinner. The dinner choices were some type of spicy chicken OR macaroni and cheese. I was afraid the "spicy" would be too spicy, so I went with the mac & cheese... It wasn't very good. Soon after dinner was cleaned up the flight attendants went through and closed the window shades, and after that they gave everyone a little pouch that included a sleeping mask, a tooth brush, ear plugs, and a pair of socks. Since I knew Przemek had planned for us to spend Wednesday in Berlin, the plan was to sleep on the plane. But... the plane offered free movies, so I spent most of the night watching movies that I didn't think Jesse would enjoy... This made the time go by faster, and before I knew it, the flight attendants came through with warm, moist towelettes (to get us cleaned up) and then a continental breakfast, just before we were landing.
Going through the Berlin airport was much different than I had expected... First of all, we got off of the plane in the back of the airport. Then, we got off of the plane in the back, and we had to go down several steps, where we were loaded on busses that drove us all the way around the airport, to baggage claim. By the time we got there our luggage was already on the belt, so I grabbed my suitcase and then headed out... Literally, there was NO customs... I just walked around the corner, and there was Przemek, Natalia (his sister), and Sven (Natalia's fiancé), who met me at the gate. In the following week, these 3 showed me all around Berlin and Poland.
Sven is from Germany, and he suggested that we take a bus tour around Berlin. This was an excellent idea... We saw so many things, including the President's home
After spending most of the day there, we headed for Poland. Przemek was determined that I would spend my first night at his parents' home. They were so sweet; his mom even gave up her room for me and then I felt horrible. But, as it turns out, Przemek's parents sleep in separate rooms becuz his dad snores, so dad was pretty happy to have me, so his wife would sleep with him!
I was pretty nervous that first day. I don't know if it was the long flight and no sleep, or just being in a foreign country, but my stomach was upset and I just didn't feel like eating. Unfortunately, Przemek's mom (Ewa - pronounced Eva) had been working like crazy to make dinner for us. She had some type of fried meat, tomato soup, and ham,salami, tomatoes, and cucumbers sliced up on a plate. Every one else was hungrily eating, but I just couldn't. I took a few bites of soup, and had to excuse myself to the bathroom, where I threw up... Not cool! After that I took a little nap, and when I got up, there was food on the table, again. By this time Przemek had gone home to his family, but Sven and Natalia stayed so I was able to visit for a little bit. Przemek's parents, Zbyszek and Ewa Baszynski, were so sweet putting me up, and I am VERY grateful for all they did for me while I was there! Unfortunately, I was exhausted, and had to go to bed.
Thursday morning I was up early, and ready to go... We were headed for Krakow!
On the way we saw this giant statue of Jesus, so we stopped to check it out.
If Berlin was full of history, Krakow was its equal! I loved this city!!! We took a golf cart tour, which was wonderful. First of all, it was in English. Second, it was very informative. And, since it was just the five of us, we got to stop wherever we wanted to take pictures! I'll post pictures, and label as many as I know what they are.
While in Krakow we tried roasted chestnuts... They weren't very good!
We saw LOTS of churches.
We crossed the river, into the Jewish sector.
Here we saw Oskar Schindler's factory.
These are some of the faces of those that Schindler saved.
This is what's left of the Jewish Ghetto wall.
This is a memorial for those who lost their lives during the Holocaust.
This is the oldest Jewish Synagogue in Krakow.
We saw palaces and a fortress.
The Polish are very proud of Pope John Paul the II. When he came to Krakow for a visit, he addressed the crowd from this window.
And, there were lots of city squares.
Natalia and Nella waiting for dinner. Interesting story: Nella ordered an Hawaiian pizza, but when it came she pulled off the ham, and the cheese, and then asked the waitress for ketchup... Eeewwww!
Sven and Natalia
Friday we headed to the Wieliczka Salt Mine (http://www.wieliczka-saltmine.com/about-the-mine). We climbed down 300+ stairs to get to the cathedral at the bottom, made completely of salt! The statues, the carvings, the chandelier, the alter... everything was made of salt!
These are salt crystals.
This is the cathedral at the bottom. Everything in here is made of salt, including the chandelier!
Pope John Paul II, in salt.
This is a salt sea at the bottom of the mine. The tour guide said the water was equivalent to that in the dead sea.
I was very happy to see the elevator that took us back to the surface.
After the salt mine we headed south to the Danajec River... This river is on the border of Poland and Slovakia. Normally, this would be white-water rafting, but there wasn't much snow last winter to run-off into the river, so the rapids were minimal. None-the-less, it was a beautiful place, and an enjoyable ride.
As we were leaving, Przemek saw a sign for Slovakia, so we drove across the border, just to say we were there!
On Saturday we headed to Zakopane; here there are two mountains that we went to the top. The first, Morskie Oko ('The Eye of the Sea'), we gratefully took a horse drawn wagon almost to the top. This is where I stopped, but Przemek, Natalia, Sven, and Nella continued to the top, where there is a mountain lake ((http://www.local-life.com/zakopane/articles/gubalowka-hill-podhale)http://www.getintravel.com/zakopane-poland/morskie-oko-lake-in-polish-tatra-mountains/). I stayed at the horses stopping point and ate ice cream... All the walking in the Salt Mine turned my legs to absolute mush!
After this mountain we headed to the second mountain, Gubalowka ... This one had a tram that took us to the top. At the top of this mountain there were all kinds of little shops, and places to eat. Przemek, Sven, and Nella took a ride on a "luge." The view from here, of the Tatras and Carpathian Mountains was fabulous!
On Sunday we headed to Auschwitz... Talk about mixed feelings! Since I was so close (being in Poland) I felt like I should see this horrible place, where Nazi shoulders treated people so inhumanely. On the other hand, being in such a wicked place was disturbing. So, we went, but heeded the promptings to not stay in some of the buildings very long.
It's hard to see, but the infamous gate is behind me.
Nella and I in front of the barracks.
This horrible room is the gas chamber.
These are the incinerators where they discarded the gassed bodies.
After Auschwitz we headed for Przemek's home... I was finally going to meet Lidia (his wife) and Nadia and Olivia! Ewa was also here, helping Lidia get dinner ready for us. Lidia is absolutely adorable... She doesn't speak any English, and I don't speak any Polish, but we seemed to get along any way! Przemek is a very lucky man!!!
Sunday evening Przemek took me to my room, and told me he would need to get some work done Monday morning. So, I was on my own for a little bit. First of all, Przemek told the man at the "motel" to make sure I had breakfast. He made me a plate of breads and cold cuts, yogurt, and eggs. After breakfast I went for a short walk; I thought I had seen a store up the road, only to find out it was an auto parts store, but I continued walking cuz there was a church a little further up the road. Didn't do much more than take a couple of pictures.
Later, Przemek came and got me and I went with him to run some errands, one of which was getting his car washed. This was actually impressive, becuz the car wash didn't use water... they used steam, like taking clothes to a dry cleaner. Any way, while we were waiting for the car, we found one of Przemek's favorite ice cream places. I had strawberry ice cream that was sooooooo yummy!!!
Once the car was ready, we went back to Przemek's place. It ended up that he had to go to a parent-teacher conference for Nella, so I spent an hour keeping an eye on his girls. This was pretty interesting, since we couldn't really communicate! When Przemek came back he made me some perogies (actually, his mother-in-law made them and he warmed them up, with butter, onions, and bacon)... They were soooooooooooo good! I had had some on Friday, at a restaurant, but these were so much better!
I babysat Olivia and Nadia while Przemek went to a parent/teacher conference
Once Lidia got home from work, Przemek took me back to my "motel" room. This was fairly early, so I had more time to myself. I walked across the street, where there WAS a grocery store. There really wasn't much there that was interesting, so I only grabbed a few goodies. This was the first time I actually watched TV while I was there... They have lots of American shows with sub-titles in English.
Speaking of motels... OMGosh! The word motel was used lightly, as they were more like bed and breakfasts, and SO tiny! Here's a few pictures...
This is a "Polish" cat (at my last "motel"... Looks just like my American cat! I tried to feed it some ham and cheese, but he wasn't interested.
Monday morning I had to get up early, so I was ready for Przemek when he arrived to take me to the airport, for my 10:00 flight, back to Chicago. Memories from 18 years earlier flooded my mind, as Przemek graciously waited with me, just outside my gate. I told him I would not say, "good-bye," and that we would meet again, some day. For now, I am truly indebted to Przemek, and the fantastic time that I had while in Poland, and I can honestly say that I'd like to go back there some day!