Monday, 19 July 2010


Warsaw Uprising monument.

Shot a shotgun lately?

Torun. Lots of buildings like this.

Old town hall in Plock.

Some kid trying to hit a ball...

So Poland was on our list of places to go but all of a sudden, about a month ago now, the MWR baseball league decided they were going to try to field a team for the European-Middle East-Africa Little League championships. So off to Kutno, Poland we go!
Kutno is about 120 km east of Warsaw. Why baseball in Poland you may ask? (That’s your cue to ask…) About 15 years ago Stan Musial, a major leaguer and Pole, decided he wanted to bring baseball to Poland so he went to Kutno and now there is a very nice baseball complex. The whole adventure was short notice so the coaching was shaky at first, it was me and another guy (neither of us knows baseball) covering while the real coaches were on travel for work. Then the boys had about two weeks to try to come together as a team, get brought up to speed (the MWR coaching is less than average…), and fund raise. We went in knowing we were likely going to loose but hoped it would be a positive and memorable experience for the boys. It DEFINETLY was. They played and interacted with kids from S. Africa, Ukraine, Moldova, Italy, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Bellerose, and Ireland.
Most of our trip centered around baseball and we had games 4 of the 7 days we were there but we did make time to take in some sights. So here we go…
Even on about one weeks notice we still found a non-stop flight from Rome to Warsaw for $135 each. Cheap airline so you have to pay for luggage; Rome so we needed to take the train… Still way cheaper than Lufthansa this time. Be careful with cheap airlines… So for the FORTH flight in a row… As a re-cap: volcano strands us in Paris, French air traffic controls holds us up in Milan, mechanical problem reroutes us in Madrid. This time… Couple versions to the story, probably most of everything is true. The plane had maintenance that had to be done (delay 1). There was a piece of electronics that needed to be replaced (delay 2). The airline didn’t pay the Rome airport their parking fee (delay 3). Eight hours later, 11:30 at night, we are finally boarding and headed to Warsaw. We land in Warsaw around 2 – 2:30 AM and get a room at the Marriott at the airport. Nice and very reasonably priced. So now Saturday is Sunday and we get our rental car and we are off.
I found a rental, again a week out, that was probably a little pricey by Polish standards but was awesome. It was really like a guest house on these peoples’ estate. The nephew of the owner, also lives on site, spoke English and the family went out of their way to make us happy and keep us entertained and well fed. As we were checking in there was bread, bear, and homemade soup waiting for us…
Monday: Baseball game. Played Ukraine. Got spanked (they actually won the tournament). Good eye opener and settler for the boys. They got the point and started to focus. That night Carey, Brianna, and I went into Plock to find dinner. Delicious. The Polish do meat right. Plock is a nice little town too. No “major” attractions, but we enjoyed just walking around.
Tuesday: Baseball. We played S. Africa. We got spanked. They went to the semi-finals… Tuesday night back to Plock for dinner. This night the restaurant we picked didn’t have an English menu and the waiter didn’t speak much English. I have been happy to just point at the menu and hope for the best ever since Carey’s dad and I did it in Munich last Christmas. This was Carey and Brianna’s real first time doing it (other times we had an idea of what they might be getting). Brianna played it safe and picked something out of the pierogi section (filled with blue berries, covered with yogurt, very good). I just pointed at a soup and something in the meat section. Delicious soup and an amazing, what I think was a, pork chop and potatoes. Carey points and gets… chicken wings and french fries (I can’t make this stuff up!). We saw more of Plock after dinner, including a walk over looking the river.
Wednesday: No baseball. We went to Torun. Torun is known for a few things. One, it is the home of Nicholas Copernicus. He was one of the guys who said, “Hey, we got it all wrong. The earth is not the center of the universe! In fact, I’ll draw you (a pretty accurate, circular vice elliptical orbits) picture of the solar system.” Pretty neat seeing the limited resources he had to come up with that HUGE leap in 1543. Thing number two, pierniczki. Gingerbread! And it was good. Finally, the architecture. Big beautiful old brink buildings. Wednesday night our land lords cooked for us. The woman serving us didn’t speak much English so we just went with it and tried to guess what we were eating. I can’t express how good it was. My mouth is watering now… As we were finishing up Eryk came in. Turns out the soup had quail, the steaks were deer, and the patties were wild boar. Next we were introduced to Polish tradition. We did shoots of Vodka and Eryk’s homebrew for the next hour or two. Even Brianna got a shoot (or three…they were small). Did I mention this all cost us nothing extra?
Thursday: Baseball. Moldova. The also beat us. It was a better game, and afterwards we figured out they cheated a bit and went out of batting order a few times to get their better hitters up. The coaches realized it to late. We went back to the house that evening and Eryk stops by. “You ready?” We’re going shooting! He takes Carey and me out to an awesome range that he and 24 others own and built. Professional range. Disks being launched from all competition angles. No charge. Just shot his shotgun and his ammo for an hour and a half…
Friday: Baseball. We played Ireland and we… won. It was a morning game and our last so finally we gathered up Austin and his stuff (this whole time he and the rest of the team stayed on the complex. Free room and board.) He was exhausted and emotionally drained at this point. He actually took a nap. That evening they cooked dinner for us again. A bunch of different types of pierogies. Again, very good, homemade, and no charge… After dinner a horse drawn carriage ride through the forest.
Saturday: Warsaw. Warsaw has an amazing history. Poland in general has an interesting history. Poland sandwiched between Germany and Russia was once Europe’s largest country and also became non-existent for a period of time. The Nazis did everything they could to wipe Warsaw off the face of the earth. The entire city was leveled during WWII. At the beginning of WWII Warsaw had a population of 1.3 million. 800,000 were killed in WWII. That is more than the total number of US and UK troop casualties. After the Warsaw uprising in 1945 the Nazis took revenge by killing 180,000 civilians. Today the city is completely rebuilt. A major city and the historical areas are all put back together. As you walk through the old town square you would swear the buildings and palace are a couple hundreds years old, because that is the way they restored them. If you see pictures at the end of the war you are absolutely amazed. We went to the Old and New town Squares. Next to the Warsaw uprising monument and soldiers cathedral. Warsaw uprising was what started off as a somewhat spontaneous group of insurgent troops trying to take advantage of the Nazis getting pushed back by the Soviets. The troops grew to 40,000. They were anticipating the Soviets, who were JUST ACROSS THE RIVER to help. Stalin said, No. Instead they let the Nazis regroup and crush the rising so it would later be easier for the Soviets to walk in and take it. 40,000 troops and 180,000 civilians were killed and Hitler ordered Warsaw to be razed. Finally, a trip to the Polish Army Museum. Tanks, planes/ jets, old uniforms and weapons. Kinda neat, and different.
Flight home… Success. Train ride back from Rome, not so much… We made it though, the same evening.
Great trip.

Madrid 24-28 June

From the tram ride in Toledo.

Just a cool sculpture in the train station...

El Tranparente in the Cathedral in Toledo.

Sorry for the delay. Been busy…
So we left Naples early afternoon. Checked in no problem. Took our first flight to Milan. As we go to transfer flights we look at the status board and, our next flight is canceled. One counter to find out its due to the French air traffic controllers striking, one counter to find out luggage, and yes, another to re-book. Lufthansa did alright though. They put us up in a nice place and feed us a nice meal and we were on a flight first thing in the morning. Still a hassle and it was EARLY. We got into Madrid and found the apartment. Once again, the way to go.
So Friday. A trip to the Prado Museum. Another really big art museum filled with a lot of paintings. The time period covered is later in history though, 12th to early 19th centuries. I’m sure the artists on display are “famous” but they aren’t names that I’ve heard much of prior to going (I had to look up El Greco, one of the most famous ones prior to going so I would maybe have some appreciation). At the risk of sounding spoiled or ungrateful, it’s getting hard to go to museums to look at art when we’ve been to Rome, Naples, and Paris. Also on Friday we got a little oriented with the city and its metro and picked up our bull fight tickets. Then to bed early, to end our early starting day.
Saturday: Toledo. Everyone we know who has been to Madrid and Toledo has said you have to go to the Cathedral. It didn’t disappoint. The Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo is a very large gothic cathedral. After a few periods of Catholic then Muslim then Catholic rule the cathedral, as it is now, was started in 1226. It took a couple hundred years but was all the way done in 1493. Huge alter. Huge separate choir area. Several large naves, side rooms, including a small much more enjoyable museum. The pictures here by El Greco were actually very interesting. He was born in Greece, trained in Rome, and made a living in Toledo. He is credited for starting the break from Michael Angelo Renaissance style painting and started the move toward realism. Longer features, such as faces and fingers. I’ll steal this next description from wikipedia but this was fairly amazing and they had an English narration in which the parts it was talking about were illuminated. “One of its more outstanding parts is the Baroque altar called El Transparente, several stories high, with fantastic figures of stucco, painting, bronze castings, and multiple colors of marble, a masterpiece of Baroque mixed media by Narciso Tomé enhanced by the daily effect for a few minutes of a shaft of sunlight striking it through an appropriately oriented hole in the roof, giving the impression that the whole altar is rising to heaven. The fully Baroque display makes a strong contrast with the predominant Gothic style of the cathedral. It is from the play of light that this feature of the cathedral derives its name. The cathedral also receives its light through more than 750 stained glass windows, from the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, the work of some of the best artists of those times.” So yes, if you find yourself in Toledo, stop by the cathedral… Also in Toledo, we took a small tram ride around the outside of the city to take in the sites of the river and gorge that surround the city. Relaxing, easier and COOLER than walking. Pretty area.
Sunday: We started off on the hop-on hop-off bus. Our first stop was the Retiro Park. Once a royal park for a palace, it was opened to the public in 1868. Fountains, statues, ponds, trees, and a large pavillion. That morning we paused to hear the Madrid Orchestra put on a free concert in the park. Back on the bus, touring the city, it was time for lunch. Simple lunch at a sandwich shop and then we walked to another square close by. About that time is when I realized, I no longer have the hop-on hop-off tickets… Oops. We jumped on the metro and then walked over to see the outside of another palace. Nice area. Nice gardens. Again though after Versailles, and even the palace here in Caserta, its hard to go into palaces… Plus, we had a BULL FIGHT to get to!
There were six fights. The first one we all sat there and let the shock/ awe pass. I read plenty about it before going so I knew what was coming in all the different parts. I also let Carey and the kids know prior to buying the tickets. You kinda have to desensitize yourself from the repeated stabbings of the bull and then you can focus on the traditions and art of the fight. The crowd definetly gets upset when the matadore screws up and can’t put the bull down in one good shot in the end (unfortunately we saw a case of that). They also get rowdy when all the rules aren’t followed. Thanks to a man behind us who knew english we got the translation of the guy yelling at the judges. When the horses are in the arena they are supposed to get seperation between the bull and horse each time to “test the bull’s bravery” (i.e. will it keep charging the horse). That wasn’t happening all the time and the man was basicly calling the judges out. I’m glad we went, and I think even Brianna had an appreciation for the culture aspect. Having said that though, I don’t think I’ll go out of my way to see another. The bull never really has a chance…
So Monday we head back to the airport and as we are going to the terminal Austin spots a screen and says, “Its canceled.” I kid you not… I think this was a mechanical problem. Again Lufthansa came through and re-booked us on a direct flight (before we even got through the line to re-book ourselves). No time lost. A lot of rushing but we made it.
Highlights. Definetly the Cathedral and bull fight.