Thursday, May 22, 2008

And so the story comes to an end...

We woke at at 6:15AM Poland-time, grabbed breakfast and headed to the airport for our departure from Poland...

Well, as the story of life would have it, our flight was delayed by about an hour and twenty minutes because of a morning strike that prevented our flights arrival.

We then made way to Frankfurt Germany and touched down at 1:45 for our 1:40 departure for Philadelphia. Needless to say, we didn't quite make it on that flight. After a good two hours in Frankfurt where the plans began with spending the night in Frankfurt and led to a few breakdowns, our determination went through and we found out at 4PM that we would be boarding a flight to Philadelphia via Chicago that left at 5:15. We ran through that airport (guided by the best Lufthansa ticket desk clerk ever) found our luggage and re-checked it and made our way through security to find that our flight was delayed by 30 minutes.

In those 30 minutes we made contact with the incredible Mrs. Snyder here at EC who booked us a bus that would drive us from Philadelphia to Elmira.

The 30 minute delay then put is into Chicago late (after an 8.5 hour flight), and gave us a little less than one hour to make it through all the customs offices, re-check our bags, and get to our gate. So, onward we ran again and we made our way through passport control, found our luggage, and proceeded through customs in less that 45 minutes (near record time?). We arrived at our plane to Philadelphia about 5 minutes before boarding began and made it on board.

We landed in Philadelphia at 11:45, found our bus, and hit the road to Elmira at about 1AM. We rolled into the Tower's parking lot at 5AM this morning.

Moral of this story: Where there is a will, there is a way.

Note from author: If ever you come across the Lufthansa ticket clerk, and Mrs. Snyder, be sure to thank them for their help in our safe return :).

-Over and Out (for the last time)

P.S. Life is always an adventure, eh?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

If only I were a mixture of the travelocity gnome and the energizer bunny... Imagine travelling with that....

So today was our last day in Poland. We are all a bit tired, and although, if everyone on the trip is anything like me, we all enjoyed Poland, we are all ready to come home. The trip was a fun and rewarding experience... but I for one miss my Mommy and Daddy... and my chicken salad, salt and vinegar chips, and ice. I have learned a lot here, I have grown a lot here, and I have become very, very exhausted here, which is why this post will not be long at all.

The trip was great. Poland is pretty. Here is a picture of all of us at dinner tonight with our awesome tour guide Wlodik. Wlodik, was just about the best tour guide ever. He knew a lot of history, he was patient, and he made sure that all of us little egglets were safe and kept out of harms way the whole trip. I am pretty sure that all you parents out there should love him as much as we all came to.

-Kristin... That is an I as the second to last letter... just in case anyone was confused about that.... Yeah, an I... not an E. A pet peeve of mine.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Salt of the Earth (or NaCl Overload)

We started off our day today by touring the Wieliczka (approximately pronounced as "Vee-LEESH-ka") Salt Mine, about a ten minute drive from our hotel. We started off our tour with a 300+ step descent into the mine... 54 landings (they were numbered), seven steps to each landing. Down and down and down we went... it was a little dizzying actually. I never thought we would get here... but hey, it's better than going up.

FINALLY we reached the first level, where we were able to view many sculptures carved out of salt... such as this one of a queen...

and this one of a friendly salt mine gnome, with his light up piece of pinkish rock salt. Because who doesn't love friendly salt mine gnomes?

There was also a group of sculptures of the seven dwarves. Our guide helpfully explained that Snow White was at home cleaning, since she never came into the mine.

There were even chapels and a cathedral carved into the salt. Everything is made from the salt... even the beautiful chandeliers are made from salt crystals!

The cathedral was decorated with many sculptures and art... such as depictions of Mary and Joseph, the birth of Jesus, and even the famous Last Supper, seen here to the left.

We all decided to avoid the cost of having a random Polish guy take our photo, and just have our tour guide take it on my camera instead. (P.S. It cost ten zloty to take pictures in the mine... luckily everyone pitched in, and I took as many pictures as I could without getting left behind!) So, here's the entire gang in front of the altar in probably the only salt cathedral in the world!

After the tour of the salt mine, we went to lunch and then had a three hour tour of the city of Krakow. We visited the castle/palace and cathedral on Wawel Hill, from which Krakow had its beginnings as a city.

Then, we went into St. Mary's Church, to view the famous medieval altar, as Jeremy explained in his post. I was trying to be a good citizen and looked at the sign on the way in to see if I could take pictures, and it only said we couldn't take pictures without flash. So, I took this picture without flash, and then a guy came up to me and explained that I needed to pay 5 zloty in order to take pictures in the church! Needless to say, I didn't pay and I kept this picture. So... everyone can enjoy this free picture (even if it is a little fuzzy) of the altar of St. Mary's Church!

Well, that's it from me for today! Hope everyone enjoyed the post and continue to do well at home!

Tour of Krakow

Today we went on a walking tour of some parts of Krakow.

We started out by walking through park that surrounds the entire Old Town. The park is very nice. There are trees and grass, and benches. We arrived on Saturday and the park was filled with locals. Today we walked through the parks to Wawel Hill, the part of the city located on the Vistula River.

We started on Wawel Hill by seeing the statue of Smok the Dragon. According to legend a seven-headed dragon lived in a cave and was eating the beautiful women of the town. To get rid of the dragon, they put a sheep filled with sulfur and the dragon came out and ate the sheep. Due to the sulfur his insides because very hot and he drank and drank out of the Vistula River, and drank until he exploded. The statue was erected in his honor, and the dragon breathes fire!! (Very cool!)

After the dragon we went through the Wawel (pronounced vavel) Castle. This castle was built as a royal residence, until the capital was later moved to Warsaw. The castle was very nice and the walls are covered with tapastries which were earlier part of a collection of more than 300.

Following the Castle we went to the Cathedral. The Cathedral was where the kings, poets, and national heros were buried. We learned a lot about each of the kings and heros today. The catacombs were very nicely decorated for the royalty. We also got to go into the crypt of the castle were there are many catacombs.

We then headed to St. Mary's Church where we got to see the famous High Altar. It is the largest wooden Gothic high altar in Europe. It was very impressive and very bright. The Poles outsmarted the invaders (many of them) and took many of the art peices (from the Castle and Church) and moved them to other counties.

The tour was very fun, and our tour guide was very proud of Krakow and made some very comical remarks. Krakow is a very nice city with lots to discover!

-Over and Out

Friday, May 16, 2008

Driving past the hometown...

So, everyone put up posts about the Zakopane region and the raft ride, as well as some of the fantastic pictures you can get here! I just wanted to let my family know back at home as we rode out in the minibus to our rafting excursion and back we passed by the dam and the reservoir that flooded the valley in the Tatra Mountains. Dr. Bizub asked our guide if he knew where any of the towns were that are now underwater, but unfortunately he didn't know. So...I may have passed my Grandma's family's hometown today! Now off to Krakow...

YAY Pictures!

Kristin bought some pretty sweet earmuffs for her niece. So naturally, Amanda is wearing them. And looking mighty fine I might add. :)

Last night brought us to Bakowo Zohylina, a rustic restaurant (Gaston's lair?) serving Zakopane's traditional foods. The walls were decorated with traditional costumes, as well as various furs and stuffed animals. This picture was taken before we saw the....

...blood sausage. Why waste a good source of protein, right? I could not bring myself to try it... but those who did either liked it or explained it as having a "strong" flavor.

We started off this morning with a breakfast at the hotel, then we headed to the Pieniny National Park for a raft ride on the Dunajec River. We spent a relaxing two hours winding through the mountains. Along the way, we saw countless mallard ducks, two black storks (very rare! very exciting!), a large turtle-shaped rock, and certain images within the rocks (I did not see most of them... a very good imagination and some squinting were required!) Then, since it was "tradition" (a.k.a. a reason to laugh at tourists...), we had to sing. We chose "Simeon Benjamin" since it is near and dear to all of our hearts. :)

A view of "The Three Crowns" as seen from the raft. Named Barbara, Catherine, and Mary, after the wives of the kings of Hungary, Austria, and Poland in the 16th century.

Our guide (white shirt) took a liking to Kristin... She then took the place as one of our raft men, and got to wear his traditional vest and hat. He took her Red Sox hat in exchange. She did an excellent job, and was followed by Manda and Jeremy. They all looked pretty sweet in that vest and hat.

Randomness... After lunch, we stopped on the way back to Zakopane to see the Parish Church of St. Michael the Archangel. This church is made of all wood in the Goralski style, and is the only one of its kind in the region.
This picture is obviously not of the church. We could not drive up to it because the road was blocked for construction... so we had to make our way around the tar through a narrow ditch-like situation (holding onto the pole for support) and then across a grate with extremely wide gaps... tricky for the small-footed person like myself... It was a random adventure, and I found it rather hilarious.

It was another great day in Poland! Rather rainy, but the weather cooperated with us for the most part. It waited to start raining until we were done with our raft ride, and there was another break while we were visiting the church. We had the rest of the afternoon/evening/night free, and we leave early tomorrow morning for our last stop- Krakow! We're all looking forward to the adventures to come!

Love! :)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Pictures galore!!!

Since Amanda pretty much covered what we have been doing these past couple days without the internet to update you all at home, I'm just going to put up some lovely pictures for everyone to enjoy. Beware though, they are kind of random... hopefully you like them!

Okay, so I know everyone was just dying to know what a lungfish looks like, so here it is... everyone's favorite sarcopterygii. Notice the lovely lobed fins (where the muscle goes all the way into the fin, not just at the top). These lobed fins were what preceded the limbs of land dwellers such as ourselves.

This goes back a while ago, but I just thought I'd put up a picture of Kimmy and her future husband/pen friend dancing... Just in case everyone is wondering... in every picture of them dancing, Mike (Mikolai) has a huge smile on his face.

Kristin convinced me to go on the teeter totter with her... so, as a result she got her picture taken.

Here's the gang at the memorial on Westerplatte. It really helps you to see just how massive that memorial was!

And we fast forward to just a few days ago, while visiting Biskupin, the pre-slavic village/museum. There were some incredibly cute ponies, distinct to Poland, hanging around the village, and of course we had to pet them. :-) Here's Jessica loving the Polish pony, who is happily munching away on some grass.

Speeding along in time, this is the tower in Uniejow Castle, which we stayed overnight in as we already know. Most of us climb this tower, which was so awesome! How often do you get to explore in your own hotel? The view from the top was beautiful, of the surrounding countryside.

While Kimmy, Jessica, Amanda, Kristin and I roamed about the park by the castle, the sun was beginning to set, casting golden light everywhere and creating interesting shadows. This is my attempt at an artistic photo.

Another attempt at an artistic shot, this time at the castle/palace we stopped at along our way to Zakopane.

Finally, here we are at the top of Gublowka Mountain, with the snow-topped Tatra mountains in the background. The view was spectacular, as you can surely see!

Hope you all enjoyed the pictures and that everything is wonderful and dandy back at home!