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Tue, Jul. 13th, 2004, 10:58 pm
The Big Brother

Warsaw, Poland – June 13 to June 16, 2004

The good news about the ride to Warsaw was that, since it was a Sunday, heavy trucking is not allowed on Polish roads. So, it took less time than expected. At Cestawowa, Elaine moved to Jozef’s car and I moved to the van. As we approached Warsaw, I was talking about how the Marriott was one of the easiest to spot buildings in the city. It is 40 stories tall, across from the central train station, and right in the middle of the city. Floors 4 through 20 are the headquarters of LOT, the national airline of Poland. As we got on the street that would lead us straight to it, I pointed and showed Joyce where it was. At that exact moment, the driver chose to turn off the road to stop the van and ask people where the Marriott was. This ten-minute detour wasn’t too bad. Finally, another cabbie pointed our driver in the right direction.

On the early part of the drive, I had been riding with Jozef when he had to stop to fuel his car. Frankly, there is very little as boring as sitting in the car while somebody else goes to fuel it. I went to say something to the boys, but could not get their attention. They were transfixed. They had never seen a car fueled before. At that moment, I was having second thoughts about having booked us in to such a large hotel. Kids who thought putting gas in the car was interesting were going to be overwhelmed with life on the 32nd floor.

We quickly discovered that they had never ridden in an elevator before. The elevators in the Marriott are very fast. “M” really did not like riding in these. However, we found that they were not really overwhelmed by the hotel, as I had feared. They loved the view from the room windows and particularly loved the swimming pool.

The pool is beautiful. We also had a great bit of luck. The lifeguard that was working on Monday afternoon is a young man who is going to college to be a physical education teacher. He saw that we had our hands full with three children who cannot swim and he jumped in to give the children swimming lessons. Each day he would spend the better part of an hour working with the kids. They all made astounding progress. “I” can now swim in the deep end with only little arm floats.

While swimming, the kids were constantly shadowed by Ross. Ross was amazing! At one point, I was trying to show “M” that he had to hold on to something to swim. He was fighting me. So, I intentionally let him fall into the water to communicate. Well, the lesson failed. As soon as he fell in, Ross zoomed to the rescue and grabbed him. It was impressive how quickly Ross swam to the rescue. Often, the lifeguard would have one kid in the deep end and Ross and I would have another. Ross swam countless laps protecting the kids.

Ross also has been good about holding their hands, keeping them from the elevator doors, pushing the stroller with “M” in it, buckling little “D” in her car seat (he even helped make the proper adjustments to it), fixing “M’s” sandals, buying them chips, helping them get ready for the pool, and tons of other stuff. This trip would have been much more difficult without the big brother along.

One night, Ross and I went to the pool for an additional swim after the little kids went to sleep. It was fun. It is cool that Ross stays up later than they do. We can still hang out alone sometimes.

Oh, something that I may have forgotten to mention earlier. On Saturday, Ross beat me at chess. The little rascal actually clobbered me. He had never beaten me before, but has been studying. It shows. He wants you all to know that he clobbered me with the queen backed up by the bishop.

On Monday, we took the kids to see the embassy-approved doctor. That all went smoothly. Afterwards, Jozef and Elaine went to the Ministry of the Interior to get the passports. Funny, but it took longer to pick them up than it had to apply for them.

On Tuesday, we went to the American Consulate. This was the big appointment of the whole trip. We had an appointment, but that is not as quick as it sounds. Don’t get me wrong. We walked past very long lines of people because of the appointment, but this was not an in and out deal. Without the visas from the American government, we don’t get to go home.

Jozef picked us up at 9:00 A.M. Before the Consulate, we had to get photos of the children taken for official documents. These have to be in a style that the U.S. accepts. There is a little shop nearby that does it right. The children were cooperative and the woman doing it was cheerful and quick. When the photos were ready, we headed to the Consulate.

At the Consulate, there was a huge line of people to one side of the sidewalk. We went to a different door and went right in. After security, we started by presenting our paperwork and Jozef is allowed to help with this part. Then, off to another window to pay the visa fee. Then, wait. Wait in a very crowded waiting room with three small children. Wait for our interview with a consular official. The official must see the children. So, the children must wait. I expected this to be at the U.S. Embassy and not at the Consulate. I expected this to be in conducted in offices. It was more like the Registry of Motor Vehicles or an extremely busy bank.

We were getting nervous because families that arrived after us were being called before us. Granted, they were only adopting one child each, but Jozef said he could not understand why it was taking so long. Good that Elaine had packed toys for the children.

The consular official was a young American man who was stunned that we had adopted three children. Stunned. Later, Jozef told us that he must be new because sets of three are pretty common. Jozef was not allowed to help with the interview. We had to show the children to the official and then one of us could stay for the interview. “M” would not go without his backpack. So, I wound up carrying him with his half open backpack and the little toy he was playing with. It was funny.

Wed, Jun. 16th, 2004, 05:59 am
The Big Day – Part 2 in 3-D

Gliwice to Warsaw, Poland – June 12 – 13, 2004

This is Lawrence.

When the children are in a routine, they are well behaved and even-tempered. Well, I am guessing having a mother, father, big brother, and grandmother come to the orphanage and take you home forever is an exceptional day.

After leaving the children’s home we headed to the Hotel Sylvia. The children recognized it straight away. They call it the little house because they know that we don’t really live there. They were happy to see it.

As soon as we got out of the cars, the kids were bouncing off the walls. Happy is not a strong enough term to describe their utter joy. Glee, bliss, and better than average are all terms that can’t help us here. They were simply ga-ga. It showed.

Elaine and Ross had tried to arrange the suite as it appeared when last we were there and got out the suitcase of toys, crayons, and art supplies that we have for them – the stuff they are used to. We wanted as much as possible to give them the familiar and, hopefully, a routine they knew. It sort of worked and it sort of didn’t. Not sure that anything would have kept them from being completely goofy the afternoon of June 12th. “I” even climbed the door casing. Don’t ask me how. He just did.

We ate, we played, we watched “Casper the Friendly Ghost” shorts in Polish, we went outside and ran around. They loved it all. At about 6:00, Danuta and her daughter came to visit us. It was a lovely visit. Danuta’s daughter may spend six weeks with us this summer. She is 18 and very good with the children. Poland, like other eastern European countries, start their children in school a year later that the US, so this is her summer between Junior and Senior years of High School. So, it would be a big help in the transition if she gets the visa. However, if she does come, it won’t be until mid July. Until that time, we will be asking people like Ania, Sophia (Ania’s daughter), and other folks that Elaine and her mother know that “moo-veetch” the “Popolsckul” to help us with things like doctor and dentist appointments.

So, for our first family meal together, there were nine of us for dinner. There was a big wedding reception at the Silva that night which added to the children’s disruption of routine. Even their Hotel Silvia routine was broken. It was a very happy and raucous reception. It was loud.

We enjoyed our dinner and visit with our guests. Grammy actually got each child bathed and ready for bed. So, right away they know that Joyce is there for them. It was particularly bonding with “M”. You have got to love the way she just knows what to do and then does it. If Joyce is at breakfast when “M” wakes, he asks for her. Anyway, the children had quite a day and went to bed almost an hour later than usual. The suite has a sort of entry hall that gives it a double door. This was good since the wedding reception was growing louder and louder. They were not really rude, but not quiet either. However, the kids heard none of it.

The next morning our three little alarm clocks went off early – earlier than the breakfast buffet was ready. At the Silvia, breakfast is served at 6:00 AM, Monday through Saturday and at 6:30 AM on Sunday. Well, these start times are more estimates than actual start times. Particularly since the wedding reception took all of the hotel’s resources, (for example, we had no pillows because we gave ours to the children), the hotel staff were behind themselves.

Finally, breakfast was ready and we went down to the restaurant in shifts. Funny, but we are now used to the food at the Silvia. It was nice to be there – quirks and all. About 10:00 AM, the wedding guests were gathering for breakfast and we went out to play. We were scheduled to leave at Noon.

The driver returned at 11:30, but we were going nowhere without Jozef. See, the van has seats for nine passengers and a driver. However, it doesn’t have seatbelts for all of these places. The driver had tried to tell us that it was a limitation of the van’s design, but this was untrue. The middle seats had anchors for the seatbelts, but no seatbelts. The driver had tried to put one of the child car seats in a place where there was no seatbelt. He got upset with us when we insisted that ALL members of our party be buckled in. He tried to tell us that he has a three year-old son and therefore was an expert in these matters. NOT! Elaine decided to put “M” and “I” in the back of Jozef’s car. That solved the problem and made the driver huffy. This also gave us room to spread out between two cars.

Along the road we stopped at the McDonalds in Chestawowa. I think that more people visit this than the shrine. It took a while, but we made it Warsaw. The driver has trouble finding a 40 story building in middle of city across from central train station, but he finally did. It occurred to me that booking us into a hotel where you stay on the 32nd floor, may have been an interesting choice. More about that later. I have to go now.

Tue, Jun. 15th, 2004, 04:57 pm
We’ve Got Them!

Krakow and Gliwice, Poland – June 11 to 12, 2004

This is Lawrence.

When you last heard from us, we were in Krakow waiting for paperwork to be finished and trying to rest a bit. On our last day there, we visited Saint Mary’s church (which took almost 300 years to build), the Cloth Hall, and Market Square. However, we spent much of the day resting and packing.

Jozef told us that Jarrik would pick us up at 9:00 on Saturday. At 9:30, a guy named Jarrik arrived, but it was not the one who had driven for us on the previous trip. Frankly, we were disappointed…this Jarrik was no Jarrik. The first Jarrik had given us such great service that we were truly looking forward to seeing him again. Still, a ride is a ride and his van is big by Polish standards. So, off we set for Gliwice and the Hotel Silvia.

We arrived at the Silvia at about 11:45 and I hauled all the luggage upstairs. (I cannot complain of lack of exercise that day.) Ross helped me move luggage and helped Elaine move furniture so that the suite looked like the children remembered. What a great help he has been!

We changed to go get the children from the home. We had not seen them in several weeks and were eager to be reunited with them. Joyce, Ross, Elaine, and I piled into Jozef’s car and drove to the children’s home. This time they opened the big gate for Jozef to drive in.

This time we were brought to a room in the front building where we had never been before. Sister Stephania was very impressed with Ross and frankly he was impressive. He said; “good day, Sister” in Polish. She commented on what a handsome boy he is and brushed his cheek. He comported himself very well. We had told him that the nuns would look at him as a way of predicting the future of the three younger children. They seemed to really like what they saw.

After we did some legal paperwork, delivered a letter to Sister from Jackie in Michigan, and presented our donations to the home, Sister Stephania went off to get the children and bring them to us. She had told Jozef that they had been waiting by the door since noon. It seemed like a long time for her to go get children who were supposedly standing right behind the door, but my sense of time at that moment may not be that accurate. We could see their group playing outside but not “M”. Heck, all I had had since breakfast was a cup of tea. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I usually eat regardless of what is happening. But, today I was just too excited.

The children came in and ran to hug Elaine and I. Joyce and Ross sat in the background until the children had greeted us. The children looked great. Little “D” was wearing the outfit that we bought her. That was touching. There were smiles and hugs all around. We picked them up one and two at a time. “I” had that ‘I just won the lottery’ look.

Then we introduced them to Ross and Joyce. Everybody got along from the start. It is really hard to explain how happy we all were at that moment. So, I won’t try. You’ll just have to believe me.

Elaine had packed some wonderful clothes and shoes for the children. It was difficult to know exactly what size they would be. So, we brought two sizes of sandals and sneakers for each child. Little “D’s” sandals light up. I think that it will be snowing before we can get her to wear anything else. She thought that she only was getting one pair and had to choose between them. Joyce convinced her to try on the sneakers too. We are still not sure that she gets that they both belong to her. Wait until she gets a view of the dresser and closet at home.

We changed each of the children into clothes that we brought for them. Some of the boy’s clothes were ones that Ross and his cousins have worn. So, it was just so special to see them again on these boys. They liked their new clothes very much.

We had wished to give Ross and Joyce a tour of the children’s home and to take some pictures. Sister waited until the rest of the children were outside playing to do this. She was very careful to not let any of the other children see us.

Finally, it was time to go. We were very disappointed to learn that Sister Francescia – who is their primary care taker, was away for the weekend taking exams for her Master’s degree. In many ways, she has been like a mother to them and was not there when it was time for them to leave. Perhaps it was better that way.

Jozef had a cab waiting. Joyce and Ross took the cab and Elaine, the smaller kids, and I got in Jozef’s car and we drove away from the home. Children have trouble seeing anything but what is in front of them and on the ride to the Hotel Silvia, they dwelled on their disappointment that they didn’t get to ride in the taxi and corrected my pronunciation of the Polish word for taxi. It was good to be back together again. It seemed like old times.

Tue, Jun. 15th, 2004, 10:56 am
Will write later

We've got them, we've got their visas, and we can't wait to get home. More details when we have more than 5 seconds to write. But we didn't want to leave you hanging any more.

Elaine

Fri, Jun. 11th, 2004, 01:45 pm
More Nuns than You Have Ever Seen in One Place

Krakow, Poland – June 10, 2004

This is Lawrence

Poland really is a Catholic country. Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi and therefore a national holiday. Frankly, this feast goes mostly unnoticed by American Catholics and most Americans have never heard of it and may wonder why a feast day is named for a city in Texas. Poland is NOT America. We figured that the shops at the Cloth Hall would be open for the tourists, but only places to buy food were open. That’s it.

The hotel is packed mostly with people traveling on tour busses. We were very happy to have had breakfast before the majority of them sprang to action. After breakfast, we went for a very nice walk along cobblestone streets and were not surprised that none of the shops were open. We saw many nicely dressed people streaming towards the Market Square. Many of these were groups of nuns in habits of several different colors and styles.

In addition, there is some VIP staying at the Sheraton. This has shut down some of the streets and there are Police officers everywhere. So, I figured that this was about the best time possible to get cash from the ATM. Everywhere you could see at least four policemen. Might as well take advantage of the situation.

Around 9:30, we caught a taxi up to the Market Square area that includes the Cloth Hall and Saint Mary’s church. When we had visited this area on the Feast of Saint Stanislaus it was packed with people. You may remember that “M” was so freaked out that he kept climbing Lawrence like a tree. Therefore, we were pleased to see far fewer people today. Unlike the previous visit, all of the stores and shops were closed. We went on a 30-minute sightseeing tour via horse and carriage and when we returned to the square, we were amazed to see that thousands and thousands of people had arrived for religious services while we were gone. Nuns, novices, brothers, and priests numbered over 1,000 of this crowd. I couldn’t help but wonder if there were more nuns in that square today than in the whole of America. We enjoyed watching the festival and being part of it.

This whole thing would be like Quincy Market and Government Center in Boston filling up with Catholics on a Thursday to celebrate a feast day. Imagine all of the stores, offices, and schools closing. Poland is a country united by its religion. We only have such crowds gather if one of our sports teams wins something.

We had a leisurely lunch of pizza (not a Polish specialty), found a good Internet café, and did a little more sightseeing. There was a movie theatre and we had hoped to see the new Harry Potter movie, figuring that it would be in English with Polish sub-titles. However, we were told that it is in Polish. If we had already seen it, we may have gone to see it again, but we skipped it and headed back to the hotel. I think that the huge crowds tired us out.

As we re-charge our batteries for the second half of this trip, I cannot tell you how wonderful it has been to have the hotel pool at our disposal. Ross will stay in a pool as long as you let him. He just doesn’t seem to ever tire of it. We let him stay in for well over an hour today. He loved it and we all needed it.

Other than playing chess, having dinner, studying our language books, and writing, we really didn’t do much for the rest of the day. It seems that we are still more tired than I wish we were at this point. I am hopeful that we are feeling more energetic by the time we pick up the children on Saturday. Although we are waiting in a nice place, waiting is what we are doing. We are waiting for the passports and court papers to be ready. However, that day is coming and we are only a week away from home.

We won’t be able to post again until late Sunday night (Polish time) about our reunion with the children. We know that you are all eager to hear about that and what happens when the children meet their new drugi brat and Babchi Grammy. We are quite eager to experience it ourselves.

Thu, Jun. 10th, 2004, 12:54 pm
Visit to the Castle

This is Ross.

We are at an Internet Cafe in Krakow. This is near the Market Square.

Yesterday we spent the whole day at Wawel Castle (pronounced Vavel). We saw the state rooms, the private apartments, and the armory. We liked the armory best because it had many swords, pikes, and cannons.

It was a lot of walking up very big hills. Before the age of gun powder this was an outstanding location for a castle. I could have defended it with a pack of cub scouts. I think that the kings made a mistake of moving the capital to Warsaw. I like Warsaw, but this is an amazing castle. I never would have left.

It is situated on a river which made it easy to re-supply and for royal barges to move.

See you later

Ross

Thu, Jun. 10th, 2004, 12:45 pm
Visit to the Castle

This is Ross.

We are at an Internet Cafe in Krakow. This is near the Market Square.

Yesterday we spent the whole day at Wawel Castle (pronounced Vavel). We saw the state rooms, the private apartments, and the armory. We liked the armory best because it had many swords, pikes, and cannons.

It was a lot of walking up very big hills. Before the age of gun powder this was an outstanding location for a castle. I could have defended it with a pack of cub scouts. I think that the kings made a mistake of moving the capital to Warsaw. I like Warsaw, but this is an amazing castle. I never would have left.

It is situated on a river which made it easy to re-supply and for royal barges to move.

See you later

Ross and Lawrence

Wed, Jun. 9th, 2004, 06:40 pm
The trip to Krakow

Warsaw to Krakow, Poland – Tuesday, June 8, 2004

After our visit to the Ministry, Jozef brought us back to the hotel to checkout. Elaine’s suitcase chose this moment to explode. The seam that attaches the zipper to the suitcase looks double-stitched but isn’t. Of course, Jozef is parked in the ten minute spot in front of the hotel and we have a train to catch, but she removed some items from her back and put it into to one of the Gliwice bound bags. Then we put it back together with a luggage strap from one of the bigger suitcases and that worked.

In his car, Jozef took the four suitcases that we don’t need until Gliwice. This is the stuff for our kids, the stroller that “Ciotka” Susan loaned us, and the children’s clothing that we will donate to the orphanage. (Lots of non-pink boy pants!). He will stow them at the Hotel Silvia tomorrow for us to retrieve on Saturday. This lightened our load considerably.

Jozef then shepherded us onto our train to Krakow. Since he had taken away half the luggage, this was now the easiest and fastest way to travel. The train station is within sight of the Novatel and right across the street from the Marriott at which we will be staying later in the trip. However, I am still very glad that he was with us. We bought first-class tickets to Krakow. (All of the tour books tell you to buy the first-class tickets on Polish trains. The price was not that much more and I am glad that we did.) There was a drunk old, toothless, unshaven guy with a porter’s cart who kept trying to transport our luggage for us. Jozef went back and got a much better porter for us. The sketchy guy muttered in Polish that we were “denying a good man his day’s work”. That Joyce could translate for us. The porter that Jozef found was much better.

First-class on the train has assigned seats in nice compartments. The compartments hold six people and we had a Polish businessman traveling with us. The train gives you the chance to stretch out, walk around, eat, and just relax much more than a car ride would have. It also took less than half the time of a car ride and cost less too. They even have a drink and snack cart that comes along to serve you refreshments that were tasty. We told Ross that it was like the train that Harry Potter rides to Hogwarts. There are also hot meals that you can order from the dining car. Elaine and Joyce shared an expensive but tasty kurak fillet. We arrived in Krakow none the worse for wear.

In Krakow, the twin brother of the drunken porter from Warsaw was posing as a cabbie who was harassing us for our business. We were told by a railroad official at the station that we had to go up a flight for the taxis, but the elevator only goes down. I was not looking forward to hauling the luggage up the stairs. Before we knew it, this sketchy guy jumps in the elevator and tries to take us to his cab. Ross and I were on the ride downstairs and a Polish man standing behind me in the elevator whispered to me that “the real taxis are Upstairs”. So, I would not go with the sketchy cabbie nor let him take our bags. The Polish man stayed during this and a nice Canadian fellow heard what was going on and came over to offer assistance. When Elaine and Joyce joined us, I told this fake taxi driver to beat it. However, we were now on the wrong level to get a cab.

I felt a bit stupid for having stumbled into this situation, but the signs to the taxi showed an up arrow and stairs. Even without the bags that Jozef took to Gliwice, we are traveling heavy. The train official messed me up by telling me to take an elevator that simply DOES NOT go up a level.

All of the travel books warn and warn again about these fake taxi drivers that try to pounce on you at the airport, train station, and other places. They are not taxi drivers. They are guys with cars. Not licensed, with no meters, and possible Mafia connections – these are guys you want to avoid. Until this point, I had done well.

We found a real taxi and headed off to our hotel. We are staying at the Hotel Novatel Centrum. Just like in Warsaw. Everything that we have said about the Warsaw Novatel Centrum applies here except that this has no Internet. There is a business center with a very slow connection, but that is okay. The hotel does make up for its lack of Internet with the fact that it has a really nice indoor pool (Ross is thrilled), fitness area (I am thrilled), sauna (both Joyce and I are thrilled), and a hot tub (Elaine is thrilled and we think of Robin when we use it.)

Then Elaine goes “Rats, I have Ross’ bathing suit packed with the Kid’s stuff in one of the Gliwice bound bags. And she thinks she might have thrown her bathing suit in the Gliwice bag when her suitcase exploded in Warsaw.” Ross is understandably pouty since he loves to swim. We checked Elaine’s bag and found out that she does have her bathing suit. Hooray! I tell her that I’ll go get Ross a bathing suit. However, when I find the store and saw the suit selection, I remembered that I was in Europe ~ the continent of Speedos. So not being sure if Ross would wear one, I buy one for myself. Elaine was quite amused by the “Father-Son” Speedos, and said that we both look quite cute in them. They are actually more comfortable to swim in than the boxer style.

Elaine found that swimming aggravated her arm/shoulder injury but was happy to sit in the hot tub. Ross had a great time swimming but eventually we adults were all getting hungry. Not feeling that adventurous, we go to eat at the hotel’s restaurant. Joyce and I after that swimming wanted “carbos” and order the Pasta with Vegetables. We order Ross the Pierogi ruskie. Elaine went for the “Talerz Poliski” from the “Porcje Na Duze Talerze” section of the menu ~~ Literal translation is the Big Polish Plate. Elaine’s was a large amount of traditional Polish food. Joyce and I couldn’t find the “vegetables” in our pasta and were quite happy when Elaine shared her massive plate with us.

The server’s first name was Joyce’s last name. Elaine and Joyce had long suspected that some of their Polish forbearers had come from this area. I use this opportunity to work on what Elaine calls “my restaurant Polish”. As I have found on most of this trip, Polish folks are mildly pleased and very surprised that I am working on trying to learn Polish. Elaine and Joyce leave to put Ross to bed and I stayed to square up with the waiter. He asked if I was Scottish businessman that had been to Poland before. To him, this was the only plausible explanation to explain why an English speaking man would be trying to speak Polish.

I told him that we all were Americans with a Scottish last name. That Joyce and Elaine had Polish ancestry. He was incredulous that I, as an American, was making an effort to learn Polish. I have gotten this reaction from many people who work here. These extended trips to Poland (a country that is actually fond of us US types), have really opened my eyes to how the rest of the world sees us. Sadly, it is not so good. From what I’ve seen, most Americans, especially American tourists, travel the world to see different things, but then whine when everything isn’t exactly the same as it is at home. Most Americans:

=>Don’t bother to learn the basic pleasantries of the country they visit before they go. (Hello, good-bye, please, and thank you.)

=>Do say dumb stuff like “You people should . . .”

=>Do run around in tourist area being either loud or obnoxious and way too often generally both. When walking around in Krakow looking for the quickest way to the castle, I ran into some American ladies of Polish heritage. They were totally lost (I knew because they loudly stating so in English) but since they knew no Polish whatsoever, I ended up acting as a translator to get them a taxi. I also advised them to be more circumspect, i.e., when in doubt keep a low profile.

Elaine is of Polish heritage, yes, but she didn’t really know much Polish before starting the adoption process. A dozen or so names for Polish foods and one or two swear words. However, she is kicking herself that she didn’t bug her grandparents to teach her the language when she was younger. However, Elaine has a Polish face and knows that when she acts quiet, she blends in better. When she isn’t with me, most of the Polish folks greet her with “Dzien Dobry”. I don’t know what it is about me that says “Jestem Amerikanski”, Elaine says it is my height, size of my fanny pack, and the whiteness of my sneakers. So, now I am trying to speak Polish more quickly and smile less. That seems to be helping a bit.

But now she is trying to learn Polish. We both are. And our kids and the Polish folks we have met seem to appreciate it a lot ~~ “bardzo”. That is one of the reasons that we hope that the translator’s daughter can visit us in the states over the summer. We Americans are a much nicer people at home. It is difficult to understand America from a distance.

Wed, Jun. 9th, 2004, 06:18 pm
Visit to the Ministry of the Interior

Warsaw, Poland – Tuesday, June 8, 2004

This is Lawrence. Jozef had said that he needed us in Warsaw for a couple of hours to sign some papers. We had assumed that he would have a quick cup of coffee and sign some papers and be on our way. Wrong! We would be going to the Polish Ministry of the Interior. Appointment only, guarded by soldiers, official as it gets. Oh. At the guard shack, Jozef had to show his passport to get us in.

We met with the woman who is in charge of passports. She was pleasant and efficient. Because the Ministry is appointment-only, there are no lines and we were able to meet with her in her office. Jozef had told us to dress casually. The place is very causal even the army guys are their fatigues. However, the side arms (Glock 9mm) looked pretty formal to us. I wore jeans and did not look out of place. The whole thing went well. The passport panni even gave us back some of the extra passport photos of the children. That was nice since they are really good likenesses of the children. Lawrence was asked to do 90% of the signing of documents and Elaine was only asked to sign the things where both signatures are required.

One legal document had the kids names spelled “wrong” and I was saying I was not going to sign it if their names are wrong. Jozef said, “Sign it.” Elaine said quietly, “Sign it. Remember that even names can get conjugated in Polish.” So when your beautiful wife of nearly 20 years says “Sign”, you sign. Bottom line – the passports will be ready on Monday.

Tomorrow Jozef is off to Gliwice to pick up the final paperwork that we need from the Polish court. It is an overnight trip for him. (Hey! FedEx! I see an opportunity here.) Stuff like this is always picked up in person. It reminds me of when I was a kid and my Dad would have to drive to Maine to hand deliver a quote to a client. Elaine says that there is a lot about Poland that reminds her of how things were 25 to 35 years ago.

Tue, Jun. 8th, 2004, 11:34 pm
Airport de Paris – Tres Mal!

Massachusetts to Warsaw – Sunday- Monday

The pick up from the house from the nice folks at the car service was uneventful. They brought a big van; the driver was early, and very helpful with the metric ton of baggage that we were transporting. Logan however was chockfull of slightly obnoxious “we are going to Europe to backpack” college types. The lines for the security were very long. Ross was stressing out a bit by the long waits. Who could blame him?

The flight to Paris itself was also uneventful. On a positive note, the food on Air France is very good. And they give out nice SWAG toys to the kids. However, that is last positive thing that we can say about our journey.

Lawrence and Joyce caught some Zs, however, Ross was resisting sleep. After two hours on the plane, he was saying “Are we there yet?” Elaine got no sleep whatsoever and was miserable until we got to the hotel in Warsaw.

We had a long layover (4 hours) in Paris. The miserable conditions at the airport made it seem even longer. They move people from the planes in busses and from terminal to terminal in other busses. These were all cruelly slow and comically overcrowded. Lawrence half expected to see Tokyo train guards with sticks to push us in tighter. The bus ride was miserable. We were exhausted. Elaine was exhausted from not sleeping on the plane and her shoulder was causing her much pain. She was so exhausted that when we were on the bus from the first plane, she was offered a seat from a young American college student. So, when a teenager – especially an American teenager – offers you his seat, you must look pretty darn bad.

When we finally arrived at our terminal, there were only seats behind the security checkpoints for the gates. To get seats you had to know what gate your plane was departing from. Our flight was not on the board for several hours. We could not leave the terminal area, yet we could not get to the seats because we did not know what gate to go to. We found an alcove and leaned against the wall because there were no seats. We thought that we were totally miserable, but we did not realize how good we had it. Who knew that we would be looking at the hours spent leaning on the wall in the dingy alcove as our happiest time in Paris.

After about 90 minutes in our hovel, we saw our flight on the board. Hooray! Gate 28! So, even though we had never left a secure area, we had to go through security to get to Gate 28. We got in that long line and shuffled along with our fellow refugees. At the security checkpoint – after we already have our shoes off – we are told that it is now Gate 25.

Off we shuffle to Gate 25, through the security checkpoint, and finally to seats. Fairly comfortable seats even if they were from a Roger Moore/Sean Connery era James Bond movie, but these were seats. And so we sat. This was not as trivial as it seems as we were beyond tired. We sat. We even stretched out a bit. We started to think that things are looking up. However, after about 20 minutes of rest we noticed the sign on Gate 25 said “Moscow”. You’ll never guess which gate our flight moved to. Anybody guess “28”? Yep. Gate 28. Lawrence tried in vain to get someone from Security to escort us back through to 28. By this time, we had been through no fewer than four security checks and had never been allowed out of secure areas. No dice. Good-bye Gate 25.

Of course, the line at Gate 28 was huge and slow. By the time we made it through the security checkpoint, they were already boarding the bus for the flight to schlep us to the tarmac. They rushed us onto the crowded un-air conditioned bus and then had us all wait, wait, and wait for stranglers (We should have told them to check gate 25). A nice older Polish businessman offers Elaine his seat. He probably was concerned that she was going to fall on him. The only good thing about the crowded bus is that there was no room to actually fall.

The ride on the tarmac to the plane was so long that Lawrence jokingly said, “Maybe we are driving to Warsaw.” Fortunately, there was a plane and the plane ride was uneventful. We both believe that “uneventful” is an adjective we want to describe our travel by.

We get to the Warsaw airport. Mimi had said that Jozef would meet us. When he didn’t show up for about 45 minutes, we took a taxi. When the supervisor of the taxi line saw the three carts worth of luggage that we were pushing, he called out the big van. We needed it.

When we were within about a mile of the Novatel Centrum, there was much rejoicing. The Novatel Centrum is only rated as three stars, but we like it. Very dependable, clean, and what we most prized at this moment – predictable. Check-in was smooth, the porter went and got his biggest luggage cart, and off to the 28th floor we ascended. Elaine napped, Ross and Joyce rested, and Lawrence – as he always does – went out for a walk to get water, tea, and bread. Though miserable and very tired, we were – at last one step closer to the children.

After our rest, Joyce and Elaine said that they were going to the hotel restaurant. The guys just caught a quick bite and went for a longer walk. Unbeknownst to the boys, the gals had decided to go for a stroll themselves, and we all met on the main thoroughfare about 15 minutes out from the hotel.

The guys walked to the movie theatre to see what time “Harry Potter” was playing, but they had already missed the last showing. After Lawrence had walked Ross’ nogas off, they had a taxi take them on a tour of Stare Miasto (old town). This is an area that suffered a lot of destruction in WWII but was completely rebuilt so it looks like the original 16th century buildings.

We are sorry that Joyce and Ross first international journey was so miserable. We are praying that since we are flying a different carrier through a different airport that the way back is less onerous. Please pray for that for us. We would like the children’s first long airline trip to be better than what Joyce and Ross experienced with us.

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