Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Genesis of Solidarity in Gdansk

We had an easy start to the day, boy was it a fairly hectic end to the day. We left our very nice accommodations at Hotel “Villa Angela”. The older kids bunked together and Pearse and the P’s held up on a different floor. It was kid’s night on Floor 2. Who knows what time sleep arrived in that room! I suspect that the gods had a joke to play on Team Glavin for Friday. Every time we headed outside the clouds opened and the rain drops seemed as big as quarters; yet, when we recovered on a bus or inside a breezeway it simply stopped and the sun came out. It became rather comical and I wondered to myself did the luggage tag say “Water resistant or waterproof?” I’ll get back to you on that one!
Gdansk had its share of bombed out buildings during WWII. The reconstruction of “Old Town” looks more like a “Hollywood Studio” built for medieval movies. It is clear that tourism is important to the economy. St. Bridget’s Church, which provided sanctuary for the Solidarity leaders, is on the list for a visit but it didn’t happen due to the rain and the fact that we were “shifting” for “bag watching” so we didn’t have to trek the luggage all over Gdansk.
My only “must see” is the Gdansk shipyard which is the home to the Solidarity movement and the catalyst to Democracy in Poland. I remember seeing Lech Walesa while in college. We engage 2 taxi’s from Old Town to take us to the shipyard and then to the port for the ferry ride to Stockholm. I get to the memorial at the famous Shipyard and am looking looking looking for Ann. Her taxi left before us with Eamon and Seamus. I called her on the phone and she is already at the port waiting for the ferry. What Happened? The driver didn’t REALLY understand English like he said so he drove her right by the shipyard and the memorial. No pictures of Ann, Eamon or Seamus at the Gdansk Memorial! Our taxi driver spoke even less English but managed to sense my desire or maybe it was “channeling” or some such mental telepathy. Colleen and Pearse have nice photos in front of the Solidarity Banner and at the Memorial.
The Ship to Sweden is enormous and holds a 1000+ people. It is rare that you can surprise the kids but this was one of those “WOW” moments for them. We had a hiccup in ticketing. We have passage but we don’t have beds. Ann filled out all the info via the Ferry website and her Polish is a bit sketchy so we wound up with 2 beds and 6 of us looking for a place to sleep. Hey no big deal the trip is 19 hours port to port and as I told the kids “It’s an adventure, right?”
All worked out because folks always miss the ferry for one reason or another and we wound up with a cabin for 4 and with our original tickets for sleeping berth’s for 2, we all had beds. Lessons are coming at us so fast it would make your American head spin. So it’s true travel opens the eyes or at least 1 eye if you don’t know your 3 roommates!
Carpe’ Diem

My Big Blue Watery Road......Poseidon, Step Back!

I’m on a boat. That’s the song Seamus, Colleen, and I were thinking about while we traveled in the Baltic Sea for 19 hours. We had a little controversy in the beginning. Apparently my mother only got 2 beds for a family of 6; she accidentally thought we were getting 2 rooms when she filled out the application form. However, all was well because we applied for 4 more and were 4th on the waiting list.
After we got out bedrooms situated we went and hung out in the various rooms provided. The coolest (both parts of the definition) part of the boat had to be the star board bow. In a little corner of the bow was an area of total upraise in wind. As you can see on the right the wind could literally lift up your pants and tear off your shirt(Look at those abs!!!!) Once we got bored of that (actually it got very cold) we went and chilled out in the Panorama Bar, the Starbucks of the ferry. Mom had a few beers, we all drank the orange soda they had, and we played on iPods the entire time while looking at the spectacular view. The sun was extinguished when it touched the grace of the Baltic Sea.
Last night, Colleen and I had to sleep in the 2 separate beds from our family. When I was introduced (by sign language) to my cabin mates I thought it was going to be a nice quiet night while rocking back and forth. Boy was I wrong. The husband and wife were like the characters in a cartoon. A huge snore followed by a high pitched exhale “me me me me me……SSSSSNNNNNOOOORRRRGGGEEEEE…….me me me me me…….” And so on. I decided I had enough and went to get headphones to drone them out. I had a nice night sleep; until at 6:15 they woke up. Let me tell you, they are loud when waking up, AND AT 6 IN THE MORNING, SERIOUSLY?!?!?!?!? Eventually I got more sleep and now I really have to go.
Tune in next blog to see if my dad and I run the midnight race in Stockholm, Sweden. (Because of the internet problem we didn’t, however I was rarin to go :-)

The Suite Life of Colleen

We have all been very busy travelers. It is in my opinion a very well designed trip. The different cities of Poland gave you the feelings of what it is like to be Polish in different eras. We went to Warsaw and Gdansk for a day each. In Warsaw we got to visit the “Uprising” museum. In my opinion a very well designed museum. It was set up to make you feel like you were there during the time everything happened in the 1940’s. In Gdansk, we got to just hang out for a night and the next day we went to the “old town”. In “old town” we looked around at some amber shops. Amber is a specialty of Poland and especially Northern Poland where it is mined. There are many kinds of Amber. As I write this, we are on the ship to Sweden. The ship is absolutely huge and trying to find all the rooms and everything was very confusing.

Whats Left for Seamus.......

My family was on a boat for nineteen hours. While we were on the boat many different things happened to us. One of the events was when we got to our cabins the boat attendant said that we only had two beds, not two cabins. We got a whole cabin to ourselves later on (thanks Mom). Then we read, wrote, and did some math. We have been traveling so much (four different cities in six days) so we didn’t have time to do school work. So we caught up on the boat. We figured out that on the sky deck that it was very windy. So Colleen, Pearse, Eamon, and I acted like we were sitting down. We leaned back like a seat and still stayed up because of how fast the wind was going. We went to bed at 11:15 P.M. It was so comfortable I felt like I was on a hammock rocking back and forth. We can now say that we have traveled by almost every single thing possible: by train, plane, and boat. What else is left? Right now we are in Sweden and I hope that there are some Swedish fish here.

What else will we do? Oh yeah that’s right the WORLD TRACK CHAMPIONSHIPS.

Pearse's First Boat

I have been on this Ferry for 19 hours. It is the first real boat I have been on. This is an awesome big and fun boat. I was on the sky deck and I found a really cool spot to stand. I was in a corner and all my hair flew up. I see Sweden right now it is about 100 meters away. I will be landing in 45 minutes. My sleeping cabin was pretty cool also. I got to see the sunset last night. My night was very funny because I fell of my bed and Dad had to lift me up. I am amazed how bumpy this ride was. Now I am going to pack our stuff since we get there in 30 minutes.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

From Warsaw to Gdansk

Our stay in Warsaw, while brief was surely memorable. We ate at the Hard Rock Cafe. HRC serves 2 purposes for team Glavin, we know they have food everyone will eat and secondly they have great memorabilia with a store to buy pins. Pearse and the team made the decision to try and visit all of the Hard Rock Cafes in Europe. We looked at the list and we have as the saying goes, "a fighter's chance" of visiting all of them if we hustle. We met a young waitress at the Hard Rock that shared an amazing story with us. Her great grandfather was a "scout" in Poland. It is a transition step before you go into the military for Poland. He was arrested by Germans and forced to build Auschwitz. He knew what it was going to be used for upon it's completion but he had two choices "Build it" or as the young waitress said "shoot in head". There was an additional threat of retaliation against whole families if they didn't participate. Her great grandfather was then forced to be a farmer while still a prisoner. He was starving but was unable to eat anything he was growing, and if caught even eating a rotten vegetable he would be shot. The waitress was emotional as she told the story. She said "He didn't tell anyone of these things until 10 years later" She relayed his belief "God spared me because I was sneaking vegetables everyday and that kept many many people in my barracks alive." WOW. She told us that we should visit the Warsaw Uprising Museum. We took a bus to the museum and walked around for 1 hour before it closed. Pictures on the blog are from the boys. Each took turns with the camera. Ann and I didn't shoot one picture inside the museum. It isn't too hard to tell we have boys when you see what interests them. Colleen has her own camera so I didn't see those pictures yet.

The train ride to Gdansk is by far our most difficult. It is long and the cabin seats 8 so we lose the "comfy" system we've built for "6". Turns out our cabinmates are an old Polish couple and they revel in the excitement and entertainment of 4 kids ages 15 and under. You see a rye smile from the husband as Pearse and Eamon exchange laughs or a few nudges. They even break a little bread with us. We bring enough food for a small division, you know just in case we get an unexpected overnight stop in the middle of Poland.

Added to the challenge of a 7 hour ride is the minor challenge of a toilet, water closet, overflow. Pearse and I keep it to ourselves that he was the last little Mohican in the WC. He tells me "I didn't do it!" The large wet footprints leading from the bathroom to another cabin support his position of innocence. There was a bit of pandemonium as the spill over made its way down the corridor of the train wagon. Ode de Europe!!

The kids look forward to a "sleep in tomorrow" they have earned it! A tough day but in a weird way a fun day. The voices are bellowing out their 2nd floor window and up to our room on the 3rd floor. Life is good! I am proud of their effort.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

At least they had John Paul II

It is extremely difficult to express one’s emotions after leaving a place where so many innocent lives were lost. It is hard to think that the world has not learned from past mistakes and continues on a path were we allow one person with a crazy idea to lead. We saw it in Darfur and so many places in the world. The one saving grace is that such a great and loving person was born close by and that he has left hope in the wake of despair. We were able to see many places where Pope John Paul II left his mark and to hear from our young tour guide yesterday how he was so loved by the young polish people. We saw the room where he looked out the window and spoke to the young and Pope Benedict XVI followed in his footsteps. I leave Krakow with those thoughts, not the death and destruction of Auschwitz.

Evil Clearly Defined and Carefully Chronicled by Maurice

As I watch the Auschwitz documentary on the DVD system on the bus, the mood is somber. As if told by the movie director, the sun is morphed by the clouds, the temp turns cold and the rain begins to fall outside as we make our way up the road to the Auschwitz camp. It is indeed eerie.
I have tried to prepare the children for what they are to encounter. I know in my heart that there will be nothing to prepare them for what will be a memorable day in their lives. While the visits to the Krakow ghetto yesterday were enlightening, the breadth and depth of this experience will be almost tangible.
I write these words while I am on the bus just leaving Auschwitz 1 headed to Birkenau a camp known as Auschwitz II and the site of massive exterminations, crematoriums and barracks to house the “workers”. I wanted to capture my first emotions. I am simply overwhelmed. Images racing through my mind as I recall the exhibits of the glass encased hair, toothbrushes and suitcases, uniforms that were only replaced 1 X per year, tickets bought by Jews from Greece to Auschwitz, the “ovens” and pictures of starved men, women and children. The entrance to Auschwitz is bleak and nondescript except for the gate that has the words “Arbeit Macht Frei “ translated to mean “Work shall set you free.” Our guide is a young woman certified to give tours. She is knowledgeable and careful with regard to her information and while I know she is practiced at this presentation, I am humbled by her hushed but informative discussion of the various rooms, chambers and exhibits. We learn many facts about the process and the condition of the 2 camps. The suffering, not so long ago, is palpable both inside the buildings and outside the buildings. I can’t help but think of the massive efforts involved in creating such brutality and the terrible disregard for human life. The railroad tracks into Birkenau are haunting in their simplicity and efficiency. If you imagine hard enough you can hear and see the “separation process”. On a walk from the “wash house/latrine” to the “barracks house” that held 400 people, I talk with Seamus and Pearse about the foundation of the right to “Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Thanks to the Allies... by Seamus

One person can do so many great things but if they choose they can also destroy many things. This is the path that Adolf Hitler took. I was just at a place of destruction, one where over one million people were killed just because they were different. Auschwitz was the first place that I have been to where everyone was respectful and almost completely quiet. The only people who talked were the tour guides. I could hear as they spoke they stuttered because every time we would go into a different room it would become harder and harder to speak because you knew in every single room there was suffering beyond belief. In Obama’s Inaugural speech he said “you are not measured by what you can tear down but by what you can build.” The Nazis chose to tear down so they could build the “Ultimate Race”. The “Allied” side said “no” to Hitler’s plans. Many prisoners fought hard, even though most of them knew what their fate would be. The Allies fought so places like Auschwitz and all of the camps would never exist again and that bad people like the Nazis would be defeated. Everyone should be able to live free. My family has the chance to go to Europe for a year and see different cultures. Who knows if we would be here writing to you if the Allies weren’t successful in their efforts?

Dragon fire by Pearse

I have been in Krakow for 2 days. Yesterday we took a tour of the city. It was very cool since Seamus, Eamon and I waved to so many people. The tour car was a golf cart and it was really awesome. I thought this was also really odd. On the tour, we learned about 2 brothers who were having a competition to build bell towers for the Church in the least amount of time. One brother was ahead so the other brother killed him. That is why one bell tower is shorter than the other one at St. Mary’s Basilica in Krakow. When we finished the tour, we went to do our run. It felt so long. When we finished our run we hung out in the hotel. After that we went to go get ice cream but it turned out that Lody, the ice cream shop, was closed. The Lody is the best ice cream in Poland.

Auschwitz by Colleen

Unbelievable is one of the only words that I can say about going to Auschwitz. I cannot understand how we had let this happened in our past. The destruction in Auschwitz was something that you could never or ever want to image. It was hard for me to walk through knowing that many people had died and where tortured right where I was walking. While going into the different parts in Auschwitz I was learning more and more about what had happened. Everything that I had learned at Auschwitz I will never be able to forget.

Cracow by Eamon

We arrived into Krakow (or our spelling Cracow) late Sunday night, the streets as empty as a ghost town. The taxi drivers were gearing up to go home for the night until we asked if two of them would give us a ride to our hotel/apartment. After a long train ride, a very long 7 hour train ride, we were finally resting in our rooms. The best part of the night had to be the fact that there were fans in our sleeping quarters! The next day I lazily traveled down the stairs to the first floor of the hotel for breakfast. In a room you would expect to have a bed, there were 5 tables of four and a buffet of food lined down the opposite wall. Of course the entire family was already present at the far corner. After being fed a plentiful brunch we headed out to downtown. It was most definitely not the ghost town we had experienced the previous night.
We ended up taking an extremely humorous golf-cart-tour of the city. With Seamus, Colleen, and Pearse sitting in the rear of the cart waving at people and then staring them down to see how they would react. I started to join in and Seamus was under the impression that random citizens were waving to him. Then to skyrocket the humor Pearse started to yell out and wave “BYE!!!!” frantically as we passed dazed people. We learned absolutely nothing, except the fact a brother was killed so he would lose the competition, and a tower was made with a companion slightly shorter than it. We all thought that it was a weird tribute. Pearse then went for 20 minutes to wait for a statue of a dragon to breathe fire for 3 seconds. He was exceptionally happy.