A Journey to Poland, Czech Republic and Germany, September – October 2015

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Krolikarnia Park, Warsaw, Poland. Photo: © Marek and Ewa Wojciechowscy / Trips over Poland, via Wikimedia Commons.
Krolikarnia Park, Warsaw, Poland. Photo: © Marek and Ewa Wojciechowscy / Trips over Poland, via Wikimedia Commons.

By Debbie and Ed Mucha

Our “Journey” was in the planning stages since mid-2014 as I began writing various Archive Offices in Poland to see if family records might be available. All this occurred after I had exhausted contacting various Parish offices in the USA. I found some info but not earlier files as I wanted. As I’d received positive replies from District Archiwums (archives) in Lomza, Dzikiewicz and Sanok, Poland, I started laying out our actual routes and stays. I planned for my wife Debra & I to maximize our time in Europe by seeing places of interest along the road to Poland and back.

Since we were going “on the cheap”, via US Military Space-A travel, I allowed extra time for some flight delays (always inevitable). This is how it evolved: We departed our home in South Central VA on the morning of 13 Sept, planning to fly from Dover AFB, DE after an overnight stay to relax from a six hour road trip. It turned out that the Monday flight from Dover to Ramstein AFB, Germany had been canceled, with nothing scheduled for next two days. I then checked the flight schedules from McGuire AFB, NJ and found that there were several flights going out late Monday as well as Tuesday. Monday at noon we headed up the Jersey Pike for McGuire, a 2-hour ride we had already done several times previously for same reason – cancellations.

On arrival at McGuire I met a Passenger Terminal Agent/friend who advised me that there was a flight departing for Spangdahlem at 0100 on 15 Sept. We signed up for this flight, got all our paperwork, drove over to the Commissary to stock up on some snacks for the flight and then had dinner on base. We had booked a room so we used it to change clothes and kept it “just in case”. About 2200 we were called for the flight (C-17 and 35 seats), I left Deb at the Terminal with our baggage and took the car to Long-Term parking, made sure all lights were out and it was locked.

It turns out (as usual) there was a slight delay in boarding. We finally boarded a cargo-loaded aircraft. The seats are “Paratroop” style, where you sit facing center aisle, cargo is the military’s priority, not comfort. However, I learned long ago to carry a roll-up foam camp mattress which passengers  can use to spread out on the deck after takeoff and when the lights are turned down low. The military also furnishes, for $5.00 per person, box lunches which are sufficient to take the edge off of hunger. Departing around 0300 it was a quiet, 7.5-hour flight.

We arrived at the German Air Base at Spangdahlem, North of Trier, Germany at approximately 1730, Tuesday, 15 Sept. I had booked ahead a room at the Eifel Arms Inn which we went to by taxi from the Terminal. It turns out that the main building was full so we were billeted another short taxi-ride away. We thought that sleeping would be “touch & go” as A-10s were doing just that. Luckily, ops concluded at 2000. Since we had no transportation we called to have the on-base pizzeria deliver pizza, salads and a couple of bottles of soda. After taking soothing, hot showers we went to sleep so we would be up early to arrange transportation to Ramstein, where we planned to relax for a few days, pick up our rental car, and then head across Germany to Poland.

We were able to catch the daily Shuttle Bus to Ramstein AB and departed Spangdahlem at 0930, arriving at Ramstein at 1130. We took a taxi from the Base to a hotel we’ve stayed at previously. It is always a delight for us to return and see old friends and chat about family and life. While there we were also able to meet with some American friends living in Ramstein and enjoy evenings out with them. Plus, we have an Italian restauranteur friend, married to a Polish woman, who own a local establishment (Lanciano) where we love to go and enjoy excellent Italian foods with a German-Polish flair. And our rental car agent is also a friend whose father we had previously dealt with until he retired. Familiarity does not breed contempt!

Deb Mucha in Restaurant Lanciano, Ramstein, Germany.
Deb Mucha in Restaurant Lanciano, Ramstein, Germany.

 

On Thursday, 17 Sept. we drove to St. Avold, France, to visit the American Military Cemetery, where my father has remained since November 1944 and his service in the 26th Yankee Division. This is a truly beautiful, peaceful, well-cared for piece of America in France, and is an almost annual stop for us. Afterward we GPS’d our way to a LeClerc Super Marché (a super market which we love for the variety of everything imaginable). We stocked up on seltzer water, baguettes, chips, smoked sausage,

St. Avold, France ABMC Lorraine Cemetery
St. Avold, France ABMC Lorraine Cemetery

cheese, a couple of chocolate bars, fresh fruit and some select bottles of wine which I knew would be enjoyable at home. We then drove up to Trier to dine in a favorite spot we have enjoyed several times right on the main Platz of Trier, zum Domstein, (they always have a “wilde” dish of Boar or Venison available). Their wine list is local and exceptional. From there we took a 1 hour drive back to Ramstein for packing for departure on Friday, 18 Sept.

I might add that when traveling we generally stay in 3-starred hotels or recommended gasthofs or similar inns. We also look for free parking. Deb & I have traveled Europe together almost every year since 1991 and on several occasions made more than one trip per year. We like gasthofs as the restaurants are always very good. At most hotels we eat out unless the dining looks exceptional. We’ve also stayed in Posadas (Spanish Inns), Paradores (Spanish luxury hotels), Auberges (French Inns) and old castles

Our travel plans stipulated that upon departing Ramstein, for which I had allowed sufficient Space-A flight time from the US to Germany, we would drive for an overnight at Landgasthof Gut Haidt, just north of the city of Hof in northeast Bavaria. This was our longest drive, 450km and 5 hours in duration. The car we rented was a Skoda station wagon, loaded with automatic everything (except the shift), roomy, and very easy to drive. The Gut Haidt was once a part of a complex of riding stables of which the area had several, but now stands alone. The room was comfortable and the restaurant food was excellent, though service was a bit slow.

Part of Gut Haidt Complex
Part of Gut Haidt Complex

Our next leg was to stay two nights in Meissen, Saxony with a stop at Colditz to visit the infamous WWII PoW Lager which was expressly for prisoners of all nationalities deemed incorrigibles, or prisoners who had habitually attempted to escape. The town of Colditz is situated at the base of the castle. We stopped at a baekerie named Deitricht in the main square for lunch before proceeding up to the castle complex itself. On arrival, while purchasing tickets it was noted that the day was my birthday and therefore I was entitled to free entry. That made my day! The self-guided tour was extremely interesting, winding over several floors and to both inner and outer courtyards. It was amazing that escapes from here could be conceived and even achieve success with approx. 20+ “home runs” accomplished. From Colditz we followed our GPS into Meissen and across the Elbe to our Hotel, the Knorre, on the east bank of that famous river.

Colditz Platz above, castle below, Dietrich baekerie/cafe on left
Colditz Platz above, castle below, Dietrich baekerie/cafe on left

The hotel setting was perfect. Our room on the 2nd floor provided a view of the river and the Albrechtsburg Castle which towers over Meissen. The room was a little small, but had a balcony and a convenient third bed which was great for unpacking suitcases. Dinners in the hotel restaurant were excellent, as were the buffet breakfasts. The staff spoke English and were both attentive and helpful. We took after-dinner strolls along the path on the river’s edge. We visited the Castle and its complex, and drove thru Meissen to tour the “new” Meissen Porcelain factory, the old having been started in the castle back in 1710. We departed Meissen Monday morning, the 21st for a Zajazd lodging (a rustic, log cabin building) in Sokolniki, Poland off the E67 with a stop at Boleslawiec to purchase some small porcelain-ware for use at home. From Meissen, it was 170km and a two hour drive, and from Boleslawiec to the Zajazd was another 236 km, or an additional 2 hours and 30 mins.

Boleslawiec is a porcelain town. The road leading off the E67 into town

Porcelain work of Meissen, valued at 35,000 Euros
Porcelain work of Meissen, valued at 35,000 Euros

had factories and outlet stores all along where we found one that appealed to us and we stopped. They had indoor and outdoor sections, the outdoor for seconds and for larger, garden-sized pottery. We shopped the indoor selection until finding separate pieces of cups, saucers and a porcelain-handled butter knife, cost for which was ZL 135, approx. $35US. Back onto the autobanski to the Chata where we were pleasantly surprised. The motel was part of a family-owned complex featuring a Delikatesy (similar to early US grocery stores.) The motel was situated above with a desk on the ground floor. Next door was a restaurant featuring wood-grilled meats. There was also a small gift shop in the middle of the parking lot featuring hand-made Polish items, carved, sewn, and painted. The Chata was in the middle of flat, farm country with the hay already cut and rolled for winter, and provided a peaceful, quiet setting. The main parking lot was for autos and across the street was a lot for semis that frequented the stop.(www.chata-walichnowska.pl)

Colditz Platz above, castle below, Dietrich baekerie/cafe on left
Colditz Platz above, castle below, Dietrich baekerie/cafe on left

We enjoyed smoked sausage, roast pork and potatoes for dinner, with pivo (beer). After dinner we took a short walk on a side road along the fields, then stopped into the Delikatesy for ice cream treats for dessert. We returned to our room and showered with plenty of hot water. Our car was parked just below our window in the well-lit back lot and we were able to leave our room windows open (no mosquitos), sleeping peacefully.

In the morning, a buffet breakfast waited in the small breakfast area just outside our room, after which we got back onto the E67 for a 243km drive to the 4-star Hotel Mercury Grand Warsaw. Along the way we stopped for fuel (diesel – our car got over 80 km per gal mileage) and we enjoyed McDonald’s cappuccinos at another stop. We arrived in Warsaw in heavy traffic but our route led directly into the Al. Jerozolimski highway, where our hotel was a right turn off of same. We were directed to the underground parking lot (here I’d decided on secure, paid parking as we planned to mostly walk and bus around Warsaw). Our room was on the 7th floor with one wall all glass to see out over the western side of the city.

Coming into Warsaw from the west, via Al. Jerozelimski
Coming into Warsaw from the west, via Al. Jerozelimski

Our plans in Warsaw were to visit the close by Muzeum Narodowe (fine arts), Nowy Swiat and its extension up to the Royal Castle, Ogrod Saski park, Old Town, the Warsaw 1944 Uprising Muzeum, the Field Cathedral of the Polish Army and Museum, the Chopin Muzeum, and whatever else caught our eye during our visit, plus dine at “The Inn of the Red Hog”. But we were also to drive on Thursday the 24th up to Lomza and the District Archives Office, with whom I’d been in contact to obtain a copy of my grandfather’s Baptism record. Also, on Saturday we were to visit a good friend who had been a co-worker in the US on a work-visa in the ‘90s. He lived with his wife and son across the Vistula in Otwock from where he ran a business servicing computerized production machinery for the Polish sugar industry. There were more places of interest for us to see than we imagined.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Warsaw, Poland
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Warsaw, Poland

 

Ogrod Salki, Warsaw's Central Park
Ogrod Salki, Warsaw’s Central Park

 

one of numerous displays, PW is the Uprising symbol meaning "Poland Fights"
One of numerous displays, PW is the Uprising symbol meaning “Poland Fights”

 

Royal Castle, completely rebuilt as the Nazi's completely leveled it
Warsaw’s Royal Castle, completely rebuilt as the Nazis totally leveled it

Nowy Swiat street is home to hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars, stores and shoppes from the DeGaulle Rondo up to the Plac Zamkowy beyond which was Old Town and its completely restored square which were all completely destroyed on Hitler’s orders after the 1944 Uprising. We spent all our Warsaw days up, down, and off to the sides of the numerous streets visiting all we’d planned, including a stop into Café Blikle, supposedly the oldest, continually operating café in Warsaw. Their Paczke (donuts) beat anything we’ve ever eaten, anywhere. Our favorite restaurant was Brouwarmia on Nowy Swiat which featured kielbasa, bratwurst, sausages, pork schnitzles, Polish vegetables and Polish pivo. We ate two dinners at Brouwarmia, one dinner in an Italian restaurant, another in a 2nd bierpub plus “The Inn of the Red Hog”, a throwback to the communist era where numerous party apparatchiks ate, including Castro, Tito, numerous Polish PMs and more. This place was fairly busy, the food was great, hearty, plentiful, the wines and pivos excellent and the prices very reasonable. We highly recommended this excellent and interesting restaurant to anyone visiting Warsaw.

Inn of the Red Hog, Warsaw, Poland.
Inn of the Red Hog, Warsaw, Poland.

Our trip to Lomza Archives on Thursday was short, 142 km on the same E67 with GPS beaming us along. It took us right into the parking lot of the facility, where we entered and met the director who remembered my correspondence. She spoke excellent English and had her assistant pull the record book. She showed me and translated the entry or me, and then made me a copy. As there were no more records available at the Archiwum she suggested I visit the Civil Office of Zbojna located approx. 15km up the road. We were most grateful for her assistance.

We found the Civil Office but it was a disaster as the Director there was both emphatic and downright nasty in insisting that no records were available for the period I was searching for (1892 – 1902). She even turned on her assistant who attempted to intervene, at which point he just shrugged his shoulders to me. From there I stopped into the Zbojna post office with whom we had communicated, and the clerk assured me that there was no one with the family name living in their area. The area had been under Russian, German, Polish, then again German, Russian and finally Polish jurisdiction from mid 17thC and saw a lot of war and fighting which is obviously not good for record-keeping. From Zbojna we drove a loop to Ostroleka with it’s T-34 tank in the middle of a roundabout and back on the E67 to Warsaw.

We visited my friend and his family in Otwock on Saturday afternoon and evening, having a very pleasant time talking about his work, my retirement, his wife Magda and 6 year old son, Max. After dinner we exchanged some gifts, we’d brought flowers for Magda, books and toys for Max and pivo for Stan. I received a football warm-up suit in Polish nat’l team colors. We then walked to a nearby Zajazd ice cream/cake/pastry shoppe to enjoy desserts. Upon returning we said our goodbyes and we headed back Warsaw. A footnote: we considered the price of breakfasts at our hotel to be exhorbitant, approximately US $15 per person, so each evening before returning to the hotel we would stop at a Delikatesy and buy sweet rolls to have with our breakfast coffee or tea in the room.

The Little Insurgent
The Little Insurgent
Katlyn Massacre Memorial
Katlyn Massacre Memorial

During our final stroll on Sunday we walked around the periphery of Old Town, and on ul. Podwale we came across a memorial to Poles executed by Russian secret police in early 1940 – 41 as part of the infamous Katyn Massacre. Just up from here we came upon the statue of “the Little Insurgent”, a memorial to a 12 year old boy who actually took part in the 1944 Uprising. He is depicted wearing his captured German coal scuttle helmet, oversized boots and carrying a captured German machine pistol. Both these memorials are always decorated with fresh flowers. The Poles are very “to the point” about the death and destruction rained upon them by both the Germans and the Russians during WWII and there is a campaign afoot to remove Russian war memorials erected around Poland when it was part of the Warsaw Pact. There are Soviet T-34 tanks at many roundabouts throughout the country and the Russians (as depicted by themselves) were the Liberators of the country, discounting the Polish Home Army and Polish Army Korps of the Red Army.

A typical Russian memorial
A typical Russian memorial

 

Everyone loves things American. We spotted this beauty parked on Nowy Swiat
Everyone loves things American! We spotted this beauty parked on Nowy Swiat

 

Memorial to 1944 Polish Uprising fighters, who used the sewers to move about
Memorial to 1944 Polish Uprising fighters, who used the sewers to move about

 

Memoral to Witold Pilecki who was arrested and confined in Auschwitz, later escaping to write about conditions inside the camp. He was finally executed on Stalin's orders as a troublemaker in 1948
Memoral to Witold Pilecki who was arrested and confined in Auschwitz, later escaping to write about conditions inside the camp. He was finally executed as a troublemaker in 1948 on Stalin’s orders 

 

From Warsaw we drove south for a two night stay in Rzeszow to do more Archive research on my father’s parent’s side with a short stop at the Civil Office of Dzikiewicz to obtain some records of his mother and her siblings. This was a 305 km total drive (over 3.5 hours) along the E77 & E371. Along the way we stopped at a McDonald’s for a Big Mac, Chicken McNuggets, a cappuccino for me and a hot chocolate for Deb.

National bird of Poland is the Stork, and they build nests anywhere
The national bird of Poland is the Stork, and they build nests anywhere

We were successful in getting several records of my grandmother’s family and had anticipated obtaining more at the Archive Office in Sanok, a 90km drive south of Rzeszow. Driving down on Tuesday, the GPS brought us to the parking lot entrance of the Hotel Hubertus in Rzeszow. An older, charming hotel with beautiful woodwork, the only drawback was that it offered no lift and our room was on the 2nd floor. The room itself was large, featured an armoire, sofa, desk and a large en-suite, tiled bathroom off the entryway. The windows opened on to the Rynek but it was relatively quiet for a college town. We chose both nights to dine in restaurants on the Rynek (square) as the hotel had none. The buffet breakfast in the former dining room was excellent and filling and included a self-serve macchiato coffee maker.

Another fiasco took place on Tuesday, the 29th, when we walked to the regional Archiwum Office in Rzeszow to pay in advance (as required) for the five copies of documents I required. I had been in contact with the local Archiwum in Sanok which revealed that it did indeed have the records I was searching for on my father’s father’s side, including two sisters and a brother no one had ever mentioned previously, and the maiden name of their mother, whose family we believed were cousins in the US but not knowing exactly how they were related. Anyway, the Director insisted I had to get four receipts, I insisted five were needed. This went on for 30 min until he finally called Sanok and when putting down the phone said; “five”. No apology, nothing! We were then told to go to a bank, any bank, make payment and get a receipt. Wrong! It had to be a Nat’l. Bank of Poland, which we finally found about a km distant. Then the guard refused to let us in saying this bank was – commercial? I finally got in when his attention was distracted, and I approached a teller explaining what I needed, with the guard approaching fast. The teller said that she could do the transaction and the guard retreated. After paying approx. ZL 10 ($3) for the receipt we headed back to the hotel and our car as we had a 90 km ride to Sanok ahead of us.

The road to Sanok, E 371 was a two-lane version of US 1. Crowded with semis and car traffic in both directions, it was a long 90 min. We found the Archiwum and met the Director with whom I had been in contact with for several months. I produced the receipt and he produced the copies. Afterward, here, as at Dzikiewicz, we were allowed to browse the original records for whatever data we could find, with one exception, all Archiwum closed, precisely at 1600. There was no dallying, you were escorted out. So we left.

Studying records in Sanok, all in Latin, book is 1st dated in late 1700s
Studying records in Sanok, all in Latin, book is 1st dated in late 1700s

From there we drove west until reaching Dukla back on the E 371. This is a main route into Slovakia and points south and the scene of heavy fighting for possession of a pass through the Carpathian Mountains in early 1945. The Russians were coming down from the north, the Germans held the Czechoslovak side. Only 3 km west of Dukla is the village of Iwla where my grandfather actually was born. We had been in this area in 2005 but were not aware of the connection at that time. From there, it was 90 minutes back to Rzeszow for dinner.

 

"Stalin Organ", Katyusha rocket launcher. Gift of the Soviet people, Dukla
“Stalin Organ”, Katyusha rocket launcher. Gift of the Soviet people, Dukla

 

Brewpub restaurant on Rynek in Rzeszow
Brewpub restaurant on Rynek in Rzeszow

Parked safely at the hotel I put the records in our room and we set out for dinner. We found a busy brew-pub Rest next to the Hotel Bristol and were able to get seating. The menu was extensive but we ate Polish food this night: Bigos (stew), mushroom soup, chicken for Deb, and kielbasa for me, washed down with good pivo. After dinner we walked over to ul. 3 Mai where we had seen an ice cream shoppe while searching for the National Bank earlier. Deb had her hot chocolate and I had cappuccino with our ice creams. Then we took a leisurely stroll back along the Rynek to our hotel, showered, and did some packing prior to departing for Krakow for four nights. The 3-star Hubertus cost $48 per night, a steal, really, and everyone spoke English.

After breakfast we loaded the car and headed for Krakow with a planned lunch at a truck-stop diner we knew was still in business near Weiliczka on the DK94. Afterward I turned north for the Muzeum Lotwickna Polskiego, the National Aviation Museum (the Polish Smithsonian). This is a gem which caught my eye online several years ago. There are several hundred aircraft which belong to the Museum and many are on display, from pre-WWI to the end of Poland’s association with the Warsaw Pact. Many are in hangars and a great many are lined along the old taxi-ways of the airport. From British biplanes to the latest MiG and Sukhoi fighters, plus donated US military fighters (F-84, A-7, F-104, a Spitfire, PZL, Me-109, Ju-52, DC-3 and numerous gliders including two examples by that manufacturing giant of Polish aircraft, Mucha (no relation).

Polish Aviator Museum, Krakow
Polish Aviator Museum, Krakow

 

F-105 Tactical Fighter, nicknamed the "Polish Glider" flown by Donald J. Kutyna (later promoted to General) during the Vietnam War.
F-105 Tactical Fighter, nicknamed the “Polish Glider” flown by Maj. Donald J. Kutyna (eventually promoted to General) during the Vietnam War.

 

MiG fighters, arranged in order of age
MiG fighters, arranged in order of age

 

Former USAF Commander's personal car, donated to Museum as a "Cold War" memento
Former USAF Commander’s personal car, donated to Museum as a “Cold War” memento

 

Antique furniture in the Hotel Pollera, Krakow
Antique furniture in the Hotel Pollera, Krakow

From there our GPS brought us in to Krakow where I had to make an illegal left turn to go where the GPS was directing me, Szpitalna street, where our Hotel Pollera was located. The Pollera was built in 1830 by a man of the same name. It was rebuilt some time ago and is in a beautiful Art Noveau scheme. It features stained glass windows on the dual staircases and rich, dark woods throughout. It’s a classic from an earlier age of lux and full of warmth and charm. The 3-star Pollera cost $85 per night.

After unloading the car I parked it in a guarded, secure lot directly across the street. In fact, the car was visible from our 3rd level room. The room was actually a suite, w/entry hall, sitting room w/sofa, easy chairs and mini-bar, a large bedroom and a large, fully-equipped bathroom. It was furnished w/antique furniture and woodwork and a wall overlooking the street with many large windows. The State Opera was across the street while the Rynek was four short blocks away. The sun rose shining into our windows

Interior Courtyard of Wawel Castle
Interior Courtyard of Wawel Castle

in the morning. We spent four nights in Krakow revisiting some places, seeing others for the first time, and enjoying some excellent dining. We toured the Holy Mary Cathedral, the Sukiennce (Clothe Hall), Wawel Castle and Cathedral, the National Art Muzeum, plus a side trip to the Salt Mine of Weiliczka (unlike “visitors” to the salt mines of Russia, we were allowed to leave!) We also enjoyed a festival of arts & crafts and food vendors on one side of the Rynek that was ongoing during our entire stay. On Saturday Oct. 3rd I bought a kilo of aged Gouda cheese and a smoked wild boar saucisson and was not disappointed by the price or quality. The outstanding restaurant here was Szara, on the Rynek, which we found to be so very good that we returned again on Saturday night. A favorite from last trip was a home-style food diner on Swietego Tomasza that was still going strong and still as good with pierogi, kielbasa, chicken and pivo, and teas.

0ver 400 feet down inside the Weiliczka Salt mine
More than 400 feet below the surface, inside the Weiliczka Salt mine
Krakow Rynek, scene of an outdoor concert later this night
Krakow Rynek, scene of an outdoor concert later this night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Sunday, after a pleasant buffet brunch we packed and departed for Olomouc, an historic old city in the Czech Republic, with a stop in Oswiecim (Auschwitz) concentration camp. I’ve certainly read enough history about this place and many of its inmates/victims. We arrived finding it crowded. We paid to park inside the main area and walked up to the entry gates. There was a crowd and a waiting time, so instead we opted to take a free bus over to camp number two, Birkenhau, which housed the crematoria and ovens. We were let off outside the main entry where the single railroad track went in. The two halves were still divided, on the right for those deemed not essential, and on the left were war-essential shops and the barracks for same. The right side barracks used double-ended brick stoves with a 40’-50’ long horizontal flue connected which helped dissipate heat inside before going up another flue. The bunks were on both sides against the outside walls. These huts were brutally cold in winter. The entire periphery of the camp was surrounded by barbed wire with guard towers approximately every 100m.

Entrance to Birkenau Death Camp
Entrance to Birkenau Death Camp

 

Rail transport for inmates/victims
Rail transport for inmates/victims

Further down the main track were sidings where the cars were off-loaded and selection took place. A good distance beyond was the area where the crematoria and ovens were located. These are no longer in place. It is interesting how the site is out in a huge, open area, even today not much is close to the boundaries. It is a very quiet place; the visitors are very quiet, speaking softly. It’s sad to know what happened here. We rode back to the main camp and entered the book store as I was interested to see what might be available in English. However, just about all of the English language books were ones I had read or was familiar with.

Birkenau inmate's huts, stove down the center
Birkenau inmate’s huts, stove down the center

 

Olomouc - Orological clock in City Hall
Olomouc – Orological clock in City Hall

From Oswiecim we headed for Olomouc which was 190km and about 2.5 hours away in the Czech Republic. This is the 6th largest city in the Republic and dates back to early Roman times. The inner city has the 2nd largest assembly of historical artifacts after Prague. The main square has the Holy Trinity Column which was dedicated to the town’s survival of a plague in the 1700s and in the immediate area are six fountains based on ancient historical figures – quite impressive!

Our hotel was the 4-star Hotel Trinity, a modern structure located to the left of the exit off E 462/442 into Olomouc. The hotel featured free parking and a very good buffet breakfast. Our room was on the 2nd level overlooking the ring road around the city. The Horni Namesti (main square) was approximately a 200m walk from

Excellent local food in Honacka Rest, Olomouc
Excellent local food in Honacka Rest, Olomouc

the hotel. There are numerous good restaurants on or near the Namesti and the surrounding area, and there was a great ice cream shoppe on the north side. We spent two nights here and toured the city museum in the town hall and just enjoyed walking around looking at the fountains, old buildings, and the orological clock. We also rode the trams out to a suburb to visit an antique auto museum located at the Veterans’ Arena. The vehicles were all Czech – Skoda, Tatra, and Wiking, and included cars, pick-ups, and limos up into the 1960s. The industry built very forward-looking cars, air-cooled, front drive, rear-engined, right and left-hand steering. There was also a good assortment of CZ and Jawa motorcyles. It was actually a gem of a find, something totally unexpected. The only downside was all the descriptions were in Czech and there was no souvenir book or other paraphernalia available. It is definitely worth a visit. Also in the Czech Republic is the best Budweiss/Budvar bier in the world: the original.

 

Veteran's Arena Auto Museum, Olomouc
Veteran’s Arena Auto Museum, Olomouc

From Olomouc we planned for three nights in Prague and staying again at the Hotel Mucha on ul. Sokolovska very close to the Florenc Metro. We had found this hotel through the Czech travel service “Ave” and stayed because it shares our name. It is a clean, 4-star hotel close to the central area with good tram, bus and metro connections. We were able to park directly on the street in front of the hotel for the entire time, with no problems, same as on our previous visit. This was our third stay in Prague; we love the city and all it offers. Our first night we dined in a French Brasserie, La Gare. The food excellent as was the service, with English-speaking waiters, very reasonably priced dining, and an ambiance pleasing to the customers.

On Wednesday the 7th we visited the Narodni (Nationall) Museum at the end of Vaclavske Namesti, a very interesting museum with a little bit of everything – art, stuffed animals, criminal science, biology and more. After touring here we set out for the Alphonse Mucha Art Noveau Museum but stopped first in a McDonald’s across the street from the Narodni where we enjoyed quick service, good burgers fries, and pivo. From there we strolled in the rain down to ul. Jindriska, over one block to ul Panska and the Mucha. This was our 2nd visit here, and the place was packed with tourists. The exhibits had been rearranged and it actually seemed that there was less on display, while the gift shop was enlarged – a little disappointing.

From there we hopped the tram to Florenc and relaxed before heading out to dinner, our destination being the Svejk Restaurant U Karla, dedicated to the “Good Soldier Svejk”. We rode the metro, a tram, and walked a couple of blocks to the restaurant and got a table in the 2nd dining room. Deb ordered mushroom soup, we both had small salads and weiner schnitzel, potatoes and pivo. A nice, hopping place, it was cozy and warm, with “Svejk” everywhere. The main dish for many was a huge pork knuckle. Afterwards, we rode a tram directly back to Florenc station and walked approx. 200m to our hotel.

Salmov Palace art gallery, Prague/Praha
Salmov Palace art gallery, Prague/Praha

Thursday the 8th we rode the metro into town and rode a tram up to Hradcany to visit two art museums on the hill that looked inviting. We walked in through the main courtyard of Hradcany Castle, bearing right and out onto Hradcany square (we had toured the Cathedral previously). The Salmov Palace on the left was our 1st stop, but we stopped to take some photos of Praha from the square which overlooked Old Town across the river. Salmov is the National Gallery of Art and is spread over several floors. Leaving there we crossed the square to enter the Sternberg Palace which had Roman, Greek, Renaissance and 19th century paintings and other art and was also spread over two floors. Neither was crowded so we were able to stop and absorb more of what we saw.

Dessert in u Svejku Restaurant
Dessert in u Svejku Restaurant

On leaving we walked back to the Pradzky Hrad tram stop heading down the hill and back across the river. However, a good section of the ride passed thru areas well sited with restaurants and cafes. We got off on ul Ujezd in front of the Pension u Svejku and went into what we thought was interesting: another haunt of “Good Soldier Svejk”. This restaurant is very popular, and it was filling fast. We were seated and proceeded to order our usual fare, pivo, wurst, potatoes plus soup for Debbie. Service was fast, and the food was excellent, so good that I ordered another pivo. Then we had coffee and strudel-like pastries which were very tasty. Leaving, we were able to get a tram right where we had exited earlier, made a transfer once across the river, and we were back at Florenc and “our” hotel.

 

 

 

Paul Anka billboard in Prague
Paul Anka billboard in Prague

On Friday the 9th we paid our bill, loaded the car and the GPS. and followed our noses out of town passing the Muz. Narodni and proceeded down various avenues heading west for Nuremberg and the Hotel Burgschmiet. Another place found searching the web, it’s located on the NW side of old

Rest Albrecht Durer - the name is used freely, here. Konigsburg in background
Restaurant Albrecht Durer – the name is used freely here. Konigsburg in background

Nuremberg just outside the Tergartnertor – tower/gate(T-tor). In this area was located the Albrecht Durer house, many beautiful little shops and restaurants, and 100m beyond, the entry to the Imperial Castle. We planned a stay for 3 nights, the 3-star Burgschmiet rated best for the sumptuous buffet breakfasts served daily. Our room was on the 3rd level overlooking an ornate private haus on Burgschmiet Str. itself, and our car was parked in a garage in the back of the gasthof. From here it was a short walk into old town every day, several times each day, with timeouts to rest our feet from the cobblestone streets and almost always up-hill climbs. Our first dinner in town was in the Resteraunt Oberkrainer located on the SW corner of the Hauptmarkt, on the 2nd level.  It’s a quaint place with photos of Nuremberg after the WWII bombings on the walls. The food was excellent: wiener schnitzel with hunter sauce and red cabbage, plus bieres. For desert we bought ice cream cones from a stand on the Hauptmarkt platz.

Museumbrucke
Museumbrucke

Old Nuremberg is a beautifully rebuilt town after the destruction of WWII. There are numerous spots of obvious visual delight throughout – churches, the cathedral, markt platz, and stone bridges over the river. It is a tourist town but a very pretty one with much to see and do. We had also arranged to meet a friend of my wife’s and her husband, and have lunch and a pleasant chat. We ended up meeting at a cafe off the Pfannenschmiedsgasse. From there we walked back past the St. Lorenz Kirche, crossed the museumbrucke and walked by the hauptmarkt to go in and have lunch at the Roslein Bratwurst Haus, one of the more popular spots. It featured great Nuremberg wirts (sausages), sauerkraut and biere and proved to be a pleasant place to lunch and chat.

Mushroom vendor in the markt platz, name your poison!
Mushroom vendor in the markt platz, name your poison!

After parting from our friends, Deb & I leisurely wandered the cobbled streets heading for the T-tor gate and to relax for a while prior to dinner. We had a chit for dinner at the Wirtshaus Hutt’n which was included in our 3 nights stay at the Hof Burgschmiet but we were going to try something different for tonght. At 1900 we headed back to the tower gate which at this time was crowded with people of all ages going in both directions (being Saturday night). We strolled across the platz, down the Bergstrasse past the Hutt’n, looking in all the store windows, then leaned left to walk along the Obere Kramergasse until we reached the Burgstrasse. On the corner was a delightful looking restaurant crowded with locals and

Nuremburg Alm Restaurant
Nuremburg-Alm Restaurant

we decided to go in. This was the Nuernburger-Alm, and it’s very cozy, with lots of wood, and communal seating at some tables. We were seated next to a German family of five who were most cordial. The specialty of the Alm was kalb (veal)-schnitzel with potato salad which I ordered. Deb had kalb Cordon-bleu and we both ordered salad. We also both drank Gruner-veltliner white wines before and with the meal. The food was excellent and the patrons were noisy in a pleasant way as everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. After dinner we were entertained watching the group sitting with us as they enjoyed the Alm’s private stock schnapps. They encouraged us to try some, which we did. Deb, never having had good schnapps before, and the flavor being Mirabelle, the first sip took her breath away and we all had a good laugh.

Buonissimo Ice Cream cafe
Buonissimo Ice Cream cafe

Having paid our bill and saying our goodbyes, we strolled down the Burgstrasse past the Rathaus and again onto the Hauptmarkt where we found an Italian-styled and staffed café called Buonissimo. We sat at a table inside, both ordered ice cream treats, a hot chocolate for Deb and cappuccino for me. The staff was chatty and fun and we enjoyed dessert. From there it was back up in the direction of the Kaiserburg, beautifully lit up at night, as we wound our way along a route different from before. By now it was past 2200 and a cozy room sounded like a very good destination.

Sunday morning we went down to a packed breakfast room, but the staff worked unceasingly to re-stock all the various hot and cold items. So far they had lived up to the reputation for breakfast. Afterwards we went back into old town via the T-tor and visited the Albrecht Durer haus which was just to the right of the platz. An interesting tour through 3 floors via narrow staircases and low doorways, there were many of Durer’s paintings on display. From the Durer haus we walked around the block and found a baekerie with something called schnieballs on display. They looked so delicious we went inside and I bought two. They are made from a flaky/crispy pastry rolled into a ball approx. 4-5” in diameter with a coating of powdered sugar in and around the crust. “Delicious” is not an adequate adjective to describe them as we sat on a bench in the Durer platz munching away. From there we walked up the path along the base of the Kaiserburg and went in for a tour of the castle and grounds. This was a very entertaining visit as everything was well-described, from arms and armor, paintings, statuary, dioramas, the various rooms over several levels, not to mention views out of the upper windows looking over Old Town, Nuremburg city itself, and the surrounding area. We left and walked down the Burgstrasse and found a small bar where we stopped in for a biere and a glass of wine. From there we walked past the baekerie where I stopped in and bought two more schnieballs (schnie = snow) for later. From there we went back to the hotel to relax prior to dinner at the Hutt’n.

View out the Konigsburg portals, looking south on Albrecht Durer haus, T-tor on right
View out the Konigsburg portals, looking south on Albrecht Durer haus, T-tor on right

 

Schnieballen
Schnieballen

We walked back to the t-tor and along the Bergstrasse to the Wirtshaus Hutt’n. There were tables reserved for those having opted for dinners via their hotels and the remainder of the Hutt’n was well occupied. We again sat at a table with communal seating and ordered bieres for both, soup for Deb, salad for me, and Deb again ordered the Nuremburg Wirts-style sausages while I ordered larger Bratwurst-styled ones, both with potato salad and kraut. The food was very tasty and we greeted another couple who was seated with us. I must say, that whichever country, and whatever city or town we ate in, we were never rushed like in the US. In Europe you have to search for your waiter, and so you relax much more, eat slower, and enjoy the meal immeasurably more. From the Hutt’n we walked back to the Burgschmiet to do some packing, shower, and bed down before starting our return to Ramstein on Monday. We were to stay Monday night at the Hotel Europa as Oct. 12th was a Holiday and likely no flights out until Tues. 13th.

After another hearty breakfast we loaded our car, checked out and wound our way down the Sudwesttangente Rd., picked up the 14 to Ansbach and then onto the A6 to Hockenheim, the A61 around Mannheim, back onto the A6 and directly to Ramstein. Unfortunately, traffic to Hockenheim was slow but we arrived around 1500 and drove directly to the Terminal to see what was scheduled for Tuesday. We were already signed in, which I’d done before we left for Hof several weeks previous and there were flights leaving for Dover and McGuire.

From the Terminal we went back to the Europa and checked in. Jessica, the owner was still at the hotel and offered us cappuccinos which we graciously accepted after we’d brought our bags up to the room. We chatted with her and her mom, Anna, and we had some pleasant conversation for an hour about families, and our journey. We then returned to our room where we laid out what we would likely wear for the trip home (assuming an available flight, of course), and stuffed everything else into our suitcases including several bottles of wine and a gift of German biere I’d gotten from our rental car agent in honor of my birthday. We also had some odds and ends of tour books and pamphlets, a kilo of aged Gouda plus other miscellany collected along the way. Finally around 1900 we walked out of the hotel and headed up to Lanciano Restaurant, to join Niko and wife Anna, for a last meal in Germany. Niko and Anna were glad to see us, and we sat near the bar so we could converse with Niko and we made trips to the kitchen to talk to Anna. All too soon, after Niko’s specialty salads, delicious Raviolis and his version of Weiner Schnitzel, all washed down by some very good red wine, some un-needed desserts plus coffee with a dash of Sambucca, we said our goodbyes and tried to walk down our meal before arriving back at the Europa.

We left Europa next morning around 0700 and I parked the car in the short-term lot for return, but hung on to the keys “just in case”. A flight to Dover was cancelled, and the McGuire C-17 was put back several hours. Due to the cancelling the number of travelers looking to get on the McGuire flight grew exponentially. Finally, around 1100 they began calling names, and after going through Cats. 1-2-3 there were no 4s or 5s and our names were called. We were in the low 20s out of the 35 allotted seats. After checking in our bags I dropped off the keys along with a note as to car’s location. We began security inspection around 1400, and then had some more delays where we didn’t start boarding the flight-line buses until 1500, then disembarked the buses, then re-boarded again, and finally out and onto the

Terminal at Gander, Canada
Terminal at Gander, Canada

aircraft around 1800. After departure it was announced that we would land at Gander, Newfoundland for refueling, where we would be allowed off the plane with access into the terminal. It was further arranged that the cafeteria at Gander would be open during our refueling. It was good to be able to stretch our feet at Gander as we walked several hundred yards to the terminal and then down the corridors to the cafeteria. There were sandwiches, soups and several beverages available plus “real” rest rooms. After approximately one hour we re-boarded, strapped down, and were off for McGuire.

 

Our trusty "Bird", C-17 refueling at Gander, "0" dark hundred hours
Our trusty “Bird”, C-17 refueling at Gander, “0” dark hundred hours

We arrived at McGuire at approximately 0100, where I had booked a room for the night of the 13th. After landing, baggage retrieval and customs, I left Deb at the terminal and did another “route march” down to long-term parking where our car was waiting, right where I’d left it. I returned to the Terminal, we loaded the car and drove over to the All-American Inn. This turned out to be an unfortunate occasion as most of the plane had headed for the Inn, most without reservations. Worse, there was but one lady working the desk so I waited in line over an hour before reaching the desk. My reservation was for a room in another building so we had to drive over to it. We were fortunate as there was a parking space directly in front of the entry door so we took just our carry-on bags, locked the car, and headed up to our room for a few hours of sleep, which passed all too quickly.

The next morning, after breakfast in the main Inn building, we gassed up the car and headed homeward with a planned stop overnight at Marine Corps Base Quantico, followed by grocery shopping for essentials the next morning, Oct.15th and then a three hour run to home. All went well and as planned. This was our twelfth trip using Space A as our airline of choice. We love the people we meet – on duty at the terminals, crewing the aircraft, and the fellow passengers. There have been a few glitches, but by and large still fun, exciting, and interesting. Two years ago we awoke in Ramstein to find over 8” of snow on the ground and more coming down. We will be returning to Poland, via Germany, again in 2017.

Two years ago we awoke in Ramstein to find over 8” of snow on the ground and more coming down
“Two years ago we awoke in Ramstein to find over 8” of snow on the ground and more coming down”

*****

Article contributed by: Debbie & Ed Mucha, retired PO1, USN, Bedford, VA

(All photos courtesy of Debbie and Ed Mucha, unless otherwise indicated.)