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Part 3: Operation Iraqi Freedom vacation - in Europe!

Author: Ben Shakman (More Trip Reviews by Ben Shakman)
Date of Trip: March 2006

We went back to Marcin's flat after the park and the grown -- ups had snacks and hot tea while the kids played. The twins were enrolled in a modern dance class and they wanted to put on a performance. I was really impressed with their routine and also glad that our children were unable to follow the song that they used for their music as it was American hip -- hop and not really appropriate for children. I suppose that it was fine for kids who did not understand the lyrics, but that was a recurring theme with music that we heard various places. Later in the vacation, we had a very elegant dinner while listening to some hardcore gangster rap.

It was great to be able to spend so much time catching up with Marcin and also getting to know his wife. He was another very good friend of mine in Iraq and I told him before I left that I looked forward to the day when our children could play together. And play together they did -- they even went out to the local playground together. The girls had a blast with the twins.

Dinner was another set of Polish specialties and these were all home -- made. There were several different varieties of pickles and other appetizers followed by three different entrees. Our favorite (by far) was a beef roll stuffed with vegetables and served over bigos (a very traditional cabbage and onion casserole). Charleen and I found a private moment to discuss the dinner and we concluded that Marcin and his wife must have spent the better part of a full day working on the meal. It was SOOOOO good!

Eventually, bedtime arrived for the twins and it was obvious that our kids were wiped out as well. Marcin led us back to the hotel and also showed us the road to Sczcecin so that we could make the next day's drive as short as possible. 

April 2nd (Day 16)
I checked us out of the hotel and found yet another discrepancy on the bill. I managed to convince the person at the desk that adding undisclosed charges after someone checked in was simply not acceptable and had it taken off the bill. That seemed to be a recurring theme that irritated me greatly.

We loaded up our car and checked out of the hotel so that we could drive to Sczcecin -- the next stop on our marathon vacation. We were on the outskirts of Bydgoszcz when we happened across a flea market being held in the parking lot of a medium -- sized church. We decided to stop and ultimately wound up buying each kid a new pair of pants. One of the most frustrating things on this vacation was our unrequited desire to find some clothes with other than English writing on them -- it was simply not to be.

We continued on to Sczcecin and made our way in towards the city center. We were scheduled to meet my friend Darek and spend some time with him and his family. I've known Darek since 2002 when he was a foreign student at Ft. Lee and we attended the same Officer Advanced Course. I also got to spend a fair amount of time with him in Iraq as he was at a base in the same town as me and we would get together to compare notes on the experience on a regular basis. I certainly learned a lot about the Polish military from him and consider him to be someone I will remain friends with for years to come. He and his wife were also instrumental in helping us arrange certain aspects of our vacation.

We stopped by a bus station because Charleen wanted to use the bathroom. Darek called to check on our progress while we were waiting for her and then drove out to meet us there. We followed him over to his flat and conducted proper introductions. His children are a bit older (Ada,12 & Karl,17) but they seemed happy to play with Allison and Lizzy. His 12 -- year old daughter was a big hit with them and spoke sufficient English that they could talk with her in addition to playing. She wound up taking them to a park while I caught up with Darek. He showed me a year book of sorts that had been presented to each of the Polish soldiers on his rotation and I looked through it and spotted many people who I had known and served with as well. The commonality of our experiences was really emphasized by reviewing the photos and talking about the people and places.

Darek's wife Agata fed us some Polish stew as a snack and then we went to find the children so that we could go check into our hotel and set out for some late -- afternoon sightseeing. We followed Darek down to the old town center and discovered that our hotel (Podzamcze) was virtually in the shadow of an old castle. We entered through the restaurant and got checked -- in. Our "apartment" was on the second floor (ground floor did not count) so we hauled our bags up three flights of stairs -- a task that would have been far more difficult if we had not had Darek and his 17 -- year old son helping us. After that, we ditched the car in a guarded parking area that left me a little leery. Fortunately, I was able to park it right next to the guard dog's pen and he barked at me enough to make me think that he would be an effective deterrent.

We put everything in the room and Charleen elected to take a nap so that she could try to kick her cold. The girls went with me and we went sightseeing with Darek and his family. We walked down by the river and Darek pointed out the port system to me (we're both logisticians, so it was interesting for me even though the average person would have been very bored) and showed me where the Polish Army shipped all of their stuff to Iraq for the mission we were on.

We continued to walk around the old town area and Darek pointed out a place that is very popular in the summertime. It is a huge set of steps that overlook the river -- very picturesque. Darek also pointed out a bunch of other places that he suggested we go see the following day. It got dark as we were walking and talking, but that was no problem. The problem started with the rainstorm. We hustled back to the hotel and said our goodnights.

I took the kids up to the room with the intention of seeing what Charleen wanted to do about dinner. As it turned out, she had not taken a nap and was not feeling any better. It was at this point that she had determined that her wallet was missing and it would be another day before we discovered that it was in that small town outside of Warsaw.

I decided to go with carry -- out that we would eat in our room. I took Allison with me and we walked down the street to a pizza place. We discovered that they had stopped serving hot food at 6pm so we walked back to our hotel to see what the restaurant could offer. We wound up with a salmon carpaccio, some pierogis, and a salad. We asked the young man behind the counter to bring it up to us when it was ready and it wound up taking a little longer than expected. The kids were tired, but that did not stop Lizzy from plowing through the pierogis.
  • Part 1: The Epic Travels Begin

  • Part 2: The Saga Continues

  • Part 4: The Adventure Ends

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