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Part 4: Operation Iraqi Freedom vacation - in Europe!Author: Ben Shakman (More Trip Reviews by Ben Shakman)
Date of Trip: March 2006
April 3rd (Day 17)
We went down for breakfast and wound up with a delicious selection of Polish food complimented by made-to-order scrambled eggs. The kids ate a huge amount of food and I called Darek to make arrangements to meet so that we could tour the city some more. Charleen took the opportunity to run down to the car and scour it for her wallet to no avail.
We set out on foot and Darek took us to his church as our first stop. I was very old and very large. I was astonished to see that they were building what appeared to be townhouses right in front of the church. I asked Darek about it and learned that they were to be church property and would house clergy members. Still, it caught me by surprise to see that they were building anything that would obstruct a view of their beautiful church.
We walked inside and discovered that they were holding mass for school children at the time. The music was rocking and loud so I assumed that they were trying to broaden their appeal. The church was beautiful inside and we looked at the various chapels built into the alcoves. One of these shrines was a memorial to the 21,857 citizens of the town who were killed during a period of only a few months of 1940. Another one was a memorial to lost sailors (it is a town with a deep-water port), while a third one memorialized the number of Jews who had been killed in the concentration camps. Our tour of the cathedral ended with a large chair where we took pictures of one another sitting in it-- it was the chair used by the Pope on his visit to Sczcecin back in the 1980s.
The kids were angling for a snack, so we ran them through a small grocery before continuing on our walking tour. We went to see a mixed-use building also. It housed a medical school and also art studios. An interesting combination. Darek and I discussed architecture a little bit. He told me that the buildings from the communist times (they are instantly recognizable) are gradually being replaced by buildings which fit with their surroundings much better. I found it interesting to see that the remaining blight of communist times is gradually being replaced.
We had a very nice lunch at a restaurant that Darek selected and then continued on to a park where the kids could play, after picking up Darek's wife from work. She went back to pick up their daughter and we arranged to do some more sightseeing all together after the kids played with Ada for awhile. Lizzy managed to find people to serve her at the park by pushing her on the swings without speaking the language. Allison turned into a monkey, intent on making her way through an entire set of monkey bars that included a transition from rings to bars. It was amazing to watch her figure out how to best do it and accomplish the task at hand. We stopped to look at a huge statue of three eagles taking flight-- symbolizing the spirit of the Polish people.
Our next stop took us to see the old castle near our hotel. Unfortunately, it was closed to interior tours, but we got to walk around the courtyard and even see their open-air opera. I can only imagine how wonderful it would be to watch a performance in the castle's courtyard during the summer.
We finished our tour and returned to the cars. It was there that Darek and Agata surprised us with a wonderful offer-- they would take the kids to an interactive art studio and feed them dinner so that Charleen and I could enjoy some time alone. Naturally, we jumped at the chance!
We walked over to a big mall because she wanted to do some shopping. She wound up with some cosmetics and some personal hygiene products -- none of which are available in the US. There was a brand of German hair care products that she had been watching the commercials for on Russian television with her Ukrainian friends and was dying to get her hands on. She bought three bottles each of shampoo and conditioner to take back with her. We also went through a big store that resembled a Super Wal-Mart in that they sold everything from consumer goods to groceries. They also had these interesting little shopping carts that were unlike anything I have seen in any of the countries that I have visited. Basically, it is a cart that holds a hand basket similar to the ones you find in stores in the US. The end result is that it looks like a miniature shopping cart that is regular height -- I got one for Charleen if for no other reason than the photo opportunity.
We continued walking around the mall, looking for the holy grail of our trip-- a decent looking shirt with Polish writing on it for Charleen. No dice. I led her into a jewelry store at one point and surprised her by buying her a new cross to wear. It is two-tone gold with several small diamonds set in the upright piece. I am not one for jewelry, but I'll admit that it was beautiful.
While in the mall, we also stopped at a juice bar and had some of their concoctions. We also took a bunch of pictures of a Mercedes A-class that they had on display and even found a shoe store with the same red elephant breaking through the window as we saw in Munich. The difference that we saw was that this one was an appliqué as opposed to a life-sized model.
It was raining when we decided to head back to our hotel for dinner. I decided that we would catch a cab instead of walking in the rain and managed to flag one down in only a few minutes. We jumped into the back seat, learned that the driver did not speak English, and then discovered that neither one of us remembered the name of our hotel. Fortunately, we had a small guidebook and we were able to look up the name quickly. Oops!
We were concerned about the possibility of being late to meet the kids so we opted for dinner in the hotel's restaurant instead of going out to another place. It turned out to be a great choice. We had a platter of grilled fish for two, a nice bottle of wine, and some wonderful creation for dessert. Dinner without the kids was a really nice way to wind-down our vacation and discuss how things worked out over the past two weeks. The kids arrived back and we said a huge "thank-you" for providing us the time to spend alone, even if we did spend it shopping and having dinner.
It turns out that the Darek and family had taken the girls to McDonalds for dinner (which every kid loves) and to an art studio where they were busy cutting out and painting Easter eggs with wax crayons. Ada accompanied them, and they enjoyed the attention from her as well as the project.
April 4th (Day 18)
We ate our last breakfast at the Podzamcze and I paid the bill for our stay. We spent two nights, ate one room service meal, one great meal in the restaurant, had a couple of beers on one occasion, and all four of us had breakfast both days-- the total bill was $275!
We drove out of Sczcecin and decided on the fly that we would not spend the night in Berlin because there was a flight out of Ramstein the next day that we wanted to catch. We stopped at the Polish border on the way out and collected our last new passport stamps of the trip before continuing on to Berlin.
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