Planning a Trip to Europe: Transportation-Choosing a Transatlantic Cruise

This article has been modified from one of the chapters in my book Travel Back to Your Roots which is available on Amazon. The book describes how to begin genealogy for your immigrant ancestors, how to research and find records in Europe,  and how to achieve your end goal of traveling to Europe to visit their birthplace and even meet long lost cousins!  I did it and want to show others that it isn’t impossible, even if you did not inherit any information about your ancestors.

Three Sets of Cousins Mark and Donna Found and Then  Met in Sweden and Poland in 2014 and 2016

Planning a Trip to Europe: Transportation

Choosing a Transatlantic Cruise

Traveling to Europe doesn’t have to be expensive, and the internet allows you to be your own travel agent. For those who are not tech savvy, an agent might be an option, but they typically will provide mainstream and obvious options. Independent travelers will find less expensive alternatives online that will make the trip more customized.

The ideal travel months for inexpensive European travel are just before and after summer vacation months. The prices and weather are likely more favorable, and the traveler has fewer people with whom to compete. Also, many European hotels do not have air-conditioning, and some that do will not allow the guest to control the settings. The popular areas around the Mediterranean in July and August are crowded, warm, and come with premium prices. Also, August is historically the month when many Europeans travel and you will have stiff competition.

You have two options to get to Europe: a round trip flight or a one-way transatlantic cruise with a one-way flight. If you have a flexible schedule and have three to four weeks for your trip, consider booking a transatlantic cruise for your journey to or from Europe.

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The Invasion of Ellis Island in 1944: The Untold Story


 

My father, Stanley Bryk served as a Boatswain’s Mate First Class in the US Navy during the World War II. He participated in four invasions, led the enlisted sailors of the USS Lyon and LST-372, shot down aircraft, and supervised the day-to-day operations of both ships. But, his adventures in New York City were perhaps the most distinctive and noteworthy.

 His LST-372 returned to the States to be refitted and rearmed before the Normandy Invasion. While there, the crew made a short stop to New York Harbor where Stanley took the payroll master to Wall Street to fill the payroll slips for the sailors.  He was allowed to use a Higgins boat which is a small boat that could carry troops from ships to open beaches. They drove the boat out, docked, took care of the paperwork, and then attempted to return to the LST-372.

A developing fog in the harbor began to pose a problem.  Stanley motored around looking for the LST, but gave up and attempted to land back on Manhattan Island.  Well, at least they thought they did.  To their amazement, they passed a towering figure−The Statue of Liberty.  Stanley knew that at least he was in New York City!  They finally landed on the adjacent island; Stanley had successfully invaded Ellis Island in that dense fog. 

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The Other Three Million Who Died in the Holocaust: The Forgotten Story of the Polish Christians During WWII

The forgotten story of the Polish Christians who were killed by the Nazis during WWII is one which few people outside of Poland are aware. All of the people in Poland suffered enormously during the Holocaust−both Jews and Christians. Six million Polish people died under the Nazis and half of these were Christians.  The German occupation and brutality overwhelmed all Poles during WWII, and this fact needs to illuminate the plight of all the Polish people. Unfortunately, some writers of the Holocaust deliberately distort the tragic circumstances of the typical Polish citizen while others might insert this fact in the last sentence of their article.

Polish women forced to work at a Nazi slave labor camp

The Jewish experience of the Holocaust has been remembered and honored in numerous books, movies, and museums. The movie “Schindler’s List” gave us insight into the valiant efforts of businessman Oskar Schindler’s rescue of eleven hundred Jews. Irena Sendler, a Polish Christian nurse and social worker who served in the Polish Underground in German-occupied Warsaw saved more Jews than any other individual  during the Holocaust (besides diplomats who furnished visas.)  Irena was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, but it was instead awarded to Al Gore for his work on climate change.

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When Fiji was “The Cannibal Isles”

The Fijian Islands are celebrated as a lovely vacation paradise with a friendly population, and it is difficult to imagine that they were once known as the Cannibal Isles. In the 1700 and 1800’s, sea captains sailed far away from the Cannibal Isles for fear of being shipwrecked and therefore victims of the locals who actively practiced cannibalism.

My visit to two islands in Fiji in October 2017 allowed me to meet locals who were amongst the kindest and most hospitable I have met in my travels. Our taxi driver, a very kind young man from Lautoka, invited us to his home for tea and dessert. The next day in Suva we were treated as honored guests of the native Fijian congregation at the Centenary Methodist Church for Sunday services.* Today, the Christian faith of Fijians is strong and fervent, and Sundays are sacred, but their ancestors less than two hundred years ago certainly would not have greeted me in such a hospitable manner.

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Milk Bars: A Taste of History in Poland

In Poland, tourists won’t find milk bars in a “Top Ten Places to Go” list.  Malbork Castle, the Salt Mines, Zakopane, and the Old Town in Krakow are all there, but milk bars (“bar mleczny” in Polish) should be near the top if you are seeking a unique experience not found anywhere else. Some refer to milk bars as “ Poland’s version of cheap fast food,” but it is more accurate to view them as “good traditional food served fast.”

Milk bars are very inexpensive restaurants found mostly in Poland’s larger cities and offer traditional polish cooking, just like your grandmother used to serve. The only difference is that the women servers in their flowered aprons won’t remind you of your sweet, solicitous grandma. These women are cooks, not chefs, are efficient and hard-working, but have a reputation for being impatient with those who don’t know how these cafeteria-like eateries work.  Seinfeld’s hilarious episodes about the man referred to as “the Soup Nazi” in New York might be the closest comparison.*

 History of Milk Bars

Milk bars have nothing in common with lounges and bars as you won’t find alcohol. The milk part of the name harkens back to their origins in urban dairies in the late 1800’s when the abundant supply of milk made it possible to help feed those on a very limited income. Early milk bar meals consisted of milk, egg, and flour-based foods and no meat

 After WWII, when Poland was satellite country within the Soviet Union, milk bars became state-subsidized. Workers were quite poor but could find an inexpensive, hot meal at these eateries. There were more than 40,000 in their heyday, but the numbers shrank to about 140 by 2016.

Milk bars began closing after Poland gained total independence in the 1990’s and embraced capitalism. During these transition years, milk bars represented a holdover from the decades of communism and patronage fell into decline.  Today, the younger Polish people aren’t burdened with memories of socialism, making milk bars popular with university students. The average Pole and lucky tourist will not find a better deal for dining. 

 Finding a Milk Bar

My favorite way to find the best milk bars and other inside information is to ask Trip Advisor Forum experts. These very knowledgeable and generous people will provide information for planning your trip or at the last minute “on the ground” (where is a recommended milk bar in Krakow, Rzeszow, Warsaw, Gdansk, etc.? Where can I find a store in Krakow that sells Polish pottery? etc.).

You will find milk bars in the large cities in Poland but not in the smaller towns. If you haven’t received recommendations, Google map your city and then search with the term “bar mleczny” (milk bar). Cities such as Krakow and Warsaw have quite a few so check out the reviews.

You will discover there are two types of milk bars: government subsidized and not subsidized. Neither is necessarily better than the other, but the ones who rely on government subsidies have their prices with odd numbers in the ones or cents place. These eateries, likely the less expensive of the two choices, change their prices based on the current costs. The menu and prices on a chalkboard, whiteboard or similar board is a clue.

The non-subsidized tend to keep their prices more stable, are slightly more expensive, and their prices are often listed in rounded up numbers: 9.50, 3.20, etc.

A new trend is what some refer to as “hipster milk bars.” Entrepreneurs often purchase milk bars that are going out of business and remodel them to make them more appealing. They often receive very good reviews with mention of friendly servers, nice atmosphere, table service, and the most important attribute: English speaking workers. The food tends to be a bit pricier, and you will find a menu with an international flare: Irish breakfast, crepes, lattes, paninis, etc. These restaurants are highly regarded by many locals and maybe a great place to start your milk bar adventure.

Atmosphere

 Depending on the milk bar’s popularity and the time of day, you can expect a relatively long line at lunchtime. The large menu on the wall will list the items in Polish and the price per serving. The interior will be low frills, usually metal-framed tables and chairs for 2 or 4 people, and minimal décor.

Milk Bars in Warsaw and in Krakow

 The typical patrons are university students and professors, local workers, and pensioners. They order, eat, and leave since the ambiance doesn’t lend itself to leisurely dining. The expectation is to eat and move on.

 Menu

Each milk bar is unique, but all the menu items are familiar to Poles and may not be in English.  Milk bars that cater to tourists have the foods listed in Polish and English. There is nothing wrong with that if it encourages visitors to order. Some milk bars offer an English translation on paper without prices.

      

 One of the best features of milk bars is that they serve fresh foods without artificial preservatives. Some favorite and traditional foods at a milk bar are:

 Pierogi filled with meat, sauerkraut, mushrooms or potatoes and cheese.

Soups: Zurek (my favorite), barszcz, chicken noodle, mushroom, or tomato

 Meat Dishes: breaded pork cutlet, fried chicken legs and thighs, beef roulades, golabki (stuffed cabbage), and Bigos.

 Sides: potatoes, sauerkraut, small salads such as coleslaw, cucumber salad, or mixed vegetables, potato pancakes, and bread

 Beverages: coffee, tea, Kefit, or kompot (homemade fruit juices made with fruit, sugar, and raisins)

 Desserts: Apple cakes, cheesecake, paczki, etc.

 How to order:

Since milk bars are mostly cafeteria style, patrons will see the menu displayed above the serving or ordering area. Stand back and study it before you approach one of the servers. 

The goal in ordering is to be quick and efficient. If you are a person with very limited Polish skills, study the menu and do a bit of translation. You might want to write down the food you desire before approaching the line and can ask other patrons for help. The younger people in Poland tend to have very good English skills. Many Poles in larger cities do speak some English, but the middle-aged and older populations were forced to learn Russian in school and often are not able to help.

Even if it is not reciprocated, smile while you order and start with “please” which is prosze (pronounced “proh-sheh”). Then say how many you want. You can also show the server with fingers, but it is preferable to learn the Polish number words:

  • one (jeden, pronounced “yeh-den”)
  • two (dwa, pronounced “dvah”)
  • three (trzy, pronounced “chrih”)

Many milk bars now offer carryout for a small fee. The cashier may ask you “na miejscu? (pronounced nah myay stsu) which means “For Here?” If you are finished ordering, say either “Tak” for yes or “Nie” (neeyeh) for no and continue to order.

Some milk bars are just a cafeteria line with most of the food in steam trays, but most have windows for picking up the order. You will receive a receipt to hand to the worker at the window. Soups and drinks are served immediately, but there is some wait for the popular dishes like pierogi. You can take the ready items to a table and begin to eat while waiting for the rest of your food. Listen for your order to be announced and be sure to bring your receipt. Confirm that the order is yours.

 The patrons are expected to dispose of their trash and return the dishes in the appropriate area.

Now that you have the basic strategies, you are equipped to partake in a bit of history not on most tourist’s radar. Enjoy your dining as a cultural adventurer! 

 

* If you want to see the Seinfeld episode, search youtube.com for Seinfeld and Soup.

 

Hobbiton in New Zealand

We Went on an Adventure!  (to quote Bilbo Baggins)

Hobbiton is a real place in New Zealand, and we went there on an adventure in October 2017.  Hobbiton is outside of Matamata and is the permanent movie set where parts of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies were filmed. It is one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist attractions. You don’t need to be a Hobbit fan to think a  day in the Shire is a pretty wonderful adventure!

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Sunday Church Services in Suva, Fiji

Going to church in Fiji was a highlight of our Transpacific cruise to Australia.  Fiji is a predominantly Christian country, and the first missionaries were the Methodists. We had read about the unique and lovely experience of attending church in Fiji, and so I did a bit of research. I found the Facebook page for the Centenary Methodist Church which is close to the port and contacted them.  I received an immediate welcoming reply: “Bula, Donna!” with a request to know more about us.  I informed the cruise critic group and a group of Christians we had met onboard the Explorer of the Seas about the invitation.

Centenary Methodist Church in Suva, Fiji

 

Our group of about twenty walked off the ship together and easily found our way to the church which was about a ten-minute walk. Some church members were waiting at the stairs of the church for us and greeted us warmly. They had reserved the front pews for our group. 

Many of us had purchased school supplies and backpacks to offer as a gift to the church’s children, and these were placed on an altar table near the front. 

We had a chance to meet several groups of parishioners before the service, and they were very hospitable.

  

A Lali (ceremonial slit drum) announced the beginning of the service.  It functions as a church bell. At this time, the church was filled with the local parishioners and some other visitors.

Our gifts and the congregation’s offerings were formally accepted and blessed. Our fellowship group was introduced and welcomed by the pastor at the beginning of the service which was conducted in their native Fijian.

Many members shared their hymn books with us, and fortunately, the language is rather phonetic and easy to follow.

This particular Sunday was Youth Sunday, and the children mostly sat together with their teachers, and the “Youth” (who appeared to be ages 18-35) were seated in the front and did most of the singing and teaching.  The young women wore white dresses, and many had traditional Fijian hairstyles. Their worship was without instruments, and their voices were lovely, like angels singing, often in four-part harmony. 

The congregation is very traditional and conservative in their style of worship and dress.  The women wore their finest outfits, and the men wore a dark sulu (skirts), a white dress shirt, a tie, and a suit jacket. 

After the service, a curtain was drawn to allow the youth to prepare for a drama. While we could not understand the words, it was obvious the drama was about judgment day and began with the introduction of various types of characters: the humble, the arrogant, the unbeliever, and finally the man who begged crumbs that fell from the table of the rich man.

 

When the poor man died, he was placed on a stretcher that accidentally fell apart, but the performers improvised and just carried him out the front door. The children howled with laughter. The men returned with his coffin.

 

The judgment scene was quite hilarious and tragic at the same time. The Devil, dressed in blackface and clothing, beckoned those to be judged to join him. Two angels guided the judged to their destiny.  Those who went to hell were sent to a smoky area of fire. The congregation, especially the children, loved the drama, and we also found it entertaining.

Visitors can attend the Sunday services at 10:00, but I am so pleased that we were anticipated and especially welcomed because of my prior contact.  The entire service lasted about three hours and the Christian Fijian’s hospitality was warm and friendly.

Besides the lovely singing and sincere worship, I was impressed how reverent the Fijians are about their faith. The island is mostly Christian and has been so since about 1860 when most of the people were converted.

The military takeover relaxed some of the Sunday blue laws, but much of the city is closed on Sundays. It is only recently that some stores and the museum are open after church services and then only when a ship is in port.  Most of those in Suva attend services on Sunday.  Their desire to hold on to tradition is admirable.

We had lunch and walked around a few open shops (Jack’s is one of the largest) before taking a taxi (about $3 USD.) to the Suva Museum.  There are many interesting displays about Fiji’s history and culture, and they don’t hide the fact that cannibalism is part of Fiji’s past. Fiji was referred to as the Cannibal Islands in the late 1700-early 1800’s with good reason.  Sailors were terrified at the possibility of being shipwrecked in the area. The early missionaries left journals and stories about their eyewitness accounts. The last missionary was eaten  in 1863. This practice of devouring one’s enemy had more to do with power and humiliation than anything else.  What is remarkable is that Fiji as a culture seems to be traveling in a positive but opposite trajectory compared to many people from western nations who seem to be shedding their moral principles.

A Miss Fiji Beauty Contest was taking place outside of the museum. The young ladies were in their traditional dress, and a festival was also going on.

 

 

 

 

 

We walked back to the ship and stopped in a park to rest. There were some homeless people who target the tourists, but they were not aggressive.

The day was delightful and a unique cultural and spiritual experience, and the Fijians were hospitable and gracious.