Friday, March 26, 2010

Flashback Friday: In which I almost go to Poland by mistake

In the summer of 2002, my parents came to visit us in Moscow, Russia. We had a great time showing them around the city and teaching them how to be spied on. They stayed in a spare room down the hall from ours and at one point, my mom said, OUT LOUD, "so, Bridget, the guy who's listening in on this room..." before I could shush her. Rule #1: They know we know they're listening, and we know it, but you never admit it.

After Moscow, we traveled together to the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, and Slovakia. Slovakia is an interesting place for me because a sizeable chunk of my ancestors come from there (I am 1/4 Slovakian, in fact, which is a "sizeable chunk" when you're a whitey mostly European mutt like me). On this trip, I actually had the chance to meet a few relatives. In classy Prievidza, we stayed with our cousins the Bubnas family. They made us dinner out of vegetables in their garden and we sat on their porch afterward and listened to their kids play the guitar. That night, I had what was at the time my worst night of sleep ever. It still couldn't take away the magic of that visit.

Then we continued traveling farther east into the heart of Slovakia. I had noticed a stark contrast even between Vienna and Bratislava. Now I noticed a similar deterioration between western Slovakia and eastern Slovakia. Our cousins in Humenne, not far from the Polish/Ukranian/Hungarian/Romanian border, were just as hospitable as the ones in Prievidza. But they lived in humbler surroundings. One of the older men's shirts was so worn that the accumulated years of sweat had burned holes through the armpits. I believe he referred to it jokingly as "air conditioning."

Visiting with these relatives was like getting a peek at an alternate reality for my life, one that could easily have come to pass if my great-great-whoever hadn't put in motion the plans for a member of the family to get themselves to America.

Anyway, on a day trip in eastern Slovakia, we visited Dukla Pass, the site of one of the bloodiest and most heavily fought battles between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in WWII. There was a proper memorial and an artfully arranged monument of abandoned tanks. But there were also tanks abandoned randomly throughout the area, which gave the place an unsettled and melancholy feel. It was shortly after visiting Dukla Pass that we decided, "hey, why not visit Poland?"

It was a colossal lack of judgment on the part of all four of us. We waited in a line of vehicles to pass through the border for a while, then reached the guards' booth and handed over our passports. It was around this time that we started getting nervous. The official who accepted our passports took one look at them and immediately got on the phone. My mom suddenly remembered hearing about a friend of hers who took nine hours to get through this same crossing.

It must have all seemed very suspicious to the guard, but we immediately begged for our passports back. We said we'd changed our mind, that we didn't want to visit Poland, and was there anywhere we could turn around? Thankfully, we weren't too far into the process that we couldn't back out of it. We all breathed a sigh of relief when the guard let us turn around and get the heck out of almost-Poland.

I still have never been to Poland. I hope to visit someday. Just not on a spur-of-the-moment whim. I don't think that's quite the proper way to visit Poland. Do you?


Suzanne Bubnash said...

If you go to Poland, take the crossing on the Berlin to Szczecin route--there was no wait and the guy hardly glanced at our passports.

Yeah, the best thing my grandfather, John Bubnash, ever did, was leave the old country for America. Thank you Dzedo!

Of our relatives in Slovakia, the most well-off ones are actually the Humenne group--at least as far as their accommodations go.

The battle at Dukla Pass (Oct-Dec 1944) is referred to in the US as "the biggest battle you never heard of" with 100,000 killed (including my grandmother's brother). The Russians & their allies gave all to push the Germans south back to Germany, and the Germans stood their ground for 2 months. You could call it "Hitler's Last Stand."

Liz Johnson said...

I have always wanted to go to Poland, actually. Let's go. :)

Susanne said...

How neat to read about your family in the old country! I wouldn't have a clue where to find anyone kin to me over there.

Crys said...

You are the worst spy. I love it! You think with that young face you would look more innocent :) This brings back memories of your post on the Russians listening in on church and searching your apartment.


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