Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Bloopers and lessons learned from traveling abroad with the Crazy 8

Well.  It has taken me quite a while to get around to writing about the bloopers and lessons learned while traveling abroad with our Crazy 8.  It's not for lack of content that I have held back. It's an issue of time and other pressing matters.

So. Here we go:

1. For beginners, make sure E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E. uses the rest room before you set out on any expedition of any length. The alternative is to make sure you pack plenty of undies and a barge full of wipes. I will not go into any lengthy explanation here but we did learn this lesson very early on this journey.

2. Reserve one suitcase in which to pack your entire medicine cabinet because one of the 8 will probably come down with just about every ailment known to mankind during your stay in a foreign country.

One alternative to packing your entire medicine cabinet would be scavenging your host's entire house in the wee hours of the morning looking for either medicine or home remedy ingredients.

 Another alternative would be staying up for most of the night trying to soothe a sick child as  you wait for the breaking of dawn and the opening of a local pharmacy.

Our medical issues while in Poland were really quite minor - but included a severe toothache, earache, fever, teething, headache and fatigue. Ok. Ok. Fatigue barely counts as a medical issue but it was rather debilitating at times.

The upside of the toothache was that one son came home with a Polish filling in his tooth for a fraction of what the same treatment would've cost here at home. We successfully convinced him that he brought home the coolest souvenir.

3. Pack an extra set of clothing in your carry on bag just in case your checked in luggage gets lost in Germany.

I (semi) rolled my eyes when my nearly 80 year old mother in law reminded us of this fact during our last minutes of packing. I confess that I felt annoyed and didn't really have time to think about one more thing. Besides, in my years of traveling I had never experienced losing luggage. However, thanks to my husband's insistence we did end up with an extra set of clothing for nearly everyone in our carry on bags.

There is a first time for everything.

 Sure enough, when we landed in Warsaw only half of our suitcases arrived with us.

 I keenly felt my own stubbornness when I had to borrow a pair of underwear from my sister in law.

4. Always keep your passport within reach.

5.  A copy of your passport is worthless.

6. Plan plenty of margin in to your trip schedule just in case you get in a tussle with border patrol.

7. Keep your passport with you at all times (see #4)

So. Yeah. We had a minor run in with the Polish border patrol while on our 3 day trip to Northern Poland.

Amos decided that he didn't want the stress of carrying 8 passports with us for 3 days since he was already toting a load of other important tickets and reservations. He made a photo copy of each passport just in case we should need them for some reason. Keep in mind that we were not planning to cross any borders and we had already successfully entered Poland a week earlier.

There really shouldn't be a need for our passports, or so we thought.

And we really didn't need them, except for that one particular moment.

It was at the Malbork train station. We had just exited the train and were gathering our bags and children and trying to orient ourselves when I saw them out of the corner of eye.

Three of them. Were they police??

Oh. Border Patrol.

hmmm. well whatever.

They didn't rattle me at all since we had no slick tricks up our sleeves or anything.

We passed them and continued on our way to find a locker in which to stow our luggage while touring the castle.

We were messing with the locker when I realized they had followed us and wanted to speak to us.

Well. Still....whatever. No big deal....we're just a big family fumbling around here trying to find our way to the castle. They'll  soon figure out we're clueless tourists and we'll all go on our merry way.

First question put us in immediate suspicion: Do you  have your passports with you for identification??

We were escorted to the waiting room in the train station for a few minutes while they looked at our documents (or lack thereof) and discussed what should happen next.

Thus began the long and tedious conversations back and forth and around and about and hither and yon concerning our very threatening situation.

The copies of the passports were basically irrelevant even though one could easily see that each of us matched one of the 8 photos, not to mention that our kids look very much alike and are very obviously our biological kids.

We gave them all kinds of detailed information about where, when, how we flew into Poland a week ago and how we're planning to leave in another week.

Until it was all over we ended up spending 3+ hours in this waiting room being guarded by 3 Polish Police Border Patrol Officers who seemed to take their job quite seriously.

Our bad situation was resolved by Shannon getting our passports from our bedroom in his home and taking them to the local police station in his town to get legit copies faxed to the border patrol in Malbork.  After all these connections were finally made we only had to sign about 50 papers and then we were free to go.

The whole situation to me was laughable.

 We were perfectly harmless.

 I felt sorry that the Border Patrol wasted their time and energy on us.
(Just for the record, Amos did not feel sorry for them one bit)

However, I will have to give them an A+ on doing a thorough job.

I only wish I had a few photos of those officers guarding the door to our waiting area. It was amusing to watch them trying to maintain their solemn and stern expressions for 3 hours straight. I suspect that as soon as they were relieved from their duty they went out the door and fell to the ground in fits of riotous laughter.

We really do not know why we were targeted by the Border Patrol.

Why did we look suspicious?


Illegal immigrants??

Random check??

Our American friends who live in Poland and our Polish friends both were perplexed by the situation.

One thing I know is that we have an experience under out belts that we will not quickly forget. Next time we're in Poland, I promise, the passports will be securely carried with us wherever our feet do take us.

just a random shot taken by Nicholas

Friday, June 23, 2017

Poland (Part II)

 We had decided before hand that we would take several days as a family to do a little traveling during our stay in Poland. We thought it would be wonderful to take our kids on at least a little sight seeing trip and we knew that 2 weeks would get to be a long time for 2 families to live together.

The adventuring was wonderful for us. In addition, it provided a little breathing space for both families.

The options seemed almost endless when we began thinking about where we should go or what we should do for a few days.

Our well seasoned Polish missionary friends recommended a trip to Northern Poland. We followed their advice and couldn't have been more pleased with the variety of experiences we were able to pack into 3 days.

Early Monday morning, laden with backpacks and a stroller, we embarked on our expedition. First we needed to catch a train from Minsk to Warsaw and then from Warsaw to Gdansk.

Catching the correct train and getting 4 children with backpacks and 2 more in a stroller and our 11 water bottles boarded and settled into the correct seats was not exactly a small feat. The process got smoother for us with time, but there was always a level of intensity connected with ensuring a safe and at least semi sane boarding and then settling on the train.  We found the train attendants to be kind, but their helpfulness depended somewhat on their command of the English language. Other passengers were also kind to us and offered to shuffle about on the train so that our family could mostly stay together.

The train ride itself was a new experience and of course a highlight for our family.

The 4 hours on the train went quickly as we spent time reading, eating, chatting, playing games, day dreaming and watching the glorious Polish landscape roll by at a fast speed. Some of us caught a few winks here and there but mostly everything was too new and exciting to spend time sleeping. Amos and I were really happy about the fact that we could kick back and enjoy the train ride rather than having to navigate our way North with a Polish map and Polish road signs that would be difficult for us to understand.

Gdansk turned out to be just as pleasing as what we had dreamed it would be. Upon our arrival we immediately set out by foot for the small apartment we had rented through AirBnB. We were ready to rid ourselves of the heavy backpacks we were toting before we went to do any more exploring around the city.

The apartment turned out to be a wonderful little spot for our family to rest and have just a few moments of privacy during what was otherwise a time of constant activity/interaction in public places.

Gdansk is one of Poland's oldest cities with a history going back a thousand years. It hold a prominent place in Polish history as the location of the start of World War II as well as the place where the fall of communism in Central Europe began.

We enjoyed an evening of strolling through the streets and catching a few important landmarks.

After a wonderful night of sleep, we met  Marian Biernacki, the pastor at Gdansk New Life Christian Center.  He showed us around an old pre-War World II  Manor that his church is restoring and renovating to use for various ministries.  Really quite an amazing story of God's provision and blessing as this church group labors hard together. You can listen to the story here. We were inspired and challenged during our time spent with Marian.

He believes that it is very possible that the manor could have been owned by Mennonites before the war since there was a Mennonite community in this particular area of Gdansk.

Amos and Marian
 Tea time at the manor with Marian.

 Here you can see some of the original walls still in existence. The destruction that came to many of the cities in Poland through the war is nearly unfathomable. We were intrigued with all the bits and pieces of history that Marian shared with us throughout the morning.

You can't see much of the gate here, but Angeline and Elliana are standing in the original gated entrance to the manor.

We also visited the new World War II museum that opened just several months ago.  We easily could have spent an entire day in this museum, but our youngest ones began losing interest after about 3 hours. Wait. I'm not sure if they were interested in the first place, but their boredom began to get very distracting at this point.

So. On we trained to Sopot. Located on the shores of the Baltic Sea, Sopot is perhaps the most charming Polish town I have ever visited. Here we had the pleasure of walking out on the longest wooden pier in Europe and putting our toes in to the Baltic Sea.

The following day we trained back to Minsk, stopping mid trip to visit the Malbork Castle. This Castle is the world's largest brick Gothic castle and was a fortress of the Teutonic Knights. The construction of the castle was complete in 1406 but it suffered terrible damage during World War II.  Much restoration work has been done and today it is an amazing castle to visit.

Again, we easily could have spent an entire day touring this castle and the grounds. So much history. So much grandeur.  We had a train schedule to meet so our time had to be utilized carefully. The littlest people in our clan were losing interest after 2-3 hours anyway.

After several more train rides we were thrilled to walk into Shannon and JoElla's home after 3 exciting but grueling days of travel and exploration. 

 I have to give my husband kudos for being Primary Navigator during this trip. He did an amazing job at keeping us all on track.  I have valid reasons for believing our entire family would be lost world without end if I had been navigating.

So you may be thinking at this point that everything about our journey to Poland went perfectly. Yeah!!??

Well. Next time I will tell you about Bloopers and Lessons Learned while traveling abroad with a family of 8.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Poland (part I)

Words completely fail me as I ponder how to sum up 2 weeks of traveling half way around the world and back again with our Crazy 8.

First all, I am incredibly humbled and grateful that our family was even able to dream of planning a trip of this magnitude at this particular stage of our lives.  For a family who has never even spent a night at a hotel, the idea of a trip across the ocean really was almost unfathomable.

We began dreaming, planning, saving and keeping an eye on airline fares well over a year ago. 

A really great family dynamic was born out of our dreams for this trip. The children learned some great things about delayed gratification. Each child's personal bank account became less significant as we all worked together toward one cause. Together we witnessed how each small contribution to the account really did grow into something noteworthy.

Even with the most careful planning and saving, I look back and say, "surely the Lord prospered our efforts!!"  We give Him thanks.

The first leg of our journey began by traveling to NYC by car. We decided to leave one day early to do just a little site seeing in the city before heading to Poland. One of the benefits of this decision was the fact that we had all our work done 24 hours before our flight and we were able to get a good night of sleep at the hotel before our long day of flying.

The two highlights in NYC were riding the Staten Island Ferry and visiting Ground Zero. We explored a few remote areas of the city, mostly due to losing our way. (that's just a nice way of saying we got lost a few times)

Perhaps I should say here at the beginning that traveling with 6 kids was super exciting but very intense. I did not often find myself with a free hand for shooting photos. Part of me is disappointed with the lack of good photos. The other part of me is happy about the fact that I  was able to enjoy many special moments without feeling stress about capturing the perfect shot of each and every experience. The oldest two children enjoyed special permission to use the camera. They captured some shots that I would've surely missed. We did a fair amount of video coverage which I think our family will enjoy many times over in the days and years ahead.

A highlight of our hotel stay for me was waking up to these beautiful girls in the next bed.

This bedhead makes me laugh almost every morning

The children enjoyed their first stay at a hotel.  It was special to share this time together as a family.

"Hampton Inn just keeps exceeding my expectations!!" said Nicholas.

Everything went well for us at the airport. All the bad things that I tried to mentally prepare for did not happen. 

The 8 hour airplane ride was smooth but almost completely sleepless for the parents. I am convinced that it is impossible to get 6 kids sleeping on an airplane. We essentially flew threw the night and landed in Warsaw at 10 am with no more than 15 winks of sleep.

My eyes were like 1/4 this size AFTER our 10 hours of flying.

Our biggest glitch was realizing that only 2 of our suitcases arrived with us in Warsaw. Thankfully the rest of the luggage was delivered the following morning. In the meantime we were overjoyed to meet Shannon and JoElla and family at the airport. They escorted us to their home in Minsk Mazowiecki via train. 

Check out these happy cousin smiles. So delighted to get to spend time together again.

  A huge highlight of our trip was simply spending time with Shannon's family. They hosted us in their very nice and large home. JoElla put hours and hours into managing a house full of 13 people for 2 weeks. I tried to be as helpful as possible, but truly, the lady of the house absorbs a boatload of extra work when her household size more than doubles in an instant.

Unfortunately, I do not have a photo of JoElla doing all her serving. She continually went above and beyond what she had to do to bless us.  Just one small example: Even though she is not a coffee drinker herself, she prepared coffee to go for us just as we were heading out the door at 7 am for the airport. She inspires me!!!

We loved sharing many ordinary moments with these special folks. If the four us wanted to have any kind of significant adult conversation it basically had to happen late at night or early in the morning. The sleep deprivation was kinda starting to catch up to us by the end of the two weeks.

 It was a delight to see the cousins enjoying each other and reconnecting.

We were blessed with nice weather during our stay in Poland. It was a blessing for our travel plans and a sanity saver for the parents.

 I was especially happy that Elliana and McKenna were able to become reacquainted. They were young enough when Shannon and JoElla moved to Poland to quickly loose all memories of each other.  Elliana still gets a silly grin on her face when I mention anything about McKenna to her.

  Collecting and admiring snails was a happy past time for these young ones.

Spending late nights and early mornings together was certainly a bonding time for the cousins.  This picture of Brayden and Cassie melts my heart. The house was full of guests and lots of activity for the evening. I went upstairs and found they had escaped the noise and were quietly reading together.

Early morning story time.

These two are different in just about every way, but both just as sweet and charming and lovable as can be!!! One thing that they share in common is a deep affection for their paci.  Interestingly, they were both cutting eye teeth during our two weeks together, which meant some shared fevers and growling.

It was challenging to do a lot of activities away from home with our 9 kids, but we did manage to get out and have a few adventures together.  Because Shannon's have a small car we either had to super overload the vehicle or walk or take the train if we wanted to go anywhere.

 To market, to market to buy a few hats.....

 and indulge in some zapiekanki

 Zapiekanka is a very unique Polish fast food sandwich. I LOVED them when I lived in Poland 16 years ago. I have tried making my own here at home but I've never quite pulled it off perfectly. And there is nothing quite like the experience of buying one at market and standing in the hot sun to eat it as people break their necks staring at you.

We enjoyed an evening together in Warsaw....

Exploring Old Town and visiting the Multi Media fountain park...Click on the link to see some beautiful photos of this amazing fountain!

The kids really enjoyed running through the play fountain.

 Our family struggling to pull it together for a picture

The sun was beautiful but very bright. I am sad that I over exposed these pictures.  But seriously you gotta check out Brayden's cute little grin on every picture!!!!

This is a picture of the small car that I mentioned earlier. It's perfect for Shannon and JoElla and their 3 kids. However, just a bit on the small side for 4 adults and 9 children.

This is just a small sampling of our time together.  Much more living happened than what was captured on my camera.

We really did enjoy the ordinary moments of reconnecting with our far away family just as much as the wild adventures of exploring new and exciting places in a foreign country.

More on those wild adventures to come later....