From September 6, 2007:

You don´t have these experiences on a tour bus!

Baltic Countries: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland
They told us not to go.
We went.
We loved it!

This is the conclusion of the Baltic Countries. A special E-Group
will go out explaining Communistic rule through the locals´ eyes and
the transitions that have occurred since.

Hospitality. You don´t experience this from a tour bus!
After we left the family owned Labiriniti Campground in Latvia, who
made us feel like one of the family, we headed to Lithuania which is
even a poorer country. Their campgrounds are almost non-existent so
we had to resort back to free-camping. As we headed to the forest,
where the locals directed us, a grandfather and his grandson yelled
to us from the field. We stopped and asked if they had a place that
we could put up our tent. They brought us to and old vacant
farmhouse. The grandmother asked us if we would like milk and
potatoes. We of course said, "yes". Little did we know that she
would then go milk the cow, make fresh milk and dig the potatoes.
Other family members showed up and we danced and sang to accordian
music (alot of for Ward and I). Only the grandson could
speak English but we had an undescribable time. Grandpa (Antanas)
kept our glasses full of home brew. I'm not sure what language he
was trying to speak by the end of the night. We could not have asked
for a more family oriented Latvian experience.

The next day they took us to the Hill of Crosses. Since the 16th
century people have been placing crosses on this "holy" hill. The
Russians have destroyed it 4 times between 1968-1991. People would
sneak at night and place their cross on it, hoping not to get caught.
Pope John Paul 2nd visited it. It had a very spiritual feeling. We
placed a cross on the hill for our safe travels.

Another night we asked a local if he knew where we could put up our
tent. He directed us to a man that was renovating a hotel. It had
grand rooms, marble and hardwood floors, a pool/sauna, pool table, TV
room, etc. We had the whole place to ourselves because it was not
open to the public yet. We had a sauna and then went to the owners´
house for food and drink. It was a magnificant dinner w/shots of
Brandy/Whiskey/Vodka for the guys and champagne for the girls. I was
very happy to be a girl that night... shots didn't sit so well with
Wardo. (He hasn't been practicing with the Russians like the
others). They even hung the American flag for us. When we went to
pay the next day he (Janis) wouldn't take any money. In fact, he
wanted us to hang out by his pool for the day and go to Poland the
next day. The generosity just didn't stop.

Next, we found ourselves in Poland, also a poor country (which makes
it quite affordable for us). Ward's family is from Zlotow so we were
off to track down his ancestors. We arrived in Wiecbork where the
owner of the Bar Hangar said we could camp on his land. It appeared
very friendly with guys playing sand volleyball, outdoor umbrella
seating on the lake, etc. When we asked if we could pay he
replied, "payment is friendship". He was a wonderful host...he
played volleyball with Ward and made sure there was always someone
who spoke some sort of English for me to talk to. Later that evening
his brother arrived and said it would be safer for us sleep in his
apartment. The next morning we were glad to have accepted his offer.
We were told the party at the bar did not end until 5:00 a.m.

We made it to Zlotow the next day. Everyone was trying to help us
find the Kottke name. No one spoke English so we tried to
communicate through German and of course, hand gestures. People were
offering phone books, atlases, telephones, etc. They were even
following us to the cemetaries to help us find his ancestors.
Unfortunately, we didn't have any success.

We returned to Wiecbork and stayed with a couple (Zenek and Elizabeth
whom we had met 2 nights prior) that invited us to come back and stay
with them. They were a wealth of information regarding the Communist
days and what has happened since. We sat and talked for hours.
(Refer to the upcoming E-group on Communism). To show our gratitude
(and for Ward to be able to do some work) Ward helped Zenek build a
fence the next day.

Then to Oswiecim, better known as Auschwitz. We visited Auschwitz I
and II. Auschwitz I is the concentration camp where they held and
killed Jews and criminals from other countries. Auschwitz II was
built specifically to kill Jews. It was huge with 5 gas chambers and
crematories. The train entered right into the camps walls. I won't
say anymore about it but it was unbelievable and horrifying. That
concludes the Baltic Countries.

Slovakia. Immediately we noticed how poor this country was. It
still had quite a Russian feel with speakers in the towns. Every
once in awhile music would play for a few minutes and then there
would be talking. It was a control could
imagine how it was when the Russians controlled the town. People did
not seem very receptive to us.

Czech Republic. Big change from the other countries...they didn´t
check our passports at the border. They just waived us through. It
appeared much richer. Nice, well kept buildings. The first woman we
saw waived and yelled "hello, bless you". It is a very friendly
place. We hope to head to Austria tomorrow.

Weather: One day we saw some omnimous clouds approaching so we found
a place to hang out as the clouds passed over us but it never did
storm. As we headed down the road we noticed many branches and trees
down. When we got to our overnight town there wasn't any electricity
and crews were out trying to clear roads, etc. We found out that 3
people were killed and 8 were missing from the storm that we waited
out. We were lucky!

Overall the weather has been 50-70s and mostly partly cloudy.
However, it has taken a turn. It is now rainy and 40s. We broke 2
of our rules yesterday by biking in it. We paid for it as we were
drenched and frozen. Time to head south!

Fashion report: Leggings are "in" in Berlin. 3" cuff pants are in.
White pants and black tops are in. Very short shorts and low cut
tops are in. Hairstyles: majority of people have the "shorter in the
back and longer in the front" dew. In the Baltic countries its
bright red...almost hot pink hair.....don't ask my why. Curls are
still not in. Bummer!

Loss of Identity: We are wearing alot of dark colors in the photos
because we were told to try not to be noticed and to blend in but it
is very difficult when you pull in on two bikes fully loaded.
Everyone stares at you. I´m getting tired of being the center of
attention! We are known to people as the travelers and they guess us
to be from Germany or Great Britain. They never get visitors from
America. Not many people from these countries speak English.

Rotary report: Meetings attended - Tallin, Estonia; Krakow, Poland;
Oswiecim , Poland; Bydgoscy, Poland; Stockholm, Sweden; Munksfors,
Sweden. Ward hopes to be attending a meeting in Brno, Czech
Republic. We continue to try to arrange Rotary home stays and
project assistance.

Thankyou: Thanks to everyone that sponsored a drink on Ward´s
birthday. Please see the Ward is Thirsty page for the photos. I
think a total of 50 beers were drank between all our friends and
family from around the world.

Thankyou for being patient with the website. Downloading the
pictures has been a bit of a problem. We hope to have all pictures
updated through Poland in the next few days. We plan on sending an e-
group message every 2-3 weeks. Stay tuned.

If you would like to respond to any e-groups you can do so by
entering a comment under the blog section of the site.

Take care everyone.
Jacky and Ward