Cross Country Adventure

In October of last year, Leila and I faced a dilemma.  We had to buy a new car for when Leila returned to Seattle.  We knew we wanted a Prius, so looked on-line at cars in Seattle and also visited a dealership in Alexandria, Virginia.  When offered a great price at the dealership and free storage until we could plan a cross-country trip, the deal was sealed.

Car

Two days before Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast – and 42 miles on the car –we hightailed it out of DC and drove as quickly as possible to our first destination – Madison, Wisconsin.  Two days and 950 miles later we entered rainless Madison just in time to enjoy a walk around the state capitol and brats and beer for dinner.

Madison Capitol

I did my undergraduate years at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, so this was a nostalgic visit.  We stayed at a hotel room in the student union, with a great view of the Lake Mendota.  [Full disclosure – the photos of the campus are not mine, as I had not gotten into my photo taking mode].

unionSpotlight1

Hotel room is on top floor on the left

We enjoyed sitting on the iconic chairs that cover the Union Terrace.

Lake from Union 2

We visited the dorm I stayed at as a freshman and sophomore.

kronshagehall-large -edited

and climbed Observatory Hill to enjoy the view.

UW observatory hill

Leila claims that all she heard me say during the 18 hours in Madison was, “I remember when . . . . “ and “gee, that wasn’t here when I was here.”

After a relaxing and reminiscent walk along Lake Mendota, we did another dash of 800 miles to Rapid City, South Dakota.  We got our fill of fields covered with bales of hay – just what you expect in that part of the country.

Hay dotted across field

What we didn’t expect was the latest crop being planted across all of the Great Plains states – wind-powered turbines.

Turbines

South Dakota and Wyoming is where we planned to spend the most of our non-driving time during the eight days we allocated to get cross-country.

Just before Rapid City we toured the Badlands.  Late October is a great time to be there if you want to miss the crowds – and if the snow hasn’t already come – which it hadn’t.

Dennis in badlands

We decided we needed to climb the quarter mile long, 216 foot ascent up the Saddle Pass Trail which follows a series of gullies up the side of the cliff.

Badlands car close

Badlands car far

The loose clay was bad enough in dry weather.  We couldn’t image trying the climb after a rain.

The next day was a trip to Mount Rushmore, again with less than a couple dozen people on site.

Mount Rushmore from front

We then headed to Custer State Park for more hiking and to see the herds of buffalo.  The drive provided other, less well-known, views of Mount Rushmore.

GW up close

Rushmore far away

For much of the drive in Custer State Park, we wondered if we were going to see any buffalo, but then found our car blocked by a herd of at least 100 buffalo crossing the road.

Buffalo blocking road

After getting past the road block, we discovered many other opportunities to see buffalo.

Buffalo far away

The goal for the next day – day six of the cross-country adventure – was to see Devil’s Tower, located on the border between Wyoming and Montana.  This 867 foot mountain of igneous rock – which was once covered by sedimentary rock that has eroded away.

Devil's Tower wide

Although an impressive chunk of rock, it only takes about 40 minutes to walk around its base.

Devil's Tower 2

Devil's Tower 1

The drive back to the main freeway provided the opportunity to get close to the many colonies of prairie dogs that we saw in South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana.

Ground Hog

Our last stop before Seattle was going to be Yellowstone Park, but the park was mostly closed due to snow and snow tires were required on the roads that were open.  So we decided to head straight to Seattle – hoping that we would not run into snow.  As it turned out, the closest we came to snow was to see it in the distance on the mountains of Montana.

Snow on Mountains

Eight days, 14 states and 3,223 miles later we arrived home to the land of mountain and water views, evergreen trees and a fortuitous view of more wildlife as we enjoyed walking around Greenlake – one of our favorite walks in Seattle.

Eagle

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Once in a Lifetime Opportunity

I can’t imagine traveling cross-country to attend a presidential inauguration, but it was the opportunity of a lifetime while I am living 15 blocks from the Capitol.  Plus Evan, who is now the Director of the Senate Budget Committee, was able to get seated tickets about 50 rows from the front of the action.

Capitol from Seats

It is still about 100 yards from the podium, but much better than most of the estimated one million viewers who stretched all the way to the Washington Monument.

crowd toward memorial 2

It was an eclectic crowd and the celebratory mood of those around us was infectious, which made us quickly forget the hassle of the massive lines to get through the metal detectors.

Crowd to metal detectors

One couldn’t ask for a better view of the inauguration.  We knew people who had trees that blocked their view and many people could not get into the Orange ticketed section because it was full. You could  actually see the Vice President and President take the oath of office.

Biden oathPresident oath

But we still spent much of the time looking at the “Jumbotrons”, which allowed all million people to have a close-up view.

Jumbotron

As much as being at the inauguration, I enjoyed walking the area the day before – minus the million people.  Signs of the impending event were everywhere.  Private houses were decorated:

Decorated House

Streets were vacated.  What fun to walk down the middle of Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenues without any cars.

empty Constitution aveEmpty Penn Ave

As I walked along Pennsylvania, you could hear the choir practicing for the big event the next day.  The thousands of white and black chairs of the seated area just in front of the Capitol were ready for the crowd-to-come.

Choir Practice

There were more Porta Potties on The Mall than I have ever seen before.

porta poties in front of air and space

Lione of Porta Poties

Preparations for the parade were equally frantic as for the inauguration.  Cameras being made ready.  Flags and other decorations to place along the route.  DC politicians ready to make a statement about taxes and representation. And finally the pavilion for the First Family to watch the parade.Camera ready

Willard

Putting up bunting

tax without rep sign

DC Viewing Area

President viewing area

I am a person who thinks the best place to see the Super Bowl or other big events is from the comfort of the couch in front of a large-screen TV, so I suspect that will be my plan for future inaugurations.  But it was a perfect way to spend the day — to hear the president speak of policies aligned with my beliefs and spend time with my son.

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Iconically DC

  Cherry Blossom Festival

It’s spring in DC and that ushers in many events special to Washington, DC.  This year was the 100th anniversary of the donation of 3,000 cherry trees to Washington, DC by the mayor of Tokyo, Japan.  The mild winter meant that the trees blossomed well before the annual Cherry Blossom Festival and that the blossoms quickly faded.  When Leila and I finally made it to the Tidal Basin, which is lined with many of the cherry trees, they were nothing but a sea of green.  But I was here last year and could remember back to seeing the city dressed in pink.

Cherry Blossoms

The Cherry Blossom Parade and Festival still occurred without the accompaniment of flowers – including the requisite Cherry Blossom Balloons, Cherry Blossom Princesses and Tyco Drummers.

White House Easter Egg Roll

But the most iconic event of the season is the annual Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House – started by President Andrew Jackson in the 1860s.  This year 35,000 people in five waves of 7,000 spread across the lawn to participate in the egg roll activities.

There is the egg roll itself.  The older children are “into” the competition

While the younger children aren’t sure what’s the fuss.

Young egg roller 1

Other activities include face painting, egg coloring and several exercise challenges in honor of the First Ladies “Let’s Move” initiative.

Most important of course is the “paper bag” kite making and “bunny copter” construction organized by the Lawrence Hall of Science – where I got my start in the informal science education profession.

Leila and I volunteered to help participants make kites. Non-stop helping kids pick the color kite they want, encouraging them to decorate the kite,

Adding streamers and strings,

before sending them off to run hard!

It will be at least a year before I want to see another paper bag kite.

The main event of the day, however, was seeing the First Family mix with the crowd.  The arrival of the First Family kicks off with a welcome from the President – the dot-sized, white- shirted person at the center of the photo.

Then he moved into the crowd and started one of the egg roll competitions.

The highlight this year was the First Family reading books to a crowd of children.  Sasha and Malia read the first book.

Then the President read Where the Wild Things Are.

One also appreciated the number of people that made it possible to usher them into the crowd.  How many staffers and Secret Service personnel can you count in the background below?

Secret Service Entourage

I count 19, and there are more not visible in the photo.

Later in the morning, Michelle Obama participated in a “healthy-cooking” demonstration.  Leila got to watch the demonstration.  I had to get back to work after playing hooky to get photos of the book reading.  Anyway, I got to see the cooking demonstration last year, which included Jacques Pepin and Al Roker, in addition to the First Lady.

We came away from the six-hour shift totally exhausted.  It was like working on the Pacific Science Center exhibit floor on a special event weekend.  Although pooped, we were also energized by interacting with children excited to engage in some science learning.

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In Training for 400 Years

A “must see” when you are in DC is the National Arboretum.  We went there during the annual orchid show and sale, which allowed us to see the permanent displays, plus mix with orchid fanatics showing off their finest plants.

The most unusual feature in the Arboretium is the 20 acres with 22 Corinthian columns that seems totally out of place and time.

But they become fascinating when you realize they are the columns taken from The Capitol when President Lincoln added the current dome on top of the existing dome, which wasn’t grand enough.  The puny columns seemed out of scale relative to the new dome, so new columns were commissioned.  The result being the building you can see in this blog’s masthead.

But the “really must see” in the Arboretum is The National Bonsai Collection with trees of many types and ages.  Leila and I looked for trees in training as long as we have been.

Here’s one that’s been in training one year longer than Leila

And another tree that’s been in training for a year longer than me

It was a great time of year to be there because the leaves of the miniature deciduous trees also turn color and fall off.

There is a bonsai that’s been in training since before Civil War There is a bonsai that’s been in training since shortly after the Revolutionary War But the must see of the must sees is the Japanese White Pine that has been in training for almost 400 years. And how do we know it is 386 years old?  Because it was in the same family in Hiroshima Japan from 1626 until 1976 when the bonsai was included in the donation of 53 bonsai in celebration of the US Bicentennial that started the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum at the Arboretum.  More amazing is the plant survived being within two miles of “ground zero” when the atomic bomb was dropped on the city on August 6, 1945.

One reason that people don’t get to the Arboretum is that they consider it too far to go – three miles NE of The Capitol.  I suggest taking a taxi or bus there, but the walk back takes you past one of the up-and-coming neighborhoods in DC – “H” Street from 2nd St NE to the intersection with Florida Ave NE. The walk passes one my favorite restaurants – the Star and Shamrock.

From the Star and Shamrock Web Site

It’s the cross between a Jewish delicatessen and an Irish pub.  Where else could you get a Ruben made with homemade corned beef and a Snakebite – dark Guinness floating on top of light hard cider. I hope your new year is off to a great start and that you enjoy your next year in training.

Future blogs:  Domes of DC and Finding Good Espresso in DC (you knew coffee had to be topic of discussion at some point)

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What is a Jewish boy from Eastern Europe Doing with a German Name? — Finding History and Heritage (Part 2)

What is a Jewish boy from Eastern Europe Doing with a German Name?

For most of my life I assumed that my name came from the German word for “treasure” – often used as a word of endearment for your wife or sweetheart.  A couple of weeks ago when checking in for my plane in Flagstaff, AZ, the counter person said, “Greetings Mr. Treasure.”

After 50+ years, I finally learned from a Hebrew scholar friend of my older son that the name has nothing to do with the German word, but is the contraction of two Hebrew words.  Traditionally, Jews did not have last names.  I would have been known as “Dennis, son of Myron” – my father’s first name.  But the Czars forced all Jews in Russian controlled Eastern Europe  to have a last name, which often related to their profession or position in the community.  Thus Schatz is the contraction of the Hebrew “Shaliakh Tsibur” — don’t ask me how to pronounce it – which means “lay leader of the congregation.”  Schatz comes from combining the first sound of each word (“sch” and “tz”).  One can’t pronounce this without a vowel, so an “a” was added to connect them.

SCH + A + TZ

The name “Katz” comes from the same process.  “Kohen Tsadik” is Hebrew for rabbi, thus K + A +TZ forms Katz.

It was with this limited knowledge of my family lineage that Leila and I returned to Lithuania to track down my family heritage where I assume at least one of my ancestors was the Lay Leader of the Congregation.

Walking in My Grandfather’s Steps

Attending the science center conference in Warsaw (the topic of one of my recent blogs) was the perfect excuse to visit my grandfather’s hometown in Lithuania, which shares a border with Poland. Leila and I ventured to Pilvishok (pill-va-SHOCK) – spelled “Pilviskiai” in Lithuanian where my grandfather – on my father’s side – was born.

The town’s name comes from the Pilve River which flows by the town.

Pilvishok is about 100 miles west of Vilnius, the country’s capitol.  Vilnius looks like most modern European cities with many stylish young people connected to their electronic devices.  Vilnius recently made the news when the mayor decided to take extreme measures against people who parked illegally – he drove a tank over the top of the cars.

Photo Compliments of the Local Press

 You can see the mayor in action at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQ-8xj8CUZw

We do know that my grandfather, Harry Schatz, immigrated to Des Moines, Iowa, in 1896 at the age of 16. Many people were forced to leave Pilvishok after a fire in the late 1800’s destroyed most the town of about 2,000 people.  More than half of these people were Jews.

Why Des Moines, Iowa, you might ask?  It was because his sister, who emigrated a number of years earlier, lived there.  But that only shifts the question to why did she move there?  Although we don’t know for sure, one reason came to me as I perspired profusely during our travels to Pilvishok.  Iowa and Lithuania are both hot and humid in the summer and cold and snowy in the winter – and much of the countryside reminded me of Iowa.

We were lucky enough to find a guide whose profession is to help family’s connect to their heritage in Lithuania.  Regina Kopilevich has helped more than 150 families search out reminders and remnants of their heritage. 

She hired a driver to take the four of us to Pilvishok, which turned out to be primarily a reflective, somber and sobering experience.  The place is still a small, rural town.  We ate at the only restaurant in town, which was connected to a small inn. 

The food was simple and tasty – and the price was right.  We each had borscht and shared two main dishes.  Total cost was $12 Litai (about $4.00).  Although Lithuania is now part of the European Union (EU), it has not yet adopted the Euro – and probably won’t given the recent financial uncertainty in the EU.

The only post box was a small yellow container outside the post office.  I took the opportunity to mail a few postcards to relatives to say they were mailed from Grandpa’s home town. 

There is essentially nothing remaining to remind one that the town was once more than half Jewish.  A collection of seven gravestones are nestled below a tree next to a large playfield near the inn where we had lunch.  No gravestones had the Hebrew for Schatz.

These few gravestones were moved here when the Soviets eliminated the original cemetery for a waterworks improvement project.  No other remnant of the Jews in Pilvishok remain, although we were offered the opportunity to visit the “killing fields” and “mass graves”  three miles North of the town where more than 1,000 Jews were murdered and buried during WWII.  We passed on the opportunity after a day of seeing what little remained of Jewish life in Pilvishok.

We did visit the Pilvishok train station, which still has regular train service. 

It was the embarkment location for many Jews who were sent East to Soviet Gulags when the Soviets controlled the area before WWII. 

After the Germans invaded, it became the embarkment point to the West for the extermination camps.  Ironically, those people sent to the Gulags were more likely to survive WWII than those people who remained to be dealt with by the Germans.

The fate of the Jews in Pilvishok was not much different from the rest of Lithuania.  Before WWII there were 250,000 Jews in the country.  Today there are 5,000.  Vilnius, the largest city in the country has only one operating synagogue.

Regina did take us by buildings that used to be synagogues.

Both of these buildings are in Mariampol, about half way between Vilnius and Pilvishok.  The first one is now a teacher’s college and the other houses a weaving factory with rows of large, loud weaving machines.

We went through Mariampol because we did find out from a distant relative in Israel that my grandfather’s father moved to Mariampol to live with his daughter after his wife died.  We thought maybe we could find his grave.  But like Pilvishok, little remains of the Jewish cemetery – just 10 headstones in a circle with a memorial in the center to note that a large Jewish cemetery once existed here.

Again, no gravestones with the Hebrew name Schatz.

Not All Somber and Reflective

The 100 mile drive back to Vilnius was primarily a quiet and reflective time, but we did get to enjoy some of the country’s beauty.  Lithuania is the land of storks, with the White Stork being the national bird (three to four feet tall, with a wing span of six to seven feet).  You see them walking across the fields looking for food or nesting in any high location that provides a big enough base for their large nests.

A number of webcams are set up to follow storks in their nest.  Unfortunately, the birds have migrated to Africa for the winter.  You can bookmark one of the webcams (http://www.ustream.tv/channel/stork-nest-lithuania) and wait for next spring or you can go to YouTube to see several videos.  Here’s a cute one of an adult stork feeding five babies http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=M6kvxoc59PA).

On the way back to Vilnius, we passed through Kaunas, the second largest city in Lithuania, where we enjoyed beautiful views of the river and the “time travel” bridge.  In the early 1900’s, one side of the river followed the Gregorian calendar, while the other side followed the Eastern Orthodox calendar, so crossing the bridge took you 13 days into the past or future, depending on which way you traveled.

We also got a great view of what I dubbed the “Smiley Face Sundial.”  The whimsical sundial decorates the side of a Kaunas University of Technology building. 

The Next Blog Post

What’s brown and green, and been in training for 400 years.  Check the next blog post for the answer.

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I Thought We Left These Behind in Seattle

We just returned from the Bay Area to see Leila’s mom and a first visit with our six-week-old granddaughter, Nora, and her three-year-old sister, Leah – and oh yes the parents, who seemed only slightly sleep deprived.  We took Leah on an outing to the Bay Area Discovery Center to give Colin and Anna some time without two children.

We also got Leah to stand still just long enough to capture a photo of Leah, Nora and Corduroy.  Yes I know that Corduroy should be a brown bear with green overalls, but not in Leah’s creative mind.

And now to the main theme of the post. . .

An Earthquake in DC?  Who would of thought?

I wondered who was moving something heavy down the hall as my desk lightly shook and a faint rumble started. When the NSF office building started to really shake, my mind went to, “these aren’t supposed to happen on the East Coast.”  As the shaking got as bad as I remember during the Nisqually Earthquake in 2001, I moved to the doorway wondering if the shaking was going to stop or would it get stronger? Was stuff going to come tumbling off my shelves? Was I really going to die in an earthquake that’s not on the west coast? And then it stopped. I continued to stand in the doorway and watched the large mobile that hangs in the building’s atrium continue to swing slowly back and forth.

My office suite on the 8th floor looks out at the circle

People stopped by and said, “What are we supposed to do? Where are we supposed to go? Was that really an earthquake? I’ve never been in one?”  We clearly know what to do in case of a fire or terrorist attack – but not during an earthquake.  I was wondering if I was standing under a doorway that was part of a non load-bearing wall?

Leila was at home in downtown DC, where the initial reaction was – terrorist attack.  Did someone bomb the Metro, which runs a block away?  Metro was fine, but ran at 15 miles per hour until the tracks were checked – which mean it took me five times as long to get home in a very crowded train.

At magnitude 5.8, the earthquake was nothing like the Nisqually at 6.8, but it damaged some iconic structures.  The Washington Monument is still closed, as is the National Cathedral that lost some of its gargoyles.  A couple of chimneys in the oldest Smithsonian building (The Castle) are reinforced with plywood siding.

From Smithsonian Website

From National Cathedral Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The earthquake was the talk of the town – for two days.

And then Hurricane Irene

We then shifted to the impeding high winds and rain of Hurricane Irene, which was moving ever so slowly at 12 miles per hour up the East Coast.  Waiting for Irene was somewhere between waiting for the doctor to come be back to rip the band-aid off your arm or knowing you have a physics test the first day after the Christmas Holidays.  The anticipation was agonizing – hourly updates on its projected path, predictions of the wind speeds and rainfall, running to the store to buy batteries, food and candles.  The city got prepared for flooding.

 

The West Wing during a hurricane

Unlike the earthquake, we knew in great detail when the storm would hit DC.  Rain would start at noon on Saturday (8/27) and end by 11:00am on Sunday.  With such precision, we were still able to enjoy lunch with friends and a long-planned tour of the West Wing of the White House.  People who work in the White House can give tours to up to five friends.  Mike Feder, a colleague who works for OSTP (Office of Science and Technology Policy) arranged for a tour at 1:10pm.  There are tours every 10 minutes throughout the day and we were among the last before they were cancelled for the rest of the day due to Irene.

As you would expect there are no photographs inside the building.  You get to look in the Oval Office and see the well used couches in the center of the room and the art around the edge of the room.  You get to look in the Cabinet Room, which for me brings back images of the movie Dave, where Kevin Kline is sitting in the President’s chair – the one with the higher back in the center along one side – and is trying to memorize where each of the cabinet members sit.

When you exit the West Wing, you finally get the one opportunity to take a photo to prove you were there.

                                               

Back to the hurricane

We then dashed up the vacated streets to catch Metro home to wait out the storm.  The storm passed through DC in the middle of the night, so on Sunday morning we woke up to find the physics exam was not as bad as anticipated and the bandage came off without hurting too much.  This wasn’t true for people who lived farther east and north of DC.

We even went out for our usual walk around The Mall – not many people there.  There were a number of tree limbs down, and other signs of heavy weather. 

 

As we passed the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art, the flags were tattered, but still flying straight out in the 20 mile an hour winds.  Given all the hype and concern over what might happen, you felt a bit like Frances Scott Key when he penned, “. . . and the flag was still there.”

 

Future Panoramas from DC

Two blog posts in six months.  I’m not doing too well, but do have some plans for future posts if I can get better at finding the time to write.  If all goes well, look for:

  • Only in Washington DC
  • Washington DC Survival Guide
  • The rest of my, “In Search of History and Heritage”
  • Small town county fair
  • Monticello and Montpelier – homes of bankrupt presidents
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In Search of History and Heritage

Getting Restarted

It has been about four months since I sent my last blog post and about four months since I moved to “the other Washington”. I am now fully engaged in my position as Program Director at NSF (National Science Foundation) and am enjoying the engaging and interesting collegial work and relationships.

Leila joined me six weeks ago when we moved into a two-bedroom, two-story loft near Chinatown.  We decided on an urban living experience.  We are 15 minutes from The National Mall, 15 minutes from downtown DC, 15 minutes to The Capitol and Union Station and a little more than 15 minutes from my son’s house.  We can see the Washington Monument, Old Post Office Tower and the Building Museum from our windows. We also get to see the roof of the GAO (Government Accountability Office).

Many friends and colleagues asked me to continue adding to the blog I wrote while in Australia (Snapshots from Oz).  The name of the blog is no longer appropriate, so I’ve decided to call it “Panoramas From DC”. That will allow me to continue using the blog as an excuse to take and share photographs.  For those new to the distribution list, you can reach the Australian posts by going to the archives link on the right side of the blog page.  I plan to send a post every six to eight weeks, depending on the availability of subject matter and time.

So where to start.  It could be the Washington DC Survival Guide I’ve started developing.  Or it could be the glorious views and weather during Cherry Blossom Festival.

Or it could be the many opportunities for unusual and fun experiences, such as being invited to be part of the Lawrence Hall of Science’s activities at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll where the following photo was taken.

It certainly won’t be the 90 degree heat and high humidity that we are now experiencing that makes you need a shower as soon as you step outside.  It also won’t be my opinions on education reform or policy as that would not be in keeping with my position at NSF.  We can have those kinds of conversations over a drink when you visit DC.

In Search of History and Heritage

Leila and I recently returned from two weeks in Poland and Lithuania, so I’ve decided to not start with DC, but with a visit to learn about science centers in Europe and a pilgrimage to explore the hometown (Pilvishok, Lithuania) of my paternal grandfather.

The first stop was Poland – both Warsaw and Krakow.  This is the home of Copernicus, an astrophysicist’s superhero, who introduced the world to the idea of a Sun-centered Solar System rather than an Earth-centered one.  Statues to him are everywhere, like this one on the Nowy Swiat (Royal Way) in Warsaw. 

We visited the Jagielloinian University in Krakow where he studied.  You couldn’t help but wonder if you walked on the same ground at Copernicus.

Warsaw is a city of contrast.  From the new, such as the Copernicus Science Center that opened last year (photo complements of Google Images) or the 3D billboard with a full-size Mini-Coupe on the side of a building.

To the Soviet-era Palace of Culture and Science, a concrete edifice to the Soviet dominance of the country after WWII  Ironically, the building now hosts a multi-plex movie theater on the main floor.

To the Old Town, which is not really old.  Warsaw was totally destroyed in WWII, but the government has meticulously reconstructed the Old Town to look like it did before the war — but probably with more outdoor eating establishments.

We also got to visit the 15th annual Science Picnic, sponsored by the Copernicus Science Centre and Polish Radio.  The event is billed as the biggest outdoor science event in Europe, with 250 participating scientific organizations from 24 countries housed in tents covering 400,000 square feet (about twice the total size of Pacific Science Center).  Now in its 15th year, it gets up to 100,000 visitors in one day.

We even enjoyed hot dogs from the wandering hot dog vender that meandered among the crowd.

Most unusual is that we got to see more of President Obama during our few days in Warsaw than our time in DC.  The President was in Warsaw for a meeting of the Presidents from Central European countries.  Twice our excursions in the city were delayed waiting for Obama’s motorcade.  A couple mile stretch of the Nowy Swiat was roped off and police stationed every 10 yards on both sides of the street.  The motorcade included at least 40 vehicles and motorcycles, including an ambulance. 

A number of the vehicles had US Government license plates, clearly flown in just for the event.  The presence of the Secret Service was obvious and made you wonder if you were suspicious looking even when you knew you weren’t

We finally got a close up view of his limousine as it exited from the Government House.  Of course I was madly trying to get a good picture.  The result, Leila got to see him waving at the crowd.  I only captured the front of his car.

His visit and the presence of the other Central European Presidents prompted a number of protests that we encountered.  A small group outside the Government House was calling for the US to release satellite photos related to the Russian plane crash in 2010 that killed a number of Polish leaders, including the President.

On our last day there a large crowd paraded down the Nowy Swiat to protest abortion laws, with most people carrying antiabortion balloons.

It was a busy, informative and fascinating four days in Warsaw.  We even found the Polish version of Starbucks – Coffee Heaven.  It was a regular stopping point once or twice a day during our visit.

I see that I have written more about Poland than I anticipated, so will leave the trip to Lithuania in search of heritage until the next post.

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