July 26, 2004
A Day's Layover
My dad and I had a layover in Warsaw today before our flight continues to St. Petersburg
tomorrow morning. Our hotel, the Hotel Bristol is ridiculously nice; primarily a
business hotel so the weekend rates are relatively cheap.
Our short stay consisted of little more than seeing the major sights such as Old
Town, New Town, Namiestnikowski Palace, and my personal highlight, Lazienki
Park for the noon playing of "Chopin in the Park." The pianist
played under the statue of Chopin as old couples sat on the nearby park benches
listening; the paths were filled with young couples walking hand in hand.
Well, I'm off to Russia, but I'll be moving here in a couple months so shall
Continue the above trip to:
* * *
August 28, 2004
Welcome to Krakow
I arrived to Krakow after flying via Warsaw; I was immediately picked up by Jola
at the airport. She works for the university and seemed nice as took me to Piast
where I got into my dorm room and found someone else's stuff all over. The room
was a bit of a mess and since I'm overly-organized, less than anxious to live
Before leaving, Jola asked what I was doing for the day and offered to help me get
some food and keep me awake. We went to town with her and for the first time I saw
the rynek, an amazing sight. Being a hot day however, I asked that we go
somewhere in the shade so she took me to a little place called just off the rynek.
Jola told me not to tip our waitress for the service and explained that service
should only be tipped if it really deserves it. This is quite the opposite of the
U.S., where people typically tip even if the service is bad.
Jola also told me that I shouldn't tip more than about 10% because if I began
tipping then it would be expected and soon the locals would also have to tip a couple
years down the road, whereas that's not how the system works here. The waiters
and waitresses don't get paid below minimum wage with the expectation of receiving
tips, they get at least minimum wage and tips aren't considered into the pay.
I then went with her to help Mateuz move into his new place, it kept me awake and
I got to meet a few more people, although I'm sure I wasn't much help given
my state of exhaustion.
After the move, I returned to my disastrous dorm room. It made me feel very fortunate
that I lived in the nice dorm that I lived in for two years back in the U.S. This
dorm had two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a balcony. The toilet smelled poorly every
time I flushed it and the edge of the shower was only an inch or two from the floor
and the shower curtain didn't come close to reaching the bottom so every shower
flooded the bathroom. Showers, however were rare since the water never got warm
and all the while the major concern was not getting clean, but simply avoiding spraying
the water all over the bathroom, especially avoiding your dry clothes and towel.
The balcony was very nice though and we had a great view of one of the "mounds"
along with the edge of Krakow. The rooms fit two beds and for some reason someone
decided it was a good idea to also put in a couple desks therefore eliminating any
and all extra space. The bed mattresses were old so when I'd lie down to sleep
I severely sank into the middle.
On the plus side the dorm provided sheets and blankets for us, but due to the extreme
heat in those first couple weeks they weren't ever needed other than as a barrier
between myself and the mattress. Obviously, I wasn't a big fan of the place,
but it was alright and for the price and experience, I'm glad I stayed for a
September 1, 2004
Welcome to Your New School
The past couple days consisted of meeting the other people in the program and seeing
the city, although most students in my program still aren't here yet. I'm
on orientation now, which is basic, but fun getting to meet each other and see the
city. The worst part has been trying to avoid the extreme heat consuming the city.
I can't recall everything we saw, other than the basics. The university system
works very differently here as far as I can tell, however until classes start I
don't think I'll understand the full extent of it.
We went on a tour of the city center and Wawel Castle, it was a good tour
and our guide spoke great English. He taught us the history of the city and showed
us the sights of everything from the Florianska Gate to the rynek,
down ul Grodzka to the castle, Wawel. It was a basic tour, but
interesting and I enjoyed seeing the city from that perspective, however now that
I foolishly think I'm local I wouldn't want to do it like that again.
September 2, 2004
The second student tour we saw was of Kazimierz, the old Jewish district.
We learned that it was there that the Jews lived for much of Krakow's history.
The Jews started in the area where Collegium Maius is currently standing
in Old Town and many historians believe that the college was built originally as
a Jewish city in the 1200s, however not enough evidence exists to prove that.
Whatever the truth, the Jews moved to the area close to ul Garbarska later,
however only a temporary home. They eventually moved to Kazimierz, which
was actually a separate city at the time, so Krakow had no Jews living within city
limits. Later this area became part of Krakow and remained the Jewish district.
Most Jews in Krakow lived here until the 1900s when they were moved by the Nazis
at the break of World War II. They were placed in a ghetto across the river
so that they would not know the streets and hiding places. It was in Kazimierz
however that Steven Spielberg filmed "Schindler's List" as the Krakow
The district is riddled with synagogues and memorials, along with a great night
life and a unique feel. After the tour, I went into a synagogue to look around and
then went into the nearby "New Jewish Cemetery."
Following this we went to the Galacija Museum, a Jewish museum in pictures. We got
a tour by the director, an English man. The museum presents a very unique perspective
on the past and present Jewish life and culture in Krakow, much more than just the
Holocaust and Auschwitz.
September 6, 2004
Intro Week at Grad School
During the intro week I was shocked at our rynek classroom, which is in
a former palace; it has a great view of the rynek and will continue to
distract me for the rest of the year without question.
The following week we started classes, basically just survival Polish and an intro
class. The Polish was dreadfully boring at first so I was quite happy to move up
to the more intermediate group, although still for beginners, which was perfect.
This first week has been good; I did little work and spent most of my time socializing.
September 11, 2004
Class Trip to the Capital
We arrived in Warsaw at about noon and immediately got started at the rynek
in "Old Town." Warsaw's Old Town was completely destroyed during WWII,
but reconstructed from pictures and memories of the square so it looks quite authentic,
however as you inspect any building you notice it's been recently re-built.
Nearby "New Town" is similar to Old Town in that it's picturesque,
but feels less authentic.
Our next stop was at the monument to the Warsaw Uprising, which took place just
prior to the Soviet's arrival to Warsaw during WWII. The Poles rose up to liberate
their city from the Nazis, unfortunately, the Soviets allowed them to do this alone,
as they waited on the east side of the river as many Poles were slaughtered and
the city destroyed.
For dinner we went out to a Mexican restaurant, which is one reason I typically
avoid organized tours; tours tend to take you to places that they want to go, to
places that they know the owner, or to places which they feel will suit everyone's
tastes, instead of any place authentic, but less neutral. However, tonight authentic
Polish food was successfully avoided and I couldn't do anything about it, so
ordered a couple tacos.
September 12, 2004
The day started with the Jewish ghetto tour. The area is now a neighborhood and
the only remains of the ghetto are a couple monuments. The rest of the day was spent
on the east side of the river walking around the local neighborhoods there.
September 15, 2004
Galicija Museum in Kazimierz
Wednesday was Rosh Hashanah, which was celebrated at the Galicija Museum
so I decided to attend along with a few others. I'm not Jewish and know little
about Jewish customs so it was a cultural experience. The crowd was rather large,
larger than expected so I had to stand in the back. This wasn't a problem, except
the sound didn't travel well so I had a hard time understanding what was being
Despite not being able to hear much, I truly felt like I was learning by simply
seeing the people and the pictures in the museum. The explanations were followed
with kosher vodka tasting and snacks. The bread was great, but the rest of the food
I didn't especially like, although I've had plenty of good kosher food in
The night continued with traditional dancing and music, the music was pretty good,
and the dancing was very different from what I'm used to. The lead dancer was
very talented and the group was very focused and in sync. Overall the night was
a great experience, however I'm going to have to read more about Jewish traditions
since I heard very little of the explanations, and my Jewish roommate, Dan didn't
know much more.
September 27, 2004
Drunks Stumbling Through the Mountains
Last Friday Magnus and I headed down to Zakopane and the Tatras Mountains with our
grad school class. They hired a local folk band to join us for the trip, but they
were pretty late, however tried to make up for their tardiness with a song before
we had even gotten out of Krakow. Along with the singing came drinking and by noon
the band had drank 5 bottles of homemade vodka between the four of them.
We started off at Orawski Park Etnograficzny and saw the way people in
the mountains lived from hundreds, to as soon as 50, years ago. For a demonstration
on how people live today in Poland we simply looked at the back of the bus and hoped
the band wasn't representative of this. At the museum we saw a few houses and
learned how they made oil and lived daily life. It wasn't the most exciting
place ever, but we learned a lot and were told a famous Polish movie, "Fire
and Sword" was filmed here.
The band sings and plays in a style very similar to this area, Orawski and they
played all the way to our next stop, Debno to see the St. Michael Archangel Church,
a wooden church built in the 1500s. The church seems almost modern in that its simple
design can be from any time period. Once we entered, however the age became apparent
since the walls are painted in such painstaking detail, it would be rare to find
anyone in this age of "now" to take the time to complete such work.
Our next stop was Nowy Targ, at which there was a market selling motorcycle parts,
suits, cheese, goats, and furniture all within about a 2 minute walk. Our whirlwind
tour next stopped at a castle at Niedzica. As we arrived, Mateuz woke the passed-out
band and they immediately started playing as if they'd been awake and discussed
what song was next. The castle is on a hill, which overlooks the lake/river, where
there is another castle.
The views of this region from any hilltop are beautiful, but the time in the hills
even nicer. We stopped to relax and enjoy the views of the mountains as our band
began to play and dance. Many others joined in and soon it was a party led by crazy
drunks in the middle of nowhere mid-afternoon.
We soon made it to our "chalet" in Kacwin. We settled down and had dinner
at which point, as Polish tradition dictates, the bottles of vodka came out. We
also started a fire and the experimental Polish dining experiment began: bread with
lard, goat's blood soup, and all sorts of meats. I mostly stuck with the kielbasa,
which is the best I've ever had.
Our drunken band was playing, but primarily drinking as we watched them in awe of
their tolerance. At midnight they sang "sto lat" (100 years) to me for
my name day and I was forced to give a speech.
The next morning everyone woke, a couple of whom actually stayed up nearly the entire
night drinking, and others who woke drunk so just continued drinking with the band.
We took a river cruise on the river between Poland and Slovakia surrounded on both
sides by beautiful rising hills and occasionally a hidden valley hosting a village.
The cruise was led by a man in traditional mountain clothing rowing the boat with
the current. The cruise included a tour of what we were seeing, but we had no one
in our boat who spoke Polish so we simple watched the scenery.
The cruise ended in a small town where we had lunch and met our chartered bus to
Zakopane. This portion of the trip mostly consisted of everyone trying to avoid
the couple people who were still drinking, which was a game we continued to play
until they passed out after our stop in Zakopane.
Once we made it to Zakopane, I broke free from the drunks to climb to the top of
the mountain, well the gondola "climbed" climbed the mountain. The view
was great and we immediately went on what is essentially a skateboard with breaks
going down a metal luge track. After awhile on the mountain, we made it back down
into town and the rest of the stop in Zakopane consisted of avoiding drunks and
wandering the streets, which are filled with small shops and remind me of a ski
village in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
October 4, 2004
University's Opening Ceremony & Student Life Technicalities
The university's opening ceremonies are over and were interesting to say the
least. On Friday we had the opening of the university which consisted of a march
from Collegium Maius to Novum followed by convocation. The march,
which only consisted of professors and faculty, went by age of each department or
school, the oldest department to the youngest; my school is the second youngest
and wears plum.
Each school has its own colors, started in the 1800s when they were trying to impress
the emperor of the Hapsburg Empire, who was in town visiting his occupied territory.
The colors they assigned have stayed since and have spread throughout Poland and
the surrounding areas.
The last person in the march was the rector and the crowd immediately followed him
into Collegium Novum. We attempted to get into the actual hall where the
ceremony was to be held, but missed out on this. We watched the ceremony on a projected
screen in the hall, where we saw the rector speak. The ceremony was long and little
was understood by me.
Today's ceremonies finished by having classes and the opening ceremony of our
school with a lecture. Our lecture was in the old room in Collegium Maius;
perhaps the most prestigious room at the university, where they welcome guests such
as the Pope.
The ceremony started with a choir singing, then quickly went into short introductory
speeches by our program director, Professor Mach, a Vice-Rector and our liaison
coordinator, Scott. Following this we had our ceremonial opening lecture by a professor
from Ljubljana. The lecture was good, the room was hot, I was ready to pass out,
but was glad I attended none-the-less.
The ceremony was short and we quickly went outside to the courtyard where we relaxed
for a few minutes. The atmosphere was great seeing as how everyone was dressed up
in formal wear and the night sky was starting to clear up. Following this we had
October 8, 2004
Random Thoughts & Observations from Krakow
On the way home Dan and I stopped at Fraciszkanski Church to look around
and take some pictures. I always feel bad taking pictures in churches; I feel like
I'm being sacrilegious, but then again it shows the respect and devotion of
the people who built it. Anyone who takes that much time to create such a shrine
displays an impressive commitment and show of faith.
I decided today that the trams make the city quite unattractive with the overhead
wires, but Krakow does a good job of not allowing them to overtake the entire city
by only letting them cross the old town in one spot. The city reminds me of L'viv,
except that L'viv has those terrible wires everywhere and one can't even
imagine taking a good picture of anything anywhere with the wires overhead.
Speaking of transportation, I've noticed on the trams and buses that people
are on the honor system, which died in the U.S. years ago; most people would try
to get away with not paying for transportation if they could, but here nearly everyone
buys bus tickets and cancels them when getting on the trams or buses.
Today I went to buy a book for class and saw two people who were wearing undoubtedly
American clothing: a Chicago White Sox hat and a Minnesota State shirt. The White
Sox hat could be a relative or friend who lives in Chicago or perhaps she'd
even been there or lives there, since it is Poland's biggest immigrant destination.
The Minnesota State shirt is a mystery to me though, I can only assume that she
studied there or has a relative that has; they changed the name of the university
four years ago to Minnesota State and the university's too small to be a tourist
I got to the store and found the book I was looking for, but needed two and only
found one. I was quite proud of myself when I asked if they had another book (she
didn't speak English). They didn't have another book though so I got the
one and left.
I then went a small grocery store and asked for a pack of water, it was truly exciting
that the woman understood what I was asking for. Perhaps it was because I pointed
at the six-pack of water and said "please another one?" She corrected
my grammar and I happily received what I had hoped for.
Despite my slowly improving language skills, I'm surprised at how many people
here speak English and how heavily the tutoring companies push it. There seems to
be a fierce competition between a couple companies and the constant flyers are starting
to bother me. It's typically only the young generation that speaks English though.
This country seems to be much holier than any country I've ever been to before,
I've seen at least one priest and one nun every single day since I've been
here (except one, but I didn't leave the house so that doesn't count). I
guess I saw that when I was in catholic school, but that doesn't count either
I don't think.
A couple final random observations: people throw garbage away, there is very little
littering and people wait at a crosswalk until the light changes even if there is
no traffic within sight.
October 12, 2004
On Sunday I went to Nowa Huta for a "cultural experience" gone
terribly wrong. In short my impressions were torn, half it was sad and half it was
Soviet. I guess I saw little culture in the place, not because there was none, but
simply because the culture there is so familiar to me, having lived in Russia. It
looked like Izhevsk, Russia with minor changes.
On the way to Nowa Huta I noticed a couple very modern buildings and it
made me feel like I was truly in an American city. The reality came crashing down
however when I saw a brand new building beside a half finished building that looked
like it hadn't been touched for years. As I came closer to Nowa Huta
it was impossible to miss the smoke stacks of the iron mills and the noticeable
pollution saturating the air.
It was sad because Krakow is so much better off than Russia in general, but Nowa
Huta really is Poland and all classes of society. Physically it was any
other Russian city, except more trees and parks. It was also like a Russian city
in that the people were poorer in general and people were drinking in the streets
everywhere, not to mention every bar I passed was packed and loud by 1:00pm.
What really stuck me was that every church was also full and people were outside
listening. Not to mention the street names being very different, the names showed
that Poland survived and rejected the communist times, whereas in Russia every street
is still named after Lenin, Marx, the Soviet Union, or has the word "red"
in its name.
The people here seemed much more defensive than the people I run into downtown Krakow,
but perhaps that's only because it's typically more working class and the
population is older, whereas downtown has a lot of students.
As I was leaving Nowa Huta after my three hour tour, the tram stop had
a man who was noticeably on a few drugs and his state was frightening. There was
a girl there who seemed physically scared and kept inching away from him, I blamed
her little and joined her on the other side of the platform. We were both glad to
see our tram arrive soon afterward as he stayed behind.
Well, enough about Nowa Huta, today I had an exam so I wore a suit as I
was told is customary here, however the rest of my foreign class forgot, other than
the two people who reminded me, and even one of them still didn't wear one.
After the exam I went out to eat and realized the Poles really try to help, maybe
only because I'm giving them money, but that's ok too, at least they realize
that good service brings back customers. Plus, it seems like everyone at least tries
to speak English; I'm pretty embarrassed that I don't speak Polish better
October 18, 2004
Old World Charm
The sidewalks here are strange, typically I'm used to huge square concrete slabs,
but here it's smaller square stones placed together like bricks on a building.
Also all the streets in Old Town are cobblestone and this is drastically different
from anything we have in the U.S. (well at least for most of the U.S.).
The people here seem happy; I don't know why or how I know this, but they just
do, perhaps it's the social youth and vibrant life that exists in this city.
Krakow feels like the vein of the country where everything happens and everything
that misses Krakow is missing so much more that it could imagine. I feel like I'm
in a city where imagination, creativity, history, and culture were and are continuously
This city is also a hub and combination of everything it seems, kebabs
are definitely not a Polish tradition, but a newcomer like me knows no better and
sees them everywhere. The people today are the result of a continuous change in
the people for thousands of years based not on isolation, but on interaction with
people from every walk of life, from east and west; influenced by people who seem
like they would never visit or much less influence these people and their culture.
November 1, 2004
All Saints' Day
We decided to experience All Saints' Day to its fullest, well as least as well
as one can without a Polish family at their disposal. I got up at about 10:00 and
by 11:00 I had bought some candles and headed over to Cmentarz Rakowicki
to see the holiday in action.
I was shocked as I approached the cemetery because the roads were practically shut
down and the buses headed in the direction were absolutely full. The city seemed
dead (pun intended) everywhere; the rynek was empty, the streets and planty
were quiet, as if the people had all abandoned town, and only after arriving to
the cemetery did I realize where they all went.
Trying to enter the cemetery felt as if I was entering a sports arena, cramming
myself into a crowd of people all trying to get to the same place. Even the police
were there directing traffic. After squeezing through the needle's eye the cemetery
had some room, but very little. There were people everywhere asking for donations
as candles and flowers were placed on almost every grave. The sight was incredible
and the hum of the church choir in the background topped off the atmosphere as a
truly remarkable experience.
As I walked up and down the aisles of the cemetery I found a few graves without
any candles on them so I took the candles I bought, lit them, and placed them on
or near the graves. This didn't make me feel as though I truly belonged, but
it helped me feel comfortable.
As I continued to walk around I saw many families sitting around graves and nearly
everyone there was with someone else, it truly is a family holiday, for those that
are still with us to join those that have already passed.
As I approached the eastern end of the cemetery I saw the source of the music, the
church. The mass was full and the people participating spread beyond the reception
area all the way down many of the cemetery's aisles. I heard many people singing,
some crying, but mostly just void of external emotions. The people seemed only to
be respecting their lost relatives, or perhaps rejoicing in their relatives'
new life in a better place. The ceremony didn't seem sad, but neither did it
seem happy. The mood was difficult to figure out; some obviously had thoughts that
made them cry, while others cherished those memories, which made them smile.
After nearly an hour I left and relaxed until night fall at which point I was again
invited to the cemetery by some Polish friends to see it at night. The night scene
was very different from this afternoon's; the candles were the overwhelming
vision of the cemetery and the people were more scarce. The mass was the same though
and the choir could be heard from nearly every corner of the cemetery.
There seemed to be a congregation around a certain tomb, a monument actually, the
grave of Jan Matejko. It was a great event and I'm glad I went, but it asks
so many questions I can't even begin to answer. This curiosity of Jan Matejko
and the respect the people have for him has inspired me to see his museum, hopefully
I'll have time tomorrow, otherwise I'll make it later during my stay here.
November 2, 2004
Princes Czartoryski Museum
I visited the Princes Czartoryski Museum, part of the National Museum in Krakow.
It's famous for its da Vinci and Rembrandt, but quite honestly, although both
were good, neither was as impressive as the armory room. I'm not a huge fine
art fan in general though.
The cost of getting in was 6zl (free on Thursdays though) which is much cheaper
than any museum in the States. There was also a person in each room, as if they
were guarding the art; I'm used to having high tech camera equipment everywhere
and not as many people physically in the rooms. Plus most museums in the States
have their art more protected so there is little threat to actually steal the works.
I was also shocked at how many pictures were simply titled "Portrait of a Man"
there must have been about 10 of them.
The one thing that caught my attention the most, however was the way the museum
used different languages throughout. I was at first surprised to see that all the
ticket information and signs were in English and Polish. After getting upstairs
I found that most of the labels were only in Polish. The third or fourth room then
went to Polish on the top and French on the bottom. Another room had a couple labels
in Polish with Latin underneath them. The more modern exhibits had Polish and English,
making it very helpful.
The people here dress way too warmly (in my opinion), I saw two people today wearing
down coats; I haven't yet wore a coat here and I only wear a down coat if it's
-10 or -15 degrees. It also seems to me that after people here wear a hat and scarf
for the first time of the season, they don't stop wearing them even if it's
warm out. I've seen more than a few people wearing scarves in the last couple
days although it's been very nice out. Some of them don't even wear coats,
but they keep the scarf on.
Also public displays of affection seem commonplace here, there always seems to be
a couple waiting for a bus kissing and one can't walk through the planty
without seeing a couple kissing.
November 5, 2004
Shopping & Other Random Observations
I just got back from the store, Jubilot. I'm not a big fan of the prices
there, but it's so convenient that it's hard to resist sometimes. I'm
really getting into this Polish system of shopping though; I have a meat shop, bread
shop, and a vegetable stand. Unfortunately I still need to travel to get food like
sugar, flour, or rice. I'm learning the system, but there are items I want,
but don't want to go all the way out of town to a large grocery store. This
idea of having specialized stores is still tough for me to figure out since I'm
used to having large supermarkets with everything in them. At the same time however,
I like this system because it's cheaper, fresher, and since the stores are smaller,
they are much more convenient. In addition I'm becoming a regular face at these
places and they now smile when I come in as they attempt to help me with my Polish
that I so often massacre.
Back to Jubilot; while I was there I ran into both Jen and Scott and this
is not an infrequent occurrence. This is a city of 800,000 people however I always
seem to run into people I know, the city feels small yet has everything a big city
should have; it's a great combination.
Today while I was walking home from class I, for some reason, observed a number
of things I see all the times, however never really thought about. First there's
a tiny car that isn't overly popular, but definitely present throughout the
city. It can hardly fit two people in and, from front to back, it is literally about
as long as most cars are wide. People here walk either way too fast or way too slow,
there doesn't seem to be any middle ground, it's odd and I can't seem
to manage the mastery of either speed. I find it very difficult to not eat meat
on Fridays simply because I'm not consciously thinking about it. Most Pole don't
eat meat on Friday, every Friday, Lent or not.
As I passed through the rynek I noticed how full it was, and what's
amazing is that it's mostly locals, unlike Warsaw, where the town square is
the tourist center and there is a new modern business district, which acts as the
center of activities in the city. Also the rynek is under construction
and I'm told that this is because of higher European Union (EU) standards. I
suppose this is good, however I'm only here for a year or a year and a half
and the square is going to be under construction for much of this time. There is
also some sort of exhibit on the square, they put it up about two days ago and I'm
unsure of what it is exactly, but it's large and seems very popular as I passed
it. I'm very impressed that the rynek is still the center of the city;
it makes the city feel like a historic city that's real and local; it doesn't
feel fabricated like many cities that make themselves tourist centers.
Yesterday Dan showed us a restaurant/bar that is low key and doesn't even have
a sign; it was a great crowd, not over-dressed and very casual. The place was very
liberal I gathered and the bartender, along with a few girls at the bar, were always
laughing at us as we ordered in our terrible accents, but they seemed nice enough.
At one point in the night two girls were kissing rather obviously, however it caught
me off guard since I've always imagined Poland to be more of a Catholic conservative
country. No one seemed to take much interest in it though and the night continued.
Another couple couldn't keep their hands off each other and were literally groping
each other, which I again found quite odd since they weren't even trying to
hide this as both seemed sober. It was as if they were completely aware of what
they were doing, but simply had no better place to do it. The night went on and
we attended another bar, a bigger bar with a very small crowd, although I'm
not sure why; they had student discounts and a pretty good atmosphere with a few
dart boards, which we monopolized for the evening.
November 7, 2004
Sunday I went to church. I have no excuse for why I haven't gone to church since
I got here, but I went today; we all have to start somewhere. I planned on going
at 9:00, but I forgot which church it was that had 9:00 mass so I tried Franciszkanska,
however I was wrong and the place was empting out as I approached it. I then decided
to simply walk around until I found one with a 9:00 mass and soon found Dominikanska
just down the street; the people were flowing in so I joined.
The seats were already full so I stood in the back. I'm familiar with Catholic
masses since I grew up Catholic and have attended mass quite ordinarily for a number
of years; however I noticed some small differences. First off, the priest came to
speak first and then the choir sang, only then did the priest march down the aisle
to have an official start to mass. Typically I'm used to a speaker who announces
everything and the priest only does the readings and other ceremonial things.
The mass went on very similarly to what I'm used to and how I imagined it to
be; I could quite easily recognize what prayers and creeds we were saying when.
I was again struck when we gave the sign of peace, it was very short and we said
"na zdrowia" (to your health) to each other, whereas in the States we
typically say "peace." The people only really turned to their neighbors
and didn't extend themselves more than that, whereas in the States people typically
turn in every direction to say peace. The men rarely shook hands with the girls,
although all the men shook hands with the other men. It was at this point that I
realized how young the crowd was.
I'm used to church goers being older adults, grandparents, and their young children.
Obviously there are always people there of every age, but the young adults between
20 and 35 never make up the majority and here I found the opposite to be true. Nearly
everyone was in their early 20s and many had their backpacks.
I found it odd that when the congregation kneeled so did the people without a kneeler;
in the States if you don't have a kneeler you simple remain standing when the
rest of the people kneel. This was slightly painful on the marble floor.
At communion only a small number of people actually received communion and I believe
this is because the Poles only receive communion after having confessed their sins
in the previous week. After the closing song, people left as they finished their
prayers, but not as a large rush to the door.
Dan's Polish friend just stopped by to drop something off for him, but had to
run because he has class twice a month on the weekends. This is something you very
rarely find in the States and I found it quite odd, but I guess this explains why
so many people in mass had backpacks on.
November 11, 2004
I heard a wild rumor that there is a tomato and egg fight in the city between the
young liberals and conservatives on independence day so of course I wanted to join.
I started the day in a desperate search to find the time of this fight, but to no
luck, so I went to the site of it, Plac Matejki near the Barbican.
There was quite the festival going on there with speeches, a band, and people everywhere.
It seemed interesting, but the language barrier held me back from actually understanding
so I people watched but quickly moved on through Florianska Gate and then
down ul Florianska.
Ulica Florianska was packed, which rather surprised me because the rest
of the city was quiet. The Polish flag hung across the street and I saw a lot of
children in strollers holding and waving flags. I was surprised however that there
were relatively few people wearing red and white and no adults seemed to look any
different than they would any other day.
All the stores were open and it seemed more like a shopping holiday than anything
else. I made it to the rynek and it seemed festive, there was a stage set
up, a street performer with about 200 people watching, and the red & white and
blue & white banners everywhere. The red and white ones are obviously the colors
of the Polish flag, and the blue and white ones at the colors of Krakow. I finished
my walk down Grodzka and then through Wawel, again there were
many people in these areas, but nowhere else.
Later in the day I ran into Mateuz and he told me that November 11 is only the day
that Piłsudski returned to Poland, not the day of actual independence. He also mentioned
the church is upset regarding the fact that Piłsudski is buried in Wawel,
because that's a catholic church and he was actually a protestant. Finally Mateuz
told us that the tomato fight is well known, but never actually happens because
only a few people ever show up and then the police arrive, so if anything did happens
we didn't miss much from the sounds of it.
To finish off the night I cleaned the kitchen in my apartment, not that this is
exciting or worth writing about, but the recycling system here is. I asked Dan what
I should do with our empty cans. He said that our Polish friend, Kasia told him
that the way to take care of recycling is to put the cans/bottles/etc. outside on
the sidewalk and homeless people come around and collect them, then turn them in
for money. There are recycling centers, but everyone just puts their cans outside
and lets the homeless people take them for the money. I guess this makes sense,
I just never would have thought about it myself, so I did as I was told and sure
enough they were gone by the morning.
November 12, 2004
I made a journey to the holiest of holy pilgrimage sites in Poland: Częstochowa.
Derek and I started out with a bite to eat then we entered Jasna Góra.
Both Derek and I are Catholic so we felt pretty comfortable in this holy complex
and we are both well aware of the customs and traditions of the faith.
We began by entering the Basilica, which is extravagantly decorated, but more noticeable
were the pilgrims; despite the lack of mass at the time. On each side there are
confessionals, and the lines waiting for their turn at the confessional booth ran
a quarter of the length of the church on both sides.
Jasna Gora's grounds are easy to navigate with the Stations of the
Cross around the outside perimeter. A group near us would pray at each station then
sing as they moved to the next station; it felt like we had entered a monastery.
The Chapel of the Last Supper and the Black Madonna were the highlights though.
I was quite surprised to find more people in the basilica earlier than in front
of the icon. I was also very surprised to find a number of students talking on their
cell phones in front of the icon when there's a very clearly marked "silence"
sign written in about 8 languages next to them. Jasna Gora's holiness
derives from the Black Madonna; this is the center of the religious experience here,
yet it seems to be the basilica that the pilgrims were attracted to. The Black Madonna
marked the end of our religious experience and the start of the history and sightseeing
part of the tour.
We walked around the large building next to the basilica and saw a number of rooms
that were very ornately decorated, but the highlight was next door at the arsenal.
Religion and war at times are too closely connected and this exhibit exemplified
this truth. This entire complex doubled as a military stronghold, and just a couple
minutes from the country's most holy icon is a room of armor, swords, and axes.
Also in the armory is a rosary that struck me in awe, not because it was a rosary,
but because of the caption attached. It was made from bread by a prisoner in Auschwitz.
This struck me as an incredible sacrifice, especially seeing as how he probably
didn't get that much to eat to begin with, yet sacrificed the little food he
got for the making of a rosary. It also struck home with the fact that many Catholic
Poles were sent to Auschwitz.
Lastly, we climbed the tower of the basilica, from which viewpoint we realized why
this place was so different from anything else: there was no admission and no fees
to go anywhere, but it's all maintained on donations. Also from the tower, we
realized how much of a communist bloc city this is, for as far as one could see
it was white apartment buildings once you pass the small downtown area.
November 20, 2004
I'm finally getting into the full swing of classes. I spent much of the week
doing homework and I'm now well on my way to finishing all the work I have due
in the next couple weeks. I'm also beginning to gain a new perspective on formal
education, but I've always been slightly confused with aspects of formal education.
Formal education seems to be telling me what's important, giving me information
I'm not necessarily interested in, and can be much less educational than what
living or visiting the history and culture that we're learning about has taught
me. However, that's our world: to get a job you must have degrees saying you're
intelligent, but little that is taught in schools are ever used in the real world
unless you're in a career like medicine or engineering.
That's why I enrolled in Poland; I learn through experience and by visually
seeing and living what I'm taught. Most universities teach in one way, through
lectures or discussions and simply assume everyone learns in the same way: through
lectures and discussion. I don't learn through this method though and neither
do many other people. Here I can attend lectures, some of which may be better and
others worse than lectures at a university in the U.S., however I can get out on
weekends and live what I want to learn... through experience.
Like the lectures I've taken in the past, I'm not sure I've actually
let any of my new knowledge sink in for most of my classes and going sometimes feels
like a formality. Most lecture-structured classes demand we memorize facts, then
repeat those facts on our test, after which point we can forget everything that
we "learned." If you see the building in which Polish kings lived and
ruled, or travel from the Jewish ghetto then train it to Auschwitz you begin to
not know, but understand history; you can re-live it, experience it... no book can
portray that accurately. Through understanding, memory become clearer, while knowing
can easily be forgotten.
The Polish language class, like a statistics class for an accountant is probably
the best course I'm in since it gives me hard skills that I can see and use
immediately; the class in this case is necessary. Other classes are interesting,
but only after traveling to Gdansk and seeing Nowa Huta, the Soviet's
communist "paradise" do I understand the Round Table discussions and the
fight against communism in Poland.
I don't learn in a lecture setting, but to get ahead in this world, you must
get academic degrees, so this school is me jumping through the hoops, just as I've
done in the past, although at times I'm not sure it's beneficial in any
way other than a line on my resume. However, this program offers more than most
programs in that I'm studying Central and Eastern Europe and by living here
I experience that life, history, culture, architecture, mentality, etc. By living
in the location I'm studying I can use my free time to truly get an education
through travel and exploring my self-interests. By living here I'm beginning
to understand the people and culture.
Additionally, I've learned: 1. Not to follow the crowd; 2. Do what I feel is
right, not what I'm told to do; and 3. Jump through these hoops or no one will
even let me get my foot in the door. The world is my classroom and my most successful
Anyway, I should shift from that to more details about the Polish educational system:
The system here is to memorize facts until they're engrained in your head, at
which point you start looking at theory and hypothetical questions. In the
U.S., theory is taught with facts and most facts are not stressed because you can
look them up if you need them later. Here every fact must be memorized and you're
tested on these facts.
This difference in systems made studying difficult at first since I was studying
in the wrong way and focusing on the wrong sets of knowledge in order to pass an
exam. We got our grades back for the intro class and I got a 4 (out of 5), not the
best, but the fact of the matter is that nearly every 5 went to Europeans and I
think the Americans and Canadians in the group had a true disadvantage without the
same educational system background. Now that I'm starting to understand the
academic stress and focus of grading I can adjust my studying to how the tests will
be presented... more what than why.
November 21, 2004
Life in Krakow
It's been snowing the last day and a half and it's awesome, I'm so excited
about it. The city looks great draped in a gown of snow. The city does a surprisingly
good job of snow removal and the rynek is completely free of snow; this
perhaps takes something away from the rynek however.
I saw a grandfather with his grandson having a snowball fight; the grandfather was
taking it to him, but both were smiling and laughing. I then went over to Massolit,
the English-language bookstore and tried to find a book to read, but they didn't
have anything that interested me too much.
To change subjects, I went to the museum of Jan Matejko the other day; I learned
a little about him and I'm glad I went, especially since it's free on Sundays.
He had a number of sketches that were great, particularly one that was a battle
scene; the details were incredible including two soldiers fighting on the ground.
The second highlight was a huge oil on canvas called "students leaving Krakow"
and it was phenomenal. The detail and expression on each and every person's
face was portrayed; every individual's emotion and the background showed the
city of Krakow in a fascinating way.
Finally there was an oil on cardboard that was of Copernicus. I immediately recognized
it as that painting that hangs on the wall of the Aula in Collegium Novum.
It said that this copy was a test and that he donated the full sized painting to
December 2, 2004
Yesterday was the feast day of St. Andrews, known as Andrezki and today
is the start of Advent therefore yesterday was a big city-wide party. In accordance
with Polish tradition we poured hot wax through a key hole into a bowl of cold water.
After the water cooled the wax we removed it and placed it up to cast a shadow on
the wall. The group then looked at the wax from every possible angle and determined
what the wax was and that apparently determines the person's future.
Elizabeth got a wax figurine that looked nearly identical to the U.S. and she's
currently in the process of gaining citizenship in the U.S., so we decided that
this was a sign that she would get it. Other people seemed to have odd wax figurines,
like a dancing hippo or the pregnant stomach, or mine, a skull with a nail in the
back of the head. Some people thought that meant that I'd be killed by something
being inserted into the back of my head whereas others were more hesitant to tell
me that and said that the nail in the back of the skull was simple my hair. What
was perhaps more controversial was when Jim took a picture of it with the shadow
of my arm in the picture... it resembled a poor under-nourished child and I was
told that the Peace Corps is in store for me. Well whatever the case, it's only
Next, every un-married person lined our shoes up (one shoe per person) and continued
to move the last shoe up to the front until we reached the front door and the first
shoe to the door meant that person would be the first to be married. Magnus won,
but Camilla was second and she is in fact engaged!
Anyway, yesterday we finally turned the heat on. We told ourselves (Dan, Magnus,
and I) that on December 1 we were going to turn the heat on and we did in a great
ceremonial fashion. What we failed to recognize was that turning on three heaters
at full blast would blow the fuse and so we would continue on without any heat.
We finally got to bed at about 4:00am after trying to fix the fuse and make sure
we could salvage our food. This morning we got an electrician at about 9:00am and
he fixed everything.
December 5, 2004
Yesterday we went to Auschwitz bright and early; it was rather painful to wake that
early, a pain that quickly disappeared when things were put into perspective. We
arrived there around 9:00 and came in through the back of Birkenau (Auschwitz
is essentially two camps in one, Auschwitz and Birkenau).
We began at the burial site of the 20,000 POW (prisoners of war) Soviet soldiers
who were shot here, then walked around to Bunker #2 and into the tight security
of the camp itself. Nearby were crematoriums 4 and 5 plus Canada II. The Nazis tried
to bomb the crematoriums before leaving, but the base and ruins still remain.
We moved on to crematoriums 2 and 3. The facts and figures are too numerous to write,
but I can say that it was quite surreal and almost unreal. My mind tried to comprehend
the figures and my logical side wanted to believe this wasn't possible... the
complex is huge, but huge enough to destroy 1.1 million lives?
On paper, facts are easy to read, to believe, but easier to not even consider the
enormity of, rather only accepting them without thought of how huge something was.
To see the complex you don't want to believe the crimes; but as the numbers
and figures sink in, comparisons of how large those numbers are comes to the surface.
1.1 million people, that's the same as destroying a large city, every last person,
but this was selected murder and more difficult to achieve than simply dropping
It doesn't take long before you realize that no matter how much you'd like
to say this didn't happen, no matter how much you want to believe it's a
story or a horror movie, your logical side gets beyond the denial which would make
your life easier and reality sets in. Denial is your mind's way to run from
a horrible reality, because facing this fact makes you think more than you'd
like, it makes you question people, question yourself, question your beliefs, question
your life, your values, your morals, your ability to fight for what's right.
It makes you ask if you're capable to commit such an atrocity, or perhaps more
accurately strong enough to not partake in it if your life was threatened.
The holocaust did happen, but your mind doesn't want to believe it; it still
seems so unreal... or surreal here. It was as if I was void of any and all emotions
to protect myself; when I did show some, it was more humorous than serious although
the reality was right in front of me. It was like my mind allowed me to maintain
composure by using a coping mechanism.
We moved to Auschwitz and saw the exhibitions in the old barracks. These seemed
to take away and give so much at the same time. This gave the site a personal touch
and brought those lives that were lost back, but then it was done in the old complexes
and so the buildings seemed more like a college campus than a concentration camp.
It was if I was seeing it all, however it didn't take place there, but somewhere
entirely different, like a museum with objects from far-off places.
The reality came crashing home when I saw the room with the shoes; there were wooden
shoes and this made me think of a Dutch farmer, forcing me to realize how far and
to what extend this actually went. The hair and the room in Canada II with the pictures
also helped show the reality of the situation, however I still seemed to be so far
removed, perhaps that's my mind trying to protect me, perhaps that's what
time has taken, or perhaps time granted us a gift to ease the tragedies of the past,
I'm not quite sure.
Facts and figures are the "what" behind Auschwitz-Birkenau, racism the
"why," however being here makes you question the "how"? How,
not from a logistical perspective, but from a "how can people do this to their
fellow man?" We are first human, and only second Jews, Christians, Muslims,
Describing this complex is not to describe a place, but rather an emotion, which
can't be expressed. For each person that emotion is different; everyone says
that it moves you and the reality comes crashing down, but I left with an attitude
I didn't expect to ever get, one of part anger, part frustration, part denial,
and part reality.
As we were driving away I kept telling myself that the holocaust is such "crap":
the reasons, the ability to find so many assassins, the methods, and even the people
today. The holocaust was probably the worst act performed by mankind, the people
must have been numb of all feelings; the man in charge of this camp actually went
home to his five children every night and during the days went to be a mass murderer
committing genocide in unbelievable proportions. The lack of feelings and emotions
of them are perhaps what I felt when I was there, almost removed from my body and
unattached to everything and anything.
The method of murder was terrible, not necessarily the method, but the fact that
"doctors" did experiments to find which method worked the best in order
to accomplish their genocide goals.
What greatly upsets me about the holocaust is the way people today treat it. It
is perhaps the most emotionally attached event in history and those that are so
attached typically didn't live through it, but often times know someone who
has. Many Jews it seems want the holocaust for themselves. However many died because
they had a "Jewish nose," or were an educated Pole, or Roma (gypsy),
or gay, or Soviet. There are so many targeted people and so many more random people
who got lost in the confusion.
People forget so much and most have never learned the story; they only know the
movies and hence most people at Auschwitz are uneducated and naive about this place
and the events that took place here. The holocaust will never get any better over
time and the emotions are too tightly entwined with life to argue with. There were
too many victims, but people forget that just one would have been too many victims.
This, I believe should not be viewed in history as an act against any particular
group, but rather as an act human took against his fellow human. We take so much
time and effort making ourselves different and taking pride in what we believe we
are: American, Catholic, white, and middle class in my case. We take so much time
and pride in these things that we forget before these identifying features we are
all just human and if we make that identifier as our priority, then we must unite
as one; our differences are only secondary. With this approach the holocaust is
not an act of Christian against Jew or Nazi against Jew, but rather an act of human
against human, for before all else we are nothing more or less than that, human.
I learned more yesterday at Auschwitz than I have all semester in my Auschwitz class,
at which I've learned a great deal. Education is more present in the real world
than in a book or out of the mouth of a professor and to know Auschwitz you must
go. To understand Auschwitz, however, is an impossibility.
December 6, 2004
Podgorze & Jewish Krakow
It was definitely the WWII Jewish weekend for me. After going to Auschwitz, on Saturday
I went to Podgorze with Elizabeth and experienced a unique part of the
city's history. The city flirted with occupation between Poland and the Austro-Hungarian
Empire, both of which helped the city prosper in different ways. None-the-less this
neighborhood is now famous as the home of the Krakow Ghetto and so this is why I
We started out at Kopiec Kraka, the birthplace of the city, and saw the
living legend of the mythical burial place of the city's founder, King Krak.
The views were good from here, overlooking the entire old town and surrounding areas
of the city, but the thick air today prevented any great visibility.
We next went to Cmentarz Podgorski and simply walked around, but quickly
moved on to the first piece of the ghetto walls, nestled under Maximilian's
Bastion and not far from Kosciol sw. Benedykta. The rest of the walk was
nice and St. Jozefa church was amazing from the outside.
Finally we made our way over to Fabryka Telpod: Oskar Schindler's factory.
We walked in and found our way around. The people there looked at us strangely and
soon we found an exhibition. We entered and saw that it was nothing more than a
clothing show so quickly left. In all, this is a forgotten part of the city tourists
rarely visit, but it offers great insight into the local culture and history of
Lublin & Majdanek
December 17, 2004
Concentration Camps & Nuns
We got to Lublin without any problems at around 11:10am then immediately headed
over to Majdanek, a death camp on the southeast side of the city. From
the cab the scenery in Lublin was simply any Polish city, until we came around a
corner, turning left we could see on our right a huge field, barbed wire fences,
and lookout towers below the grey sky. I stared in awe for the next ten seconds
until my view was blocked by a huge rock structure, a monument which completely
dominated the foreground.
We got out of the taxi and entered the welcome center at which point I was quite
surprised at the atmosphere; the camp seems low key and nearly empty. We asked a
woman there for the man we had a meeting with, but she understood little and got
someone else who understood English. They directed us to another building on the
camp where we nearly immediately met the man we were looking for. We discussed many
things with him and were soon off to see the camp.
The camp seemed very real as we approached it; people were scarce and it felt almost
untouched; almost in a state ready to be re-opened. On the left was a large empty
field and farther ahead of us on the left were the barracks. The long road was lined
with barbed wire and lookout towers while at the end was another monument: an urn
filled with the ashes of the thousands of people that had died there.
The scene seemed more real than Auschwitz seeing as how the field had been
left as it was, or at least how I would have pictured it to be; the barbed wire
was still up and the only entrances were holes in the barbed wire, not locked shut
with a modern padlock. The lookout towers were imposing and made from a dark brown
The end of the road was home to the urn and the ashes of thousands. It was quite
a scene and was again the dominant object on the landscape, much like the monument
that sits opposite it near the road. Seeing the dirt and ash made me realize just
how big this was and gave me a feel for the people that had died here.
That feel continued when I entered the crematorium and saw what felt so real and
so cruel. Upon entry we almost immediately saw a room with a sign that said this
was the place where they "operated" on bodies to remove any gold, silver,
or other valuables from those who were killed in the gas chamber. The table seemed
almost unreal and in the middle there was a hole, I suppose for the blood to drain.
The table was made of concrete and the room very cold, both by temperature and feel.
Next we went through the gas chamber, similar to the one in crematorium 1 in Auschwitz,
however much smaller; the feel was the same however, a dark concrete block with
only doors and holes to put in the zyclone B. It seemed almost claustrophobic,
the ceiling was low and the lighting was done so as to see little, making one rely
on his or her nerves and not his or her sight.
The next room only contained a sarcophagus with the bones of some of the victims.
Again the lighting here was dark, however brighter so one could see the sign, display,
and the fresh flowers at its base.
The next room was the crematorium itself; fully intact the brick chimneys extended
towards the ceiling of the wooden building and into the sky. At my back was the
bathroom of an SS officer and no more than two meters away stood the ovens which
burned the bodies of thousands; a room for cleansing and a room for death and destruction
now one in the same without the old door present. The room was obviously lined with
concrete at those temperatures, however as soon as you stepped outside you again
the building appeared to be no more than a wooden structure with a very tall and
wide brick smoke stack.
Next we entered the actual camp with the barracks, also dark wood, not unlike the
watch towers, however on the other side of the fence. The area was surreal and the
grass was uncut. It felt as if this was what it was like at times, and then seconds
later it felt like it had long been abandoned, however still untouched.
The barrack blocks were locked except a few that held exhibitions. A couple held
beds which contradicted the beds at Auschwitz in that they were much narrower and
divided, whereas Auschwitz's beds were wider and shared by a number of people.
The beds were made of wood and not actually installed into the walls, but freestanding
with very narrow aisles in between each row.
Another room displayed the camp set-up and the camp's goal, one which was thankfully
never fully accomplished. The camp was meant to grow to be much larger, however
due to its relatively short existence (compared to Auschwitz and death camps further
west) it never fulfilled this expansion and ended in the state that it can be viewed
A third room was by far the most striking and not entirely dissimilar to the same
display in Auschwitz. It was the shoe room; thousands of shoes lined the middle
and sides, but not behind glass or in a warm room, rather in cages in a barrack,
where the temperature was freezing and the air bit the skin. Yet this temperature
didn't manage to freeze the shoes; they seemed almost alive within this unique
atmosphere; they had no color, there weren't shoes from everywhere, but only
from there. They were all dark brown or black and they looked as if they were of
poor quality. This however didn't strike me, what hit me was the smell of the
shoes, it smelled of foot odor in the summer, the smell of old shoes, the human
remnant of the workers, the prisoners themselves who had sweat in the fields just
minutes away and came here to their beds to remove their shoes only to put them
back on and work the next morning. Here I could picture the Soviet soldiers arriving
and finding piles of shoes and clothes, but very few survivors.
We continued on and I stopped to look around, however saw no one. The grounds were
empty and the biting wind reminded me of the cruelty that took place here. As I
looked up, I saw on the hill the city of Lublin, almost built to overlook the site,
almost as if to say "look what we have done, look at what we are doing,"
yet the people could do nothing. And as the city sat nearly surrounding the camp
there was no life left here; within a city full of life, yet here in the middle
of a city a camp of death. The contradiction seems impossible to overcome when one
has such a perfect view of the city in front of him and an empty field and barbed
wire behind him.
This camp was almost built in the middle of the city, or so it seems. At the time
it was at the edge of the city, however the city now expands beyond the camp and
the Nazi name of the concentration camp in Lublin seems much more appropriate than
the modern name of Majdanek. This scene makes one realize how impossible
it really was to revolt or rebel, the city was there, thousands of people present,
yet they sat as helpless to save as the people in the camp were to escape.
As we left the field and exited through the double barbed wire gate we found more
displays in the old storehouses. I believe it was here that we saw the camp layout
along with some other exhibits. It wasn't until we reached the gas chamber that
I was really awestruck; I failed to realize gas chamber testing had been done here.
They tested people with both zyclone B and a couple other gases, however
found zyclone B to be the most efficient as tests confirmed here and in
various other locations.
This display explained how the guards would put the gas in through a hole in the
wall and then they would stay in their booth as the process took place. To be so
close to death and dying, they sat and listened to the dying screams of the people,
the last minutes of their lives they were only feet away and actually initiated
this fate. They watched the people walk in, then dragged their bodies out only an
hour later. The guard's booth was a true display of the people involved; although
no explanation is given, the question of how could they do that as they stood by
actively participating comes into question more than once.
The day ended with a walk up to the main monument and a finally look back onto the
camp, and the silence of the vast grounds today.
Back to Lublin: The trolleybus ride into town was odd, there were no tickets, but
only a woman and the bus driver collecting money as you entered. In Krakow you must
buy a ticket prior to boarding, then validate the ticket upon entry; this system
was identical to Russia.
We stayed at a convent; it was the cheapest place we could find, but there was a
10:00pm curfew. We got back to Lublin itself late afternoon, so quickly checked
in, ate and headed into town, only to quickly turn around to make curfew.
The next day we saw Lublin, which seems like a sleepy town trying to grow and improve
their technology, income, and city, however being dragged down by the movement of
the youth to bigger cities for an university education. The city's old town
consists of narrow streets and hills, a few guard towers and a castle with an incredible
chapel. The rest of the city simply looks like a communist city, but the old town
December 18, 2004
Pizza Capital of Poland
Zamosc was... well it was probably incredible a couple hundred years ago. The city
today however is run down and dirty, the people rude and isolated. It could be completely
re-made and re-created into the most incredible place and one of the world's
best tourist destinations, but it never will, not with the attitude and poverty
that exists today.
Today we got up early to go to Belzec, but the bus promising to go there
never arrived so we had to find some way to occupy our day in the city. We started
off at the zoo to see animal cruelty at its finest. The animals weren't necessarily
treated poorly, but the cages were in poor conditions and many of the animals were
stuck outside where it was bitterly cold. There were more birds than anything else
and many of the animals refused to leave their little wooden sheds. The zookeeper
did understand that we would like to see the big animals and I got the impression
he was quite proud of them so he made sure the lion, tiger, and jaguar came out
to see us as we walked past. The jaguar didn't want to come out at first so
the zookeeper put some meat out there forcing the jaguar to go outside to get it,
but he almost immediately returned to where it was warm. The zookeeper also followed
us to the monkey cage and encouraged them to come out, but to no avail.
We then went to the arsenal, which was the city's highlight. We also walked
around the city walls and tried to find postcards, but again no luck. For such a
photogenic city it's odd we couldn't find any postcards, but we simply accepted
it and headed to the train station early.
We ate pizza at nearly every meal here and I hereby proclaim Zamosc to be the pizza
capital of Poland!
February 17, 2005
Finally, a Nice Dinner
We arrived to Torun from Germany, found our hostel and headed back into town, by
which time it was late. Jim couldn't stay on the run any longer (our stops on
this trip were frequent and quick) so requested a nice sit down dinner; we agreed
and found a nice little place, which I felt was run by the mafia. The food was good
and so was the service. The price was steep, but we were on vacation and the food
was well worth it for a splurge.
After the meal we headed into town for a short walk that turned into a long walk.
The square is nice and the statue of Copernicus incredible. The main street, ul
Szeroka seems perfect. Every house is narrow and tall with a number of
balconies along the wide, yet slightly winding cobble-stoned street.
Each façade seemed nicer than the last and we soon came upon the Teutonic Knights'
castle ruins. The ruins were, well in ruins, but offered a different feel than a
re-built castle. Our walk continued as we visited the southern wall and gates, along
with the granaries and the leaning tower. This area feels truly untouched (although
the lights were a clear sign they weren't).
We also visited the new town square, which feels just as old as the old town square.
Then we went just north-west of the old rynek to see St. Mary's church,
but around the corner we saw the most incredibly strange place, what we believe
to be a prison, based on its cameras and barbed wire, but historical looking despite
February 20, 2005
Running From One Train Station to the Next
Poznan looked great, but we had little time so had to sacrifice the cathedral and
Ostrów Tumski. This was disappointing, but we made the most of the trip
and ran frantically around the city.
The rynek was incredible; I think perhaps the best in Poland that I've
seen, with the exception of one really ugly building, which didn't entirely
fit in. All the buildings were unique and the lighting was perfect. The city had
a great atmosphere and there seemed to be students everywhere. The town hall was
among the best I've seen and is renowned as one of the best in Europe; there
are two goats that come out at noon everyday and bash heads 12 times.
We left the rynek and headed west to the castle ruins then off to the German
district. After the second partition of Poland by the Prussians, Kaiser Wilhelm
II built himself a castle here, a large grey stoned building that looked like a
cartoon in a fantasy children's book. Nearby was the opera house, philharmonic,
and a monument to the workers' strike of 1956. We passed through the incredibly
modern outskirts of town, showing us why this is the country's second economic
center, then caught our train out of town.
Katowice: A Love Story
By: Justin Dodge
The first time I encountered Katowice I was utterly repulsed, as if meeting a blind
date gone wrong; I immediately dread the remainder of the evening. She was hideous,
truly one of the ugliest sights I had ever seen. I questioned her appeal... why,
I asked, did so many people find her to be their home, there had to be something
more, but what was I missing, "What!?" I asked myself over and over.
That evening I was blinded by a poisonous mixture of rumors and stereotypes; I could
see nothing more than a giant mole she called a power plant. Failing to see beyond
the surface, I told her I was late for a train and rushed off only to find myself
on a pospieszny carriage (slow train) destined to leave over an hour later.
I felt quite thankful our rendezvous was brief and soon her perfume, a
strange combination of exhaust and waste had been replaced by the man next to me...
an odor more like old cheese.
* * *
Like seeing that girl you brushed off months ago, I ran into this girl named Katowice
once more and oh how I feared her wrath; surely, I told myself, she must have discovered
the true departure time of that train. Yet I was shocked to discover she again welcomed
me with open arms, arms which I again feared to embrace. If I only knew then what
I know now, how sweet she was, I would have embraced her at that very moment.
I had four hours between trains, first seeming like an eternity I tried to make
the most of it by venturing out into the city. I found little of interest, but remained
polite and thanked Katowice for her time. I believed I could hide in the train station,
but soon found Katowice to consume every part of the city and this train station
was no different.
This station takes on a life of its own after 22:00, and yes, even more of a life
at 2:00am. The night moved along and with the fumes of burning gasoline in the air,
something told me, I had to embrace her, my sweet Katowice. She showed me more than
that mole, she showed me Poland, both the good and the bad.
A sitting area in the restaurant for paying customers had everyone: young couples
in love, students returning with tall bags of clean laundry, businessmen, backpackers,
and yes, the occasional homeless person and/or drunk; Katowice had it all! I contemplated
a new thesis topic, for I had never seen such a fascinating interaction of people
in a single place. This one room had anything a young man sought out including frytki
(French fries) for 3 zloty. How could I have missed this? Like a sandwich with mayo
that went bad months ago, I could not resist the temptation and had to indulge in
this guilty pleasure.
The businessmen ignored the homeless, the backpackers seemed engulfed in a travel
book, the young couple failed to see beyond the others' eyes, and I... well
I watched it all, but mostly the drunks. They were so drunk I was surprised they
could even stand; actually at times they couldn't. The sight was sad, but real,
they snuck into the dining area and would take any food they could find off the
tables. The employees, the iceberg to their Titanic, tried to catch them and kick
One drunk stole the plastic envelope holding the daily specials taped to the door,
his precision and efficiency resembled a Swiss clock maker taking his time, yet
offering his undying concentration and unfathomable meticulousness. After removing
the sheet from the door, he removed the tape carefully and concisely, next placing
the tape on the paper holding the specials. At this point, I noticed him look around
for employees or police, one was coming and he fell to the ground to avoid detection.
I must admit, I was rooting for the drunk, I understand the economic repercussions
of him stealing this piece of plastic creating higher costs and therefore higher
prices for me, the consumer, but this moral victory was worth so much more than
that 50 grosz increase in the price of frytki.
The employee had gone back into the kitchen and, like a ninja, the drunk rose up
unseen and silent. He taped the paper sign on the door and escaped with the plastic
envelope. I knew by morning he most likely would have lost that piece of plastic,
and if not, he would not have remembered taking it, but victory was his and how
sweet it was.
The night, the experience was exhilarating. Katowice showed me her past and her
pollution, her highs and her lows, no nice architecture, but in many ways she's
the embodiment of Poland; she's an industrial giant and a transportation hub,
she's essential, but hated, one can't avoid her if he tries (I know because
I tried), she showed me her present, she showed me the entire Poland.
* * *
I soon found myself on a train as I bid Katowice farewell. As the pollution being
expelled from her smokestacks faded in the distance I was filled with an emptiness.
We took those students, businessmen, and travelers with us, but I felt like I left
a part of me behind with Katowice, a part of me I loved and cherished, but if nothing
else, Katowice deserved that from me.
My fellow passengers thanked the train for their escape, while I sank into my seat
overcome with emotions flowing out on paper... a love story for the ages.
Friday, April 1, 2005
Death of a Pope: Odd Atmosphere
The Pope is not doing well and they say any hour he will pass away; the city is
already on their knees.
Today his condition got much worse and the people of Kraków went to his church Franciszkański
and Pałac Arcybiskupów, soon overflowing into the streets. The city shut
down the streets and tram lines through old town.
The day is beautiful and sunny; the rynek is hosting a show of children's
performances. The square is filled with children in costumes as their parents and
teachers record their performances. Their innocence and naïveté exemplified the
youth and the dawn of life, in perfect contradiction of the events just two blocks
As night fell the crowds and TV stations came out and the ongoing service at Pałac
Arcybiskupów was quite the spectacle. The singing and prayers that were
heard through the silence were slowly replaced by the active rynek as I
walked away. The only light near the Pałac was from the thousands of candles
that sat on Wojtyła's windows and surrounding his church.
Later in the night the pope's faithful have not left his church and the candles
lit hours before have become wax draped down the walls of his church. The singing
has not ceased and new candles were lit.
Saturday, April 2, 2005
Death of a Pope: The Day Poland Wept
In desperation, the Gazeta Krakowska read "Ojcze Święty, nie Umieraj!"
(Holy Father, Don't Die!) on the cover.
Its 2:00 and the Krakovians are watching the TV just waiting for the moment of his
death, much like in St. Peter's Square where the faithful stay day and night.
It's just a matter of time now.
The planty is full of life: young couples, children, families just walking
in peace as the older men sit and talk politics. It won't take a call or announcement
to signify the pope's passing, but only the sudden silence of death that will
fall over the city. His significance in this city and country is immeasurable. He
gave these people more than any pope or any politician; he gave them hope. It was
him that inspired the Poles and it was him who the Poles looked to for guidance
when they failed to see a future. Since 1978, the people under communism saw a future;
they had a leader who gave them the so desperately needed hope. It was him, not
Moscow that controlled this country.
I went for a walk around the rynek tonight, the atmosphere was strange,
unlike I've ever seen in Kraków. The press was everywhere and the rynek
was packed, mostly with Krakovians, but also with its share of tourists.
As I approached Franciszkański and the Pałac a hymn broke the
silent night air. Nearing the end of the hymn, the bell on Wawel began
to chime and after the song came to an end the announcement was made: "Ojciec
Święnty Jan Paweł II nie żyje." The people dropped to their knees, some began
to cry, others in shock.
In complete silence, 3,000 people prayed. A woman near me fell to tears, being only
slightly comforted by her boyfriend. Others began to cry softly; a grown man near
me couldn't hold it in anymore. Some people seemed at peace, others deep in
prayer, and others simply broke down.
We kneeled in silence for a few minutes when a voice again interrupted the silence
for prayers. We remained on our knees and time seemed to stop. When we got up I
realized I was in the middle of the crowd as nearly 2,000 people had arrived during
Within minutes people from every direction swelled the area and the bell on Wawel
continued to toll as did the singing. The tolling continued for what seemed an eternity
as people rushed in and later left with tears in their eyes. All the while the bell
tolled and the singing seemed to have the life taken from it.
People began lighting candles down the street and within minutes the entire street
was lined with them. Almost on cue, a baby's cry interrupted the bell and within
minutes those not praying were on their cell phones. This place was no longer a
center of prayer; now it was a sight of pilgrimage.
The people rushing to the area weren't just older people, in fact it was mostly
young people from the bars around the nearby old town. The smell of alcohol swept
in with these people and later a friend said the bars froze with almost simultaneous
calls forcing the city to stop as everything closed immediately.
As the people came, I went to the rynek; it seemed empty compared to Franciszkański,
but Mariacki was full and people were out the door praying. A woman's
cries were heard over the hymns from the church and the Polish flag hanging from
the southern tower was now adorned with a black ribbon.
The rynek looked like the tourist center it is with dozens of people, but
almost in a quiet whisper, many trying to figure out where the Pope will be buried.
There seemed to be thousands of people, but no one seemed to be making any noise.
We walked back past Franciszkański as the people continued to come and
go; we noticed the bell had stopped tolling and I made the short walk home. The
news stations had nothing but information on the Pope's death, the Vatican,
and his life. Polish President Kwasniewski made an announcement along with other
heads of states and Polish bishops.
Sunday, April 3, 2005
Death of a Pope: Re-Birth
The day felt like the beginning of the re-birth. The people seemed to be in whispers
other than the silence of last night. The newspapers were quickly sold out and pins
with a black stripe were handed out at Franciszkański. The crowds at the
church however seemed larger than yesterday and masses went on continuously throughout
I started the day with mass in Wawel; however getting into the cathedral
was impossible. The rynek seemed busier than yesterday too and we had to
fight our way through.
I went to the Archdiocese Museum, another one of the Pope's former residences
to see the free exhibit. The first exhibit is a photograph collection of the Pope
from his days as a young priest up until this year, along with memorabilia from
the Vatican. The photos were spectacular and the line to see the collection was
out the door.
The banks of the Wisła (Vistula River) were lined with people, the masses
at Franciszkański didn't seem to slow, and candles had spread everywhere.
Monday, April 4, 2005
Death of a Pope: Candle Lightings
There was a candle-lit march through the city tonight with thousands of people.
Other than a few small groups singing songs the crowd was quite. The aura gave me
the goose bumps and instilled the image of 1981's "White March" following
the assassination attempt on the Pope. The surroundings reminded me of the stories
I've heard about 1981, except this time, for me, it was real.
The crowd was peaceful and the police stopped the traffic throughout the city, all
trams stopped and all roads on the route were shut down. It was again the youth
that led this march; it was youth groups, schools and university students. It felt
like all 180 thousand students in Kraków were there.
We marched to Błonia, the place the Pope decided to leave Poland from on
his last trip to his home country. To the left, in Cracovia stadium there was a
service uniting fans from opposing soccer teams and in front of me was the field
large enough to hold two million people.
The area was filled with candles centered around a large rock on the northern side,
the site of the Pope's last homily in Poland. One young boy of about six lit
a candle then seemed to collapse into his grandmother's arms.
Here the atmosphere was quite different from the stadium and seemed much more peaceful
and religious. There were numerous groups holding hands and thousands surrounded
the rock from which Pope John Paul II gave his last homily in Poland. The mood and
feeling can't be described as anything other than surreal.
Tuesday, April 5, 2005
Death of a Pope: Newspapers
The newspapers are again filled with the Vatican and the front cover of the Gazeta
Wyborcza has the Pope's body being carried across a crowd of mourners.
The press estimates yesterday's unplanned march to have had 150 thousand participants.
Today was quiet, I walked past Franciszkański and the crowd was small,
only about 200 people, so the viewing of the candles and upper window were almost
perfect. The flowers are beginning to die, but the candles are only growing.
Tonight there was another march, however a short one with very few people ending
at Franciszkański for a large mass. This was the largest single mass I've
seen since Saturday night, although every church was full on Sunday.
The Poles seemed to have gone back to their homes and the tourists have either come
out or are just more noticeable now. Final plans are being set, Thursday night there
will be a "White March," the funeral will be shown on a large screen in
either Błonia or the rynek and Friday afternoon will be the "Black
Wednesday, April 6, 2005
Death of a Pope: All is Quiet
Things today are quiet and I think they should remain so until tomorrow night with
the "White March." I noticed today that the Pope's name and years
of his life are on the bottom of Google: "Karol Wojtyła 1920 - 2005."
In addition, Franciszkański has found a great speaker system for the masses
and every store has a picture of the Pope in the window with a black line across
the bottom corner.
Thursday, April 7, 2005
Death of a Pope: The White March
The school groups were in town today, mostly young children some as young as pre-school;
one was being directed by two very patient nuns. The nuns kept putting the kids'
right hands on this guiding rope as their left was holding the hand of the child
next to him or her. Everyone in the streets seemed to get a kick out of them and
stopped to watch and laugh.
At 5:00pm the "White March" proved to be a disaster because it was too
organized and people got frustrated by the delayed start. Soon people went anyway
they could to get to Błonia and the march turned into the entire western
side of the city covered with people as if the rynek burst and the people
just overflowed in a rush to Błonia.
Błonia looked like a concert venue with vendors selling Polish and Vatican
flags, two cherry pickers filming the scene, and numerous first aid stations. In
addition, there were four huge televisions within my view, a stage, and thousands
People slowly arrived through the opening prayers of the mass and within a half
hour of the mass's commencement the area was packed. As the sun fell, the candles'
light replaced the sky's glow.
Mass was a memorial to the pope littered with lines like "holy father, you
were our father, our brother, our friend, and our teacher." They really talked
about him as a friend and Krakow as his home. Near the end they also read a text
message from the cardinal in Warsaw; the crowd laughed at his tech-savvy ways. To
end the mass and the night everyone lifted their candles as they sang the same song
that they sang at Franciszkański when they announced the pope's death.
Friday, April 8, 2005
Death of a Pope: Funeral
The funeral was this morning, so I got up at 7:00am and was at the rynek
to meet three friends at 8:00, making it to Błonia near 8:30. A mass started
at 9:00 and by 10:00 the area was about as full as it was yesterday, which today's
newspapers estimated to be about half a million people.
As soon as the funeral started, the people gazed at the screens following along
with all the prayers, and actions as if we were at the mass in person. We kneeled
when we were supposed to and prayed along with everyone in the Vatican. The funeral
was excessively long and by the end the medical staff was busy handing out water
After a cardinal spoke of the pope, the crowd in the Vatican applauded showing their
respect to the deceased, whereas everyone in Błonia fell to their knees
and prayed. At the end of the ceremony the pallbearers took the casket away and
Błonia began to clap until his casket disappeared into the church. The
Polish television network coverage ended with scenes from all over Poland celebrating
the life of the pope: from Gdansk, to Warsaw, Wadowice, and of course Krakow.
The walk away Błonia was quiet, as if we were really leaving a funeral.
We each were isolated in our thoughts of the pope, Poland, and life. Only after
reaching the planty did the whispers become audible, but even the rynek
was tired and although there were thousands of people there it felt without life.
Only after about an hour did the people begin to liven up and talk.
The day seemed to be a long recovery slowly returning to life. The day ended with
the rynek hosting two soccer teams coming together to mend their hatred
and a concert at Błonia by the Filharmonia with numerous classics including
Mozart's "Requiem" and Bruckner's "Ave Maria." This
has indeed become a celebration of life.
April 17, 2005
I went to the greatly over-rated Wieliczka yesterday. It's a nice place for
the first half hour, but the tour is almost two hours long and that is simply too
long for me considering much of it is rather monotonous. The entire area is salt
mixed with rock and other minerals, so it has very hard walls and floors. The complex
is dug out of the salt like tunnels and there are dozens of salt carvings of numerous
Polish heroes like Copernicus, Pilsudski, Pope John Paul II, etc.
April 23, 2005
Town Squares & Incredible Architecture
Wroclaw has a very German feel in the architecture and the buildings' colors
and details, perhaps in some ways more German than most of re-built Germany. However,
its layout is Polish in so many ways. The university here, from the exterior to
the doors, the ceilings and of course Aula Leopodina is incredible. It
is perhaps the first and only true Baroque buildings I've truly liked and the
views from the top didn't hurt either.
There are also some islands in the city with churches on them. There was one building
nearby on the river that impressed me more than the churches; it was all stucco
with wood like any stereotypical German house. It also had a great little garden
in the back.
The town square is nice and the Town Hall incredible. The town hall is one of the
most photographed buildings in Poland and for good reason. Both the town hall and
the Aula are worth the visit to Wroclaw alone.
April 26, 2005
Death of a Pope: A New Pope
The new pope was elected, his name is Cardinal Ratzinger. During each of the elections
for the pope in the Vatican the bells tolled here from the time they met until the
smoke was released. During that final election, I was in the rynek classroom
when the bells began to toll. Just before the end of our class the bells stopped
and our next professor, Dr. Basista came in to say that a new pope had been elected.
We still didn't know who though, so our class started without much fuss.
After about 10 minutes, Dr. Kucia came in and announced that it was Ratzinger who
was elected. This announcement was preceded by Johannes, a German student saying
that it will be terrible if he was elected. Fernando, from Spain was also greatly
upset and could not seem to calm down. I'm not sure if it is the man or his
ethnicity that upset Fernando, but he said "look at him, today the Vatican,
tomorrow the world!"
Ratzinger took the name of Pope Benedict XVI.
June 21, 2005
Brent and I did a street performance tonight and it was fantastic, the crowd loved
us and I think I may have a real future as a mime.
Gdansk & Malbork
July 18, 2005
Germanic Architecture & Tourists
Gdansk is almost completely reconstructed, but they did a good job and the city
has a nice feel, attracting many German and Polish tourists alike, giving the city
an unique atmosphere. The city looks German and Polish, signs were in both languages
and the city felt much more international than most Polish cities, yet there were
few tourists outside of the two neighboring countries.
Adding to the uniqueness, I found the hostel crowd to be fantastic. Many hostels
it seems are filled with drunken partiers, however since this isn't a popular
tourist destination, other than to those for whom it has meaning, Gdansk attracts
a different crowd. My room had two Austrians, a German, a Dutch, a Czech, an Australian,
and English girl, a Pole, and myself. Quite diverse and I really liked all of them.
For nearly an hour we all sat around just talking and learning from each other and
about each other plus everything each of us has seen. They invited me out for dinner,
but my bus leaves at 6:30am tomorrow, so I regretfully declined.
Malbork is known as housing the largest castle in Europe, the Teutonic Knight's
castle. The sheer size of the castle displays power, yet the incredible detail and
architecture exemplify the money they had. It's well worth the stop if you're
traveling between Warsaw and Gdansk.
July 19, 2005
I made the 6:40am bus and around noon I arrived at Ketrzyn. I got extremely lucky
and caught the first bus to Hitler's bunker and later the first bus back to
Hitler's bunker was pretty surreal. The place was extremely well hidden and
some buildings you still missed until you were practically right in front of them.
Each had concrete about ten feet thick and most were covered in moss so as to camouflage
them. In addition, they used to have trees on the roof and screens that changed
colors with the seasons so they wouldn't be noticed from the air.
Although it said not to, I walked into Hitler's bunker, along with nearly everyone
else. The place was packed, mostly Germans and Poles, but I also heard Dutch and
French, although not a single American or Brit.
* * *
May 30, 2008
I had a business meeting in Warsaw at the Marriott hotel, which has become somewhat
of a city landmark due to its size and location. Business in Poland is similar to
conducting business anywhere in that personal connections and relationships are
often times more important than anything else.
Our hosts were gracious and every dinner was at a new Polish restaurant giving me
the opportunity to have my favorites Polish dishes like placki po Wegerensku
and perogi, plus additional dishes I've never tried like pork knuckle...
which wasn't as good as the prior dishes, but very tender and flavorful. Another
benefit of going to these restaurants is that most of them were in old town, so
we got out of the hotel every night.
* * *
May 29, 2009
Making New Friends
I have another business meeting in Warsaw. This time I needed to escape and just
live like the people, which I missed on my last trip. The meetings are at the Marriott
again and business is simply business, however I want to feel submerged and at a
nice hotel, I don't. I went down into the underpass between the hotel and the
central train station where there are multiple shops and incredible activity due
to the train station. Here I found a great kebab, a Polish candy bar I
like, and other small snacks you can't find in the U.S.
The meeting as a whole was no different from my past meeting, and I again we got
out of the business district; one day spending half a day in Lazienki Park
to relax, socialize, and people watch.
* * *
October 23, 2009
I met a young woman named Basia at one of my meeting; she was very lively, energetic,
and motivated. She didn't seem to care if everyone followed her or if she trekked
alone; she's a determined woman who knows what she wants and isn't afraid
to go after it. She also seems to know what she doesn't want and wasn't
afraid to share that either.
Today, I again talked to Basia; her and a couple other doctors invited me and an
American doctor, Dr. Earl out for dinner after my meeting. After parking, Basia
said "that's where we're going" as she pointed to Pizza Hut. While
in India last summer my Indian host insisted we go to McDonald's because it's
"America's favorite," so I feared the worse and this time restrained
myself from laughing at what I hoped was a joke. Fortunately, she was being sarcastic
and we found a little Italian restaurant around the corner.
October 24, 2009
I severely lack the ability to freely and openly express myself. After meeting people
like Basia I want to better myself in this area. Basia seems to be very happy and
carries little baggage around with her since she can easily express what she wants,
needs, or fears... leaving everything on the table so she can move on and smile
at the end of the day. While there must be people she doesn't like, she has
the ability to move on, finding others who aren't perfect, however in whom she
can find the good and the positive traits that make her seemingly so optimistic.
It seems Basia doesn't only seek out those who are complimentary to herself
or only those who can relate to her every interest or hobby, but instead finds a
way to relate to anyone and everyone. She can find good in anyone it seems; she
can find a mutual level of understanding on which she can communicate. While she
lives in the present, she never seems to take her eye off of the future.
October 25, 2009
At times I feel like I spend too much time in airports... and hence too much time
to think. It's always easier arriving than leaving a place. Arriving may inject
fear of the unknown, however it's easy to allow your excitement and sense of
adventure to overcome that fear, making a journey into the unknown an adventure...
and a journey to the familiar a return to all that was left behind and cannot be
Leaving a place gives you the sense that what you are leaving may be lost forever,
a part of you gone or left behind, and you a new person, a different person, a new
person returning to the familiar and unchanged.
With each trip I hope I grow for the better, yet only sometimes succeed. If you
allow those people and places around you to transform you, they will.
Continue the above trip to: France
* * *
November 16, 2011
Seeing Old Friends
As soon as I stepped off the train in Krakow I noticed the change as there was a
monstrocity called Galeria Krakowia (basically a giant shopping mall) with a Burger
King. When I lived here I had to travel to either Budapest or Berlin to eat at Burger
King and now there's one just 15 minutes from where I lived.
The rest of the city seemed the same though, especially at this time of year when
there are few tourists. I've heard there are many more tourists now, but you
don't see this in November, although there were still plenty of tourists. The
atmosphere seemed nearly the same and the restaurants and nighlife were nearly identical,
being driven and energized by the city's 200,000 students.
After getting off my train I headed to Dan and Ania's place, right between the
Old Town and Kazimierz, which is an ideal location. I spent most of the evening
catching up with them before Dan and I headed out to meet up with another friend
of mine, Stan from grad school. Over dinner the two were catching me up on everything
going on in Poland, primarily from a political level, nearly all of which I knew
nothing about as I've lost track of Polish politics. The highlight was definately
just catching up and sharing some stories from our time together in Krakow.
After dinner we headed out to one of the many underground bars in Krakow. As a city
that was built and built up some more over time there is an entire underground city.
It's not connected, but rather each underground bar or restaurant is just the
basement of the building, but looking at the architecture and differing layouts
it is clear that you are in a building from a thousand years ago hidden beneath
November 17, 2011
Today Dan and I went to see a new museum, which is located in Oscar Schindler's
old factory. It is an occupation museum detailing the years of Krakow under Nazi
Germany rule. It is extraordinarily well done as moving from room to room conveys
a different feeling and atmosphere. For example, during the time of the Jewish Ghetto
you enter a room that is dark and the walls are the same as the ghetto walls were.
Then the next room is very bright with a gravel floor and fenced walls as you feel
like you're entering the concentration camp of Plaszow, which was also located
here in Krakow.
After the museum Dan and I grabbed lunch before I said goodbye to Ania and took
off. I had nothing to do before my train back to Warsaw, but I wanted to swing by
my old place and absorb the atmosphere of the Rynek one more time. I made
the quick stroll, took some pictures, then headed off to the train station.
November 20, 2011
Seeing Another Old Friend
After meetings for the past couple days in Warsaw (and very successful eating habits),
today I saw another friend from grad school, Chris. I hadn't seen Chris for
a couple years and it was great to catch up. We ate at a Lebanese restaurant called
Beirut, which ironically was just across the street from a Kosher place
called Tel Aviv. Most of Poland struggles with ethnic foods, but Warsaw
is fairly in touch with the world market and our restaurant didn't disappoint.
Due to an early flight, we made it an early night. I'm off to bed for my 6:00am
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