Saturday, April 4, 2020

Words and Phrases

Poland's quarantine restrictions have gotten even stricter in the last week. When we go outside, even though we live together, we have to stand 2 meters apart, all parks have been closed down, the number of people inside stores is limited to 3x the number of cash registers, gloves must be worn inside stores, two hours a day have been dedicated as elderly shopping hours, and fines for breaking the rules range from 5,000-30,000PLN. It's not explicitly written that we can't go out to exercise, but it has been verbally requested so Cameron and I are following that rule. I'm writing this on Saturday morning and haven't been outside the house since Tuesday.

Since I haven't had much occasion to get out and experience new things, I will use this week's edition of the blog to go through some of the fun phrases I hear. These have been compiled mostly from my ongoing Toastmaster's meetings and of course my colleague.

Let's start with some Polish words and phrases:

  1. Smacznego is the Polish form of Bon Appetite and is said before every meal. Even if you see someone eating a snack you might call out a smacznego in their direction. One time (pre-Coronavirus) Cameron and I were walking along a fairly empty street eating ice cream and a random middle-aged man shouted "smacznego" in our direction. It is derived from the word smak, which means "taste." A Polish coworker asked me what the English equivalent is, and I couldn't think of anything, other than perhaps "enjoy your meal." I think smacznego will be making its way back home with me to the US.
  2. Another meal tradition here is to thank everyone before leaving the table. We take lunch as a group at work (or at least when we aren't working remotely) and everyone waits patiently until the last person finishes. Then, someone makes a show of looking around and asking "are we done?" to which everyone agrees and says "thank you" or "dziękuję" as they get up. The same holds true at the close of a meeting (in person or virtual). I was even on a 50+ Hangouts meeting on Thursday and at least half of the participants said "dziękuję" before signing off. 
  3.  Over many years, I have developed my response to sneezes. The first sneeze gets a German "Gesundheit," sneeze two is responded to with "bless you," and then if there is a third sneezes the Spanish "salud" comes out. I am trying to very quickly break the Gesundheit habit, because I get the sense that casually speaking German is somewhat frowned upon. The Polish equivalent is "na zdrowie" which literally translates to "for health." It's the same phrase used to cheers people at the bar. 
  4. Throughout the day, I hear my coworkers say "czyli." It's typically followed by a long pause or is repeated. It seems to be used as a filler word in the same way I catch myself repeating "so" unnecessarily. I asked what it means, and my coworkers said it works like "therefore" or "or," depending on the situation. It's kind of fun to say, and I've caught myself just quietly repeating "czyli, czyli..."
  5. Proszę bardzo literally translates to "you're very welcome" or "please very much." You'll hear it in many casual transactional conversations at the grocery store or a restaurant to refer to both the please and the "here you go" senses of the phrase. Although we might say "you're very welcome" in English, we don't go around casually dropping a "pretty please" at the bank.
There are also a number of unusual English phrasings that I hear people use often that I find quite charming:
  1. Do we have villages in the United States or do we always refer to them as towns, regardless of the citizenship count? I feel like I've only heard Americans talk about villages when they are referring to places outside of the US or in Native American lands. Here, if someone want's to tell you about where they are from, and it's not one of the 10 largest cities, they likely will say "I am from a small village." I even heard someone refer to Paris as a village, although I think they were just being funny.
  2. Working from home means a lot of Google Hangouts chats. I'm learning that my America ways of just launching right into the meat of something in a new chat is probably pretty jarring for my colleagues. I need to start developing a habit of asking "may I have a question?" before actually launching into the question.
  3. All written work communication is much more formal, and I especially enjoy the email salutations and closings. Emails often are addressed to "Dear ____" or "Dears" if it is to multiple recipients. Whereas I'm used to closing my emails with a "thank you" I'm learning that thanks are only given after receiving the requested information; the more appropriate phrase is "thank you in advance." More commonly, the email ends with a "kind regards" or "best regards" instead.
  4. "For example" comes up far more often than it does among native English speakers. I think it's because American's are more likely to use "like" instead of the more formal "for example." 
  5. I haven't heard this much, but Cameron's coworkers are apt to refer to groups of people as being "tribal." I think that phrases is avoided in the US, or at least in Washington, because tribes are exclusively used in reference to Native Americans. 
  6. Colleague is used much more regularly here; I don't think I've heard anyone refer to someone as their coworker. To me it sounds very formal to speak of one's colleagues. 
I'm happy to say that I've notice my Polish language skills improving. When I'm in the shower I try to think of what I would say in fictitious situations, and more often than not I can think of enough Polish words to get my point across. Because all of these conversations take place in my own mind, there's a good chance that I'm using a German or Spanish word as a filler and not even realizing it. I know the opposite is starting to become true, and if I try to think of how I would say something in Spanish or German I can now only think of the Polish words. I'll take that trade off, and I hope to continue to pick up on fun Polish words and phrases to share in the future. 

Working out from home, using wine bottles as weights. 

Working from home every day means more TV time. I was watching Va Banque, the Polish version of Jeopardy, while making dinner the other night.

Parks are now off-limits. You can see the red-and-white caution tape blocking off this space. 

The streets are super empty. I only saw maybe a dozen people in total when I walked 20 minutes to the bigger grocery store this morning. 

Pretty much the only cars you see are the police. Here you can see two police officers patrolling Planty park and a police car patrolling in the other direction. 

The only other person in the market square was a guy in a neon-yellow work vest taking drone footage of Old Town. Drone's aren't allowed in the city so I think he was on official government business. 




Sunday, March 29, 2020

Isolation Oddities

I spent a lot of my childhood thinking about what it would be like to live during unfortunate times. I almost always assumed I would be in the most discriminated-against class–a peasant during medieval times, a child taken away from their family and sold into slavery, an Oliver Twist-esque orphan–you know, kid stuff. Whose to say why; I had a great childhood but for some reason I felt the need to pretend that I didn't. My favorite scenario to play-act was the Holocaust. Maybe it was just top of mind living in Germany, having neighbors who had lived during WWII as children, and learning about concentration camps in school. I also was really fascinated with being Jewish, probably thanks to my Mom's friend, Sue, who was tons of fun and didn't try to force me to eat tomatoes after I told her I didn't like them.

During these scenes, there were almost always elements of escaping through the forest. Cara can probably remember hours of me forcing us to climb up a muddy hill over and over again in our escapes from the orphanage or concentration camps. After a few rounds up and down the hill, I would have us sit quietly, trying to not let our breath make any sound, waiting for the Nazis (or an orphanage warden?) to bypass us. We (almost) always survived.

I had forgotten about these bizarre childhood games until I was complaining about the Coronavirus-related isolation to my mom on the phone. This week Poland increased restrictions and have asked people not to leave their house unless it is for a "life need." Mom's response was to "pretend like you're Anne Frank." This made me wonder, why hadn't I ever modeled my make-believes after her life? She was another kid and I knew enough of her story to be able to play the role well. Plus, I thought of myself as quite an accomplished child actress thanks to my role as Alice Wendlekin in the community theater's production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. But, even if I had thought to model myself after her, I don't think Anne would have appealed to me because she mostly just sat bored in a room. The excitement was about the escape! Being told to pretend I was Anne Frank at age nine probably would have brought forward the same groan as it did to me at age 26.

My living quarters are far nicer than what the Franks and Ottos had, and my situation is (hopefully) way more temporary. It's almost silly to even call it a "situation" in comparison to what they lived through because I'm still allowed to talk to everyone I love, eat anything I care to buy or cook, consume whatever media I want, and even leave my house on occasion. We're dealing with fear and the unknown, but I have no right to compare my petty frustrations to those of Holocaust victims. I know Mom's Anne Frank comment was meant to provide optimistic perspective and to remind me that things could be way way worse. I know that, but I also think we are allowed to be grumpy and complain about the new reality we find ourselves in.

Everyone is making adaptations right now. Someone had called into my favorite podcast, TBTL, and said that during these weeks of quarantining everyone becomes a hunk, a chunk, a drunk, a skunk, or a monk. I think I am becoming a nuisance.

Every day I ask Cameron "do you like my outfit?" despite only changing every three days or so. I have to perpetually fight the urge to crawl under the table and jump-scare him when he is on a conference call. To get "exercise" I hop to get to the bathroom and back, and sometimes I throw in a few jumping jacks. When Cameron gets up, he is always asked to give me a massage (but he obliges me max once a day). I find myself breaking out into songs from Girl Scout camp or Christmas carols. I need a haircut, and since I don't trust Cameron or I with that responsibility, I am instead snipping off individual split ends with scissors, nail clippers, or my teeth, depending on what tool is most accessible when I notice the split. I've also started to haphazardly smear essential oils into my hair because a Facebook ad made me think they would make my hair healthier.

All day long, as I work from the dining room table, I look out at the other apartments in our complex and try to build narratives for everyone I see. One woman, probably in her 60s or 70s, comes out other her porch in the late afternoon and jogs in place for a few minutes to enjoy the sunlight. There's another woman in her 40s who does some heartier exercises on her porch for 30+ minute a day. She and her family sometimes go down to the courtyard to kick around a soccer ball for a while. There's a young woman, probably 20s or 30s, who lives to the right of us who sits on a whicker chair smoking and talking on her cell phone multiple times a day. Next to her is a white-haired lady with black sequined curtains who likes to peer out at others, but quickly backs into her house if she thinks she is being spied on. The next floor up is a young couple who will sit on their patio furniture with their cat on occasion. I heard English being spoken from one of the top-floor apartments one day, but I didn't get a good look at the speakers.

I've already shared that I feel overall safer and better looked-after living in Poland than I think I would if I were in the United States, but I so badly wish I could have casual "this is crazy, huh?" conversations with people. One mother was out in the courtyard letting her kids run around for a bit and she was chatting with an older man peering down at her over his porch railing. I got the impression they didn't know each other, but were both just trying to get some fresh air after being cooped up for two long and getting some solace from having a conversation with someone who they didn't live with. Cameron is overall a great person to be isolated with, but even on a good day he's not much of a conversationalist and I so badly envied the spontaneous conversations that I was watching my neighbors have.

Of the five caricatures we all supposedly become, I'm disappointed that I'm most likely turning into a skunk. For me, there's no urgency. I don't feel obligated to change my outfits because I know exactly who I'll see. I don't need to fold my laundry because I know I'll have time to do it tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that. I can keep hitting snooze because there isn't anything or anyone to wake up for. I think the hardest thing about staying home so much is the lack of surprise and spontaneity that naturally comes from interacting with the outside world. I should be using my indoor time to study Polish so that I can start to have those spontaneous conversations, but I'm just not able to motivate myself to do so.

I promise, I'm doing well. I'm happy, and healthy, and grateful that I have a routine to follow. I'm glad that I have space in my house to do jumping jacks and practice pirouettes. Cameron and I have made lots of new meals in the past few weeks and every few days we have a new batch of homemade bread. I've had time and reason to talk to family and friends who I hadn't spoken with in a few months. Netflix put out Tiger King and 100 Humans. Overall, my life is really good, but there are moments where I want to feel sorry for myself and cry, and I've decided that it's ok to to feel that way. I hope you, dear reader, are also doing well, and if it is good advice for you, just "pretend like you're Anne Frank."

My cousin sent me some childhood photos and we were playing a game of "what's that expression?" We decided that I'm being super sassy, Cara is begging for coins, and Jake is getting close to being fed up with us. 

Sunday morning Bob Ross attempt. Cameron told me to not be too hard on myself because it looked "quite reasonable good."

Saturday morning Cameron and I woke up at 4:30 to go for a run/bike ride. We're not 100% positive we're allowed to go outside for exercise but we figured if we woke up before everyone else we wouldn't be causing any trouble. 

It was really nice to be out in the woods for a little bit on our morning run/bike ride. 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Polish Names

Working from home and not leaving the house regularly means that I don't have very much excitement to report on this week. Instead, I want to go over a very perplexing topic that I am still trying to figure out–Polish names.

Some things about the Polish naming structure are easy. For example, all women's names end in -a and all male names end in a consonant. Because just about everyone has a Catholic or traditional Slavic name, there aren't that many names overall. Most of them, even if they look or sound foreign at first, are going to have an English equivalent.

For example, if someone told you their name was pronounced like the English words "me how", what would that be? What if I told you it was written like this: Michał? Any guesses? It's the Polish version of Michael!

How about Mikołaj? That is the Polish version of Nickolas. Again, another dull name in English amplified to be much more fun in Polish! Maybe I just have a thing for the letter Ł (called "ow" but has a W sound).

How about this one: Dżesika. This is the modified Polish spelling of Jessica! Apparently, Jessica is though as a very posh name, presumably from people who first heard it abroad. According to a friend, it's a name that poor people will give to their kids to seem more well-off than they are. Maybe similar to calling your kid Diamond or Mercedes in the US?

Name days are important and are more likely to be celebrated than a person's actual birthday. Your name day is the birthday of the saint you were named after. Although people may give you gifts on your name day, it is customary for you to bring cake to share or buy other people drinks to help you celebrate. Aisha is an Arabic name, therefore I don't have a Polish name day, which is just fine with me- I don't want to buy drinks for a bar-full of acquaintances!

Although I red a lot about the formality of introductions before starting work (firm handshakes and titles are important, always address people as Pan/Pani [sir/ma'am], and do not use first names until you are invited to) I have found people to be much more casual in reality. First names, or often their diminutives, are used readily and almost immediately. And that is where my problems lie...

Every name has multiple versions (diminutives) and I don't know when it's appropriate for me to use them! For example, I work with a woman named Anna, but she most commonly is referred to as Ania and sometimes Aniu. Less common, but still valid versions are Anka, Anusia, Aneczka, Andzia, Anula, Anulka, or Anunia. I also work with a Stanisław, who most commonly goes by Staś or Staszek, however Stach, Stan, Stańko, Stasio, or Stasiek are also acceptable.

Clearly the purpose is not always to shorten the name, but I get the sense it's different than having nicknames or pet names since they can be used by acquaintances and coworkers. Some versions of names are reserved for children only, but I don't know which versions those are and I don't know at what age kids grow out of their childhood diminutives. From what I've gathered, the only rule is to not use the full name once you've moved to the diminutive stage with someone. I'm telling you, this is complicated and I don't want to mess it up!

I thought about going by the name Joanna for a while, since one of the diminutives is Asia (pronounced Asha), which sounds pretty similar to my name. Instead, I'm going by my name, but pronounced (I-sha). It's the same way my name was pronounced when I went to German school so it still feels like my real name.

I haven't had as much interaction with surnames (of course they say surname instead of last name) other than the fact that each surname takes up half a line of text! How about these monsters: Trzetrzelewska, Dzieduszycki, Siesztrzewitowski, Brzęczyszczykiewicz...oh my! Luckily I haven't had any obligation to try and pronounce these out loud to anyone.

Every last name derives from either the person's relations, occupation, or place of origin. For example, the common -ski suffix implies affiliation with something. So Warsawski means "of Warsaw". Simple enough, except many surnames will change based on gender so that the female versions end in -a. So if I were married to a Pan Warsawski, I would become Pani Warsawska. Luckily though, last names don't change so I don't have to worry about it beyond the initial introductions with someone.

Well, as far as I know I haven't made any major faux pas but please share any advice if you have it!

I don't have any name-related photos this week,  but Cameron and I attempted homemade pierogis last weekend:
It starts with homemade dough, courtesy of Cameron's kneading skills.

The best dough cutter we could find was a champagne flute. 

We filled them with mashed potatoes and cheddar. 

Since they are so small you need to be fairly dexterous to press them by hand. In a lot of kitchen stores you can find pierogi presses to help with this step

Once folded, you crimp the edges with a fork. 

The pile of uncooked dumplings. 

Boil until they float...

...and then fry them to give them some texture.

While good on their own...

...they are much better when paired with fresh dill, crisped onions, homemade applesauce, and sour cream. Adding toppings is not very Polish but we're not very Polish people yet. 

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Koronawirus

It took less than two weeks to go from no known cases to Poland's decision to close their borders.  Here's a timeline, condensed to match the information I was aware of as it became available:
  • 4 March- First confirmed case in Poland.
  • 8 March- First case in Krakow (and still the only case in this city).
  • 10 March- Total of 22 confirmed cases across the country.
  • 12 March- Total count is 51 with one death. Polish Prime Minister closes down schools, kindergartens, and nurseries until at least 25 March. Theaters, cinemas, and museums are closed until further notice. Recommendations to the public to avoid public transportation. 
  • 14 March- 68 known cases. All shops, other than grocery stores and places that sell personal hygiene products, are closed. Restaurants are not allowed to have eat-in customers, so only take-away and delivery food options are available. Pubs and clubs are shutdown. Any meetings or gatherings over 50 people must be canceled.
  • 15 March- 104 cases and three deaths. Borders are closed. Polish citizens may return home but will be placed on a 14-day quarantine after crossing the border. The borders can only be crossed for the movement of goods. 
My personal concerns are following a similar trajectory as the graphs showing infection levels of the virus. Right now I am not panicking, although we are a little more stocked than normal on food and household goods. I'm not interacting with tons of people, but that is largely because of governmental and work-from-home mandates which facilitate "social distancing." Currently I feel pretty good about my own chances (I am after all a  young healthy person with a really good chance of recovery) but I'm trying to be more conscientious about other people's concerns. For the most part, I am trying to live as normally as possible, but I would really like these bell curves to plateau soon so that way I don't start working myself up to a panic. There is now a recovery count; of the 104 total cases in Poland 13 have recovered so far, so I think there is hope.

My natural inclination for experiencing a world-wide health-scare would be to think "I wish I was home." Home is the place where you go for attention and care when you are sick. There is a safety and comfort to home. But home (specifically Seattle or Las Cruces, but broadly speaking the full US) is not a safer place to be right now. Home is arguably a lot more dangerous. I feel safer under the quick-acting Polish government than I would in the United States.

I keep seeing posts on Facebook and stories from my parents and former coworkers about American's reactions. Most notably, the craze to buy toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Polish citizens seem to act far more practically. Yes, there are certain shelves at the stores that are getting more attention than normal (mostly pasta, crackers, and other durable foods) but no one is going on crazed shopping rampages and the stores don't feel any more crowded than normal. There are noticeable increases in safety. For example, all of the self-service pastries and breads are pre-wrapped, all of the cashiers are wearing gloves, and shoppers are asked to stand 1meter apart in the check-out lines. The restaurants that are open are asking customers to wait outside while their take-home orders are being prepared. More people are wearing smog masks, even on the good air quality days. 

Maybe Krakow is an anomaly compared to the rest of Poland; I don't know since I haven't spent time anywhere else in the last week. Since Krakow only has one case, and that individual went into immediate quarantine after returning from Italy where he contracted it, some people believe there may not be any spread in Krakow. That's probably unlikely given the number of tourists that pass in and out of the city, but we'll see. Regardless, I get the sense that everyone trusts that the government is making good decisions and will continue to do its best to protect its citizens. The quick enactment of protective protocols is one example. Early in the week everyone got pamphlets in the mail about ways to protect yourself and what to do if you think you might be sick. Bus doors now open at ever stop so that way people don't have to touch a communal button to get on/off the bus. If you have a child under 8 and need to stay at home because daycare services aren't available, you will continue to get 80% of your pay. 

Cameron and I both have jobs where its easy to work from home, so we will continue to work full time for the next few weeks. In general, I think auditors are pretty flexible about our workplace, so I don't expect this will be seen as an inconvenience. Cameron's coworkers, however, are struggling! You would think that a bunch of computer geeks would prefer the anti-social nature of being holed-up at home, but it seems to be quite the opposite. Many of them have kids that are distracting, they don't have their fancy monitors and keyboards, but it seems the biggest anguish is missing out on "tribal coffee" (Cameron's words, not mine). 

At around 11:30 yesterday Cameron told me he was going to be on a call. I didn't realize that "call" was a social video chat that would last for an hour and a half with a rotating mix of coworkers. I even got pulled into conversation for a little bit and I got to virtually meet a baby, a toddler, and a cat (from three different coworkers). It almost was like the grown-up version of show-and-tell. 

My prediction is that once this is all over, a few of our habits will have permanently changed. Companies' willingness to let people work from home will probably go up (assuming people get used to the workday isolation after a few weeks of this). I'm guessing our improved hand washing skills will stick with us. I bet people are going to get more used to cooking at home every day once they get used to not relying on the convenience of restaurants. Handshaking might become a thing of the past. I know we have a lot more Coronavirus contractions and deaths to get through, but I'm remaining hopeful that this will taper off relatively soon. 

A friend sent this meme to me and I laughed unreasonably hard at it. 

Social distancing at the grocery store- tape marks the floor where customers are asked to stand one meter apart.

I had to pop into the office and I was the only one.

Government-mailed pamphlets on how to stay safe.

Many stores in town have signs explaining that they will be closed indefinitely.

There weren't many people out yesterday. We think most of them were tourists making their way to the train station so they could get home before the travel ban went into effect at midnight. 


Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Galas and Judaism

The other week at work, I told a coworker that I always have weekend plans. It's true–I try to maximize my two free days so that way I ensure to have a fun activity every week between the work and chores. This weekend, was perhaps a little too crowded. Maybe everyone wanted to make plans before the Coronavirus made its way to Krakow (which it now has; the first confirmed case was confirmed Monday). There was so much going on this weekend, that I had to turn down multiple requests for my time. No one wants to hear me complain about taxes or brag on behalf of Cameron's running abilities, so I'll keep this post to just two events: the Toastmasters 10th Birthday Gala and the Galicia Jewish Museum.

Toastmasters Birthday Gala

I promise that the name is more pretentious than it truly was, and I'm glad I didn't show up in a floor-length gown like I was considering doing. Although most people had dressed up (mostly dresses and button-up shirts), there were a few attendees in jeans. It took place at the Browar Lubicz brewery, and our group of ~40 people had a private room upstairs. For some reason I didn't connect that it was a brewery until we were trying to leave, so I didn't even try a beer! I'll have to go back, but I don't feel terrible about missing out because a coworker today told me that Lubicz is only "pretty good" but I really should make my way over to Stara Zajezdnia.

Anyways, back to the gala. It didn't start until 20:00, and food didn't start being served until 20:30 (because of course there had to be speeches to start us of) so I'm glad Cameron and I had the foresight to eat pre-dinner (frozen pierogis, a travesty to all of the Polish babcias out there). In fact, between each course there was some sort of speech-based intermission, including a roast of the club's president by two nationally-recognized public speakers and there was a toast-giving contest. I'm not very experienced in the toasting realm, but I was damned sure going to volunteer in order to get a glass of champagne!

Now 20:00 is pretty late for me already, especially to be starting dinner, and I knew that this event was scheduled to go until 1:00am with plans to move to another venue thereafter for an afterparty. And this is all after six hours of workshops throughout the day! Needless to say, I was exhausted before I even got there. Cameron and I stayed through dessert #1, but we weren't hungry enough to stay for the enticing dessert #2 and definitely didn't have the energy needed to join the post-dinner dance floor.

I know that my need for 9 hours of sleep each night is a bit particular, but I think my bedtime routines are at a stark contrast to the Polish party lifestyle in general. One of my goals while in Poland is to be invited to a Polish wedding, but I'm honestly a little scared, too. I've heard from multiple sources, and it was reinforced at the gala dinner, that Polish weddings go for three days straight, and you typically only sleep in 3-4 hour stretches between each day. I doubt I have the liver to support that level of festivities, and I definitely don't have the ability to stay up for 20 hours straight, three days in a row!

Galicia Jewish Museum

My friend invited me to join her on Sunday afternoon to check out this museum. She's quite a history buff, and after some research she had decided this was the museum she wanted to try. I had no expectations, other than the knowledge that Krakow had one of the largest Jewish populations world-wide pre-WWII and now the community is practically non-existent. The museum is located on the far end of Kazimierz, the Jewish district of Krakow, very close to a 15th-century synagogue. After paying our 17złoty (~$4.50) entrance fee and depositing our coats in the cloak room, we were on the museum-driven path.

I spent a lot of time in London's museums recently, but those are so big that you have to bypass things if you only can contributed a few hours. This was my first small museum in a long time, and it definitely was laid out in a way where they expect you to read everything. It was also the first time in a while that I was in a museum with someone besides Cameron, but luckily my friend and I were reading at about the same pace.

The first half of the museum chronicled a single Krakowian Jewish family (primarily a mother, her young daughter and son, and her one-legged mother), who left Krakow at perhaps just the right time. Despite being previously wealthy, they of course lost everything as they journeyed from Poland to Ukraine, Siberia, Uzbekistan, Jordan, and then finally Israel. It was a fascinating alternative to the main Jewish storyline we hear from the Holocaust, especially since the tale was largely told through the mother's diary entries and artwork.

The second half of the museum was the work of two photographers set on capturing spots of Jewish importance in the Galicia-region of Poland (although Galicia spans into Ukraine as well). The photos were split into various categories, including the now virtually-nonexistence of Jewish spaces and monuments, the repurposing of Jewish buildings and landmarks, memorial sites of WWII victims, renovation and protection of sacred spaces, and the lives of present-day Polish Jews.

Overall it was a very well-thought-out museum. We weren't able to see everything in two hours, but if we hadn't gotten kicked out we probably would have finished in another 20 minutes or so. I don't feel like I need to go back for those extra 20-minutes of photograph review, but I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in a different side of history and how history continues to play out into our modern lives.

The workshop itinerary leading up to the gala dinner. 

Justyna being hostest of the night. 

Dessert #2- it looked tasty but Cameron and I bailed before having a slice. 

Outside the Galicia Jewish Museum. 

Chronicling the journey of the Pisek family.

Pastel painting by the mother and cards made by the daughter of the Pisek family.

The introductory photographs for part 2 of the museum. 

An abandoned synagogue in Krakow.

Layout of the photography half of the museum.

Walking by Wawel castle on the way to the museum. 

Full moon above Wawel cathedral on the way home.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Visiting Warsaw

Thanks to my new job, I got to visit Warsaw. This was my first visit to another Polish city, and I was excited for the train ride and anticipation of learning more about my new country. There were three elements to the trip for me, so I'll divide up my blog in the same way:

The Train

In my mind, riding the train between two European cities was the epitome of class and luxury. Perhaps I was anticipating the means of travel more than I was looking forward to the destination. Especially as a solo traveler, this seemed the ideal way to go. 

I knew there was no need to be, but I was a little nervous about the pre-boarding process. I had traveled with Amtrak once in college, and I have been regularly taking the street cars around Krakow, but I hadn't been on a proper European train since childhood. I asked Cameron to walk to the train station with me, but his moral support was completely unnecessary. As should be expected with European travel finding my train, the correct car, and the correct seat were problem-free. And of course, the train left exactly on time. 

I had booked my ticket through a third-party service, and I think I was in first-class but I'm not sure. There wasn't anything particularly elite; there wasn't even outlets. It was a six-person cabin, with a small trash bin and some small tables. Above the seats was a long mirror that you couldn't look while seated and everyone's bags and luggage were stored on small metal wracks above that. 

Almost immediately, the cityscape turned into hilly pastures and leafless trees. There were regular smatterings of houses and closer to Warsaw we passed through short space forests. Even though it was just a three hour journey, the scenery became mundane and the slightest disruptions became of great interest: the conductor, the coffee cart, and seeing two white-tailed deer running across a distant field. I went to the toilet just to walk along the car. All of my fellow passengers were women. Three of them seemed to know each other, but my limited Polish kept me from eavesdropping on their chatter. 

Essentially, the train was not nearly as high-class or high-entertainment that I had worked it out to be. 

The City

I arrived in Warsaw at 13:30, and would have likely found a lunch spot had I not had a 30 minute walk to Sigismund's Column for my scheduled walking tour. I purposely packed everything into a backpack rather than a suitcase purposely so I could rush out of the train station towards Old Town Warsaw. Along the way I walked through a few parks and plenty of people were strolling through them enjoying the surprisingly sunny day. 

My waking tour did not start as promptly as the train, but I enjoyed watching a street performer release bubbles into the air to the enjoyment of children and adults alike. Once the tour began, I learned about the namesake of Sigismund's Column, a Polish/Swedish king who moved the Polish capital from Krakow to Warsaw so he could more easily rule both countries. From the same square we could also see one of the only buildings in Old Town that withstood the bombings of WWII and then the National Stadium which was constructed for a soccer tournament in 2012. 

The remained of the tour was through a series of streets that had been reconstructed to their pre-war state. We passed through the palace, and in front of the large Gothic church. We walked through the Barbican and the fortified walls that still surround the original city. Since Warsaw hadn't begun as a major city, Old Town was small and charming, but some of the charm felt manufactured due to the reconstructed nature of the city. 

The tour guide was entertaining, and he very much enjoyed lightly ribbing Krakow (a sentiment that was paralleled by my Krakowian tour guides on previous walking tours). I actually found a lot of similarities between the two cities, especially as far as (original) layouts and architecture. Warsaw has more to offer as far as major performers, and I'm looking forward to exploring more of the city's parks in future trips. I got the sense that Warsaw emphasizes integrating nature into the city, and our guide told us that it's not unusual to encounter a beaver along the banks of the Vistula River. I think I would have been quite happy to move to Warsaw, had that been the destination chosen for us.

That being said, I'm glad Krakow made the final cut. Krakow has a cohesiveness that Warsaw lacks, and a stronger sense of culture and community. This is in part due to Krakow's preservation during WWII, but also largely due to it being the city of kings, even after it was no longer the government's capital. Even my tour guide admitted that Krakow is the cultural hub of the country, albeit saying so in a manner that implied that Krakowians were hoity-toity for that reason. Before leaving work last Friday, I asked my Krakowian coworkers if they had any recommendations for me in Warsaw, and the only answer I got was "those of us from Krakow don't think very highly of Warsaw." Although I found plenty of things to entertain myself with, I think that Krakowians may be justified in their elitism. 

The Training

Work was the reason I was in Warsaw, so I suppose I should address that aspect of the trip as well, especially since there were some fairly amusing components of it (at least for me). 

I knew ahead of time that the Novotel was a fairly nice place to stay, partially because what I had seen online, but also because it was a very tall modern-looking skyscraper in the hub of New Town. When I checked in, I considered asking the hotel receptionist if my roommate had already arrived. I didn't, though, which led to some added anticipation when I first unlocked the door to my room. I was alone, and I quickly discovered that there was just a single bed; somehow I had lucked out to have a room to myself! 

The view from my room was of the spectacular Palace of Culture and Science, the tallest building in Poland. The gym, which was on the top floor, had an even better view of the same cityscape. Breakfast the next morning was also a delight. I made myself a fresh pressed carrot, apple, and pear juice (yes, they had juicers that the guests could use), potatoes, eggs, pastries, herring, a salad, and I paired my croissant with a chunk of honey comb. I was tempted to also try the fresh-churned butter machine, but it would have just gone to waste. 

When I signed into the training session, I was told that the session would be conducted in Polish, however there was a translator for me and the one other English-only participant. Because of that, the two of us were seated in the back of the room at a table to ourselves. It took me a while to get used to concentrating on the whispered voice directed at the back of my head, rather than fully focusing on the speakers. Unfortunately, because of the setup, the two of us missed out on much of the socialization and team building activities that the other participants were involved in. On the bright side though, I got to leave two hours early and caught an earlier train home to Krakow that evening!

The other notable part of training was the VR headsets. In Poland, there are serious precautions taken to make sure everyone is well versed in health and safety laws. In the case of a health situation, individuals are expected to provide fairly involved medical support until health professionals arrive on the scene. At some point during the morning, each of us were batched into groups to put on VR headsets and walk through three health-scare situations: a child who cut his finger, someone who had a heart attack and collapsed in the lobby at work, and then someone choking on a grape. If you didn't follow the exact steps (ex: put gloves on before applying antiseptic cream and a bandaid) then you didn't earn the trophy for that scene. At one point everyone in the room was shouting "put on gloves" and "grab the AED" as part of their scenarios. 


Train cabin seats.

Views from the train were mostly of hilly pastures. 

Looking out at another passing train. 

First view of Warsaw. 

Interesting architecture in Warsaw New Town.

The colorful homes of Old Town on the right, Sigismund's Column in the center, and the Warsaw palace on the right. 

Bubbles flying through the air while looking at the still-standing abbey. 

Warsaw's Gothic cathedral. 

Some tank tracks on the cathedral as an anti-war memorial. 

If you walk around this bell every day, your wish will apparently come true. More notably, there is a tiny one-window-wide home in the left corner. The back of the house is much wider but at one point property tax was determined based on the width of the front of your house. 

My tour guide in front of a wall with bullet damage from former public executions. 

View of the Palace of Culture and Science from my hotel room in the evening. 

And the same view the next morning.

Honeycomb for breakfast!

Sanitary mask to wear under the VR headsets. 

Everyone doing their VR health training. 

Sunset from the train ride home.