December 23rd was technically a working day, but like I said, I think most people opted out of it. Cameron decided to put himself on call for the week so he was home for the day, but I put him to work! Monday became a chores day, as it was the last day to do grocery shopping until Friday and we had to clean the house to be Christmas-ready. I also had my first prepared Toastmasters speech that evening so I was trying to recite the speech in my head most of the day.
Not to toot my own horn, but I know I'm pretty good at public speaking, but nonetheless I was quire nervous. I always get anxious before any sort of public performance, but this time I was extra on-edge. Not only did I arrive at the meeting second-guessing my self-deprecating topic selection, but I also was asked last-minute to be the grammarian, which basically means I had to listen for grammatical errors and report on them at the end of the meeting. Oy vey! Luckily my speech was early on, so I could focus on just one task for most of the meeting. During my speech I went into a bit of a fugue state and don't remember most of it, but it must have gone well because I received the "Best Speaker Award" at the end of the night. It was the confidence boost I needed to finally opt in as a proper member–happy Christmas to me!
Cameron and I were both looking forward to Christmas Eve. Although we didn't have a traditional Polish celebration we had a very Cameron-and-Aisha day. We left the house around 10am to walk an hour to a rabbit rescue shelter. We didn't really know what to expect, but the woman who greeted us, Anna, was super friendly and equally rabbit-obsessed as we were. She and her daughter (maybe around eight years old) had tea and cookies for us and basically asked that we just hang out with the rabbits to help socialize them. There were about 15 rabbits there, and my absolute favorites were a group of five siblings, two females and three males, who were the biggest baby rabbits I had ever encountered. They were all a dark black-and brown color, their bodies were the size of Monka's (so big), but their huge ears indicated that they probably would still double in size! They were so rambunctious and very willing to crawl on top of you in hopes of treats or escape. If we were allowed to have pets in our apartment there is a very good chance we would have five new bunnies.
For the evening we got dressed up and walked 20 minutes to a nice restaurant in Kazimierz. Because of our outfits, the price of the meal, and the overall ascetic of the venue, I felt pressure to have a really nice time and to be throughly engaged in conversation the whole evening, but unfortunately service was pretty chaotic so it seemed like most of the guests were on-edge and not really enjoying their night. Cameron and I also were a little anxious, since it was really hard to track down a waiter to take our drink orders, but once food started coming it was a little easier to relax. There were six pre-set courses (well, seven for us since they brought us one of the courses twice): salmon with a cream spread and a cracker, pickled herring with trout caviar and crawfish cream, a mushroom and pasta soup, a beet and pierogi soup, an entry (I got breaded carp and Cameron had some sort of beef dish), and lastly a walnut and sesame strudel. I was stuffed by the end, and was very thankful we weren't trying to hit the 12-dish mark for a traditional Polish Christmas Eve.
In all of our walking around that day, I was surprised at how many shops and restaurants were open. I had been given the impression that the whole city shuts down for three days with almost no exceptions, but we could have easily gone grocery shopping before 16:00 and I'm not sure if dinner reservations were necessary based on some of the conversations I overheard at the restaurant. Apparently the post was also open and by some Christmas miracle the package from my parents arrived on Christmas Eve so we got to hang Christmas stockings and went to bed in matching Christmas jammies.
Christmas morning was pretty traditional. We started by opening presents and then made Santa pancakes. My mom always makes a cranberry sauce and whipped cream, but we had a apple and cherry sauce instead based on available fruit here. The next few hours were mostly filled with bad holiday movies on Netflix. As you'll soon ready, there was a lot of Netflixing this holiday, and throughout the month of December I'm pretty sure I watched at least a dozen Christmas movies and series. My favorite? A Norwegian series about a woman trying to find a boyfriend to bring home to her family–"Home for Christmas."
The day wasn't all just moping around; we also were hosting a Christmas fondue party! In addition to the cheese and chocolate fondues, we also were baking bread, baking cookies, and chopping all sorts of fun thing to dip into the fondues so the kitchen was in high-demand throughout the afternoon. I was quite proud of the table setting and beverage display, but my cheese fondue wasn't quite right. Since cheese fondue is definatley not a Polish dish, I never found kirschwasser and my cheese mix had some substitutions. Also, cheese fondue is probably not the best meal-choice when inviting two vegans for diner, but my friend Kriti brought her own vegan curry and the chocolate fondue was vegan so everyone got to participate in the dipping fun at some point. It was nice to have some friends over and do something to make Christmas feel like a proper holiday. One day I hope our fondue parties extend to the size of my parents' but for now, six is the max our dining room table can hold so we were at a very cozy capacity!
Unfortunately, as we were going to sleep Christmas night I turned to Cameron and predicted that the tickle in the back of my thought might turn into a full-on sickness. In the morning, I found out I was right. It was no surprise since many of the people I had been interacting with that week were getting over colds and I suppose timing was ok; we didn't have any plans we had to stick to, there were still plenty of holiday movies to watch, and we had a cupboard full of hot beverages to drink. Even so, I'm bad at staying still so Cameron led us on a walk to Krakus Mound and Kamieniołom Liban–a rounded look-out hill next to an old quarry with some rusted mining buildings built in.
Friday Cameron went back to work, and I didn't leave the house once. The walk had worn me out and I was feeling much worse than the day before, but Netflix and tea were still there to comfort me. Despite still feeling ill on Saturday, I was feeling even more antsy after a day of bedrest. Cameron thought I looked too sick to go to a museum, but he agreed to walk around town on a self-guided stained glass tour. Of the 12-or-so recommended stops, we found maybe ten of them, but we also found a great outdoors shop and some really beautiful churches. For the most part, Cameron and I had been too nervous to go into the churches even though we'd been told about their beauty, but it being Saturday afternoon gave us confidence that we wouldn't be interrupting worship and plus there are so many visitors in Krakow for Christmas that we could always pretend like we were just standard dumb-American tourists. Luckily, we didn't have to play that card.
This week (starting on December 29th) has mostly started like any normal week. I went to Toastmasters on Monday, and Tuesday was mostly filled with chores. I've gotten a bit braver with my explorations and am trying to branch out of the routine I've started to build for myself and find new shops. I'm thinking about giving myself a challenge of seeking out a new obscure item every week just to see where I end up in my search for it! This week I found a huge department store just a few blocks from our apartment that I had somehow overlooked for the past three months and today I happened upon three different arts-and-crafts stores. But going back to Tuesday, even though it started off fairly mundane, it was of course New Years Eve (aka Sylwester).
I knew Cameron wasn't particularly looking forward to a night spent with drunk strangers, but I was excited to dress up and dance in proper Polish style! We left the house around 20:20 (happy 2020!) and tried to catch a peek at what was going on in the main square on our way to Klub Re. Then answer was, not much, because apparently even the city-sponsored partying doesn't start until 21:00, but there were already people I knew at Re by the time we arrived. Klub Re is probably not a place I ever would have found on my own, despite it's proximity to the main square, but it was a very cool underground brick building with multiple smaller rooms and bars, tons of table space, and a room set up as a dance floor. Until dancing got started, we chatted and drank with the people I knew from Toastmasters and Open Coffee. I was so pleased that in a club of 200 people, I probably knew close to 20 of them–quite the accomplishment for having only lived in the country for three months!
Somewhere around 23:00 dancing started to pick up. There was a super fun eclectic mix, and the all-time favorite was some sort of Polish polka-pop called "Prawy do Lewego"- it was great! Gabor, if you are reading this, you did an awesome job of putting together a fun night! At 23:45 an announcement about the time was made and everyone started to seek out their coats and head to the square. We weren't on the side of the square with the performance stages set up, so I didn't see if the city had a special countdown going, but we were happily squished in with thousands of other people counting down to the new year. Although the city stopped doing a fireworks show a few years ago (they replaced fireworks with confetti in attempts to keep the air a little cleaner) there were plenty of fireworks to be seen. Lots of folks just brought there own and were shooting them off while in the middle of the crowd. It's the kind of fun mayhem I expected of a European new year, and so far, I haven't heard of anyone getting hurt.
This year it has been hard to decide on resolutions, since I don't want to limit myself. I want to be open to the experiences that Poland has to offer and I don't want to turn down an opportunity because it doesn't fit within my rules. Typically, if I have a resolution I want to shoot for, I would have already been thinking about it for weeks or months, but this year I didn't officially decide on my New Years resolutions until January 1. For one, I'm going to do active Polish practice everyday, even if it's just a five minute lesson on Duolingo. Going to the store and doing day-to-day tasks doesn't count- it has to be some sort of exercise-based practice. Secondly, I want to be more appreciative; I've gotten into the habit of complaining and I want to be actively thankful for all of the good things in my life. Yes, things are challenging at times and I can be both board and frustrated, but I have a really awesome life filled with great people and super exciting opportunities and I want to be in-the-moment appreciative of all of those things. If I don't say it enough, thank you for being a part of that.
New Years day itself we didn't do anything particularly special, although I did feel like a show-off going on a run, but it was nice having Cameron at the house for another mid-week day. He's at work again today and tomorrow, but we have a three-day weekend to look forward to. Happy Three Kings Day everybody!
Cameron with three rascals.
Two more of the long-eared baby bunnies.
So many rabbits!
Christmas Eve stop at Good Lood.
Thanks Mom and Dad for the Christmas stockings!
Christmas Eve dinner menu.
Cameron looks so nice for Christmas Eve dinner.
Christmas Eve on the River.
Cameron, Maciej, Kriti, Ashlin, and Sharon for Christmas fondue party.
Kamieniołom Liban, as seen in Shindler's List.
Stained glass window inside of St. Mary's Basilica.
Krakow getting ready for Sylwester.
Dancing at Klub Re.
Happy New Years!
A new discover on our New Year's Day run.
Toastmasters meeting awards.
Happy Christmas Eve!