Saturday, April 25, 2020

Beautiful Spring

Sorry for last week's post–looking back I was experiencing some cabin fever-onset depression. Compared to last week, I feel so happy and and motivated. Starting last Monday, we can now go back outside for exercise and I have been going on daily walks. Parks and forests are open and I'm taking full advantage of our restored freedom.

Whereas I had been going out for weekly trips to the grocery store, Cameron truly hadn't left the apartment in over a month. To celebrate, we wrapped buffs around of faces on Monday morning and set off on a 3,5km stroll around Planty Park. It was so beautiful! Clearly, the city has still been employing their gardeners because the park was full of beautiful manicured lawns and landscaped floral arrangements. The Polish word for April, kwiecień, is aptly derived from the same root word for flower, kwiat, and there were daffodils, tulips, and pansies in abundance. 

There weren't many people out, but it was still a bigger crowed than I had seen in weeks. I wanted to watch other people and try to get a sense of how they were doing; did the first day out feel as monuments to them as it did to me? I felt giddy to be back in the physical world, even though we were all keeping our distance and everyone had their lower faces covered. Cameron kept repeating how surprised to see the changes that had been happening in the outside world. Since he last has seen them, the trees went from barren winter branches to lush billows of greens and pinks. He so badly wanted to wanted to share this, so he ended up video chatting my dad as we walked our loop. 

On subsequent evenings' walks we've walk by the castle and along the river, both of which are quite crowded and hard to keep to the 2 meter distancing in places. A few people, especially those sunning on benches or or grassy hills, are not following the mask regulations fully, but instead have them hanging around their necks ready to be quickly pulled up if a police officer walks by. The police are still out on patrol, and I always have a small hope that those who are disrespecting the rules will be fined. Being by the river is lovely in spring, of course, since the grass is growing more brightly and the cherry blossoms are in bloom. If it's late enough in the evening we see bats flying around catching their dusk bugs. Normally I would be more concerned with getting ready for bed at 20:00 rather than going out for a walk, but the walks are a newfound must-have each day.

Walking around Krakow with a more autonomy has been great, but today was a real treat to take the car and drive an hour south for a short hike in the forested foothills of Małapolska. Some of the early wildflowers were out and the lower trees were budding with their young green leaves. You don't have to wear masks while in the forests, but about half of the people we bypassed had something around their necks that they could pull up when passing fellow hikers. Luckily we had mostly sun on our hike, but springtime weather here is notoriously unpredictable and not long after we reached the car it started to pour. If it weren't for the clouds, we probably would have seen the Tatras Mountains, but even our shorter-range view of the Polish countryside was spectacular.

If you want to visit Poland next year (and are optimistic that we won't have a second wave of Coronavirus) I very much recommend visiting in spring!
Just a few minutes walk from our house.

Some of the landscaping surrounding old town.

Families and dogs were enjoying their evening. 

Young couples sunning under Wawel Castle. 

Paddle boarders along the Wisła river. 

Sunset stroll along the rive. 

Sunset on the Wisła.

Wawel at dusk. 

Twinning on our hike with matching shirts and buffs. 

Budding trees in the forrest. 

A sunny view of the Polish countryside.

Stormy weather starting about an hour later. 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Feeling Down

Every day I check the Coronavirus numbers in Poland and although our numbers continue to grow they grow by smaller percentages each week. The Polish government has clearly been seeing the declining trend, too, and starting on 20 April we will be able to start going out for recreational reasons, so long as we keep our distance and cover our faces. The government has also identified their four-stage plan for lifting restrictions, even though they aren't ready to give dates for each stage going into effect. Fingers crossed that we get to the borders opening up in time for my parents to visit in June!

Although I am very excited to be allowed to go for casual walks again, we'll be in the house most of the time for the continuing foreseeable future. We try to find novel things to fill our time with and to give distinction to each day. Our house has mostly been filled with baking and living room workouts and watching Gourmet Makes. Cameron finds endless joy in his sourdough starter. In the last week we've had sourdough bread, coffee cake, crepes, and crackers. Outside of the sourdough world I've made apple muffins and cowboy cookies and Cameron made his first pavlova.

To work it all off we've been relying on Peloton workouts and running back and forth on the 0.15km utility road behind our apartment. Somehow Cameron managed to run back-and-forth on that thing for an hour; I only lasted about 13 minutes before I got bored (read: winded). Even with our new yoga mats and abundant energy, I have to admit, it's my watch tracking my activity that's keeping me working out every day. For the days that I can't motivate myself to do a formal workout I turn on an episode of Community and do suicides across the living room floor.

This week did have some unique highlights. For one, I started an online Polish class! The Zoom classroom definitely adds some unique challenges and there's something about looking at tiny squares of people for three hours that just fatigues my eyes so badly, but I'm excited to have a place to try my tongue at this language again without the embarrassment of interacting with "real people." The other excitement was getting elected as the new treasurer of my Toastmasters club. The other members got a real laugh when they learned they had elected a CPA into the role.

Even with the little glimpses of excitement, it's been a pretty dull week. Sorry for the correspondingly dull post. I hope everyone else is doing better in your own little residential worlds.

Cowboy cookies and sourdough loaf. 

Easter morning sourdough crepes. 

If you look closely you can see Cameron running down there. 

Daily morning workouts. 

The mall is a ghost town other than the couple of food stores and pharmacies. 

Elected as treasurer :) 

Learning new words like kajak and balon. 

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Easter In Poland

It's Easter weekend, but from what I can tell it's not going to be a particularly special weekend for anyone this year. In most years, the long weekend (we get Easter Monday off) means an extended time to spend with family and go to church. Nowadays religious gatherings are limited to five people max and everyone is stuck inside with the same few people they see every day.

In an attempt to make this feel like a holiday, I've instituted some plans for Cameron and I. Last weekend, we painted eggs and now have them hanging on our (long dead) Christmas tree. I also bought an obscene amount of candy which we will divvy up and hide around the house for each other to find. For Easter dinner, we are going to pull out the fondue pot again (another Christmas leftover) and dress up in fancy clothes (read: bridesmaids dress for me and bowtie for Cameron). There's going to be a lot of baking this weekend, and as I write this on Saturday morning the first creation (sourdough biscuits) are in the oven.

These plans are clearly not perfect models of any country's Easter traditions (hidden candy is typically encased in plastic eggs in the United States and I'm pretty sure I picked up the egg painting from German traditions, but Easter fondue is not a thing I've ever heard of), but they were the best I could come up with to make the holiday special. Clearly we won't be having a Polish Easter this year, but nonetheless I wanted to learn about the Polish Easter traditions so that way I have something to look forward to next year.


I should have suspected that Easter rituals would encompass a full week of activities (referred to as Holy Week or Great Week). According to the preparations start the week leading up to Easter with Palm Sunday and spring cleaning. That explains why I've seen so many of my neighbors washing their windows this week! I just assumed people were getting stir crazy and window washing was a good way to feel productive while still getting to stand in the sun on your porch.

Palm Sunday seems to be as much of a celebration to welcome the onset of spring as it does to be a religious celebration. According to, families and school children make their own palms out of "lush branches of boxwood, catkins, dyed herbages, paper flowers, ribbons, dried flowers," and just about anything else that can be found. If it weren't for mandates to stay home, we would presumably find colorful stalls around Krakow's market square selling pre-made palms to the less crafty folks. The colorful creations are then paraded around after mass, similar to the Three Kings Day processions that happen around Christmas time.

On Thursday, priests and bishops at many cathedrals nationwide, including Krakow's Wawel Cathedral, wash the feet of 12 elderly men in a nod to the last supper. Then during Friday mass a Jesus sculpture is placed into a grave where he lays among flowers and candles until his resurrection on Sunday.

Saturday is the fun day, because it's filled with egg dying and food prepping. Although some people do egg painting and egg scratching (dipping eggs into hot wax and then scratching patterns into them), egg dying seems to be most common decorating approach and is done similarly to the US. You hard boil some eggs then drop them into the store-bought dye concoction for a few minutes. I think Cameron had only dyed eggs before, for he was a little bamboozled by the fact that you can use the natural egg color as the base when egg painting. He insisted in fully covering his eggs with a base coat of paint, to which I was of course snippy about because I didn't want him wasting my paints unnecessarily.

When I was last at the store (buying my hoards of candy) there were lots of chintzy Easter decor. The dye packages of course, plus a wall of rabbit and chick statues, decorative eggs and grass, and a stack of small woven baskets. "Pretty much the same as the US," I thought, "just with less basket space for the candy." I didn't realize that the Easter baskets aren't used as candy-collective devices, but rather are filled with Easter foods that are brought to the church to be blessed. The baskets are decorated and filled as you please, but having a piece of sausage, bread, salt, pepper, hard-boiled eggs, and a sugar lamb sculpture are staples. Nick Hodge, another Krakow blogger, notes that sometimes children sneak pet treats into the baskets, too. These baskets are taken to be blessed on Saturday, but cannot be touched until the following morning.

I suppose it goes without saying that food is an important staple of the holiday. From what I can tell, there is a small fuss put into family dinner that night, but it's Easter breakfast that is the main celebratory meal (I suppose you want to eat the blessed basket food as soon as possible!) To start off the meal, everyone takes a small slice of the blessed egg(s) and exchanges well wishes with their family members. After that, you feast! The blessed food is supplemented with a variety of other traditional dishes. It seems like there is nothing more Polish than soup, for there seems to be at least one type of soup found on most families breakfast menus. Various cakes also make regular appearances on the Easter table. I showed Cameron a picture of some of the Easter cakes hoping he would feel inspired to bake one, but he just said "look at those cakes!" Maybe next year.

How about all of those dyed eggs? Those which aren't eaten at breakfast are enlisted for egg fighting! The rules, according to, first require that everyone chooses the egg that best meets their secret criteria. You then tap the tips of the eggs against each other until the last unbroken egg is declared the winner. All of the broken eggs must be eaten by the losing competitors.

As I've already mentioned, Monday is a holiday here. I didn't grow up Catholic, but I assumed that Monday had some sort of religious significance. I was surprised to learn that in Poland, there isn't any cultural obligation to go to church, but rather the day is dubbed "Wet Monday," or the humorous sounding Polish name, "Śmigus Dyngus." Once again, according to, "tradition requires that boys throw water over girls and spank them with willow branches." As a kid I'm sure I would have felt some degree of relief not having brothers, but apparently many people treat the following Tuesday as revenge day where the girls get to soak the boys.

Culture Trip advises to wake up early that day if you don't want to be awoken by a bucket of water, and to avoid carrying electronics and important around on Monday since the torment truly can affect anybody (not just boys soaking girls). They also advise leaving important documents at home, wear clothes you don't mind getting wet in, and stay alert for people who may be hiding in the bushes.

The final festivities extend into Tuesday in Krakow, even though most people are back at work. Those lucky enough to have the day off go to Krakus Mound to take place in the medieval fair, Rekawka. Traditionally (per Krakow Info) bonfires burned among fencing and pole climbing contests in this pagan ritual honoring the dead. These days, it's mostly stalls selling sweets and sword fighting between professional medieval knights. Rekawka fairs are apparently becoming more popular around the country and mostly are being treated as a renaissance festival.

What about the Easter Bunny? A few websites noted that the Easter Bunny visits the homes of Polish children and hides small gifts and sweets for them to find around the house, but that doesn't seem to be the focus of Easter. Like most holidays in Poland, the main focus is on family, and of course, food. Happy Easter everyone!

Trying to blow out the egg innards so we can paint and hang the shells. 

Cameron trying to fully coat his egg. 

Me taking a more intricate approach. 

The finished products, hanging from our dead Christmas tree. 

We don't go outside much, but spring is springing! 

I'm taking detours on my way to and from the grocery store to try and see some of the city on occasion. 

The daffodils are everywhere! Apparently, they are the primary symbol of spring in Poland. 

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.