Saturday, November 28, 2020

Thanksgiving 2020

Cameron and I celebrated Thanksgiving a week early, mainly because that's when we took time off and I wasn't about to cook a multi-course meal on a workday. On proper Thanksgiving, I mostly forgot it was a holiday until an occasional "Happy Thanksgiving" text message popped up or I saw someone's Instagram story about turkey prep. The rest of my day was pretty stressful, so the reminders that everyone in the US were celebrating a day off was a little disorienting.  

But our premature Thanksgiving was great! It's always fun to have an occasion to make a fuss over, but part of the fun of fussing is hosting other people. We were hesitant about having anyone over, and went through the same logic loops as everyone else surely does these days around social engagements.  Ultimately, we felt more pull towards social celebration so we conceded to the five person group legal limit.

While two of our guests were American, it was one person's first Thanksgiving. I'm pleased to say that we showed him a pretty good feast! Cameron made turkey, turkey gravy, brioche rolls, and pumpkin pie. I prepared cranberry sauce, mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash soup, salad, salad dressing, and whipped cream. All of that was supplemented by our friends' dishes: roasted yams, green bean casserole, and apple pie. I'm sure I said it last year, but this year it's even more true- I'm pretty sure this was my favorite Thanksgiving meal I've ever had!

Like any good Thanksgiving, we had a little drama. Right as our friends were arriving a huge splash of water (maybe 2 liters) came out of the living room ceiling lamp. I was trying to not burn my Brussels while looking for an unused bowl we could put under the continuing drip. Cameron started sending photos to our landlord while one of our Polish-speaking friends and I went upstairs to talk to our neighbors. No one answered the door and it didn't seem like we needed to expect a second wave so we went on with the rest of our evening. 

We found out the next day that there was a burst pipe upstairs, but that we shouldn't have to worry about additional leaking. The only thing we had to worry about was the grinding sound of construction the whole next week- that surely didn't reduce my stress levels!

But back to Thanksgiving. Clearly, it is not a celebrated holiday in Poland, but many of my Polish friends and colleagues know of the holiday's existence. However, other than a few glimpses of it from American media, most people don't really know what the point is. Although they are British, not Polish, I would very much recommend listening to the Birthday Girls House Party podcast episode on Thanksgiving if you want a laugh about what foreigners think about our American traditions. 

Despite asking me for my thoughts on the holiday, I don't know what to tell people. It's a long conversation to talk about the controversial history and I haven't done enough research of my own to give an educated summary. Instead, I give the same white-washed answered everyone else probably gives- simply that it's a holiday to celebrate family and give thanks. And it should be about just family and thanks. So for what it's worth- I'm thankful for my health, my family's health, and an optimistic outlook for the future. 

The most important part of Thanksgiving is the pie- I'm glad we had two! 

Cameron made turkey for the first time. It was a little bit of a challenge finding turkey. I probably could have ordered a full bird from a butcher but was happy to settle for some big cutlets from the refrigerator section of a not-so-near grocery store. 

It was great to have a proper feast.

Cameron prepping the turkey. I refused to touch it. 

Some of the food on the table...

...and some of the food on a plate.

Post-dinner dishes. 

The amount of water that had accumulated overnight from the ceiling leak. 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Mounds Abound

There are four mounds in Krakow and this week Cameron and I finally went out in search of the fourth and final one. 

No one really knows what the mounds were for. Some hypothesize they were constructed as part of the city's defense mechanism, others say they are just memorial mounds. There's also no consensus about when the oldest were erected- some say the 8th century, others say the 1st or 2nd century. It's probably no surprise that there is also some uncertainty about who built them- it might have been Celts or Slavs, but the modern ones at least were built by the residents of the surrounding communities as tributes and memorials.

Since Cameron moved to Krakow about one month before I did, he is the one who introduced me to the mounds. I had never heard of anything referred to as a "mound" before, other than perhaps a large ant hill, so I had no clue what to expect. Upon first sight, my thought was "woah!" 

My first mound introduction was Kościuszko Mound. It is the most popular one since it is the closest to downtown and once you know to look for it you can spot it from many areas around town. It's also the only one fortified by a barrier wall, which makes it look more regal and imposing than the other mounds, even though it is not the largest (34 meters tall) nor the oldest (finished in 1823). The mound was constructed in honor of Tadeusz Kościuszko, a beloved military leader (who for some reason fought in the US Revolutionary War, become chummy with Thomas Jefferson, and made the future US president the executor of his will).  I think this site is one of the better ones for a little more information. 

Because of it's visibility from town, it's not uncommon to see a long ribbon-like flag running down the mound's slope. For Poland's Independence Day last week there was a red and white patriotic display which was then replaced a few days later with a Woman's Strike message. Although I feel that I can confidently say I've visited the mound, I've never actually climbed it. It's a small fee (maybe only 14 PLN/ 4 USD) but my excuse has been I will wait to pay to go up when I have visitors to take with me.
Surrounding Kościuszko Mound is a fortified wall and this small cathedral. 

This model sits outside of the paid area of the mound.

Kościuszko Mound is in the Wolski Forest. There are some really nice trails for hiking, running, and biking so you will see a lot of people hanging around on a nice day. 

I know this is not a great quality photo, but just right of center you can see some lights on the horizon which are the Kościuszko Mound lit up. 

This is not my photo, but it was sent to me by a women's solidarity texting group I'm part of. The banner translates to "you will never go alone."

Piłsudski Mound (aka Independence or Freedom Mound) is also in the Wolski Forest and there are many trailed routes you can take to connect this mound with the former one. It is the highest point in Krakow, and at 35 meters high it is also the tallest of the mounds. Constructed between 1934-1937, it is also the newest of the mounds. According to the UNESCO World Heritage Center, it was built using earth from WWI and WWII battlefields and "commemorates the Polish struggles for independence and the Polish pre-WWII marshal, Józef Piłsudski." If you want to learn more about Józef Piłsudski, I recommend checking out this site

Another name for this mound is Mogiła Mogił- "Grave of Graves." As the mound was built by regular citizens, people around Poland brought earth from the battleground sites using special urns. It's believed that dirt from over 3,600 sites is included in the mound, including earth from Józef Piłsudski's mother's grave. According to Discover Crakow, tens of thousands of people wanted to help and pay tribute, which is largely why they got such diverse dirt. 

At the foot of Piłsudski Mound. 

The first time I visited was on a sheepdogging adventure with Cameron last February. 

There weren't any leaves on the trees in February, but if you look to the north you see some agricultural fields and a small irrigation lake. 

I really like the stone pathways going up this mound.

I went back with a friend in October, and you can tell the mound was a lot greener than in February. 

The views were also a lot more lush in October. On this side of the mound (I think the west side) is a park and playground. 

Views from the other direction- some of the trees were starting to turn yellow but trees did really reach their peak fall colors until late October this year. 

Krakus Mound is the one I visit most regularly since it's only about half an hour walk from my flat. It is the oldest structure in Krakow and thought to be the resting place of Krakow's founder, King Krak. There have been excavations of the mound which uncovered a solid wooden core, artifacts from the 8th and 10th centuries, and a child's skeleton but no human remains that can be attributed to the King. Standing at 16 meters tall, it apparently used to be ringed by four smaller mounds but those were torn down in the 19th century to make a city wall. 

Approaching Krakus Mound for the first time. I'm not sure what the stone piles are that are smattered around the mound but perhaps they are remnants of the defense wall that replaced the four smaller mounds that used to exist here. 

The steeples from various churches and cathedrals are the most prominent markers on the horizon.
Unfortunately with just a small turn of the head you also see some large smoke stacks and industrial buildings which are not quite as picturesque. 

View 1: January

View 2: October

I'm not entirely sure why the surrounding grounds are so uneven; maybe it's remnants from the excavation. 

Behind Krakus Mound is this quarry, which was largely worked on by prisoners in the nearby concentration camp. The structures you can see inside the quarry are included in the film Schindler's List

You can walk all the way around (and in) this quarry and get pretty good views of the mound. 
Lastly is Wanda Mound- the subject of our sheepdogging adventure earlier this week. Wanda is pretty far (a minimum of 45 minute bike ride from my house) and is the smallest (14 meters) of the four mounds. The mound is inspired by the legendary Princess Wanda, who drowned herself in the Vistula River to avoid marriage with a German prince. The mound is close to the part of the river where her body was found (although not that close-it's at least 3km away from where the Vistula flows these days) and apparently houses her tomb; before being called Wanda Mound, it used to be referred to as "the Grave". 

Princess Wanda was the daughter of King Krak, and the two mounds may be connected in honor of that relationship. Every year, on 4 November and 6 February you will see the sun set over Krakus Mound if you stand atop Wanda Mound. You'll experience the same phenomenon over Wanda Mound if you visit Krakus Mound on 2 May or 10 August. That leads some to think that these two mounds were used as a form of calendar. The exact timeline of construction of these mounds is unknown, but it seems like somewhere between the 6th and 10th centuries is a fair guess, which would mean they were likely constructed by Celts or Slavs, giving more credence to the astrological theory- those dates match up with the approximate periods for various Slavic holidays. 

A small side note from me- when Cameron and I visited I looked really hard for other Krakow landmarks. I specifically was looking for other mounds on the horizon, but to no avail. Maybe it was a little smoggy or maybe I just didn't know what I was looking for but I did not see Krakus Mound. 

Wanda sits within a small park, but there aren't many walking trails as it's largely surrounded by train tracks and large roads. 

There is a decent view in one direction, but good luck seeing the other mounds on the horizon! 

Small monument at the top of the mound. I was surprised at how many other people were on top when we went mid-week. 

Wanda definitely felt the most rugged of the mounds. There was just a narrow animal track-type trail weaving up it. 

One great thing about the mound was some oversized wooden lounge chairs to sit at and gaze up at the mound. 

Remember when I said there were four mounds in Krakow- well upon doing some research for this post I learned that there are in fact five mounds, and there actually used to be a sixth, too. There's not much information about the John Paul II Mound other than it is the newest (raised in 1997) and smallest (only 7 meters). It seems like it is on some church grounds and "commemorates the sixth pilgrimage of the Polish Pope to his homeland" ( I would like to write it off but I know it will nag at me until I visit it. Luckily, it's pretty close to a few parks I really like and my favorite ice cream shop so chances are I will be over there soon enough...that is unless the nag motivates me to head out this weekend. 

I'm not able to find much about the non-existing mound, Esterka, either and the "facts" I do find are contradicted across various websites. The general legend is that Ester was the mistress of King Kazimierz the Great. Upon hearing of his infidelity, Ester jumped out of a window–I guess she didn't know she was the mistress? The mound was erected somewhere between the 14th and 18th centuries at the site that was expected to be her grave, and then was bulldozed in the 1950s, '60s, or '70s to make way for the WKS Wawel football club stadium. Like I said, the information available is quite inconsistent. However, Ester seems like she was a good force in Krakow's history. King Kazimierz is known for welcoming in a large Jewish community to Krakow (that's why the historic Jewish district is called Kazimierz) and it seems to be largely due to Ester's influence ( 

Apparently, according to a few sites, Krakow is the a record holder when it comes to mound numbes. Some sits say it's the most mounds in Poland, others say in the world, and what constitutes a mound and what other locations are contenders are mysteries to me. Nonetheless, when you visit I will recommend a mound walk at some point during your stay. Not only are they great spots for a picnic with a view but then you can say you climbed a record-making mound–I bet you don't have any friends at home who can say that. 

A map of the four main mounds.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Poland Independence Day

11 November is Poland Independence Day. I asked from whom they were gaining independence from, and it turns out it's basically everyone- Germany, Austro-Hungary, and Russia. Those who are particularly patriotic have no problem finding a solemn ceremony but for everyone else it is a day off of work to take a hike or spend time with the family. Cameron and I, like many Polish people, extended the mid-week holiday to encompass Thursday and Friday, too, plus we're taking all of next week off. 

It was opportunistic time off. We didn't have any particular plans, which is good because they would have been canceled. The newest restrictions have closed all cultural centers and museums, and only business travelers can stay in hotels and accommodations. Even if there weren't travel restrictions we wouldn't be able to travel internationally. Our visas have expired and we are in residency limbo until our temporary residence permit applications get approved (expected by mid-December). We are legally allowed to say in Poland, so I promise we aren't breaking any international laws. 

Instead we are spending our time exploring our surrounding areas some more. You would think with all of the running/biking/hiking/walking we've done, we would have seen it all at this point. It's true- we have seen and re-seen all of the trails and roads in a 5km radius of our apartments, plus all of the trails in the nearest forests. Nonetheless, Cameron, being the mega runner that he is, manages to find more rural routes for his longer runs. On Wednesday, in our personal sheep dogging tribute to Poland's independence, Cameron ran and I biked a 43km route which brought him to over 1000 miles for the year. He's real extreme, and if you care to know details you can read his post about it and see the heat maps here

I'm also doing a mini tour of the lakes in Krakow. I've already been back to Kryspinów and Zakrzówek and will probably walk over to Bagry tomorrow. I'd also like to find the fourth and final mound, Wanda, but that would be a bit of a longer trek. I love that there are so many mini destinations around the city that are all within walking distance! Of course it's nice to get out, too. Next week we'll probably do a larger hike, and I'm always keen to visit more castles along the Trail of the Eagle's Nests or points along the wooden architecture route. We're also filling in the free spaces with one-on-one friend meet ups, online game sessions, and book reading, all which feel like cozy luxuries.  

I know this isn't a particularly thrilling account, but I'm happy to report that I'm happy, and part of that happiness is having a bit of a work break. Poland really suits me but I am also really excited to explore more, both in Europe and the US. Cameron and I have some fun plans in store, and I will surely write a post about it once those plans become a little more stable. 

This was along our 43km route on Wednesday in the Las Zabierzowski- a new forest for us. It had the last of the fall colors and some interesting rock formations. 

Without intending to, we ended up on the Trail of the Eagle's Nests, although we did not come across any castles. 

Biking selfie!

Cameron typically does a good job of finding bike-friendly trails, but there is inevitably always a really steep, sandy, or muddy section to navigate. 

Sheep dogging! 

Not a lake, but a little pond we found. It seemed apt to take a photo since we were on a mini tour de lakes. 

This lake, Kryspinów, is the swimming destination in the summer. There were a few people hanging around but Wednesday was a little too cold to really want to sit on the beach. 

This is my favorite lake in Krakow, the quarry lake- Zakrzówek.

Down at the lake-level. I was here on Friday and it was a little warmer than Wednesday was but not warm enough to warrant swimming in just a Speedo, yet that's what these two guys were doing. 
A great view of Krakow. I know it's small, but you can see Wawel Castle, St. Mary's Basilica, and the Church right next to our house.

I think even the graffiti around town is beautiful. There are even walking tours you can sign up for to see the most monumental street art. 

Today's mini adventure took us to a little park across the river from us. You can see Krakus Mound in the background. 

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Wybór i Zmiana

 Wybór i Zmiana- Choice and Change

This week has been a big one for everybody. I don't have to tell you that this presidential election was a high-emotion event with alternating ups and downs. Being 6 hours ahead of Eastern Time I felt like I was living in the future, even though I was subject to the same updates of everyone else. I would read news updates that said "Pennsylvania expects to release more count results in the morning" and I would scream at my computer "It's already noon! It's past morning!" I know, a very unfair argument, and an argument I did not win. 

The Polish reaction would have been funny, if I hadn't been so frazzled already. One friend from Toastmasters said it was like watching a tight football match that her team wasn't playing in. My manager was giving me updates- he paid to have CNN on his TV and I was subject to the delayed written updates. Yesterday, Saturday, we were talking to Cameron's coworker and he asked who our president was. We had to begrudgingly laugh and and throw up our hands in a "we don't know" shrug. 

I know things won't change immediately, and at best we have months to wait. Likely, things will get worse before they get better but I'm hoping a change in president might make it possible for international travel this spring. I also, of course, think this an important step for the environment, immigrants and refugees, and woman's rights. 

Speaking of woman's rights, the Strajk Kobiet, is still going strong in Poland. To do something on Election Day, I went out for a Tuesday evening protest-ish event. Me and my 2000 closest friends grabbed flashlights and masks and gathered in Błonia, a huge open field. Volunteers had already taped off a massive lightning bolt and the word "WYBÓR." It was too crowded to keep the 1,5m distance, and I was worried that the omnipresent police would try and break up the group but they were mostly just curious bystanders. I even saw one officer pull out his cell phone and take a personal video. 

Although I was there to support the movement, I also went with an archeological curiosity. I know this is not my fight–I'm not a voting citizen of Poland–but I wanted to show my support. Also, I felt some level of obligation to go to something but the more traditional protests with chants and marches seemed a little too high-intensity for me. Even if the chances are slim, I would rather not end up in Polish prison. But, they are making a difference. When you have thousands and even hundreds of thousands of people demanding change every night for weeks on end it is hard to ignore. Earlier this week, the Polish government announced that they were delaying the implementation of their previous decisions about abortion. Some feel it is too little too late but I'm honestly impressed to see social movements create any impact. It's not over yet, but it seems like a positive start so far.

This was the end result. I was one of the lights near the top left corner of the lightning strike.

I was one of the first people there and didn't really know what to expect since I hadn't been to anything like this before and I couldn't understand what was being projected through the megaphones. 

It filled up though! I know my photos aren't great qualities but I love that Kościuszko Mound was lit up as a backdrop. 

No surprise, there were some news groups with big cameras and professional microphones walking around the perimeter of the protesters. 

Like I said, there were probably around 2000 people there. That light you can see in the sky was one of at least seven drones flying around. 

There were police officers all around the premises of the park. If you look back at the drone photo you'll see some streaks of blue outlining the park. 

And there was another positive start this week- this one a little less wide-spread. Yesterday we attended a wedding! *cough cough*- I mean a socially distanced religious ceremony that just happened to include 1 Corinthians and someone who chose to wear a white ballgown. Well, we at least assume it was 1 Corinthians because we heard a lot of "miłośś jest..." (love is). I also picked up the words for "God," "father," "son," and "world" (or "saint," the Polish words are very similar sounding). 

Thanks to my cousins' weddings, I knew what to expect out of a Catholic wedding mass, and it turns out a Catholic mass is a Catholic mass whether you are in Flagstaff, Arizona or Kraków, Poland. We did however miss the first two or three minutes. Cameron insisted that we did not need to arrive before 14:00, but when we arrived at 13:57 the bride and groom were standing at the front doors waiting to walk in–whoops! Luckily thanks to Covid restrictions (not a phrase you'll hear anyone say often) there were plenty of empty pews to sneak into. 

I did catch a few differences, which most likely were Covid-related but I suppose they could have been indicative of different cultural traditions. During communion, the priest dipped the cracker into the wine, so no one was drinking out of the same glass. Other than the couple-of-honor, only three people went up to take communion. The "peace be with you" section included a few side-to-side glances and nods of recognition but no actual talking. From what I could tell no one was singing along to the hymns even though the lyrics were being displayed on a screen at the front of the pews. There was a quick and modest first kiss. At the end of the service some people took cues to leave their seats and rush outside to cheer the couple as they left the church, though Cameron and I were not so quick to catch on so we stood and clapped from our row. 

It was clear that the couple and their families were excited and relieved to finally have this wedding. From what I was told, this was one of many contingency plans and there was worry up until the end that the rules would change yet again and lead to another cancelation. I jokingly told Cameron that if our wedding had been disrupted so many times I would have accepted it as fate at this point that we weren't meant to get married. I guess lucky for Cameron, we got married before Covid was a thing that existed in our world. 

It was a really lovely ceremony, and helped me to fulfill my #1 Poland checklist item. I can now say I have attended a Polish wedding and can move back to the United States with no regrets. Plus, this wedding was a beautiful and tangible way to celebrate a weekend that will be monumental in my memory for a long long time. Cheers to the happy couple, and cheers to the next four years for the USA, and of course the lifetime of the couple! 

Happy wedding. We got a sneak peak of the bride and groom since we were running late. 

Waiting outside gave us time to take a selfie though! If you are a careful observer you might see that the dress I am wearing is actually one of the dresses I had my bridesmaids wear for our wedding. 

This church is one of the most beautiful in the city, even though the inside isn't quite as extravagant as St. Mary's Basilica in Old Town. 

They got lucky with beautiful warm (for November) weather. That's surely a good omen! 
I did some research about Polish wedding traditions, and one thing I learned is that it is good luck to get married during a month that has an "R" in the name. Unfortunately November, listopad, is not a lucky month. 

Like I said, it is one of the most beautiful churches in Krakow. Gratulacje!