Saturday, March 27, 2021

Where the Houses Bloom

Zalipie is a village of less than 1,000 people, approximately 1.5 hours drive east of Krakow. If you look online at what the median age is, it will say residents are mostly in their 30s, but based on driving around the town you would expect the median age to be closer to 60 or 70. It's a farming town, with most houses neighboring a large field or a fenced in pen full of ducks, geese, and turkeys accompanied by a guard dog. All-in-all, it's a pretty typical Polish village, yet it has been on my Polish to-do list for months.

Despite it operating as a small standard farming community, Zalipie is listed as one of the most beautiful places to visit in Poland. The town has a tradition of painting its houses, both inside and out, in intricate floral patterns. The more traditional walls are whitewashed first, but the flowers can be found on all shades of painted wood, stone, dog houses, wells, bee boxes, bicycles...just about anything.

That's not to say that every structure within Zalipie is smeared with paint, but an annual cottage painting competition generates enough interest that as you drive around the small town it seems like every third home has at least some painted surface. Those with the most elaborate homes are very proud of them, and will often welcome you into their yards to get a closer look. We definitely shared a few waves from our car window with a few locals, and I had a very rudimentary conversation about a turkey farmer's painted barn shed. In addition to being the cutest village we've encountered, I think it might also win #1 in the friendliest village award category.

Despite Zalipie showing up on just about every "top 10 things to see in Poland" list, there isn't a whole lot of fanfare around the village. There is a community center that, when open, gives out maps and tourism information, a museum, and a gift shop. Near this public-interest sites there is some signage, but the history of the blooms is fairly pedestrian, and isn't even that old of a tradition.

Within the last two centuries, housewives would paint the interior of their homes white to help brighten up the dark walls caused by the smokey stoves. Even after the walls were painted, dark soot spots would still be visible, so those were covered up further. The concept of covering the dark spots with bright colorful flowers spread across the town and from the inside to the outside of homes. Since then, the paint has changed (from a milk- and fat-based paints to our modern longer-lasting versions), the paintbrushes are no longer made of cow tail hairs, and the wood-burning stoves have been replaced. The annual cottage-painting competent was introduced after WWII as a means of cheering people up after the war. Despite the relatively new history, the town feels old and quaint. 

This is a little staged area near the "Dom Malarek" which translates to "the house of the painters." It was especially nice that they had this outside area because inside was closed (due to recently reinstated Covid restrictions). 

Even the trees were painted. 

Despite the paint used these days being longer-lasting, it is still a tradition to touch up the prior year's blooms. It seems this picnic bench hasn't had it's annual touch-up yet. 

A sundial, that was pretty close to right. We arrived in town at around 14:30. 

I'm sure if we had spent more time, we would have found even more secret paintings tucked away in less obvious places, like this bush-covered fence. 

Cute bee boxes. 

A lovely gazebo outside of Dom Malarek which would make a great lunch spot. 

My favorites were the paintings on dark wood rather than on whitewashed walls. 

A pretty common home exterior. I read that the paintings often don't mimic real flowers, but are just a bright collection of the artists' inventions. 

Although it was supposed to be closed, a man let us into the souvenir shop, which was staged like the inside of many of the homes around the village. 

Although there are only about 20 homes that are excessively decorated on the outside, over 50 houses open up their interiors to tourists during the annual cottage decorating competent. 

Visiting a few weeks before Easter seemed very fitting. 

In many yards we passed, the dog houses were often the most elaborately decorated features. 

This home is part of the museum. The main museum building is the former home of Felicja CuryƂowa (1904-1974), who is thought to be the primary reason why the floral paintings became a town-wide tradition.

And because I'm conceited, I made Cameron take some photos of me. The village is just so picture-perfect that I couldn't help it!

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Witch Hunt

Happy Spring! 

In Krakow, our first days of spring have included a surprise return visit from the snow clouds. It also was paired with some not-so-welcomed Covid restriction returns. I won't get into those in full, but suffice it to say that the hopes I had for doing a little weekend getaway are, at the very least, suspended. Regardless, I will always welcome a snowy walk. Especially, if that walk turns into a scavenger hunt, or even better, a witch hunt! 

I recently learned that March 21st is the day to welcome Polish spring by burning, and then drowning Marzanna, the witch of winter. School children will build dolls out of straw and cloth, decorated with twine and accessories to parade around. Then, all of the Marzannas (and male counterparts Marzonioks) are burned at the stake. The witches are then dunked into water, all while children sing ominously gleeful songs about the process. 

It's an old pagan Slavic ritual, as a way to turn away from winter, plague, and death, and to welcome the spring. In Germany, there was a similar tradition of burning a snowman in the town square as everyone jumped abroad the "summertime train." These equinox rituals are so much fun for me, but maybe that's because we don't have a similar counterpart (that I know of) in America. 

Sadly, my witch hunt was not a success. Nowhere along the river did I find any charred carcasses or trails of sopping rags. Some villages have a town-sponsored celebration, but I don't know of one in Krakow. Even if there typically is something, nothing would be going on this year (nor last year). Also, I get the impression that the celebration is mostly carried on by children, so maybe because today isn't a school day there weren't any school-sponsored massacres. Lastly, it's really cold today, so I'm sure only the most dedicated made their way out to the water today. 

Alas, it's just another small loss thanks to the year+ pandemic, and in the process of researching this, I caught wind of another springtime activity, which I think is unlikely to happen this year– a city-wide pillow fight. Even though I don't expect anything like this, I'll be taking a stroll through Rynek on April 4th!

A beautiful sunny, snowy, spring morning along the Vistula River. 

The park behind St. Joseph's church. 

Even with some snow on the ground, the local Saturday market was in full swing, and with some new variety thanks to the warming weather. In the bag on the left are honey mushrooms- a delicacy that I am very excited to try!

Cheesecake and berry pastry- two Polish specialties, courtesy of our local farmers market. 

Like I said, I didn't find any witches in the wild today, but you can find plenty of photos by searching on Google

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Grocery Stores

I love going grocery shopping—it is my favorite weekly chore! But that's only now that I am familiar with my local stores and know where to find some "speciality" items like popcorn kernels and chocolate chips, even if it means shopping online or going to a specialty store. When we first moved, it was a little overwhelming and anxiety-inducing to make a trip to the grocery store. I even wrote my first Toastmasters speech about it. 

Once I learned the pattern of the grocery store, it became fun. I love meandering the aisles and seeing what still sticks out as unusual. Most things I've stopped noticing–eggs in the regular shelving, foil-topped yogurt containers, and unrefrigerated produce–but every so often something still sticks me as either clever or confusing. Rather than my regular format, I think I need to narrate through photos:


These are the standard carts that are available in most mid-sized grocery stores. In the mega grocery stores (only found inside shopping malls) will you find the full sized carts. Outside of those mega stores, though, aisles are really tiny, and even these two photographed options feel cumbersome in the cramped spaces. Also, I still struggle to smoothly unpack these types of carts at checkout. 

Speaking of checkout, this is what it looks like- typically pretty tight with not a whole lot of space to set your stuff down (especially in photo #2). Baggers are not a thing, and it feels like a race trying to bag up your own goods without impeding on the flow of traffic behind you. 

A lot of shopping happens in these convenient store-esque shops. I've adapted to going to multiple stores in order to maximize my needs. The small shop like this is my go-to for heavy staples (potatoes, flour, milk) but I got to bigger shops and speciality shops if I want anything semi-interesting. 

That's not to say that all stores are teeny-tiny. This is one of the mega mall stores. You can see that there is a lot more space, which also means a lot more variety. Unfortunately going to this store is a 25 minute walk home, so I try to limit my purchase of heavy items. 


You've probably already seen in some other photographs that produce often is stored in crates or buckets and is often not refrigerated, especially not root vegetables. 

This is my favorite mid-sized grocery store, although now I rarely go there since it's also about 25 minutes away from my house. The back wall is the refrigerator produce and the center island is the unrefrigerated produce: fruit, tomatoes, squash. What is funny to me is that lemons will sometimes be chilled and sometimes not and avocados are always refrigerated. 

This is my other common store (only about 15 minute walk) but it is a bit chaotic. If feels like boxes are just piled on top of one another and you have to do some digging to find what you want at times. 

This is an odd thing to me–some produce is wrapped up in plastic wrap. Broccoli is almost always mummy-wrapped, and you can kind of see that the zucchini is vacuum sealed but the cucumbers are not. 

I would consider this as a MASSIVE variety compared to normal. One thing I read was that most produce you find in grocery stores are semi-local, but that also means that the variety significantly decreases during certain times of year. Some things you can always find, though, are carrots, beets, cabbage, and apples. 

If you want fresh herbs, you can typically find a small package of dill and parsley, but if you want basil or cilantro you need to buy a living plant. 

One of my FAVORITE things is the variety of onion sizes. Most onions are pretty small (about the size of an egg). The thing that I still notice sometimes, though, is that the onion and garlic skins often look spotted with dried dark mold spots. 

Dairy & Protein:

Like I said, eggs are never refrigerated, but what is even more peculiar to me is...

...10 eggs per carton. I hate to admit that it was almost a year of living here before I realized that a carton wasn't a dozen eggs.

I'm pretty sure I shared this photo around Christmas, but it is wild to me that they will set up a swimming pool in the grocery store to sell live Christmas carp. 

Dairy also surprised me at first. Virtually all dairy comes in plastic cups with foil lids, which makes it hard to re-seal afterwords. I have never seen a container of yogurt larger than the one pictured here (about 500 ml). There is refrigerated milk, but there is more variety in the non-refrigerated UHT (ultra pasteurized) cartons. 

I'm not regularly in the meat aisle, but this is a pretty standard set in about half of the stores. However, the other half only have fresh raw meat behind a manned meat counter similar to...

...this one. Clearly this is cheese, but if there is a cheese counter there is a meat counter. 

I don't know how interesting this is, but tofu always comes in these vacuum packed squares, and when Cameron gets a meat treat it is often some sort of salami is a pretty loosely-packed plastic or paper sleeve. 

Down the Aisle:

Jarred goods are often grouped together, regardless of their contents. Here are pickles, sauces, jams, and other preserved slawed vegetables.

"Bio" is the word for organic. Other than the mega mall stores you often don't see too many bio options. 

Even the smallest convenience store type shops will have a bakery section. The bakery goods are delivered, not baked in-store. 

My new local grocery store always feels like a bit of a mess. There are multiple walls that seem to be be the excess space for anything that doesn't really fit anywhere else, but you'll never find the same thing there two weeks in a row. 

My favorite grocery store does not have a whole lot of variety on much, except for pasta. There is a HUGE aisle that is purely pasta. 

Specialty Stores:

If it can't be found in the mega store, it probably can be found in a speciality store. I don't frequent them often, but I have found Indian and Hispanic food shops. 

One of my favorite places is an underground high-end goods store. I can't afford most of it, but I often buy specialty sodas for Cameron here when I want to get him a treat. 

The underground shop is the only place I know of that sells you live lobster, not that I would ever dare to buy one. 

While you can buy alcohol at a standard grocery store, I prefer to buy my beer at a beer-only shop. There are two that I frequent if I want a variety of craft beers. 

Of course the best "specialty" shops are markets. There are three that I know of that have outdoor vendors every day, but this one, which is closest to my house, is Saturdays-only (rain or snow or shine). 

Other Oddities:

Ice cups. I think this is the only way to buy ice. Take note that on that same shelf there is also frozen raspberries and pierogi. Unlike the US, where frozen food is half of the store, pierogi are often the only frozen pre-made meal you can buy. 

Everything comes in bags: pasta, flours, sugar, starch, rice, and salt. I'm sure I've noted this before, but potato starch is your only option here. Another interesting thing is that flour is almost always named after the city it was milled in, and I think the only salt available (unless you are buying pink Himalayan salt) is mined in Poland. 

More bags: for a while I could not find cocoa powder and Karob was the closest I could find. Chips and crackers are Cameron's snack of choice, but there aren't a lot of options. A few of the more interesting one's I've found are paprika (which is quite common), ketchups and these ones: mushroom tart. 

Ane even more bags: pretzel sticks (I haven't found traditional pretzel shapes), cereal, crackers, and chocolate chips. Chocolate chips are the one thing that we use semi-regularly that I haven't found in a grocery store. Occasionally I'll buy a bag online, but more often I'll just buy a chocolate bar and break it up. 

 Now for our vices. You can buy M&Ms but I've only found them in the mega stores and they are SUPER expensive (this bag costs the equivalent of ~$10). As far as alcohol, it is pretty cheap. The Soplica brand is very common for flavored liquors, vodka is the standard here, and I love this brand of Georgian wine. One thing I find interesting is that all alcohol has the paper seal over top that you can see on the wine bottle. 

Tomato sauce only comes in boxes, and most cans are peel tops. On the rare occasion where I have bought a can that requires a can opener, we've had to stab at it with a knife since our apartment didn't come with that particular appliance. 

And lastly spices and baking. Spices come in these little packets, which is kind of nice since we are able to use their contents before they go stale. You can't find liquid broth, so we always keep some mushroom or vegetable bullion cubes for the times we don't have homemade broth available. Pure vanilla extract is the other thing we haven't found, so we end up with these tiny bottles of vanilla syrup. Lastly, baking solids (soda, powder, and gelatin) are also in little envelopes. 

Well, I hope this was a little fun to see. As one of my friends says, grocery stores are the best way to see that you are in a different country. The same friend also has been shocked by the things we lack. I was on the phone with here one morning (our common call time is 7am my time, 11pm her time) and contemplating what I should have for breakfast. She suggested picking up a canister of Pillsbury cinnamon roles, and I laughed because that is definitely not something you would ever find in a Polish grocery store.