Sunday, June 20, 2010

A final farewell

Dear Poland, especially my dearest Krakow,

Unfortunately, the time has come to end our love affair. The time we've spent together was nothing but romantic and enchanting, if at times challenging. I attempted to learn your language, a skill I never completely accomplished, but what do you expect when there are 17 different ways to say the number two? There is no doubt I tried because I can hardly speak English now. However, at the end, an understanding grew between us that no language barrier could prevent. You taught me so much about myself and for that I am thankful. Let us not part on sorrowful terms, but rather laugh about the good times and remember fondly those times when we annoyed each other so much we could have killed one another.
I will miss your romantic cobble-stone streets, late nights in cafes, markets and your history. Words cannot express the joy I felt meandering around the vibrantly green planty this spring, or gazing upon Wawel Castle during my Polish lessons. Your pierogis, kiełbasa, potatoes, cutlet and borscht warmed my entire being on those hard winter days when I felt nothing could lift my spirits. Parts of my soul are left in your cafes where I spent hours reading and studying, where I drank a cappuccino everyday. I will miss how inexpensive things are here. Please do not take offense, because if this were not the case the opportunities I had to try your food, drink your beer and enjoy those daily cappuccinos would be non-existent. One thing I will miss most is the ability to walk everywhere. In the states, everything is located so far away that it is necessary to have a car, but here I walked everywhere all the time.
The people I've met here are truly some of the most amazing people I've ever encountered. Their stories never failed to fascinate me, especially those pertaining to how they came to be here. Thank you for introducing me to people I never would have met under any other circumstance. They've truly impacted my life.
Traveling around, exploring new cities and places only makes parting even harder. Your countryside is breathtaking, your cities inspiring and your people charming (most of the time.) I did not get to see every city or town, but I suppose that is reason enough to return one day. For what I did see, it is permanently imprinted on my heart and mind.
The proof of my love lies within my ability to overlook your flaws. I will not miss your post offices, lack of customer service and I will certainly not miss the demand of exact change. I will not miss living in your communist dorm where scheduling a time for laundry is a serious hassle. I won't miss your questionable fashion choices, well perhaps I will, because they provided some excellent entertainment. Speaking of fashion, no matter how hard you tried, you did not break my love of sweatpants or sweatshirts. Once home again, I will no longer feel uncomfortable wearing a hoodie in public. While your food hit the spot on many occasions, I will not miss constantly eating carbs or searching out specific places just to get my vegetable fix. I will not miss sarcastically repeating the phrases "welcome to Poland" or "only in Poland." I especially will not miss days where the sun suddenly disappeared at 3:30 pm, where my mood matched the rise and fall of the sun. I won't miss feeling that curling up in a ball and sleeping is the only way to get rid of my, quite frankly, bitchiness. However, I will admit, now that the warm weather arrived, so have the tourists. I am so happy I reached a point where I no longer feel like one.
So here we are at the end. I earned my diploma, made friends and experienced a year I will never forget. I cringe at the thought that I wasn't sure if I really wanted to return this time around. I'm thankful I did, because this year was exactly what I needed. I know I am not your first, nor will I be your last love affair and I accept that. I consider anyone who has a chance to get to know you the way I did lucky. You will never be forgotten and I hope one day we will reunite.

Until we meet again...

Love always,

Laura Noelle Mikulski

** To my faithful readers. Thank you for being a part of this experience. I hope I provided some entertainment and fun facts about Poland. This blog would have been pointless if you didn't take the time to read it. Thank you and hopefully there will be other exciting things in my future to share.**

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Field Trip? Yes Please!

Even at the age of 23 I love the idea of field trips. Last week my language school hosted one where we went rafting down the Dunajec river in the Tatry Mountains along the Slovakian border. We had a tour guide, dressed in semi-traditionalgarb guide us on an hour and half tour of the mountains and river. Usually the ride takes about two and half hours, but Poland had flood issues recently, so the water is high making the raft move quickly. As a result of the floods, the water was murky looking, when it is usually clear enough to see all the fish. Anyway, regardless, it was a great trip. The weather was gorgeous, sunny and clear. I could live in the mountains. Its so peaceful and the low humidity helps. Below are some pictures, but they don't do any justice to what you see in person. Therefore, you all should come to Poland and raft down a river. Beware, the guides may get sassy and splash you with water. After our trip, we had a BBQ with beer, kiełbasa and lamb! Yum! All in all, a wonderful day!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Gdańsk: An ass slapping good time!

Apologies for the slightly crass title, however, my ass was indeed slapped while walking down the street by a random Polish guy who screamed "Witaj do Gdańska!" (welcome to Gdańsk). And since this blog is where I describe my experiences in Poland, I simply could not leave out this brief but intense moment.
This past weekend was Boże Ciało (Corpus Christi), so naturally we had a four day weekend. Thank you Catholicism. My two roommates, Paige and Manda, and I decided to take the long train up north to the Baltic city of Gdańsk. While there we hit the trifecta of Polish beach towns by also visiting Gdynia and Sopot.

The first time I came to Gdańsk was in 2008, however, the weather was cool and rainy the entire time. Not exactly ideal for a coastal city. But this time around, I had nothing but sunshine and warmth. There isn't much to do and see in Gdańsk. There are several beautiful churches, an interesting Archaeology Museum and its nice to take a walk along the water. While Gdańsk may not be as aesthetically intriguing as Kraków, it is the center of a great political movement. The Solidarity Movement, which influenced the collapse of Communism. I could easily take up an entire blog entry about this movement, but one key person I highly recommend researching is Anna Walentynowicz. My friends and I walked to the Solidarity Monument, but unfortunately the museum was closed. However, it was interesting to physically stand where an important part of Polish history took place.

Oh, hey sunshine, I've missed you! Sopot is known for its beach, pier and numerous stands of amber. I love amber. I love it more than diamonds. I would have bought every piece of jewelry I saw if I could, but unfortunately I had to be selective. Laying in the sun for the afternoon was exactly what my friends and I needed after a long, harsh winter and a pretty rainy spring. I made it to the Sopot the first time around in Poland, but again the experience is quite different when the weather is warm and the sun is shining.

I am a genius. Or at least according the owner of a restaurant we stumbled upon. We arrived in the late morning, hungry, looking for a cute place to grab some food and coffee. Finally, we made it to a small little restaurant that serves mostly Naleśniki (Crepes). I'd like to say our Polish has improved, but it quite obvious that we are not native speakers. So during our meal, the young owner asked if we would mind helping him translate his menu from Polish to English. Apparently, this restaurant just opened this week. While sitting there, he was trying to figure out how to describe and translate Pierogi Ruskie (Russian Pierogis) which simply consist of potatoes and cheese. I simply said, "just write potato and cheese." His response, "Lovely! Yes! Perfect!" Clearly, I've found my calling. Anyway, this whole experience was adorable, and I certainly didn't mind the free coffee. We finally put to use our knowledge of Polish food and English!
While in Gdynia we went to the beach, a little too crowded for our liking, and the aquarium. It was not super impressive, but I still had a fun time staring at ridiculous fish and a huge green anaconda snake.

Overall, a great weekend spent up north. Today also marks the two week point until I return home. I cannot believe this year is almost over. I am ready to come home, but I'm not ready to leave Krakow. It will be bittersweet, but I am going to enjoy the next two weeks as much as I possibly can!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Just a taste

Another glimpse in the academic aspect of my life here in Poland... enjoy. And a special thanks to my roommate Paige for sharing this article.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Your lips are moving, but all I hear is Blah Blah Blah...

I spent this past weekend in Warsaw visiting my friend Emilia who I lovingly refer to as my "Polish Guardian Angel." We met when I lived in Poznan. She was a mentor of sorts, picking me up at the airport, moving me into my dorm, showing we around the city etc. etc. Thankfully now, my polish is good enough that I can ask for a lightbulb if I need one. Anyway, in the few months I spent in Poznan, she became a close friend. So I knew that I could not leave Poland without seeing her this time around. We talked all weekend about random stuff. Hearing her talk about her job and current pursuit of a translation certification, got me thinking about translation in general. At first I thought that it couldn't be that difficult. If you know one language and learn another, then you can translate. Of course on a day to day basis and in normal conversation this is true, but what do you do when a word in English simply does not exist in Polish? How does one translate a sentence like "I hereby bequeath to you etc. etc."? According to Emilia, 90% of the time you can literally translate words, but that doesn't always mean it will make sense. Her job focuses on documents pertaining to law. (She's a big John Grisham fan and is very interested in law translation.)
Even simple things like watching a movie in interesting. There is a theater here in Krakow that is located near the main square that my friends and I frequent. For one thing it is cheaper and secondly it is in a renovated mansion, so it doesn't have that corporate feel. I lovewatching movies with Polish subtitles because I find it interesting how certain words and phrases are translated. Like a verbal pause for example. In english during a conversation someone can say "Look, I'm really sorry" or "Listen, I'm really sorry." We have multiple choices, however in Polish, I noticed they mostly use "Słuchaj" meaning "listen." This is a very simple example, but the point is how difficult and interesting translation can be. How something said is lost because it doesn't translate the same way from English to Polish, so the non-english speaker doesn't quite get it, or vice versa.
I hate sitting in class and struggle to communicate what I am thinking. Of course my professor doesn't exactly help that situation, but that's an entirely different story. Of course it is a lack vocabulary knowledge, but also there are times when I want to say something, but there just isn't a way to say it. Especially with idioms. I once asked my professor if there is an equivalent to "biting my tongue" and she didn't quite understand. I'm sure there is an expression of sorts, but we just couldn't seem to reach an understanding of what I was looking for. Basically, I have an appreciation for translators around the world.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Where is Noah when you need him?

May is suppose to be a month of warmth and sunshine in Poland. However, that is not the case this year. For the past several weeks the rain just keeps on pouring in the souther part of Poland. The Vistula river is extremely high forcing some bridges to close and classes to be canceled. Below are some articles and links to pictures of the serious flooding.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Pains and Pleasures.

Obviously, I love Poland. Now, while there are many a thing I will miss, there are also plenty of things I will not miss.

What I will Miss: Pleasures.
1) Coat Racks.
I realize this sounds odd, but no matter where you go, there is always a coat rack of sorts. Be it a restaurant, classroom or cafe there is always a charming hook to hang your coat or umbrella. I've come to appreciate this little convenience because it can get pretty annoying to hang your coat on the back of a chair.
2) Cafes
Duh. I spend so much time in real cafes and America will never live up to the standards set by Poland, well, Europe in general. Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks or any other corporate chain is not the same. There is something cozy, warm and comforting about going to a cafe in the city here. Free Wi-Fi and a cappuccino in an original cafe. They are all one of a kind. (Ok, I will admit I do enjoy Dunkin Donuts ice coffee.) But I will miss having a place to bring my computer and sit for hours and only have to order a coffee. Future investment of mine is a cappuccino machine.
3) History.
I don't mean my class. I mean the history of the city. You walk around on cobble stone streets and see old beautiful buildings rich with stories. Its interesting to be in a hip club in the basement of an old building with arched brick ceilings. Its kind of unreal and just something you need to witness yourself. So... come to Poland and you'll see what I mean.

What I won't miss: Pains.
1) People demanding exact change.
Seriously, I've never bought something where the cashier did not ask for exact change. Actually, the worse situation was when I bought some food it cost 12.20 zloty. I gave 20.20, therefore needing only 8 zloty back. The woman looked at me, grunted a request for 2 zloty. I didn't have it. She rolled her eyes and handed me back my change. She was so frustrated that she had to count out 8 zloty instead of handing me a 10 note. Seriously? Is it really that difficult for you to give me 8 zloty? Do you lack the ability to count change?
2) The Post Office.
I won't miss waiting in line at the Post Office. Quite honestly, its hell on earth. The idea of having to stand there only to be greeted by the annoyed postal service worker who hates me because my Polish isn't perfect deterred me from sending postcards to friends and family. Sorry dear loved ones.
3) Lack of customer service... sometimes.
The phrase "the customer is always right" doesn't really exist here. No matter what happens, it is always your fault. The only thing I appreciate here is that restaurants do not try and rush you out. You can sit for as long as you want. YOU must ask for the check. They won't just bring it to you or ask if you want it yet. Its nice to have a meal in peace without a fake, in your face server hoping you move your butt so the next table can sit down and leave them more money. (Listen, I've been that waitress/hostess. I get it. Servers don't rely on tips here the way they do in America so there is no need to serve as many tables as possible.)

These are not the only things I will or won't miss about Poland. But seeing as my time is coming to an end its time to recount my the last 10 months of my life here in charming Krakow.