Saturday morning we all hopped on a train to the Baltic coastal city of Gdańsk for the weekend. It was only a three-hour train ride, so we arrived early afternoon. We stopped by a traditional Polish restaurant to eat, where I got a sampler platter of buckwheat and potato pancakes, a common Polish meal. Other students on the trip got pierogi and two even shared a large meat platter, all very typical Polish foods. After lunch we met up with our tour guide and headed to the Solidarity museum next to our hotel.
The Solidarity movement began in the shipyards of Gdańsk as a series of strikes fighting for free trade unions under communist rule. After a decade of peaceful protest, Solidarity succeeded in helping transition Poland into a democratic country. The museum was absolutely beautiful. It was particularly funny when Professor Jasiewicz pointed out three featured men on a display and said that one was his classmate and the other two were his professors (this kind of thing happens a lot with him). After the museum, we embarked on a walking tour of the largest port city on the Baltic.
Like most of the large cities in Poland, Gdańsk was almost completely leveled during World War II, so much of what exists there now is reconstructed. However, like in the Old Town of Warsaw, the buildings were rebuilt as reconstructions of their pre-war facades. Walking through the streets was almost dream-like. We could hear “Con Te Partiro (Time to Say Goodbye)” coming from street performers’ violins as we looked at the view over the river (the picture included in this blog). We also saw people walking around in traditional French military uniforms and Viking regalia for reasons we were unable to discover. It was quite an interesting experience.
The following day we took a short journey to the resort city of Sopot. We got to have free time here, so we all walked on the board walk and got to explore a touristy pirate ship. We spent time on the beach and made sure to touch the Baltic, even though it wasn’t very warm. Afterwards, we went to the Grand Hotel on the beach for warm drinks and had the best hot chocolate of our lives. We ate lunch at a beachside restaurant, looking over the Baltic Sea. The town was so beautiful and peaceful; it was a nice change from the metropolitan atmosphere of Warsaw.
Our last day of class is on Tuesday, and our final papers are due Thursday. After that, our group will be off to Prague for the weekend and then homebound on Sunday! We have all had a fantastic time here and have learned so much. Thanks for following my blog, and I hope you have enjoyed getting a glimpse of our adventures in Polska!
From Politics to Palaces
Hello again! I have decided to make this post a little different. Because we only have seven students on this trip and we have all gotten pretty close, I have chosen to formulate this post based on quotes from each of them:
Diem Tran: “I’m voting for Duda”
This past Sunday we took a journey with Professor Jasiewicz to visit a polling site and watch him vote in the Polish presidential elections. All seven of us lined up against the wall of the polling room quietly as Professor Jasiewicz marked his paper ballot. We had seen campaign posters all around town, of which Duda’s were the most aesthetically appealing (hence Diem’s joking quote). Poland, a democratic country, differs greatly from America in many ways. For example they have both a President and a Prime Minister. The President also has to win in a majority vote, so more often than not there is a runoff between the top two candidates two weeks later. There was actually an upset in the elections during this round, and Duda gained more votes than the incumbent, so we are all looking forward to the results of the runoff.
Maddi Boireau: “I will always remember the White Eagle.”
Nancy Lu: “Say something about the partitions.”
We have gone on so many tours that we feel we are really getting the hang of Polish history. For example, all of them mention that the White Eagle is the symbol of Poland. Also, usually the guides say something about the partitions, referring to the time when Poland did not exist as a country because three of its neighbors took it over. It is definitely cool to really feel like we are understanding the country in which we have spent the last two weeks. Poland has a very interesting history, and we see remnants of it everywhere we go.
Drew Teitelbaum: “At this point, I know the Polish Royal family’s history better than my own family history.”
Emily Zavrel: “We’ve visited four royal palaces so far, so I’m confident in telling you that Polish kings (and lady kings) had it made.”
This past weekend we visited more royal palaces than I knew existed in all of Poland. Poland has a monarchical history, but they elected their kings. They even had women rule as Lady Kings. In each palace we had a guided tour, something that really helped us get the most out of each visit. The Polish monarchs definitely had good taste in décor, as these residences are some of the most beautiful structures I have ever seen. Unfortunately, so much of Warsaw was destroyed during WWII that many of the palaces had to be reconstructed. Some were saved, however, due to the fact that they served as Nazi headquarters during occupation.
Conor: “They say Hera is the Versailles of Spacerowa”
Our hotel is called Hera and our bus stop is Spacerowa. Polish is a very difficult language, so the only words we have mastered are “przepraszam” (excuse me/I’m sorry), “dziękuję” (thank you) and “przystanek Spacerowa” (the name of our bus stop). Lucky for us, we haven’t gotten lost and have had a fairly easy time returning to our hotel after exploring the city. Not many people speak English in Warsaw, however, so when we’re on our own we have to leave communication up to lots of gestures.
We are all having a great time in Warsaw. This weekend we are taking a trip to the coastal city of Gdańsk, something I’m greatly looking forward to.
Until next time…
Journey to Krakow
Hello from Warsaw! It has been a very long few days for all of us, as we spent the long holiday weekend in Krakow. Just a two-and-a-half hour train ride away, we left Friday morning and returned Monday afternoon. During those three days, however, we were practically nonstop.
After we settled in at our hotel only a quarter of a mile from old town Krakow, we headed to a nice Polish restaurant for lunch. None of us had ever seen portion sizes as large as they have in this country. We leave every meal stuffed to the brim. After fully gorging ourselves on some Polish cuisine (i.e. meat, cheese and bread in various forms), we left for our three-hour walking tour of Krakow. Krakow is a beautiful, medieval city, practically untouched by World War II. Warsaw, in contrast, was flattened during the war, so all of the buildings are fairly new.
Our Friday tour covered the old town, now a heavy tourist area with kabob stands and nightclubs mixed in among the 13th century churches and market squares. On Saturday we walked around the city all day, touring the royal castle, churches and the Jewish Quarter, including Schindler’s factory. Krakow has a bittersweet history, filled with the kings of the past, the beloved Pope John Paul II, the Jewish ghettos of Nazi occupation and remnants of the Communist era.
Sunday was filled with the highest highs and the lowest lows. We began the morning with the 45 minutes drive to Auschwitz concentration camp. Walking through the gates sent shivers down our spines as we saw the notorious words, “Arbeit Macht Frei,”or “Work Sets you Free.” Our three-hour tour took us through the original barracks, gas chambers crematorium and exhibits. One room had only a small hallway to walk in, as the rest of it was filled floor to ceiling with the shoes of those the Nazis murdered in Auschwitz. Another room was filled with the hair of the women who entered the camp that the Nazis collected to send to Germany for reuse. The last hour of the tour took us to Birkenau, the much larger concentration/extermination camp part of the Auschwitz compound a couple of kilometers away. Walking over the train tracks where over a million innocent people were herded like cattle to their death was simultaneously nauseating and sobering. I would saw that this experience was one of the most amazing and important experiences I have ever had.
The second half of the day we visited a salt mine. We were all pretty solemn from the morning events, and did not know what to expect. Our guide told us that we would be 300 feet underground for the next two hours, and we all looked at each other like, “Oh no, what are we getting ourselves into?” This ended up being one of the coolest places I have ever been! The mine is filled with tunnels, exhibits, statues, and chapels, all carved out of salt rock. Also, our guide was hilarious. We walked into the largest chapel, complete with chandeliers made out of salt rock, with our jaws on the floor. It was like an underground city entirely made out of salt!
We all loved Krakow and learned so much during the course of the weekend. I’m glad to be back in Warsaw, however, and to slow things down and get back to a routine. As I write, this I look out of our hotel balcony onto Lazienki Park. I run through it in the mornings and take in all of the beautiful lakes, palaces, peacocks and tulips. I look forward to learning more about this historic city. Until next time!