Archive for June, 2010

Busy, but fun!

Hello all! I apologize for not posting prompt updates of our progress in Poland…they’ve been keeping us very busy! At the same time, though, we’ve been enjoying ourselves immensely. Here are some of the highlights from the past few days….

Sunday (27 June)

Our first stop on Sunday was Łazenki Park, where we went on a tour of a bathhouse used by the final king of Poland, Stanisław II August Poniatowski. It was gorgeous! There was sort of a “water” theme to the architecture that continued throughout the house.

Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos inside of the palace so here is a view from the outside.

We also toured a villa, called the White House, which was located only a few hundred meters from the Łazenki Palace. It was used as a guest house for the king, during the summers. At one point during the French Revolution, King Louis XVIII stayed in this villa while he was in exile!

We were not allowed to take photos within the White House, either.

We next attended a Chopin concert, also in Łazenki park! It has been a tradition in Warsaw, ever since the year 1959, to have Chopin concerts in the park beneath the statue of said composer. However, because this year, 2010, Chopin would have celebrated his 200th birthday, the concerts are all the more special. I did not catch the name of the pianist at this concert,  or even which exact pieces he played, but it was still very nice.

Our next Sunday stop was a tour of the city of Warsaw.

We first visited the Kopernicus memorial.

Next, we traveled to the Church of the Holy Cross, where we saw....

...the column containing the actual heart of Frederic Chopin!!! Really!! It's inside of the column, in a jar filled with alcohol. Isn't that cool?!?!?

We also saw this apartment building, which was the last home of Frederic Chopin while he was in Warsaw. I'm a bit of a Chopin nut, so this was extremely exciting to me. :)

Our tour took us through a major part of the city of Warsaw and ended in Old Town.

85% of the Warsaw was completely bombed out during World War II, including Old Town. After the war, it was rebuilt, making it one of the newest “Old Towns” in all of Europe. :)

Monday (28 June)

Our first meeting on Monday was quite interesting. Katarzyna (Kasia) Szeniawska, who started eFTe (a group encouraging fair trade and economical consumption) talked to us about activism in both the local and global arenas. It was interesting to think about how many small actions can make a big difference.

Our next meeting was at the Ministry of National Education, only a few blocks from our hotel. We had the privilege of meeting with the Vice-Minister of National Education (actually, his official term is something like Under-Secretary of State of Education), Mirosław Sielatycki. He was very kind, and we learned quite a bit about some of the differences between the education systems here in Poland and those at home in the USA. For instance, parents can choose at what age they send their children to kindergarten (either age 5 or 6). The meeting was very informative.

Our next stop was the Palace of Culture and Science in downtown Warsaw. At 230 meters high, it is the largest building in the city (and the country!).

Our entire group of Americans on the steps of the palace.

It was built between 1952 and 1955 by the Russians in the Socialist Realism style of arcitechture. I must admit it was fairly differerent from anything I’d yet seen in Poland, but it was still very neat to see such a different style. Although the decorations were far from ornate, the artistry was still very majestic and strong-looking.

We also had the privilege of visiting the viewing terrace of the Palace, on the 30th floor! From there, we could see the the entire city!

In the afternoon we traveled to the offices of Polityka magazine, one of the leading weekly political newspapers in Poland. Our guide, Wawrzyniec Smoczyński, was the deputy editor of Foreign Affairs for the magazine, and was incredibly informative. Not only did he walk us through the entire process of how a magazine is made, give us a tour of the building and arrange a meeting with the editor-in-chief of the entire magazine, he also led us in a fascinating discussion of Polish politics. It has been very interesting hearing the different points-of-view people have on Polish history, especially relating to Russia and Germany, and how their point-of-view seems to shape their political views.

Tuesday (29 June….today!)

Today was also extremely interesting! We had the chance to visit the Polish Sejm (part of the Parliament, sort of like the US Congress) and Senate.  However, before we went on a tour of the buildings, we were privileged to meet with the chair of the Polish Foreign Affairs Committee, Andrej Halicki, as well as another of the members of the Foreign Affairs Committee and a well-informed professor. From these three we learned even more about Polish politics, especially the differences between parties. In America, we have only two main political parties — Republican and Democrat. In Poland, however, there are four major parties — Law & Justice, Civic Platform, Social Democrat (part of the Democratic Left Alliance) and the Polish People’s Party. Three of these parties were represented in our meeting, and it was quite fascinating to hear the differences in the positions of all three of these important men.

Our tour of the building was quite interesting. The large parliamentary meeting halls very strongly resembled those of the American legislative branch in Washington DC.

Our next stop today was at the US Embassy. We met with Mr. Chuck Ashley, as well as a number of other Foreign Service Officers. They informed us on America’s political and economic positions with Poland.

After this we traveled back to the offices of the European Academy of Diplomacy, where we had a workshop on diplomatic protocol. The presenter for this lecture was ambassador J. Piekarski, who has led a very fascinating life. (I won’t go into all of the details…read the attached link for a brief overview.) We learned about what (and what not) to do at offical state dinners, as well as some of the differences between “formal” and “informal” in a professional diplomatic setting. (Let it be noted that if an invitation says “informal”, the ambassador inviting you still probably wants you wearing something much nicer than even your classiest pair of khakis.) 

That’s all I can fit in for this evening! I hope you are all having a lovely summer. I will try to update again as soon as I can!!

Love,

Taylor

Hello, Warsaw

I meant to post this two days ago but didn’t quite get it done. Sorry!!

This past week has absolutely flown by. Here’s an extremely brief summary of what our goings-on have been.

On Tuesday we had the privilege of getting a private salsa dancing lesson! Although none of us were extremely skilled in the art of salsa-ing, we had a lot of fun.

Wednesday was probably the most thought-provoking and moving day we’ve had so far. During World War II, the Nazis (who were occupying Poland) established a ghetto in Lodz (which they had renamed Litzmannstadt). The Litzmannstadt Ghetto was the second largest one in Europe, with only the ghetto in Warsaw being larger. When the Nazis liquidated ghettos in smaller villages, the inhabitants were often deported to the Litmannstadt Ghetto. The conditions there were certainly horrible. Inhabitants faced lack of food, poor hygiene and rampant diseases on a daily basis.

The first place we visited that day was the Jewish cemetery. 43,000 of the graves there were from the Holocaust alone. There were many plaques on the wall of the cemetery for people had perished within concentration camps. Very sad.

Next we visited Radegast train station. This was probably the most moving place of the day, and possibly of the whole trip. It was here that the Nazis would bring people into the city to be placed into the concentration camp. However, this was also the place where (when the Ghetto was being emptied) people would be shipped to concentration camps. Inside the “station” there were lists of thousands and thousands of names of people who had come through the ghetto, and also lists of those who had been shipped out. It was weird to think of the hands that had written down those names….what were they thinking at that time? And what about each of those people? What was their story? How different was their life before the war?

We also toured around the rest of the city, and were able to see the borders of the ghetto. Overall the day was rather sobering, but still extremely necessary. I think the Holocaust is absolutely one of the most important topics to be taught in History classes…it is something that should never, ever happen again.

On Thursday we visited the palace of Izrael Posnanski, the man who built and owned the factory that now makes up the Manufaktura shopping complex. It was a beautiful home. I counted nine pianos just in the rooms we saw! In addition, I am fairly certain that one of the pianos belonged to Arthur Rubenstien – concert pianist and Lodz native. It was pretty legendary.

Today (Friday) we had to say good-bye to our host families and to the city of Lodz. Although we will be seeing our host siblings next week in Krakow, this was the last time we’d be seeing our host parents. :( It was really sad having to say good-bye. I love my host family! They were so amazing! Robert & Anna (& Monika), if you’re reading this – thank you again for opening your home to me and making me a part of your family for the past three weeks! It was so very wonderful! Thank you thank you thank you!!!

Our train left for Warsaw at 9 am. It was neat to be able to see the Polish countryside again. I was kind of surprised by the way the train was built. Yes, it was beautiful and nice and clean, but the seats weren’t built the same as those on Amtrak. I realized that it’s because when people travel on these Polish trains, it’s generally for fairly short commutes (an hour here, two hours there, something like that). When people travel on Amtrak, they generally are going to be on the train for something like four hours or more, and thus the seats need to be cushier. But, I digress. This train was nice, and most importantly, on time. :)

We met our coordinator in Warsaw around 10:45, and she helped us make our way from the train station to our hotel. The hotel we are staying in is very neat & tidy. There is a pool (which looks quite nice) and our rooms are in a row with all of the other American students involved in the program. Thus, we are all able to spend time enjoying one another.

Most of our afternoon today was spent in meetings. However, the meetings were still very interesting! One of the workshops was a discussion about leadership (what the word means, qualities of leaders, etc), and another discussed what we would be doing here in Warsaw as well as in Krakow. The most interesting meeting by far was probably more of a lecture, although it was extremely fascinating!!! We learned the 1000-year history of Poland, from 966 AD when the country was first “baptized” to the 123 years where Poland was divided between three different countries (and thus no longer technically existed as an independent nation) to the Nazi and Russian occupations to the end of Communism in Poland to today. It was actually extremely fun and fascinating. The man who gave the lecture was named Przemyslaw Zurawski vel Grajewski (Ph.D) and he works for the University of Lodz.Overall, the evening was wonderful.

Well, it’s getting pretty late here and I had better be getting to bed. We get to see more of Warsaw tomorrow! Hooray! Hopefully I’ll be able to update soon with lots of pictures :)

Love,

Taylor

Getting to know you, Part 2 – Aliese

Name: Aliese Gingerich
Age : 17
Favorite movie: The Lion King
Currently reading: The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman
Who is your host sibling? Dominik
Do your host parents speak English? Not really, but I know enough Polish and they know enough English that we can communicate decently well.
What has been your favorite experience so far? Playing volleyball with the ‘women of the house’ (as i like to call my host-mom, host-sister and I) in our family’s back yard. It was fun, energizing, didn’t require to much language and a great bonding moment.
What are you most looking forward to while in Poland? Sports day? Or dancing lessons? Succesfully navigating some part of Lodz would also be quite an accomplishment for me, so I also look forward to that.
What is your favorite Polish phrase to say and why? “Przeprasham” [excuse me/I’m sorry], because I say it when I [accidentally] run into people and they can’t tell I’m not Polish. :)
Up to this point, what has been your favorite Polish food
? Kluseczki (potatoey noodles that you put sauce over – because I know how to say it and it’s delicious) and ice cream.
What is one thing you’d love to bring home from Poland but can’t
? I would bring home the atmosphere of walking everywhere and using public transport because those are two of my favorite things here that we don’t really have back in the U.S. and it would also help my community be more ‘green.’
What will you miss most about Poland? “The people…and the ice cream…and the public transit…and the trees…and especially the people.”
What is your favorite (English) word? Frothy, because it you say it with a British accent, it sounds the cooliest.
What is your dream career? Pacifist ninja
If you had a theme song, what would it be? Bach’s Cello Suite Number One in G Major. it’s probably my favorite instrumental song. It’s intense, eloquent, complex-ish, and beautiful: all qualities I admire. it also gets me thoroughly pumped up and enlivened.

Ahoy, matey!

Yesterday (Monday) I had the privilege of going sailing with Monika and Robert (my host sister and father). It was a lot of fun!

Our ship - the Maxima

It had a cabin!!

That front sail is called the "jib"

And this here is known as the "mainsail"

The cute little restaurant where we stopped for lunch.

Delicious Polish fish!

The day was so beautiful.

It did get a little bit cold in the afternoon, but we still had a lot of fun :) (Photo courtesy Robert Długosczewski)

That’s all for tonight, folks. Have a wonderful afternoon/evening!

Love,

Taylor

Election Day – Results!

 

Poland’s presidential election is heading for a second round, with no single candidate getting enough votes to win Sunday’s first round outright.   Bronislaw Komorowski, who has been acting leader since President Lech Kaczynski died in a plane crash on 10 April, won but by less than expected.   The two will now go head-to-head in a run-off on 4 July.  We will be in Krakow on the 4th.  I will miss going to the polls with my Polish family!

I will keep you updated…

Do widzenia!  (Bye for now)

Taylor

Weekend

Saturday was rather calm. Monika and I made naleśniki (crepes) for lunch (or was it dinner? The main big meal is usually around 2 in the afternoon here, and I’m always confused as to what to call it). They were delicious! As a filling we used nutella and cherry jam (not at the same time, don’t worry ;) ).

In the evening, our whole family traveled to the Manufaktura for dinner. This past week, my host parents (Robert & Anna) celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary, and this supper was held in celebration. (Congratulations again!!)

Photo courtesy Monika Długoszewska

Sunday was even more exciting! My amazing host family took me to Żelazowa Wola, the birthplace of the famous Polish pianist and composer Frederic Chopin!!!!! It was really, really, really, really, really, really neat! (Can you comprehend the level of my excitement about this?) The grounds were absolutely beautiful…there were gardens and flowers and luscious plants everywhere you looked.

And of course, we visited the famous Annex where Chopin was born.

I don't know if Chopin ever played on this piano or not, but it was still fantastic to see.

If I could read this plaque (which was on the piano), I would be able to tell you more :)

While at Żelazowa Wola, we had the privilege of hearing a Chopin recital, performed by Polish pianist Piotr Świtoń. He played here, inside of the house…

(Why yes, that is an absolutely gorgeous, mirror-finish, Stienway & Sons grand piano - I'm so glad you noticed too!)

…while we sat outside and listened, here.

All of the doors and windows to the room were open to allow the sound to filter out. Plus, the music was amplified. It was absolutely beautiful.

After Żelazowa Wola, we traveled to the town of Nieborów, where we visited the Muzeum w Nieborowie i Arkadii. The palace and grounds were gorgeous!

Well folks, that’s all I have time for this evening.

Love & blessings,

Taylor

Getting to know you, Part 1 – Gretchen

Introducing….surprise number dwa (two, for you non-Polish speakers)!

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting interviews with actual student participants of the US-Poland Parliamentary Youth Leadership Exchange Program. For our first interview, we have the beautiful Miss Gretchen Geyer!


Name: Gretchen Geyer
Age : 17
Favorite movie: Love Actually
Currently reading: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Who is your host sibling? Konrad
Do your host parents speak English? Yes
What has been your favorite experience so far? Getting to make beszamelowy sauce with Konrad’s mother because I haven’t gotten to cook in quite some time.
What are you most looking forward to seeing/doing while in Poland? Bednarski park in Krakow…a man sitting next to me on the plane kept telling me how beautiful of a place it is, and I’d like to see it.

What is your favorite Polish phrase to say and why? “Dziękuję” [thank you], because i often get a smile with it from the lady behind the counter at the bufet at school.

Up to this point, what has been your favorite Polish food? Ice cream
What is one thing you’d love to bring home from Poland but can’t? An ice cream stand that continuously refills itself.
What will you miss most about Poland? Meeting new people.
What is your favorite (English) word? Love- it is just a powerful word and can really change the world
What is your dream career? Owning my own bakery (and running it successfully)
If you had a theme song, what would it be? D.A.N.C.E by Justice

That’s it for this update. I hope you all enjoyed the “big surprise”. I have more interviews in the works and on the way, so stay tuned!

Love,

Taylor

Election Day

 

 

Exactly two months and ten days ago, a great tragedy occurred near Smolensk, Russia. A plane carrying many Polish heads of state (including President Lech Kazcynski and his wife) crashed in a lonely forest, killing all 96 passengers. This crash left a void in the hearts of many Poles.  

Today, 20 June 2010, the people of Poland have a chance to decide who will take the place of their fallen president. Will it be Broniław Komorowski, who has been leading recent polls? Or perhaps  Jarosław Kazcynski, twin brother of the late president? Only the people of Poland can choose, and today, they will cast their votes and decide.  

From my observations, the Polish electoral process is very much the same and yet still very different from that of the  United States of America. 

 

 

 

First, the similarities. From the bit of Polish news that I’ve watched, coverage of the election seems just as important here as back home. The news stations inform people of candidates’ places in the polls, as well as their travels around the country. 

TV election coverage, similar to the US.

  

  In addition, I’ve seen posters and billboards all over the city promoting the two main candidates (as well as some of the more random ones – think the Ralph Naders of Poland). In these respects, the Polish election process is very much like the American.  

One of the candidates you don't always hear about in America (think Ralph Nader)

  

However, this election seems so much calmer than any American election that I can remember. (True, I can only remember about three…but still.) The commercials for candidates are not awful and obnoxious like at home – in fact, it’s completely the opposite. I’ve only seen two political commercials the entire two weeks that I’ve been in Poland. I’m sure that this state of calm has to do with the circumstances surrounding the election, but it is still a very nice change from all of the crazed finger-pointing and name-calling that spouted during America’s last election.  

At about 10:00 this morning (Poland time, of course) I had the privilege of accompanying my host family to the polling station.  

  

It reminded me of going with my parents to vote in the Crawfordsville Legion Hall, except I didn’t know any of the people and there were Polish flags instead of American hanging on the wall. Other than that, the whole experience felt quite familiar. There was a ballot box (my host mom let me place hers into it ;) ), little “privacy boxes” for people to mark their ballots and a few stoic-looking ladies watching over the entire process (and the reason I didn’t take any pictures inside). I was surprised by how short the ballot itself was. There were instructions written at the top, and then the names of ten presidential candidates with boxes beside them. A voter simply had to check the box beside the name of their preferred candidate and put their ballot in the box. Yes, I realize that’s the same as in America, but this seemed more simple. Perhaps it’s because we’ve never had only a presidential election in America – there’s always people running for other, more local offices at the same time, making the ballot longer.  

That’s about all for today. I’ll (hopefully) update with the rest of this weekend’s events tomorrow evening.  

Love,  

Taylor

Yummy!

The other day, I mentioned that I have a few surprise posts coming up for all of you lovely readers out there….well, here’s the first one!

________________________________________________________

We have been able to sample quite a variety of foods, here in Polska, and personally, I have enjoyed every one of them. Here’s a list of some of my favorites:

Pierogis!

Although we’ve only had pierogies once so far, they were extremely delicious…much better than the ones at home. One of the principal reasons for that is probably the fact that these were sweet pierogies. Instead of being filled with meat, potato or cabbage, these were filled with a sweet, ricotta-like cheesey deliciousness.The red sauce you can see is made from strawberries, and was equally delicious. We’re definitely going to have to make these at home sometime.

Next on the list:

Lunch!One of the biggest differences between IMS and IV LO (Monika’s school)  is that IV LO doesn’t really provide lunches. Hence, every day, my super-fantastic-amazing host family packs me a delicious lunch. We’ll start at the bottom. Here we have kanapki, or sanwiches. These particular sandwiches feature cheese, leaves of red basil, and a delightfully cheesy bread.

Next we have Fantasia yogurt. When you peel open the package, you see two compartments. The larger one is filled with seemingly ordinary vanilla yogurt. Actually, I suppose the yogurt is fairly ordinary. But that’s not the point! What makes it special is the additive in the other, smaller compartment! Sometimes this is fruit jelly, sometimes it is cereal pieces, and sometimes (like today) it is teeny-tiny malted milk balls. SO YUMMY.

Finally, at the top of the luncheon pyramid comes the sweet. In today’s example, a Prince Polo bar plays this role. The Prince Polo bar is a rather complex food. It features several sweet wafers, with layers of chocolate (and something else? possibly nutella) in between them. Covering the entire bar is a layer of delicious chocolate. Our group LOVES these bars. But not quite as much as we love….

Ice CreamPolish ice cream is absolutely, indescribably incredible. Richer than any American ice cream, it is extremely affordable and widely available. Our group rarely goes a day without it. And isn’t it pretty? The flavors vary widely…you can find everything from the standard chocolate and vanilla to the more exotic watermelon, coconut, Milky Way and 3-Bit (which is some candy bar that we don’t even have in the States). Polish ice cream reminds one very much of gelato in its richness and consistency…but still, it’s different. It actually beats Yotty’s ice cream. By something like 5 kilometers.

Honorable mention:

Alright, I admit, I have yet to try this Polish delicacy. (In fact, I don’t know actually know what the correct Polish name for it is…) We were on our way to our daily activity today, I saw these in the window of a bakery and I had to take a picture. These little delights very strongly resemble kolatzskis, which are amazing pastries made by my mom and her side of the family.

Well, that’s the first surpise. I hope you enjoyed it! Stay tuned for more…. :)

More ice cream?? I’m very okay with that.

Sonija, our super-fantastic-amazing coordinator met us at the school this morning, and as always, our group walked with her to our next destination. That destination required tickets to enter, but the ticket booth wasn’t open when we got there. Instead, we learned that we suddenly had an extra 40 minutes on our hands! Although we probably could have gone back to the school and waited, we instead unanimously decided to do what every self-respecting American exchange student would have done in our situation — we went down Piotrkowska Street and got ourselves some ice cream. True, it was 10:30 in the morning and we weren’t that hungry…but it’s Polish ice cream! Why would anyone ever turn that down?

Marcus enjoying his coffee, Sonija enjoying her ice cream

After ice cream, we still had some time, so we posed for a group picture:

And then: my camera decided to die. So dead was it, in fact, that the lens wouldn’t even retract back into its hidey-hole. My battery was back at home, in my camera bag, so for a few moments I was at a loss as of what to do. But then, as I was digging through my immense purse trying to find something with which to protect the lens of my unconscious Sony CyberShot, I realized that I had happened to bring along my little tiny Webbie video camera, which also takes photos. So, that was my camera for today. Unfortunately I couldn’t find the cord, so today’s post will be short on photos.

Our first “main” stop today (not counting ice cream :) ) was the Academy of Music. The building was absolutely gorgeous, and made even more beautiful by the many strains of melodies that could be heard echoing from within. Our kind tour guide gave each of us a lanyard emblazoned with the Academy’s logo (which looks like piano keys…so cool!), as well as a CD of music which was composed by the Academy’s founder. We also had the privilege of attending the diploma recital of one of the students of the Academy. The girl was an extremely accomplished violinist, and did an excellent job. (I’d like to note that the piano which accompanied her on one of her pieces was a Steinway — not a Steinway & Sons, but just Steinway. Amanda and I conjectured that possibly it was built before Steinway had any sons along in the business? I don’t know.) It was a lovely time…I only wish that, while we were at the Academy, we (or, should I say, I) would have had time  to play one of the practice pianos. I haven’t practiced in almost two weeks and it’s so strange!

In 1927 , for the sake of the environment, the city of Lodz decided to re-route the rivers of the city. Instead of going over the top of the ground ,they would go underneath it. So, vast tunnel systems were built, mostly of brick, to hold the massive amounts of water. Fairly recently, new tunnels were built, so today we had the chance to tour one of the old ones.

It reminded me a little bit of cave exploring, except that these caves were man-made and underneath the streets of the third-largest city in Poland. Some may have considered it claustrophobic (they were only about 180 cm high, and maybe 150 cm wide), but I had a great time.

Well, that’s about all for today.

Love,

Taylor

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