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!!



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