Relaxing in the Polish Mountains

The cabin we stayed in.
So this past weekend (last weekend not this current one) I was lucky enough to be invited to visit the mountains with my host family! We stayed in their friend’s cabin in apparently one of the wildest areas of Poland. The house it’s self was lovely with basic amenities (no electricity, wood fire to heat water etc.) but this added to the charm. While at first I was a tad apprehensive about no electricity, it was actually a very relaxing way to live, plus gave me a well needed detox from technology! The house was the furthest out in our area and was an hour’s walk away from the Slovakian boarder. I hear this walk is very beautiful but the day we chose was very foggy so I saw very little scenery but I still made it to the border!
The first Graveyard we visited
The mountains themselves were so different to the mountains I’m used to seeing in Australia. There were some many different shades of green that I was almost convinced I was looking at a painting. I is quite frankly one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen, and I hear that in the autumn it becomes even more so. Most of my days I spent relaxing in the house or on the veranda reading a book or sketching whatever came to mind. My host family took me on two walks up the mountains to visit some WWI graveyards. The first one was on the top of a really steep mountain that made me wish I had kept up my fitness regime. It was well worth it though! The graveyard had these huge memorial towers surrounded by a circle of graves. The second graveyard was just up the mountain next to our cabin and reminded me a bit of the graveyards I had visited in Japan. Both were very peaceful and had an air of respect to them.
SLOVAKIA

Trip to Slovakia:

Due to the close proximity to Slovakia my host family were kind enough to take me there on a day trip! We visited two towns (which I should probably ask about their names but I’m too busy eating Milka chocolate to move) which were quite different to places I have seen in Poland. In the first town we checked out the Old Town square which was reminiscent of Polish Old Towns but still had a charm of its own. The weather that day was beautiful and the Old Town was almost empty giving it a very relaxing feel. We even got ice-cream and didn’t freeze to death with it! I got to visit an old church (which cost money to get into…) which had alters dating back to the 1400, possibly even older as I didn’t look at all of them. We then took a stroll around the area, visited a couple more churches, and enjoyed the sunshine before moving onto town #2.
A building in the second town we visited
Town #2 was much more of a tourist place as it was home to some mineral springs with water that was meant to be really healthy for you. People were wondering around everywhere with bottles which they intended on filling up from the two different springs. Each spring had different water, one smelt like rotten egg and the other was salty in taste. Not exactly what I would carry around in my water bottle but it was very popular! This was quite a beautiful town, the whole area we walked through was basically a mixture of a park and town. It had obvious hints of communism with some huge buildings which had been purpose build for communist government officials. There were also buildings from before the communist era (a type of palace I think) which were quite stunning. The drive through the mountains, and over the border, was also amazing.

At the end of the 6 days I didn’t want to return to Warsaw. There is something about the isolation and ruggedness of these mountains that just made me want to stay there forever. I have found myself on multiple occasions wishing that I was back there! This trip was by far one of the best things I have done in Poland. 
Left: I found this area quite beautiful! 

7 Cakes later… a Polish Easter!

Mazurek

As pretty much everyone is aware, it was Easter three weekends ago. Many of the volunteers chose to take advantage of the 5 day weekend (that’s right we got Thursday off as well) and travel, I however decided to stay in Poland with my new host family and experience the traditional Polish Easter. I had been told that Easter was the most important celebration in Poland (more important the Christmas) which makes complete sense considering it is a primarily catholic country. Celebrations started on ‘Great Thursday’ where my host family attended a five hour church service (I was invited but politely declined), another service was held on Good Friday (only about three hours, I also did not attend). On Saturday the cooking began, my host sister Łucja and I were put in charge of decorating the mazurek, a type of Polish cake made with a base of short pastry and a variety of different fillings. We had seven different kinds, of which we decorated six together. Unfortunately for some of the cakes both Łucja and I are not the most artistic so while we had a couple of successes we also had some rather tragic failures. Not that we minded, as long as they tasted good who was going to care! We had a load of fun and decided that we should really get paid to do it professionally (if only cake decorating paid well and we were good at it!).

Another part of Saturday was Święconka meaning the blessing of the Easter baskets. This is a very important and enduring Polish tradition where a small amount of food, traditionally eggs, salt and pepper, bread, and sometimes meats as well as any foods (varying between families) are placed in a small basket and taken to church to be blessed by the priest. I was lucky enough to accompany my host sister Zosia to the local church in our village to experience this tradition. Sure enough there were people everywhere with baskets ready to be blessed. I was definitely surprised by the amount of people at the church (partly because I didn’t know that many people lived in the village). Basically we cued up and paid the fare (a small donation), then the priest said a prayer before dipping what looks like a broom into the holy water and throwing it over the baskets (and not-so-accidentally over the surrounding crowd also). It was a pretty good insight into how important tradition is in Polish society.
The basket ready to be blessed
That night I was invited to go to a special Easter eve church service with my host family, before I really understood what this commitment would mean I eagerly agreed, after all I thought it would be a great cultural experience (which in the end it was). I was shocked to later find out that this church service involved being at church from 10pm Saturday evening and the service ending at around 3am Sunday morning. Yep, that’s 5 hours of church guys, at one time. I did still agree to go, and I am glad I did. It’s difficult to describe the service and a I feel as though I would be doing a disservice if I tried, however I will mention my favourite part. At the beginning of the service all of the lights were turned out for about 5 minutes (I was told this was to represent the sin/ darkness within everyone) then the Priest walked into the room with a candle which was used to light some other candles which people were holding, the flame (or light) was then ‘passed’ to everyone in the room. It was really beautiful.
Breakfast time (at 1pm…)
In the end we left for home at about 4:30am, after dancing and eating food, and arrived home at 5:30am (we had to pick up my host sister from Old Town).  Easter Sunday was somewhat less eventful as we were all so exhausted from the day before. My host family were lovely enough to allow me to invite one of the other volunteers to Easter breakfast (which was at 1pm…) as she did not have a host family! The food was fantastic. Easter Monday, or as it is known in Poland as Śmigus-Dyngus, or Wet Monday, was somewhat more eventful. When I got up that morning my host mum was ready with a bowl of water to splash me with, and then later on that day the priest, who happens to be a family friend, took great joy in spraying my host sister and I with water from a spray bottle. Essentially it’s a day for water fights. I was pre-warned not to go out walking, especially in the city, as many youth find it amusing to through buckets of water over passers-by, not my idea of fun when in is 10 degrees! We had dinner with my host family’s extended family which was just a livelier version of Easter breakfast, but I also was able to meet some more people which is always lovely!  
Needless to say we were eating Easter leftovers for the next few days, the hardest decision of my day usually involved deciding which mazurek i wanted to eat! Sorry for the long post.

                                                                         

Poznan!

So this past weekend I traveled to the city of Poznan with my host family. This trip was different to previous trips as instead of staying in hostels I was actually seeing the city from a ‘family’ point of view. I was doing things that people who know the city do more so than a tourist. I stayed with my host family at their Grandparent’s house. The ‘house’ was actually a tiny, communist-style flat with two bedrooms, a living room, bathroom and kitchen. It would probably fit into my living room at home! Simply staying here was a great experience as it showed me another way of life for Polish people. I spent the majority of the weekend hanging out with my host sisters as it was also my last weekend with this host family (I change families this coming Sunday but am in Gdansk for the weekend). We hung out at the park, went to get ice cream, and strolled through the forest. It was all very relaxing and enjoyable.
I did, of course, still manage to get a tourist’s view of the city and visited the Stary Ryneck (Old Town) on Saturday, which was also the first day of spring. The Old Town was gorgeous, there were these ‘Fish Sellers Houses’ which were basically colourful houses but they were super cute. As it was the first day of spring there was some kind of market and celebration so the Old Town was bustling with people doing all sorts of things, it was also a relatively small Old Town compared to others I have seen. I also went to the Poznan Military Museum which was really interesting. Unfortunately the majority was in Polish so I understood very little, and I wasn’t going to force Melanie (my host sister) to translate everything. Both of us thoroughly enjoyed the bottom level which was a replica of the trenches during the war (I suspect WWII). We went through the museum twice! The best thing was it is free on Saturdays! I definitely recommend.

I can’t comment on the nightlife as I didn’t experience it, but by all accounts it has one of the best nightlife’s in Poland! I will update this if I return (which I plan on doing). Next on the agenda is Gdansk, Paris, and Amsterdam! Stay tuned lovelies Xx
Panorama of the area I stayed in Poznan!

Two weeks in Poland

Cześć! Blog post number two coming from the faraway land called Poland! I have been in Poland for almost two weeks now, but it feels like so much longer. This week was my first week with my host family. Well I actually spent this week with both of my host families as my first host family was away until the 2nd so I stayed at my second hosts house for a couple of days. Both families are absolutely lovely, and are friends with each other which make life somewhat easier. I also started teaching at the school on Monday. The school is over a hundred years old and its history is extensive. Interestingly it was a hospital on the frontline during WW2. The only downside is that there are about 4 levels all of which require the use of 2 flights of stairs to access… Looks like I won’t be needing a gym membership!
The ‘Bubble Mall’ is the nickname given to ‘Zloty Tarasy’, which is essentially the central mall in Warsaw. Typical mall, but has become a point of reference for quite a few Warsaw-based volunteers.
So far my explorations of Warsaw have been limited but I have finally seen the Old Town! The Old town is essentially a depiction of what Warsaw looked like before it Warsaw was destroyed in WW2. It is very interesting and more what I would have expected Warsaw to look like before I arrived! Warsaw itself is easy to get around and I am slowly getting used to the public transport system. It so strange for me coming from country Australia where I had to drive everywhere and now being able to just jump on a tram, train, bus or even simply walk to where I need to go.

Key facts from this week!
1.      In Poland they don’t drink tap water. Instead they buy water from the supermarket. This is quite strange to get used to, especially considering there isn’t anything wrong with the water.
2.      English music plays in shops and malls. It feels as though you could be at home. Furthermore, pretty much everyone speaks some level of English.
3.      I bought ice cream/gelato for 5 zloty! Like that is a single coin and costs about $2AUD. Everything is going to seem so expensive when I get home.
4.      Booked to go to Krakow next this coming weekend, accommodation is costing roughly $30AUD. With free breakfast and karaoke!
5.      Transport via the ‘Polskibus’ is really convenient and you have free WIFI on the bus. The train takes half the time but free WiFi…..

6.      I am with a mobile provider called ‘Plus’ and they send me so many messages each day just promoting their services. Which would be more handy if they were in English….

Co to jest? (what is it)

Dzień dobry! Good morning/afternoon! This is pretty much the extent of my Polish at the current point in time. Poland is so beautiful, I am loving pretty much every aspect that I have experienced so far. Yes, I am even enjoying the cold. The atmosphere becomes almost romantic the minute it starts to snow. And waking up to see the sun streaming in (although very rare so far) through snow covered trees is an incredible sight. The winter fashion is also a plus. Rather than write up a long post about everything I have done so far, I thought I would just write out some key points about what I have learnt, loved, found strange, and so on.

  1. Stating the obvious… IT IS SO BLOODY COLD. I love and hate this fact. I love it because there is snow and I get to wear awesome clothes. But I hate it because it is so cold. It also gets frustrating having to constantly dress and undress every time I go outside or inside. I have already lost my beanie because of this.
  2. Everything is so cheap. We worked out that 10PNL is roughly $3AUD. Putting it in perspective I bought a winter coat for 120 PNL which equals about $40… I would have paid $100 easily for it easily in Australia. #feelingrich
  3. Polish people really do love to drink. It’s true. VODKA VODKA VODKA. I haven’t had as much cabbage though. They also have good ciders and beer (yes mum I have started drinking some beer…).
  4. Polish people are scary drivers. I have never been so scared in my life. It is normal to go 30kms over the limit… Enough said
  5. There is free WiFi everywhere which is amazing. Like seriously, Australia needs to catch up.
  6. THE GUYS ARE FREAKING GORGEOUS. Ignore every person who ever tells you that Polish guys are unattractive. They have this awesome Slavic look going and its just gorgeous. The rumours that Polish women are gorgeous are true.
  7. The Pole’s have really good food. The chocolate croissants are to die for, as is the chocolate. Perogi is also super delicious

 So basically I am really enjoying it so far. Yes there have been some moments of homesickness, and ‘why the hell am I here’. But its still pretty cool. (no pun intended)