Friday, October 19, 2007

Teskni za Polska!

I've been home for about 2 months and am missing Poland a lot. I really wish I could hope on a train and be at Babcia's in 7 hours, or Gdansk in 4 hours or Krakow in 3. Because not only would this mean I'd be able to have a sweet adventure, but also that my school schedule would be significantly less chaotic. Collegium in Warsaw was essentially a semester off, and while my summer language program was gruelling, it was all for fun. What is not fun is the hectic work schedule I signed myself up for this year. I can't complain too much, because a lot of it has to do with my honors thesis which is a) the most awesome topic ever and b) the reason I was able to stay in Poland for so long.

The grueling class schedule does mean, unforch, that I don't really have time to update about my recent fall break trip to Nashville, TN, the country music capital of the world. I also want to do a "best of Poland" post-it's in the works, honest. All I can do right now, however is direct you to the NYTimes, trusted bastion of information, for an article about recent Polish immigration trends. For the last several years, young Poles have been flocking to Great Britian for work opportunities. The numbers are really, really high, but it seems like that might be changing. The photo for the article is pretty great:NY Times article

Also, today is election day in Poland! Little known fact about Polska is that the president and prime minister are identical twin brothers. Which just really doesn't seem like a good idea, regardless of their politics, which are alarmingly conservative. Most young people really can't stand the Kaczynski brothers, and today, the prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski declared defeat!

I just started a new blog! It's a blog for the Urban Debate League of Atlanta, that I've worked with for the last 4 years and that I love madly. So, please check it out to see what we do and how awesome are kids are. It's still in the works, so if anyone has feedback, that'd be great!

UPDATE: Here's a Times article about the Polish Election.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

america. whoa.

reverse culture shock is starting to hit:

i'm constantly surprised that cashiers accept my debit card and do not press me for exact change. i get anxious and possessive when the grocery store bagger bags my groceries-i'm supposed to do it myself! nobody carries plastic bags around, and nobody is selling shoe laces on the sidewalk. i find these things strange. i read about solidarity, and remember the time i lived in gdansk. and warsaw. i miss the tram ride from my apartment to school, and i miss my ugly apartment itself. i miss getting lost on the trams, and even the stink of centralny train station. i miss wayne's coffee, and krakow, and gdansk with hil. i miss it being cold and i miss the adventures!

i also love america. happy belated constitution day.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Not Cakes and Babies

I'm home and it's great. A little bizarre, because Emory has put up 3 or 4 buildings since I've been gone and torn down a few more (including Gilbert Hall, my favorite campus housing). Added with the number of people who graduated while I was abroad and the new freshman I don't know, it's going to take me a while to re-settle in. I truly can't believe that this time last week I was at my Babcia's house, and I imagine that in a few weeks I'll have a long sappy good-bye post.

Until then, here's a little bit of Polish happiness that needs to be shared. Shoshi really likes babies, and I think nuns are great. Which makes it my obligation to post this:

Siostra Maria and Axel's coreczka were SO into each other.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Pani Henryka

I'm gonna be really pretentious for a second and pretend that I can become best buds with extremely important people, which would allow me to have an enormous friend crush on Pani Henryka Krzywonos. Pani Krzywonos worked in Gdansk as a tram conductor in 1980 when the August Strikes began, and she stopped her tram in the middle of an intersection to start a public transportation strike. Today, thanks to my super contacts at the archiwum, I got the chance to meet her, which was an utterly humbling and inspiring experience. In one beautiful long narrative she told me of her experience in Solidarity and under Martial Law. She escaped being imprisoned by going into hiding, was found and beaten by the police more than once, and went so far as marrying a good friend to change her name from the one well known by the police. Her heroism continues today, as she and her husband have opened up their home as a family orphanage, and she is now the mother of 14 (or maybe 40? I get really confused with numbers in Polish) children. I love my thesis topic. Though right now I have no idea how I'm going to incorporate all the different material I've gathered. All I can imagine writing is the already long "thank you" page.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Week 2 in the Archives

My time in Gdansk, and Poland for that matter, is drawing to a close. I've spent the majority of this week back at the archive, continuing to search the Bibula (underground newspapers) for any references to women. Unfortunately,y my ability to search for gendered language is severely hampered by my lack of fluency in this language...that would certainly be exciting! But I've got a whole stack of articles that I will probably spent the next year translating. I will resist the huge urge that I have to hand it over to my mom to sift through, because this work will be good for me.

I just need to take a nerdy moment out to talk about HOW MUCH I like working in the archive. The staff here is super and encouraging and that helps a lot. But really, everyday I get to hold, in my own hands, CLANDESTINE DOCUMENTS. People literally risked their lives to conduct interviews, write articles, print copies in their homes/rented rooms etc, and distribute these papers. During Martial Law, when the leaders of Solidarity where imprisoned, papers like Tygodnik Mazowsze were the voice and image of Soldiarity and gave people hope. And I've (tried) to read the original articles!

Besides meeting Pani Walentynowicz I've also met Alina Pienkowska's best friend. Alina Pienkowska was a young nurse who worked in the shipyards and was hugely important for the 1980 strikes. She telephoned the international press with news of the August strikes-the telephone lines in her office were the only ones who were not cut. On the 3rd day of the strikes, the strike committee agreed to a 1500 zloty pay raise and the reemployment of Walentynowicz and Walesa-which is 500 zloty more than the intial strike demands. But Pienkowska, Walentynowicz, and a few other women realized that there were other smaller factories striking across Gdansk and the country who were counting on a big victory in the shipyards to help them get their own issues accross. And they decided to continue the strike for Solidarity-closing the gates and telling the departing workers to come back and strike for Solidarity. She wrote the 17th of the 21 Demands and was a Senator before she died in 2002. Her friend was awesome, awesome, awesome-was already thinking of Pienkowska's role in terms of gender, had a great apartment and cool jewelry.

And tomorrow I have an interview with Pani Henryka Krzywanos, a tram driver in Gdansk who led the transportation strikes in August of 1980. Basically, thanks to the amazingly kind director at the Solidarity archive, I've been put in contact with 3 of the most important women in Solidarity. Whether or not I use this material for my Thesis, it's incredibly exciting to meet such legendary, strong women.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Week 1 of Archive Work

I've been in Gdansk for a week now, staying with my awesome cousin and spending my days at the archive in the Solidarity main office building. I've learned that archival research is slow work but exciting. I'm looking through the Bibula, or underground press, to find articles about women. I'm also doing some interviews-I have a list of contacts so long that it's unbelievable, because word has spread that there is an American girl looking for information about women in Solidarity, and everyday somebody from the building will wander down to the basement to share some stories and give me a couple of contacts. This is cool, but probably not the most helpful information for my Thesis. I'm doing a few more interviews so as not to offend my kind archive benefactors. Plus, it's a pretty great experience to meet people involved in the movement I'm writing about-not many historians get that experience.

Today I am going to the Solidarity museum, to see the Roads to Freedom exhibit which was closed last time I was here.

And in 1.5 weeks I will be home!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Pani Ania!

One week ago I was in despair because it looked like every archive I contacted about doing research was closed, either for vacation or remodeling. But my mom contacted a wonderfully helpful archive in Gdansk that is open, and the director put me in touch with none other than Pani Anna Walentynowicz. Pani Ania was critical to the 1980 shipyard strikes in Gdansk-it was, in fact, her firing just months before scheduled retirement that sparked the strikes, and she and Pani Ania Pienkowska motivated the shipyard workers to strike for Solidarity. She's a hugely tough lady, and on Wednesday, I got to meet her. We talked for about 3 hours (and by talked, I mean she shared amazing stories about Solidarity and I tried to inarticulately communicate understanding, empathy, and questions in my unfortunately poor Polish). Sadly, I didn't get any pictures with her because of camera battery issues, but I sat at this same table with her! (photos are courtesy of anna I'm returning to Gdansk over the weekend and have an invitation to come for a photo op if she's still in town.

And here's a photo of Anna Walentynowicz from back in the day-during the August 1980 strikes. I think ti's fair to make some comparisons between her and Rosa Parks-they were both iconic, strong, intelligent women who worked hard for civil rights and freedom. They're usually both remembered for simple acts of resistance but were true fighters. I'm still in disbelief that I got to meet her.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Teraz, Tylko Jeden Tygien

I'm approaching my fifth week of intensive Polish classes. They keep me busy but man, my Polish has gotten a lot better. It's really exciting to be approaching a point of competence in a foreign language. I'm still a stuttering mess when I try to say anything complicated, but I have a few friends here who don't speak English, so we communicate completely in Polish. I'm proud of that! This, by the way, is a picture of the courtyard at the Catholic University of Lublin (KUL). It's hard to see properly, but in the middle is a statue of Pope John Paul II that always has fresh flowers and a lit candle at the base. When the weather is nice I study out here during my afternoon break and usually I can hear someone practicing the organ (did I mention that I've met 2 famous organists here?)

For anyone who is looking to study Polish (I'm sure there are a ton of you out there. Slavic languages are so in right now, and I mean that with all sincerity) this course is by far the best one I've found or heard of. The teachers are amazing, and for the first time in my studies the cases (almost!) make clear sense. The teachers work really hard-we rotate teachers for our individual lessons each week and every teacher has been so enthusiastic about preparing lessons for me that focus specifically on women's history and solidarity vocab. I don't see any other way trying to do archival research would have been possible. Here's a picture of my class. The denim clad lady sitting in front is Bozena, my great teacher. My roommate, the history grad student who frequently calms me down when I have an "honors thesis? what honors thesis?" sort of brekadown, is standing next to me in green, and seated in the right hand corner is Siostra Maria-my favorite nun EVER.

It seems as though my language limitations might not be a problem for archival research, after all. A bigger problem is finding a place that has relevant information and is open. I didn't realize this before, but August is "Cucumber Season" here and mostly everyone goes on vacation. I found one archive thats open, and the director may have some contacts I can interview, which would be sweet. But it's all very up in the air at this point.

I have just 3 weeks left until I return to America and I'm really happy about that. Poland has been great-I'm loving every experience and I know I'm so lucky to be here, but I've been gone for almost 7 months. I need some fish tacos, black bean burritos, mounted shower heads, iced soft drinks and clothes driers back in my life. Not to mention the people who are kind enough to occasionally read this blog.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Szczesc Boze!

I'm writing this from the basement computer lab of my dorm that smells like humid carpeting and is stocked with 6 computers that are a throw back to 1994. I just made the exciting discovery, though, that there are NUNS living in the bottom floor of my dorm. Yes yes yes.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


There’s also a good chance that the 5 week highly intensive program will kick my butt.

Today we had our introductory meeting and first lecture in the same class room that Karol Wojtyla taught in before he became the Pope…and I can’t really think of anything cooler than that. Except, perhaps, the photos of JPII that are mounted on the walls…my favorite shows a young and hip Jana Pawel II strolling around campus in a cool pair of shades that would give Bono a run for his money. There is also the statue of Pope John Paul in the main court yard, with an eternal flame in front. The French nun in my class is just another element of awesome. You might not know this about me, but I think nuns are really, really cool. It’s all I can do not make eyes at her all during class.

Our first lecture was a history of the Katolicki Universytet Lubelski Jana Pawla II. The fact that KUL employed the Pope is just one of its claims to fame. It was established in 1918, when Poland received independence after 100 years of being partitioned by Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Prussia. Its purpose was to collect the intelligentsia to take charge of the newly reformed nation. In 1938 KUL got full state status, which is a big deal for a private university here. During World War II, the school was officially shut down, many professors were killed, and the building was used as a hospital. That wasn’t enough to stop the priests, though, and they organized secret classes throughout the city. During the 1950s and 60s, the university was persecuted by the communist government, but they were still able to exist as the only independent university in the Soviet Block and to employ many professors who were fired from other universities. How’s that for important?

The crucifixes in my dorm and in all of the class buildings bring back flashbacks of my 13 years at Catholic school, especially in Michigan, and I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t like it a little.
That said, whatever comfort I get from familiarity is much needed because I think I signed up for a course that will kick my butt. Not necessarily because it’s too hard-I think my language placement is about right-but because for the next 5 weeks I will spend 37 hours a week learning Polish. Then I will spend 2 weeks researching my thesis, which I need to find time to prepare for while in Lublin. This sounds great, but it puts me back in Atlanta the day before school starts. Nothing like starting out senior year and an honors thesis with jet lag and 7 weeks of summer school. I’m honestly scared.

For the next 5 weeks, my daily schedule looks something like this:
8:30 Breakfast
9-12:15 Grammar
12:30-13:15 Lecture in English
14-14:45 Lecture in Polish (I will probably generally opt out of this, for mental health purposes)
15-15:45 Individual Lesson
17-18:30 Conversation
18:30-on Dinner…and homework

The program has a very different feel from last summer’s program in Krakow. I think this will improve my Polish much more-the teachers and other students seem to be taking Polish more seriously. I’m going to be so in touch with my Polish identity come the end of August-by that point I will have spend 8 months of the last 12 in the Old Country. Damn.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

We saw the Gates of Freedom! (dramatic or what?)

Since my first trip to Poland last summer, I've been wanting to spend some time in Gdnask, and my opportunity came 3 weekends ago when Hilary and I took off for a one night stay in the city of Solidarnosci. Our initial plan, for no obvious reason, was to take the 6 am train, which would have put us in Gdansk around noon. However, being the smart young women that we are, we soon realized that there was utterly no reason for us to leave so early, and seeing as I was strung out on caffeine and low on sleep due to exams, we might as well treat ourselves to a good night's sleep by leaving at 9.

The extra sleep made a great difference and thank god for it, because as it was we arrived in Gdansk pretty tired. Shortly before we arrived we made the unfortunate discovery that I left the hostel address and directions in my apartment. Luckily, Hilary was hip to the beat and had also written the address down, though we were without directions. Undaunted, we asked several people for help, and 1.3 hours later we discovered our hostel and that THE PEOPLE IN GDANSK ARE THE NICEST, EVER. We asked about 10 people for directions, and to help us, they got out maps, ran into their apartments to check the internet, called across to their neighbors, and generally were amazing. They smiled a lot, and I’m pretty sure they found my broken Polish charming. We realized later that our hostel was actually a 7 minute walk from the train station, as promised, and that I had actually forgotten to open the email containing directions. Hence, from now on, I bow down to Hilary in plan making.

After settling into our hostel, which also served as a house and a computer business, we took the train from Gdnask Oliva to Gdansk Centralny, where the old town is. We stopped to caffeinate, and the rain started.

It kept raining sporadicly for the rest of our trip. This should've been a bummer but I think the weather suited the city. The old town is my favorite in Poland-I love the fact that it's seaside. Here is a view of the "crane" building and if you look closely you can see big shipyard cranes in the background.Here's another photo from the Old Town. I love love love the colors and the architecture.

We decided to have dinner in Sopot, which along with Gdnask and Gdynia makes up the seaside tri-city area. Before we left we saw these awesome, happy street performers dressed in white linen. They were pretty good, and were seriously some of the smiliest people I have seen in a long, long time. But, this picture raises some questions, namely, how to guys wear white linen pants?
Dininer in Sopot was great, we found a nice, cheap restaurant on a sidestreet and then spent the evening on the beach. We got some beers at a local shop, were carded for the first time in Poland, and then checked out some bars on the beach. The night ended on a high point-we danced to latin music with a stout, jolly old Polish man after being egged on by his wife.

The following day we checked out the Solidarity museum in Gdansk, only to find it closed for rennovations. It was disappointing, but I think the new and improved museum will be finished when I return at the end of the summer. I'm doing my honors thesis next year about women in the Solidarity movement, and so I was really excited to see the monument:

And here is a closeup of the images on the monument:

and close still:
We were also able to see part of the "Road to Freedom" Exhibit outside of the museum. It includes 2 huge gate structures...this one was made by V. Tatlin, who we studied in art history and I therefore found very exciting.

And here's a picture of one of the gates to the shipyard...I'm pretty sure that it's one of the gates that was a focal point during the strikes. Of course, JPII is all over the place.

There was also a huge photo installation outside of the museum, on the same ground that the strikes took place on. Here is a photo of Anna Walentynowicz, one of the most prominent women/people in the strike, whose firing from the shipyard was a major motivator for the strikes.

I wish I had the time and more "off the top of my head" knowledge to write more about the shipyard monument. But, I'm sure there will be plenty more ramblings about Solidarnosci and Gdansk in the weeks to come, as I study Polish and really dig into the research for my thesis. Can't wait!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Last Night in Wawa

Why pack when one can post? Today is my last night as a resident of Warsawa at 140 ul. Solidarnosci. I'm going to miss this city a lot.

I have no doubt that a goodbye post is coming.

Goodbye, beautiful green BOS building.

Happy Birthday to a Classy Old Dame

I'm back from Babcia's and off to Paris tomorrow, with just enough time to pack up my very messy apartment and franticly say goodbye to some friends.

Again, the Gdansk post is coming, and is worth looking forward to because Gdansk is probably my favorite city in Poland. It has the sea, it has Baltic architecture, it has shipyard workers, it has the largest grassroots resistance movement in the former Soveit Block so what's not to like?

But until that happens, I figured I'd recap the few weeks with Hilary...because she is gone, she is awesome, and I miss her!

A few days after Hilary arrived in Warsaw we decided to check out Praga, which is across the river from the main part of Warsaw. Apparently, the other side of the river gets the same rap that the other side of the tracks does, and many Poles have warned me about the dangers of Praga...if you must go, go during the day and with a group. There are hooligans there! Hil and I figured we're pretty tough looking gals, so we made the treck across the bridge, and saw some cool stuff, like an Orthadox Church, an old Vodka factory, and some REALLY AWESOME THRIFT STORES. Hil bought a beautiful, beautiful dress that MIGHT have been worn by a Babcia at some point in the past, and has the most lovely colors. Best thing is that it cost 5 ztolty. We made a plan to dress up at least once, her in the beautiful dress of many colors, me in the beautiful green polyester trench coat-dress that was mom's and Babcia bribed me back to Poland with.

Of course, we put this plan in action, and dressed up last Sunday for the Chopin concert at Lasenki Park. The old ladies were REALLY checking us out, and quite jealous. Here's Hil with a couple of the gals:
And here I am crossing the street near Metro Politeknika. Note the lovely, lovely buildings.

The concert was great, and we felt a bit like glamorous Fitzgerald-esque ex-pats. We ate some delicious, over the top waffles and then Hilary started twirling.

I would too, if I had that dress.

We celebrated our last days together and Hil's birthday by going out to the bars in the barracks behind Nowy Swiat. They are pretty awesome, kind of shady and some have really trashy decorations that I can't begin to describe. One of them is awesomely retro with some sweet brown tones and that's where we spent the evening.

Here we are in the brown toned bar with our matching Russian shawls! Really, so much about Hil's time in Warsaw had to do with us embracing our old age early.

For Hilary's actual birthday, we started out with sight seeing some cool monuments. Hilary's an awesome tour guide. Then we ate kabobs, went shopping, and used the internet at Wayne's coffee, where the beverages are caffinated and the music is bangin'. Then Hilary and I had a date in the old tonw, followed by a drop by at a Polish party and then we danced the night away. Believe it or not, that night Hilary and I celebrated her 21st birthday AND the techno remake of "Satisfaction." It was sweet!

It was a great reunion.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Kocham Polska!

Having Hilary here is great for many reasons. The obvious ones being that she is awesome, and also that we are so good at being roommates that it's pretty ridiculous. Another reason is that we both like to fly by the seat of our pants, and it has led us on some pretty sweet adventures throughout Poland. And so, here is a quick tour of Poland, courtesy of Smith 305.

The second weekend that Hil was here we decided to go to Krakow, buying our tickets the night before in true adventuror style. We wanted to take the 9 o'clock train, since the ride is only 3 hours we figured that would put us in Krakow with a fairly solid day for sightseeing. However, buying tickets the night before a trip doesn't always work out so well, and we ended up on the 7 am train. Early, yes, but we felt so accomplished and slept so well at the end of the day.

After arriving in Krakow we walked around the train station, through the adjacent mall, and eventually found our way down the road to our hostel. It should be noted that during all of this wandering, Hil was gallantly carrying a bowl full of curry, which we had cooked the night before and couldn't bear to leave behind. It smelled a lot less than you might think, thankfully.

I've always had really good experiences at hostels, and while the 7th Heaven Hostel wasn't awful it was one of the more awkward places that I have found myself in since middle school. Luckily, there were plenty of things to do in the city, and promptly after checking in we headed down to Stary Miasto.

As we approached the Rynek, we heard a lot of music and saw masses of people also approaching the Rynek, and that's when it dawned on us that that reason I had the day off of school was because it was a religious holiday, which in this country means big time celebrations. So, we watched the Corpus Christi procession in the Rynek, and at one point decided we might as well join in, it looked like the thing to do.

Throughout the city it was obvious that Corpus Christi is a big deal here, as a lot of buildings had religious icons (the pope, the black madonna, jesus, or images of the eucharist) hanging outside of their windows. The churches were also set up for Eucharistic Adoration.

We did all of the main sightseeing, I think which was impressive for the rather short time that we had. Here I am in the traditionally obligatory Wawel Castel photo.

Being the smart girls that we are, we figured it was senseless to spend the whole day battling crowds in the Old Town when we could head to Kazimerz, the Jewish Quarter, for a more low key day. I really like Kazimerz, it looks more lived in and less prisitne than Stary Miastow does and thus, more authentic. We had a rather unfortunate episode in Kazimerz, though. There was a group of young hooligans playing with toy guns who thought it was really clever to shoot at us. At first, I thought it was stupid but harmless. I even thought it might just make a good photo so I asked them if they would pose for us. Big mistake. They shouted "NIE!" with more vehemence than I could have imagined, and then started chasing us. At one point, the nasty little thing in the striped shirt put his gun up to Hilary's head. I kept trying to tell them off in Polish but I'm pretty sure they just made fun of me in response.

From Kazimerz we decided to cross the river over to where the Ghetto Wall and Schindler's factory are. We walked and walked and walked, eventually finding our desitations. But, we spent a good 20 minutes next door to Schindler's factory trying to figure out where it was. We get fairly incensed that there was no sign or marker of the spot, and took a lot of pictures of a lot of buildings figuring that we would google image the factory and then match our photos up. Here is one of those photos.

As we were leaving I decided to be ballsy and ask a young Polish guy who was sitting nearby and reading whether this was Schindler's factory. It was a good move on my part because it turns out we were 1 building away from the factory, which does in fact have a large sign in front of it as well as a museum (which was closed by the time we got there). I was pretty impressed with myself for a. asking directions in Polish and b. understanding them.

One our last day in Krakow we went to the National Gallery which is one of my favorite art museums. I had been there over the summer, but only had an hour to run through the exhibits, which is not nearly enough time. It worked out really well because I had a Polish Art History exam the following Tuesday so I felt productive.

We also went back to the Old Town for a photo shoot.

As we were buying souviners in Cukernica we saw these lovely Polish girls dressed up for the holiday, I think. I'm not sure whether they were hot and uncomfortable, annoying at my blatant objectification of them, or just angsty but, along with our Kazimerz boys they make me think that Polish youth aren't exactly the happiest folks ever.

and that, is Krakow. More on Gdansk later.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

from East to West

I'm writing this post from Wayne's Coffee on Al. Jerzolimske, listening to what can only be described as a techno-remix hiphop inspired version of "I Want to Dance with Somebody." I will really miss European music when I return to the States.

A few weeks ago I hopped on a train to Berlin, for my first excursion into Continental Western Europe. In all honesty, I never had a strong interest in visiting Germany before, and hardly expected to enjoy it as much as I did. But Berlin is hip, young, and happenin'. It's had a hard history and was the basepoint for a lot of really horrible historical events, the city seems to be fully engaged in dealing with this. I think that one of the best proofs of this is the way they chose to rebuild after World War 2. Some buildings were repaired and some were rebuilt, but throughout the city there are modernist buildings look to the future rather than the past and are reminders that the Bauhaus movement started in Germany.
Perfect example is the Reichstag building. A fired destroyed the building shortly after Hilter took power, and it was abandoned during the Nazi regime. The building is in West Berlin, and after the War, Germans decided to move their capital back to Berlin from Bonn, and to restore the Reichstaag. The damage to the dome was irreperable, and so architect Paul Baumgarten constructed a transparent glass dome in its stead. The dome is open to the public, and is constructed in a way that allows the German government to look up through the building to see the sky and the public, a symbol of government transparency and trust between the public and the government. Here's a photo from inside the dome-while the view was awesome, my pictures of it didn't come out so well since I was, uh, encased in glass.

One thing that I really enjoyed in Berlin was the free tour that Jess and I took our first day. They have them throughout Europe, apparently, and are a great way to see the city on a budget. Our tour guide was a super snappy Japanese-British woman who had been a model-actress, moved to Berlin for love, dumped the guy and stayed. Normally I think tour guides are pretty annoying but she was really informative.

Unfortunately, I can't remember exactly what this awesome old buidling is. But I do know that it was on Museum Island, which is one of many places in Berlin that is full of cool museums, so we can pretend that it's also a museum. Here's a statue near the enterance of what I am sure actually is a museum.

On our tour we learned that the Gates of Babylon are housed in the Pergamon Museum, and that they are one of the 7 Wonders of the World. Of course we had to go-why not knock one of the 7 Wonders of the World off our "to see" list when we have the opportunity, right? Even if it is a little creepy and imperialistic that the Gates of Babylon are in Berlin. Disappointing news though, is that I just looked this up on Wikipedia, which is of course the epitome of factually correct information, and it doesn't look like what we saw were ACTUALLY the Gates of Babylon, or that the Gates of Babylon are ACTUALLY one of the 7 Wonders of the World. But still, Museum Island was cool.

We also saw the University in Berlin where, during the Nazi period, a huge list of books were banned and burned. Now, there is a permanate used book stand outside of the University that sells, among other things, the books that were banned. I think the proceeds are donated. Here are some copies of Marx and Lenin. The books had awesome covers, too bad I don't read German.

So of course it's impossible to go to Berlin without taking many, many pictures of the wall and its awesome graffiti. Here I am standing on either side of where the wall used to be, with a delicious caffeinated beverage in hand. This photo is cool, but after I took it I realized that I am not standing simultaneously on East and West Berlin soil, since a) the road is obvi paved and b) there were actually 2 walls throughout the city with a "death zone" in between.

Near where I stayed the first night in Berlin is the famous "East Side Gallery," which is a section of the wall that's covered by graffiti.
The graffiti is really cool, though a lot of it looks like it's seen better days. Here's one panel that I liked a lot.

Here's a picture of Berlin's Holocaust memorial, which is really interesting and quite controversial. It's unmarked, and takes up nearly a full block in the center of the city. There are concrete pillars of varying heights that get progressively taller as you walk through them. The feeling is pretty intense, and open to interpretation. The idea is that you can't live or visit the city without a constant reminder of Holocaust-it's impossible to look the other way.

I only had about 3 full days in Berlin, but it was great. Unfortunately, the trip took place over a month ago and I'm already hazy on the details. But, I think this at least gives you the general idea...that it's awesome.

Next update: Krakow and Gdansk with my Hilary!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Together Again

Really, finals are the best motivator for updating a blog.

Last Monday evening, the other half of Smith 305 arrived in Warszawa. Yay!

The current inhabitants of the crazy Soviet apartment on Solidarnosci. Let the good times be had!

Istanbul, not Constantinople

I just spend 10 days in Istanbul, visiting my wonderful aunt, and it was super. Ellen joined me for about a week, which was very fun because it was the perfect excuse to go to all the main attractions over again. The most impressive thing about our trip is that we managed to navigate the city and public transportation on our own, without getting lost! I have to give Aunt Noreen a lot of credit for this accomplishment, because she coached us nightly on which trams and ferries to take the next day, and called frequently to make sure we were still alive. The only trouble we had was on Ellen's first day in Istanbul. I picked her up from the airport, and then we took 2 trams and a ferry to Uskudar. Piece of cake. When we got in a cab, and showed the driver the map and written directions, I was confident. When he started driving in the wrong direction, I remained calm. When he jumped out of the car and ran over to a kebab place on the other side of the street, I got nervous. Turns out, he wasn't just hungry. Rather, he was totally lost and asking for directions. Bad. The next 5 minutes passed in a frenzy of phone calls, as both Noreen and Gary tried to explain to the driver where to go. By this point the cabbie was out of the car, standing over me with my door open. An English speaking Turk then gallantly came to our rescue, beginning his conversation with Gary with "Hello, ladies and gentlemen, can I help you?" This was the most discouraging moment of our adventure home.

We did, thankfully, make it to Aunt Noreen's, where the fun began. Sightseeing started on Tuesday, and we kept up a quick pace for the whole week, as we had a lot to do. We saw all the major attractions at Sultenamet, including the Blue Mosque (below) and the Hagia Sophia.
I like the Hagia Sophia a lot, because as a religion major I get a big kick out of religious spaces. I think that my first trip to Istanbul and subsequent fascination with the Hagia Sophia certainly shaped my interest in studying religion. Its fascinating to be in a space that has significance as both a Cathedral and a Mosque, and it's one of many reminders in Istanbul that Turkey has major historic importance as a center in both the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. While many of the murals were destroyed when the Hagia Sophia turned into a mosque, they've recently been restored and are really beautiful. The Blue Mosque is also really cool-the size, beautiful tiles, and lack of clutter make it a really peaceful space.

We went into a couple of other mosques, which were equally impressive and beautiful. We were pretty nervous that we would accidently enter during prayer time, and so we developed a ridiculous routine to avoid such a faux paux. First, we scoped the scene for a good 10 minutes to see if any other tourists were entering, then we walked around the exterior at least twice, and when things looked good we'd ask a bystander whether it was ok to visit. While I'm sure we looked absurd, we were saved from any major embarassments. Here is a picture of Ellen decked out for visit to a mosque.

On our first day of sightseeing we also went to the Basicilica Cistern, which I think fails to get the proper respect from tourists, since it's not as flashy or well known as the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. However, the underground water holding structure is not only cool when the weather is hot, but is also quite beautiful in its own right. Added bonus: 2 enormous, mysterious Medussa heads at the back. Who doesn't like giant Medussa heads?

I think we might have set an endurance record as sightseers because after Sultanamet we headed over to Taxim, which is a hip and happening part of Istanbul. There, we browsed some vintage clothing stores, had awkward encounters with salespeople, and enjoyed some Baklava, which became a daily ritual. Instead of taking a taxi back to Uskudar we backtracked, a further testament to our ambition and frugalness. It was a lot of walking, but well worth it because Istanbul at night is beautiful:

Though the neon sign is kind of unfortunate.

Day 2 in Istanbul led us up the Bosphorus to Anadolu, where we ate a great fish dinner, climbed up to a very old castle, and admired the view of the Black Sea and the Bosphorus. We spent a lot of time enjoying the sun (it's ok, I wore sunscreen!), and I took a good 50 photos of Ellen's face and the ships coming in from the Black Sea. Ellen decided to be camera shy, which is why she's making ridiculous faces in all 28 pictures that I took of her that day. Other important incidents from this trip include hiking past a military zone (ie, Turkish men with machine guns), getting horribly sexually harassed by our waitor, eating more Baklava and discovering the terrific zoom function on Ellen's camera.

Thursday took us to the Istabul Modern Museum, where there was a great photo exhibit called "60 Years of Magnum" which featured the work of photographers from around the world who photographed Turkey for Magnum Photo Agency. It also showed photos that the same photographers had taken of other world events, which gave a nice perspective to their work. There were photos of many of the most significant world events in the last 60 years, including some of Solidarity! They were beautiful, and the contemporary photos were a nice contrast to the very old sights we spent the rest of the week seeing. We also had the pleasure of visiting the Museum at the same time as hundreds of screaming Turkish school kids. It's always nice to mix with the people.

The school kids apparently thought we were cool too, because they followed us to our next stop, which was Topkapi Palace. The Palace is beyond beautiful, and the weather was perfect for an afternoon of strolling through the gardens. We admired the beautiful blue tiles and the great view of the Bosphorus, silently shook our fists at the loud hoardes of students, and, added bonus, saw the hand of John the Baptist. All in all, a nice exhursion.

One of the perks of having a cool Aunt who lives in a cool place is that she has got shopping scene figured out, and so we spend the majority of Friday afternoon buying cool stuff and getting good deals. Here are Elle and I with our favorite guy in the Spice Bazaar-I think we went back to him at least 3 times. I've got an exciting collection of spices and teas for next year, which means I've got to learn how to cook. Worst case senario is just that I eat a lot of ramen and admire the lovely colors on my spice rack.

NPR does a segment called sound bites where viewers send in the 30 second clip of some interesting sound in their city. I've heard the sound of cans falling through the homemade recycling shoot of a college dorm and of sticks being dropped through an abandoned oil well in the West. I wish I could have recorded 30 seconds in the Spice Bazaar, which I think could win a prize for most absurd. The lines and catcalls that the vendors use are absurd and frequently insulting, and a quick walk through a few stands may very well sound like "Lady...did you say tea? Want to see my spices? I have a tea that will kill your mother in law. You-German? French? America? Oh, beautiful eyes. Come, see my scarves. No? LOSERS!"

On Saturday we went to Eyup and the Corra Church, which I think is my favorite outting in Istanbul. Eyup is a conservative Muslim area and there are many important mosques located in close proximity to each other. On an average weekend day, you can see wedding parties and families celebrating their son's circumcision there. It's very different from the tourist-packed Sultanament, and nice place to get a different perspective. A walk through Eyup leades to a winding stone road that goes uphill through a cemetary to a cafe where there is a great view of the Golden Horn.

After a few cups of chai and a nerve racking phenicular ride down to the center of Eyup, we boarded a cab and headed to the Corrah Church. The Church is very small, but is covered in beautiful frescoes that are well preserved. We met some nice Canadian boys, and were nearly giddy from the pleasure of communicating with young men who did not stare inappropriately or proclaim true love after a distrubingly short period of time. It was, to say the least, refreshing.

Ellen left early Sunday morning, and Aunt Noreen and I spend the rest of the day chatting, looking at photos, and resting. It was so wonderful to spend time with her and to visit Istanbul again.