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.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Poland in the News

I'm a little stunned that it's already June, which means that winter and spring are officially over, though you wouldn't know that by the weather we've had lately. Today I stepped out of the flat wearing a scarf and the sweet Afghani hat that Aunt Noreen was kind enough to buy me when I was in Turkey. Admittedly, my wearing the hat had a little to do with the weather and more to do with the fact that I just wanted to wear it.

Unfortunately, here in Poland June does not signify a month of recovery from the school year or time at the beach or even temporary employment and the ENDI. I'm gearing up for exams, and a semester full of taking it easy may be catching up to me. Which means my blog posts from Turkey and Berlin are put on hold, for at least a little while.

But be not afraid, my loyal readers, because Poland been making headlines in the US news media as of late. While I'm sure there have been some articles about President Bush's upcoming visit following the G8 Summit, that seems a bit dry. So instead, I share with you an article from the NyTimes about Krakow as one of the new centers of young, hip culture in (Central-Eastern) Europe. I spent 4 weeks in Krakow last summer, and absolutely loved it. I've heard different opinions about whether Prague or Krakow is a nice city to visit, and while I'm not objective enough to share my own opinion on that, I think that Krakow is certainly in the same league. It's exciting to see that others are getting the same impression. Last semester, when I told people I was stuyding in Poland, I got a lot of "...Poland, huh? That's...interesting. Why?" Which is silly because Poland is cool!

My friend Alex was kind enough to share this second article with me. It's a pretty crazy story, sort of like the film Goodbye Lenin. Worth the read.