Sunday, August 31, 2008

Political Convention Adventure

For the next few days we will be dealing with the Republican Convention in Saint Paul. Interested folks in other parts of the country or the world may wish to follow the news by going to a very good blog called News Cut maintained by Minnesota Public Radio. You may find it here:

As of Sunday evening, August 31, it looks like a convention that isn't going to happen. Absolutely no one around the Xcel Center.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Politics and Manicure Adventure

I go to nail shop almost weekly that is operated by 3 women who immigrated here from the Ukraine. I felt so lucky when I stumbled into this place about three years ago. It's my little bit of Europe every week. And we've had wonderful conversations about food, language, all kinds of things relating to Central Europe. They have patiently listened to my stories about Poland, and enthusiatically gave me great advice in advance of my 2007 trip to the Ukraine. They also attract a clientele that speaks Russian, and have roots in Central and Eastern Europe.

However, today was amazing. One customer started out saying, "What do you think about what is happening in Georgia?" (Now please, she meant the country, not the state.) And the conversation was off to the races. I'm betting it was the only place in St.Paul that had a stimulating debate about Russia's actions and motives in this situation, how the United States is viewed in that part of the world and questions and ideas in between. I'm certain no one expects this kind of dialogue to be in a nail shop, and I'm struck somewhat speechless by the fact that it was undoubtedly a more comprehensive discussion of the situation than will be occuring about 3 miles down the street at the RNC convention!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Polish Train Adventure

On several travel web sites I've found questions about riding the trains in Poland. People seem to view this with trepidation. Thus, I'm offering some photos. Yesterday I explained that I stayed at the Hotel Hetman. That placed me a 5 minute walk from the Siedlce West station. The train from there to Warsaw is a local train, it stops everywhere and is only 2nd class. However, it is very comfortable. I've added a picture that shows that stations are clearly marked. Also I've added a sign that shows that the EU is funding improvements in the Polish train system. I did see some new, sleek trains while waiting at the Warsawa Polwisle station. It was explained to me that ironically these new trains are being manufactured in Siedlce, but one hasn't yet been assigned to the Warsaw to Siedlce route. Again, I'll say though that the train was comfortable. I also took the train from Siedlce West to Torun. I did that all 2nd class as well. It was perfectly comfortable and led me to have some wonderful interactions with Polish people. I hope by naming this post as Polish Train it will make it come up in searches when people are concerned about riding trains in Poland.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Bus Driver Adventure

After my most recent posting one person commented that he was surprised that the windows were so clean that I could take photos. Thus, I can't resist adding just a couple more to show the great variety that is Poland.

But I must speak about the bus driver. He started with 32 teens and about 5 adults at 8 AM on June 28 in Siedlce and drove us to the Krakow airport where we picked up 13 more volunteers. Then we continued to Zakopane. He spent the next two weeks with us there, driving for short trips in the area. On July 12 he repeated the trip from Zakopane to Siedlce.

We arrived near Siedlce about 6 PM in a driving thunderstorm. It was so bad that we were delayed on the highway for awhile for trees to be cleared from the highway. I was to depart at the Hotel Hetman. It was still raining when we arrived there. The Hotel Hetman sits along the major highway. However, to get there one must turn on a small side street and then turn into the hotel parking lot. So the bus driver turned off the highway onto the side street. I was expecting to get off there. No! He backed the bus into the hotel parking lot so that I could leave the bus from the passenger side and immediately get under a roof on the hotel entrance. I was overcome. When I made it to the front of the bus I said thank you very much and good bye in Polish --which I can't write with an American keyboard. I felt so grateful for this thoughtfulness. However, he took my hand and kissed it, in the very gallant way of Polish men. This will be a memory forever.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Photography Adventure

In other postings I've mentioned that I got a new camera before my summer Poland trip. It worked amazingly well for me. These are some of the pictures that I took traveling in the bus between Krakow and Siedlce. They show how Poland is old and new at the same time. I'm pleased that the vibration reduction on the camera worked so well. And what is even more amazing is that the bus driver had the windows so very clean that I could take these pictures out the window.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Shopping Adventure

One day last week I turned on the TV when I awoke and saw a segment about the Salvation Army needing volunteers to help children shop for school clothing. Hey! who doesn't have 90 minutes to volunteer!?! When I looked at my preferred site, it turned out they needed 249 volunteers besides me.

So this morning the alarm went off at 6:30 and I was out the door at 7:00, stopping for coffee at Caribou on my way. I got to the Wal-Mart a few minutes later. No coffee there! One volunteer came up to me and asked where the nearby Caribou was. I explained near my house, not the Wal-Mart! Nothing for food/beverage was open at 7:00in the store and we were cautioned not to let our group of volunteers stray into the closed Subway shop area!!

We all signed in and got a T-Shirt(it seems like every event needs a T-Shirt!), and got orientation. We were instructed to be done at 9 AM (even through check out) and to spend to as close as $100 as possible (funds coming from the anonymous donor that seems to give all the money!). If we went over by a dollar or two there would be way to fix that.

At 8 AM two school buses rolled in and I was matched with an 8 year old girl. She also wore size 8 in everything but shoes. I asked her if she had been watching the Olympics and picked up that 8 is a lucky number in China!

I asked her if there was anything her mom had asked her to get for sure. She replied, "No, but she said 'No glitter."Next I asked her what she wanted first. She wisely replied, "Let's look at shoes. That takes a long time." Wise she was. It took us forever to find girls' shoes. This store had six aisles for shoes and only half of one was for little girls' shoes. We found a pair that suited her. Next we hit jeans. We had to avoid any pair of jeans that sparkles to keep the no glitter deal. We found three pairs. Then we did T-Shirt shopping and found 5 that she likes. We finished out with socks and underwear. Check out price -- $99.09.

What fun this was. Hope I find it next year.

And I learned something. When having to watch for prices so very carefully, I became quite sensitized to the fact that many things are not labeled with a price and that prices are often hard to find on the racks. We left our cart out of the fray and often I found when we got back, the item we had picked up had no label with the price. Is this a marketing ploy?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Hot Car

Today on the Poland Our Future blog, David posted a picture of a special Ford that he found in Poznan. That caused me to dig through my pictures to bring up this picture of a hot car we found in Zakopane. We all had just come down the ski lift and found this at the bottom as we were walking to the bus. There certainly wasn't a high school boy that could walk by this car without giving it an admiring look.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Using Coins in Poland

One thing I've learned to deal with in Poland is the demand to use coins. For example, if I apply my American way of doing things, if I have a total bill of 16.85 PLN and hand a 20 PLN bill for that, I am happy to get back change. However, often I will get asked for the .85. One time I got coffee and a snack and the bill came to 10.// something. I gave the clerk 11 PLN and she asked for more coins so she could return me a 2 zloty coin.

This shows I can follow the rule. I was quite proud of 15 coins for a Coca-Cola Light!

I don't get it, but have learned to enjoy what I find "funny." Was there a coin shortage once?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Loved this sign

I found this sign in Zakopane. It shows that it takes 10.8 hours to fly to Chicago, 4.5 hours to walk to Mt. Giewont, and no time at all for the travel to the sponsoring bar in Zakopane, as it is only 11 meters. Thought it very clever.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Photography Adventures

After having some photos not turn out as good as I hoped from my 2007 trip, I got a new camera before this trip. It's a real new camera -- a Nikon Coolpix D-80, only released for sale in late May.

I love it! It did everything and more that I wanted during this trip. Here is a view of the architecture of the Sukiennice in Krakow. I particularly like the up close view of the head.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Rainbow Adventures

I have been wanting to buy a new sofa, but kept thinking I'd do that after moving. However, during the past few days, I have begun to think I can't stand to wait that long. This afternoon I decided to go shopping. I drove through sunshine and heavy rain all within 5 miles. Thus, it wasn't a total surprise that the combination led to a gorgeous rainbow. It was so wide one could see all the colors, and arches across the sky; I was able to see both ends of the arch.

I walked into the furniture store and found exactly what I wanted. I have to wait a bit for delivery, but at least there is some gold at the end of the rainbow. I'm definitely going to be happier with the new look.

The last time I saw such a beautiful rainbow was during a trip to Hawaii. I parked and lept out of the car to take a photo. Then I discovered that this car had automatic locks and keys were in the ignition. I had to wait a good hour for the car rental facility to come rescue me. Only that day I'd read the material about that and wondered how someone could manage to lock him/herself out! This time only good things happened.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Visiting a Museum Outdoors

Maybe this happens elsewhere in the United States, but certainly not in Minnesota. In several places in Poland this summer, I've visited museum displays outdoors. This particular display comes from Warsaw. It is a collection of historical pictures of 1930s life in villages of ethnic minorities in areas now that are part of the present southeast part of Poland or western Ukraine. Certainly moving displays outdoors allows many more to see them. It's a good idea.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Remembering Adventures -- Saxon Gardens

Last evening I got the courage to download photos from my summer trip -- all 1400+ of them. As one may guess, it took a bit of time for that to happen. Now my plan is to edit photos while watching the Olympics.

Here are two photos from a walk through the Saxon Gardens in Warsaw on a lovely afternoon. I was pleased to finally be able to do this. On previous visits a combination of rainy weather or lack of time has prevented my visiting here. After an incredibly busy time at work, it was a pleasure to spend an afternoon quietly strolling here and eating a delicious ice cream cone. Those who have not yet tasted Polish ice cream have a treat to anticipate.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Eating Adventures

I think one of the misconceptions Americans have about Poland is that it is still a developing (sometimes called yet by people I know as a third world) country. Yes, Poland has been running fast to change conditions from pre-1989. What most don't appreciate is how good the food is.

The bottom picture is from an afternoon snack in Zakopane that I "forced" myself to eat while relaxing for an hour until I could get a manicure. This is a nalenski (sorry if I have mispelled this word -- I know it well enough to get them when I want them!). The top picture is from my choice while stopping at a sidewalk cafe in the Warsaw Old Town area.

What I'm not showing are treats such as tomatoes that really taste like tomatoes -- I have to keep reminding myself to eat them, as I usually avoid them at home since they are now mostly tasteless. Also bread that is heavenly, soups are unbelievable, and I can't overlook my favorite candy -- krowki!

Cultural Adventures

Our team leader in Poland always speaks about cultural practices -- asking us to find what is the same and what may be different. This year I found something different. On our way back from Zakopane to Siedlce we stopped at a gas station about an hour north of Krakow. I was puzzled when the boys and girls all lined up at the same restroom door. When it finally became my turn I found it was an unisex bathroom. There were two doors providing privacy for two cubicles inside and people simply took their turns. I learned, by law, that gas stations must provide restrooms for travelers.

When we went to the Warsaw Uprising Museum we again found a unisex restroom -- the same set up, only this time spaces for about 12 people at one time. Each of these were very, very clean.

So what was different -- that public restrooms in gas stations are very, very clean and free for use. What is the same -- men in Poland don't put the toilet seat down either!!!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Did you know?

I have had a chance to meet an Olympic judge. The current governor of Siedlce County in Poland is one of the weight-lifting judges. Weight-lifting is a big sport in this area of Poland. His journey to Beijing is itself olympic. He explained to us that first, from Poland, they must fly all the way west to London to get the Beijing flight. Then they fly back over all of Europe on their way to China. I think I may have forgotten a couple of other steps in this journey.

The governor is always so gracious to the Global Volunteers. He invited us to his office and spent nearly an hour with us.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

End of the Poland adventures

On Friday morning the camp director came in asking if we would mind teaching one less English class so that the theatre and dance teachers could have the students practice for the final program. Their time usually was during the same hours that the program would be today. My answer, Bless you.

So I had my students primarily practice for their final program from their English class. Then for two hours we had a scavenger hunt prepared. The questions or commands varied from "Collect 15 white stones" to "What shape in the kuchina sign on the outside door?"

During the break I managed to get some laundry started so I could bring home more clean clothes than smelly clothes.

The scavenger hunt was great fun to watch. During the afternoon I got packed up and then went to take a shower at 4 PM to get ready for a 5 PM dinner, and hopefully to have my hair dry before going to bed. Even with a hair dryer, it takes awhile to get my hair dried.

The final program was wonderful as usual. The students presented us each with a T-shirt showing Reymontowka as the Heart of Europe and then cities elsewhere in Europe that are their partner cities. I was pleased to get this for while I remembered that my 2007 German students came to Poland was Oberhavel, I could not remember the city for the French students. Now it's on my shirt-- Nevers.

My students sang "Do you know the Muffin Man" with the third verse being: We are the muffin kids who dwell in Siedlce town." I had brief comments translated to explain that we had made muffins during camp. Else I figured out that the parents would not know why we had the sung this song. The second song was "If you're Happy---" only we added a verse, "If you're happy and you know, shout "Sto Lot."

The next morning the alarm went off at 5:30, breakfast at 6:00 and we were off to the airport by 6:30 AM. We got there about 8:00, just at the right time to check in three volunteers to a Lufthansa flight that left at 10:05. They were relieved for Lufthansa was on strike part of last week.

Then I wandered over to Terminal 1 and got myself checked in for the flight first to Amsterdam. I had enough time to wander back to Terminal 2 and meet one of the incoming volunteers for the next camp. She came from Wisconsin, so the midwesterners are representing themselves quite well this summer.

My KLM flight left a bit late from Warsaw due to "traffic congestion." I had to hustle at Amsterdam to make my flight to Minnesota, but did it with 10-15 minutes spare. I had a wonderful seat mate who also had been in Poland. She, too, was glad to have someone to talk with about Poland. She immigrated to the U.S. with her family when she was 2 years old and has gone back 2-3 times yearly since then. She said, too, her friends don't understand why she likes Poland.

We got to Minnesota about 30 minutes early. I got through immigration and customs without any problems and my daughter picked me up and got me home. I didn't last too much longer after that, for I had not slept on the flight at all. My body thought it was 1 AM. The flight schedule I did this time is so much better for getting onto the right schedule. This is how I'll do it in the future. Changing in Amsterdam is SO MUCH better than Chicago.

Not necessarily happy to be back home!