Sunday, June 30, 2013

Getting Started in Zakopane

I woke up somewhat rested around 6 AM so worked on this blog and also starting the journal for this team. I noticed at 7 AM that I have a built in alarm clock for the sun shines on my pillow at that time!

The early morning had a some sun so I went out to take photos.
The above is just one of the lovely mountain views from the hotel.

Above is the beautiful landscaping around the hotel.

We spent the day with the usual orientation activities, reviewing the Global Volunteer principles and policies, learning about how the Global Volunteer program started in Poland, and learning about our daily routines during the next two weeks. We also set team goals and identified characteristics of being a good team member.

At noon we met all the student campers as well as the Polish staff. Following lunch we all went into Zakopane for awhile. I helped one team member find her way to the kantor to change money. Dorota and I walked to the bus station to get schedules so we can all plan for weekend get-away.

We then went to a pastry shop. I could relax but Dorota spent some time puzzling over how to put the students into teaching groups. By this time it was cool and rainy, and when we walked into the pastry shop the waffles looked so good, partly because they were hot.

I chose cherry jam, nuts and whipped cream. Oh my, these are good!

We came back to the hotel and had our evening meal. Then we had a short meeting with the students who will be in our teaching groups. I have 5 students. So I had best get busy planning for the first day of teaching.

From Siedlce to Zakopane

My day started very early. I woke first at 3 AM, startled because it was starting to be daylight. Daylight appeared in Amsterdam at 5 and I thought I had overslept. A look at my watch -- well actually the time on the Kindle-- I can see that without glasses -- allowed me to go back to sleep for a bit. But I had completed my shower and had everything packed up and was downstairs in the lobby with my luggage at 5:25 AM. When I stepped out of the elevator and got in range of the router for the Wi-Fi my phone announced I had mail.

 I spent a few a minutes doing texts with my friend in Nebraska. Then I sent Dorota a message saying "Jestem up i ready."  A few minutes later a text returned telling me that she and her husband were on the way. We walked basically just around the corner where the bus was to be parked. As the bells chimed in the cathedral for 6 AM the bus appeared. Then began the job of packing in all the luggage for nearly 50 campers along with food and water for the day, the teaching supplies, and even towels for all of us to use in Zakopane.

 Dorota and I started out in a car with Jacek, one of the camp directors. I sat in the back seat wondering if we were going to stop in Minsk to pick up more campers, and if so, what would we do with the luggage. Before we got to Minsk Dorota told me that we would be wait for a van from Reymontowka that would be going all the way to Zakopane. We would change over to the van and the extra luggage would be loaded in the van. And so we were off.

About 45 minutes later we pulled into a gas station and picked up one last camper. The next stop was traditional, the McDonalds at Radom. Since last year this McDonalds has done a renovation. There is now very nice outside seating, but the what surprised me was the ordering system. One now places the order, gets a number and then moves to another counter to receive the order. Meanwhile one can watch progress on a digital monitor.

 We stopped again later at a gas station -- not for fuel for the vehicles, but rather for the restrooms. I always enjoy these stops, wandering the aisles to see what's the same and what's different. Maybe I've not looked well in the United States, but surely for Poland -- a tea drinking country, the item below surprised me.

We had a slow journey through Krakow. The road takes us by the the big box stores and on Saturday afternoon that was crowded with stop lights about every 4 blocks. At last we were at the Krakow airport and we found another 8 Americans. I finished the journey with two women from Hawaii who had just flown up after visiting also in Budapest and with 1 man from Washington, D.C. I had had e-mail conversations with all these folks, so it was already like being with friends.

It took us about 2 hours to get to Zakopane. Unfortunately for the new visitors, the weather was cloudy and rainy and they did not get the good mountain views. However, the beautiful hotel is beautiful rain or shine!

We all did some unpacking and then gathered for dinner at 6 PM. After the evening meal we had a short meeting to introduce ourselves to each other. If I have it right besides Hawaii, D.C., and Minnesota (me) we volunteers from Ohio, New Jersey, Arizona, and Texas. All of us are "older" except for one young man -- a 7th grader, who is here with his grandmother. We are off to a good start -- and obviously the Internet works good too!

Friday, June 28, 2013

One day in Siedlce

Today I simply enjoyed "living in Siedlce." I had an interrupted night of sleeping due to jet lap and woke a few minutes before 8 AM. I moved myself along because I knew breakfast ended at 9! After breakfast I was still in the mood for a cup of coffee and a time to enjoy reading a book so I walked down to Cafe Brama hoping it would be open.

Here's a bit of the interior.

Not a great picture --sometimes what I see on the LCD screen of the camera doesn't look like the "real picture" when I do something such as this. Seven of us walked in at the same time and then the two people in the picture came a few minutes later. I was quite engrossed in my book when I heard someone say, "It's Lori." The women in the picture had walked up to the counter to pay and when they turned around noticed me. They came over to talk with me. I knew one of them from Reymontowka camps, but I simply couldn't remember her name. Two hours later it came me --she's the dance teacher!

I walked back to the hotel. And this is a good time perhaps to show the hotel.

Here are some photos from my lovely room.

The big flat screen TV is new this year.

I met Dorota for lunch and we went back to Cafe Brama. A second visit was just fine with me. Then we walked to a book store and we ordered a Polish grammar book that I will pick up when I return to Siedlce later in July.

My afternoon included going back to the shopping center. I wanted to get some personal articles and had a bit of a hard time with the language -- German! Rossman is a German store and many of its products carry German labels and titles. Am I buying hand lotion or shower gel? Those were the kind of questions.

Coming back to the hotel I took some photos to show Siedlce.

Here are shops across the street from the shopping center.

When I first came to Siedlce in 2004 I marveled how Dorota could pull up anywhere and park. Those days are gone -- there are a lot of cars in town now, particularly during the day. This photo also shows that buildings here do not fit the American stereotype of Poland being a gray and dark place. Siedlce definitely isn't. I have heard that after the fall of Socialism, this area of Poland developed an informal policy of making sure that buildings had colors.

I pass by the cathedral too when walking to the shopping center.

I use the cathedral as a landmark. If I can see it, then I get anywhere.

I also pass by the ambulance service.

And walking about Siedlce one sees cows.

In the past these had pastel colors. Not this year! A whole new paint job!

After relaxing and having a bit of an afternoon nap I noticed a glimmer of sun, so I went again.

This is the county government building. During Reymontowka camps we always go here to meet the County Governor, or sometimes the Deputy Governor. The Deputy Governor calls me the "repeat criminal," meaning I keep coming back.

This sits across the street from a public space.

If I search for New Year's Eve in Siedlce I often see fireworks coming from this space.

Across the street is Jan Pawel II Square.

This square is often a meeting place for as readers may see it is surrounded by shady trees and there are benches too.

I went to the nearby Millennium store.

I was hunting for shoes and found several styles I liked--but what size? Oh, what did I have on? I kicked off one of my klopki and found indeed it was European and I needed size 39.

Walking back to the hotel I passed the kantor.

This is where one may exchange currency -- not only dollars or Euros for Polish money, but also when I lived in Hungary and came to Poland, I could exchange forints for zlotys.

I had the recommendation to eat supper at the hotel, but when I went to the restaurant, it appeared preparations were being made for a special event. So instead I went to Bollywood/Hollywood. This restaurant is operated by Polish friends.

I certainly ate well.

I ordered a mango lassi.

My main dish was a paneer made with triangles of farmer's cheese in cashew gravy.

One of my favorite Polish candies is sliwka. When I noticed the menu had a sliwka sundae I just had to try it.

Sliwka candy is dried plums--not prunes, but rather sweet dried plums--dipped in chocolate. This sundae had chocolate ice cream with plum jam which tasted just like the center of sliwka candy --oh yum!

As I left the restaurant I noticed the interesting contrast between a tree and an apartment building.

Another sight in the late evening sun was the old city hall -- think 200 years ago.

This building is now a museum with city offices located elsewhere.

So this gives you a glimpse of Siedlce. When I worked at the Minnesota Department of Health we used to say, "If you know how one county does things, you know how one county does things," meaning there was great diversity in how the 87 counties delivered their public health services. I would make this same analogy. If you have seen Siedlce, you have seen Siedlce, meaning there is great diversity in building styles and architecture throughout the country. Hope you enjoyed seeing a bit of Siedlce.

From Amsterdam to Poland

Yesterday I made the journey from Amsterdam to Siedlce. I left the hotel about 7 AM with the intention of checking in for my flight and then having a nice breakfast at the airport. Well, the check-in part went well, but the breakfast not so much!

My flight to Warsaw went from the B concourse, which is an older part of the airport and doesn't have very many services. I also had to walk to Departures Hall 1, which is on the opposite side of Schiphol Plaza from my hotel. As I was making my way to the B concourse I realized I was seeing the opposite side of a business complex set of buildings that I had seen from my hotel window. Truly I think I walked at least 2K from the hotel to my gate for the flight.

In the gate area I found only a very small coffee shop, nothing like the restaurants on the Holland Concourse that one uses for international flights

. I had a cappuccino and one of the raisin buns that I find in Holland and like very much. Then I thought about the fact that might Kindle might not last through the whole day of travel, and backtracked all the way from Gate 31 to the top of the B concourse to see if the shop there had any books in English. Yes! I found one. I really like what I call British chick-lit, a style of writing that is very hard to find in the states.

The flight to Warsaw was uneventful. We were served a very good sandwich and beverages.

In the past 18 months the Warsaw airport has significantly expanded and it was long, long walk to baggage. After collecting my baggage I went to the ATM -- Bankomat in Poland-- and got more Polish currency. Then I went into the nearby Bistro and had a coffee and piece of carrot cake.

Then I started to my trek to using the train station at the Warsaw airport for the first time. Before exiting the airport I found a counter to buy a ticket for the train.
 Today, 4.40 Polish zloty converts to $1.33. It was another long walk to the train station, made even longer by some construction occurring about the entrance to the station, making a detour necessary.

The train station is very modern, being newly constructed.

I sat down beside the track announcing a 13:24 train to Warsaw Centralna.
When I heard the sound of an approaching train, I thought it was mine. However, it eventually pulled in to track 1 rather than Track 1.

No train appeared and then the sign changed for a 13:52 train. When that train appeared I thought, "Oh no! I have the wrong ticket." There are two train companies operating in Warsaw. The one shown above in the video and another with different painted cars. In the past I've found one had to right ticket for the train company or you had to buy a new ticket. 

When the conductor saw my ticket he went aside to a counter for a bit of time and thought he was writing me a bill for a new ticket. Instead on the back he had written the time I boarded I train. Perhaps I was to have cancelled the ticket somehow when I entered the station. If I get an explanation, I'll add an edit to this blog entry so interested readers may learn more about how the train works.

At the Warsaw airport I was proud that I managed to buy a ticket to Siedlce through an automated kiosk.

I sat down to write a text to Dorota to tell her I had the ticket and that's when I realized I had a different arrival time than we had planned. We did a set of texts back and forth and I finally boarded a train for the original time with the information that this ticket would work, but I would have to pay a 10 zloty change fee. (I had searched and searched the digital signs and paper signs for the train, thinking it was a train to Siedlce, only its final destination was Moskva Belarussia and I didn't notice this. I'll remember the next time to look at the PKP schedule online and learn the final destination for the train.) The excellent news is that when the conductor took my ticket he simply stamped it and handed it back.

I had a first class ticket and the car was divided into compartments. From Warsaw Centralna to Minsk Maz another woman was in the compartment. She exited in Minsk and 2 men and 1 woman joined me in the compartment. I knew there was no way I could get my luggage out of the compartment upon arrival in Siedlce without help, due to the fact I had to pass these people. In Polish I asked the man for help with the luggage. Before I could get to Please in Polish he was already assuring he would help.

Dorota's husband met me at the train and brought me to Hotel Janusz. I couldn't remember if this hotel wanted a passport for ID upon checking in, so asked. The receptionist smiled and replied, "No we know you." (People are often surprised at my volunteering and this is one way that volunteers get paid -- building relationships such as this. )

I got my same room back. It's lovely with a small sitting area, a huge bedroom and an en-suite bathroom.

I was hungry so I walked up the street to Cafe Brama and had a lovely dish of pasta.

Every time I see a lovely meal like this I am reminded of the Twin Cities bus driver who told me he couldn't take his parents back to Poland "because there is no food in Poland."

After supper I walked to the shopping center anxious to see the new addition that had started last year only to discover it's not there yet! I went to the grocery store and got a couple chocolate bars and bottle of water. In the nearby Rossman (American readers should think of CVA or Walgreens) I picked up toothpaste.

Then back to bed where I crashed early. It had been a very tiring day, and also I often find the second day in Europe is the most challenging day for dealing with jet lag. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Walking in Jordann

While planning for this trip, I searched through my Amsterdam guide book for an idea of what to do to help me get on European time. The advice always is to get outdoors in the sun. I decided a short walk through an Amsterdam neighborhood might be just the thing. The Rick Steves' Amsterdam book says a walk through the Jordann area gives one an idea of how real people in Amsterdam live.

I started my day by getting a round trip ticket to and from Amsterdam Central.
Good thing I'm law abiding because today on both the trip into Amsterdam and then on the trip back to Schiphol Airport inspectors came through the car asking to see tickets. This is the first time during my recent trip that this has happened.

I could surely tell it was tourist season. After getting off the train I became part of a huge crush of people attempting to get onto the escalator to go down to the exit area.

I crossed all the tram tracks and the bike lanes and the traffic lanes and got around the construction zone in front of the station, and started down Damrak.

Soon on the left I found the Beurs (Stock Market) building. I continued down to Dam Square, indeed passing "every Dutch cliche in tourist shops" (Steves' words) and turned right. I found a lovely little cafe by the New Church and sat down to enjoy a cappuccino. Something warm sounded very good for the temperature was not even 60 degrees.

The cafe umbrellas may be seen just in front the parked while van. I was intrigued by the figures decorating a facade on the church, just behind my table.

The church itself is being used as a museum housing an exhibit about the recent accession of King Wilhelm.

Souvenirs left from the recent celebration

I walked out into the middle of Dam Square so I could get a better view of Royal Palace.

Then I followed the directions to go to the right of palace and head towards the Magna Plaza Shopping Center.

This building opened in 1899. From the outside one might intuitively recognize it as a shopping center, but inside it looks elegant but familiar.

 And there is one English word that I saw everywhere, including the C&A store I explored while walking down Damrak.

Then I started a walk into the neighborhood.



and shops.

These shoes carry a price of 180 euros ($234)! That is almost the same price as two nights in the hotel where I'm staying.

There are also artist galleries, but this is the first time I've ever seen one totally full of cows!

 Here is a close-up of one.

And of course the canals were full of tour boats.

The walk then took me down a charming residential street.

The various front doors or front steps were a riot of flowers.

While back-tracking my way to Damrak I got a different view across a canal.

The mob of people across the canal are in a line to visit the Ann Frank house.

The forecast for this day was sun, but clouds were gathering and I began to get concerned about a possible rain shower. And believing the forecast I had not brought along either an umbrella or a rain jacket.

By the time I got back to Damrak some sun was reappearing, so I stopped for lunch in a care in the Beur. I chose an old cheese sandwich.

Took the train back to Schiphol and then walked over to my hotel for a nap.

Good day walking in the Jordann neighborhood. The guide book was right; it did give me an idea about how real people live here rather than what one sees if only visiting tourist sights!