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Tails From the Vienna Woods

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Poland

Shall we Gdansk? III. Postcards

Zapiekanka. Hold the ketchup, please.

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Shall we Gdansk? II. Polish Copenhagen

On the day before departure Anna Grace and I pored and planned over the weather forecast, cruel mistress that she is. No Rain, Slight Rain, Sunny, and Everything in Between was predicted, except locusts, and so we packed accordingly. The only downside of our planning was that because of the forecast changing every time we looked at it, we decided not to advance purchase tickets for the very new WWII museum (entrance is limited); this worked against us, and we were not able to visit.

Our driver was at the airport with the, Ms. First Name Last Name-ski” sign and he promptly sped us like a lunatic to our hotel. When he realized that the “ski” part of my name really meant that I was one generation removed from the homeland and could barely speak my native tongue, sadness and silence filled the car.  My grandmother would be ashamed.

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Shall we Gdansk? I. A “LOT” of Frustration.

LOTs more of this pun lies ahead…

Continue reading “Shall we Gdansk? I. A “LOT” of Frustration.”

Christmas in Cracow: Scenery

Though we had hoped for a white Christmas in Cracow, we happily settled for the next best: sunshine and temperatures around 15°C each day. Clayton Theodore was all too happy to take extra long constitutionals in the pretty early morning and late afternoon light with me and my camera.

Christmas in Cracow: Eating Like a Pole

For a change of pace we decided to spend Christmas outside of Vienna. We rented an apartment in Cracow that we had rented before; its proximity to the Stare Mesto (5 minute walk) and its well-appointed kitchen were the main reasons we returned. Since our traditional Christmas dinner is Polish cuisine, what better place to be than in the Motherland?

Weekend in Warsaw

Warsaw surprised us. Most travel guides dismiss Poland’s capital as worth only about a day’s visit. After all, the Germans systematically destroyed the city, then Stalin came in and finished it off in that grand socialist style. The Stare Miasto is a recreation, much like Frankfurt, as well. But for history buffs, architecture fans, and foodies, Warsaw is worth more than the weekend we allotted. 
Driving to Warsaw was not the most photo-inspirational road trip we’ve enjoyed. “Poland” doesn’t translate to “Land of Fields” for nothing!
Outside of the old city, glass skyscrapers shimmer in the sunlight…

…alongside Stalin’s “Gift to Poland” of the former Palace of Justice. Composed of 40 million bricks, it looms over the city like the watchful Big Brother it was intended to be.

The streets were alive our first night in town, filled with people SHOPPING and, as we, eating delicious Polish fare. 
Pierogies and Pivo in Poland. Szmacne!
The following morning, 8 May, we and practically every Warsawian high schooler visited the Warsaw Rising Museum, the 70th anniversary of VE Day. 

What remains of the Warsaw Royal Castle.

Armbands of the various resistance groups donated to the museum.

This handwritten plan to defend the Poniatowski Bridge was discovered hidden in a blotter by family members returning to their home after deportation.
Our principal reason for being in Poland was to attend Anna Grace’s Track & Field tournament, hosted by ASWarsaw. Most American Schools lie on the outskirts of the city, where the land was available back when the schools were constructed. ASW is no exception, and its embarrassingly oversized modern campus dominates the relatively empty landscape at the city’s border. 
There is even a gated American community adjacent to the school. I’ll bet the deliveries of “America” from amazon.com have no trouble passing through.
Perhaps even more disturbing than Little America was the two-lane McDonald’s just outside the “border.” I have no problems with McDonald’s, but a two-lane drive-through
8 May also happens to be our wedding anniversary, and we anticipated a lovely dinner of ASW Booster Burgers while cheering on our favorite Lady Knight. Absurdly the school was not operating boosters! Over 120 athletes out in the Warsaw hinterlands and with no food until the mass-produced plates of “ready spaghetti” at the end of the day’s events! As the high jump competition stretched into the evening, you guessed it, we toasted 22 years of wedded bliss with a couple of Big Macs and Americanske Fritske. But it was totally worth it to watch Anna Grace out jump 18 competitors to claim the championship. The power of the pony tail.
On Saturday we had a little time before Anna Grace competed in her other two events, the 100m sprint and the 4x100m relay. (She and her team fared well, but did not medal in either.) Driving around Warsaw we spied all sorts of interesting sights.  
This “No Smoking” sign was outside of a grocery. I guess the Poles smoke a lot.
The lunch options were decidedly better, but when in Poland I opted to indulge in a few favorite dishes from my childhood, like herrings with a creamy apple and cabbage slaw. 

We had about an hour to wander just a few of the 500 lanes of Targowisko Bakalarska, Warsaw’s daily market for everything from food to flowers to items of dubious origin. If only I’d had a day to explore…
Poles love their flowers (there is a fresh bouquet almost every week in my house), even the silk variety. Hundreds of vendors were selling the prettiest of spring’s bounty.

 Something for everyone…

 The aromas drifting through the food lanes were heavenly.

 Armenian Kebabs, only €2,50; a pork cutlet sandwich, a bargain at €1,25.

Manicures in Vienna are expensive; in Warsaw, practically every little nail salon in the market was filled with ladies enjoying the €3,75 treat.

We left Warsaw after Anna Grace’s events, the plan being to overnight and pottery shop in Bolaslawiec before returning to Vienna on Sunday. Many of Poland’s autostradas have bus stops!

 In the more rural areas, shrines to Mary were decorated brightly for Mother’s Day.

We reached Bolaslawiec just as all of the pottery stores were closing for the day, and so opted for a pre-dinner cocktail on the patio of our inn before enjoying a delicious supper.

Sunday morning saw an early start (thanks to Polish roosters), with a brief detour to the little border village of Gorelec.  Way back in 2002 Tony and I tacked on a driving tour of the former East Germany following a conference in Dresden, to include Leipzig, Meissen, Bautzen, and a memorable night in a boutique inn across the border in Görlitz (Germany). While wandering the town before dinner that evening we happened upon the footbridge that connected the two cities. Walking across, we were stopped halfway for a passport check. When the border officer saw our passports he remarked enthusiastically, “America!” and even today the memory of his enthusiasm makes us smile.

To our happiness, the foot bridge was still there, though all modern (and safe) now. No passport checks anymore, however.

Once at home, a big greeting by our Champion High Jumper. Lady Knights placed 2nd; Gentlemen Knights placed 3rd; and AISV took 1st Place overall. Way to go, Knights!

Another fabulous, and much-needed, weekend away.

Wayback Wednesday: Poland 2012

In March 2012 we learned we would be moving overseas just three months later. Did we cancel our planned April holiday to Poland?  We did not.  And now, faced with a weekend of unpacking boxes or road tripping to Warsaw for Anna Grace’s Track & Field tournament, the decision was easy. Tomorrow we hit the road for my homeland.
Back to 2012. Krakow was wet and cold, with sideways-blowing snow at times, but still charming.

 Krakow was also beautiful against the occasional blue sky day.

 The menu from Bar Mleczny, one of the few remaining government-subsidized lunch counters that popped up after Poland regained independence post WWI.  Our lunch was terrific. Of course it was.

Local celebrities.

We day tripped to Nowa Huta on Krakow’s outskirts. Once the border between the Austrian and Russian Empire-controlled Poland; later, a planned industrial site and major Communist propaganda location; and under Lenin, steel factories, the largest in Poland.

We visited nearby Wroclaw on a sunny day, a picturesque city filled with hidden gnomes.

 Kazimercz and Auschwitz were also on our itinerary.

Oskar Schindler’s office.
What’s not to love about a country that serves pierogies non-stop?

Pottery, Pierogis, and People. Poland!

A friend and I hit the road last Friday morning for a weekend of pottery shopping (and eating, of course) in my homeland.  The city of Bolesławiec in Lower Silesia is Poland’s “Ceramics City,” advantageously sitting on a trade route between Leipzig and Wrocław. Like a good part of Poland, the city had at one point in its 750 year-old history belonged to someone else: the Hapsburg Monarchy, the Prussian Kingdom, Nazi Germany, a Communist republic, and now, finally, it is its own city in the Republic of Poland.  Although 60% destroyed after WWII, the city’s pottery-making tradition had been kept alive by displaced Poles who had been living in West Germany (hence, Bunzlauer pottery), and was revitalized in Bolesławiec proper by returning Poles who resuscitated the scant remaining equipment, and who managed to start creating the beautiful pottery by as early as 1948. But enough history. 

Pottery 
Pottery pilgrimages are all the rage not only with wives from the American military bases in Germany, but pretty much with every ex-pat group within a 600km radius of Bolesławiec. Many of these seasoned shoppers have thoughtfully written pottery blogs from which my friend and I harvested shopping strategies.
Or so we thought. On Friday afternoon we set out to do a little reconnaissance, yet none of our research prepared us for pottery stores that looked like this. My friend’s eyes welled with tears–her mental shopping list had imploded, and my eyes were as wide as the proverbial deer in headlights–I had not come with a shopping agenda and panicked at the thought of having only a weekend to figure out what to purchase. With heads hung low, and our sad rookie purchases of ceramic Easter eggs the only accomplishments we called it a day and headed back to the inn.
Refusing to be defeated, we came up with a plan over breakfast on Saturday. 
By late morning we were still overwhelmed but holding steady. Pattern choices easily numbered into the hundreds, and each pottery studio has its own designs, as well. Elbows jostled in the smaller stores and sofas provided a bit of relief in the larger studios. I am very proud to report that we overcame the challenges; the car was full of pottery on the drive home. 
In addition to the traditional patterns,  some of the stores offered themed pottery for their known clientele.

 (And yes, it does look like the pope is picking his nose.)

Whereas the warehouse and outlet stores had quantity, the more upscale stores had artfully arranged quality offerings.  Still, decision making never came easily.

I disagree with the sentiment, but judging by the behavior of some of our fellow shoppers I am of the minority opinion.

Pierogis
I am not the least ashamed to write that I ate 17 pierogis last weekend. Fresh, billowy dumplings filled with mushrooms and farmers cheese and sauerkraut and potatoes and beef–I ate them all. Smaczne!

I also savored chicken consommé with fresh kluski. After seeing Baba in the kitchen rolling the dough, who wouldn’t?

The inn where we stayed could not have been staffed by more gracious hosts (or by more obnoxious guests, but I will get to that later.) At breakfast the first morning were scrumptious-looking little bowls of tuna salad; unfortunately the salad contained eggs, to which I am allergic. I inquired about the possibility of an egg-free salad, but all of the morning’s tuna had been used. Not a problem, as the buffet was overflowing with other delectable choices including French press coffee, a carryover from displaced Poles who had been living in France during the war. Who knew?

The following morning? The staff brought me a bowl of tuna salad, sans eggs. Without my asking! I love my people.

Under a self-imposed 12-step pierogi program after lunch on Saturday, I reverted to another favorite meal on our final night, roasted whole trout. Perfectly prepared, of course, and served with enough butter to make Julia Child proud. My people know how to cook.

Our route home on Sunday took us through the Krakonoski mountains and its national park. Intrigued by a length of roadside vendors along one of the park entrances, we stopped to investigate. Every other vendor was selling smoked sheep cheese.

A popular treat in this region is grilled cheese with a berry jam. Do take note of the label on that jam. Turns out that the Aldi grocery chain in Poland carries select Trader Joe’s items!

After a 17 pierogi weekend, though, one tiny plate of smoked cheese with Trader Joe’s jam was about all I could manage.

People 
The old border crossing between the Czech Republic and Poland. 

Giant pottery greets drivers at the roundabouts in Bolesławiec.

Pottery bedecked vintage Skodas are sprinkled around the town, too.
At the Saturday farmer’s market, fresh palm designs, and fresh flannel and house dresses, for the spring season.

Driving around Bolesławiec and surrounds was a cultural journey. Vintage barns sit comfortably across from modern housing.

Baba and Djadja plow their farm with horses, while across the street the next generation uses weed-whackers from the big box home and garden store.

 Abandoned and once-beautiful homes await a second chance.

 While for others, living off the grid is just fine.

I experienced another cultural journey this weekend, regrettably. I will not mince words: I was embarrassed by, embarrassed for and ashamed of the behavior and conduct of many of my fellow American citizens this weekend in Bolesławiec. 
In the stores, cringeworthy conduct.
“Hey, can you grab me another one of those blue plates?” shouted from loud American to another at the far end of a store.
“I gotta pee. I guess since I’m peeing here I probably should buy something.” loudly announced by one American to her friend.
“How much are ya spendin’ on all that stuff? shrilly screeched across the room by one American to another.
And a loud conversation at the payment desk between a woman on her mobile phone and her husband, of whom she was asking permission to spend $100. To be clear, I am not commenting on the financial relationship between the loud American and her husband. The conversation, however, should have been taken outside of the store.
At the Inn, even worse.
The Blue Beetroot Inn is a lovingly-restored barn with just 12 rooms. Gracious hosts, comfortable accommodations, and excellent food made for a pleasantly memorable stay. The dozen or so American women also staying at the inn made the stay memorable in a different way. 
Bolesławiec being a small town, once the pottery stores close for the day there are few ways to occupy one’s time before dinner. Now, I’m all in favor a pre-dinner cocktail, but for these ladies, turned loose from their wife and mommy duties for the weekend, the alcohol started flowing a little too early.  “Hey, get me a gin and tonic!” was the mantra in the lounge on the first night. Dinner in the cellar restaurant was worse. The more the alcohol flowed, the louder the ladies became and the more the sounds vibrated off the walls, to the point where my friend and I could barely converse. Later that night the drunken revelers stumbled up the wooden stairs and down the wood floor halls to their rooms. Lovely.
On the second level of the Inn is a small sitting area, to where my friend and I attempted to escape before dinner on the second night, though the gin and tonic-shlossed chatter did filter up. Later that evening, a subset of the  gals turned the area into a poker hall. Beer bottles clinked and voices were raised like antes. All that was missing was cigars.
Though I am neither a teetotaler nor stodgy and old, and I’d like to believe the weekend was an isolated experience, on Sunday morning I felt as if I should apologize for their behavior. Instead, I thanked the proprietor for a lovely stay and headed home. I’ll leave the apologies to the hungover American 30 and 40-something “girls” gone wild.


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