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Tag: food

The Things I Love About Poland – Part II

I guess we all have countries which make us feel at home more than others. My parents, for example, love Greece, and they feel imbalanced when they don’t go every year. Most people get that. Greece has beaches, and islands, and ouzo, and lots of pretty old ruins. When I speak about Poland with that same affection, people just give me disbelieving looks. But guess what. Poland has beaches! And lakes! And vodka! And TONS of pretty old ruins – and pretty old buildings that are still whole, or have been restored beautifully.

Dlugi Targ, Gdansk, Poland

Długi Targ, the Long Market, in the center of my most beloved Gdańsk. Everything was in ruins here after World War II, but is shiny and sparkling today. I hear that Polands restorers are among the best in the world, and I believe that alright!

Last week I spoke about my love for the urban beauty of Polish cities, of the amazing sense of history in the country, of the hospitality I have met and the friends I have found, about the enchanting melody of that beautiful strange language, and about Polish music that has touched my heart. As if all this wasn’t enough, I have more reasons why my eyes light up when I talk about Poland. And I am not afraid to tell you about them.

6. The Landscapes

How could I speak about the cities and not equally enthusiastically mention the landscapes! From the Baltic Sea and the Mazurian Lakes in the North to the Tatra Mountains and the softer Plains in the South, the country really has it all.

Szczytno, Poland

Szczytno in the Mazurian Lake district enchants with a beautiful sunset.

Rozanka, Poland

Różanka in Lower Silesia offers pretty views and is very close to the Sudety mountains.

Poland even has the last European jungle in the Northeast which is high on my bucket list as I haven’t managed to see it yet. The wild bisons that live there, the żubry, have been namesake to both the beer żubr and the vodka żubrówka. Who wouldn’t need to see them now? One of the things that make Poland such an amazing country is definitely its diversity. From beach vacations by the sea to skiing in the mountains, you can find everything your travel heart desires here.

Sopot, Poland

Didn’t I say there were beaches? If it is this pretty in winter, just imagine how amazing the pretty spa town of Sopot must be in summer!

7. The Food – and the Vodka!

Ah, the food. I am not a huge foodie, but Polish food has me salivating. For one thing, don’t expect to ever go hungry in Poland. Generally, there is too much food for a person to handle, even if it is so delicious that you never want to stop eating. The Polish are big on soups and stews from żurek, a sour rye soup, to all kinds of vegetable soups (especially try barszcz, a beetroot based soup), to bigos, a heavy cabbage stew that will warm you on a snowed in winter’s night (because yes, it does get cold in Poland). I can never get enough of wątróbki, poultry livers served with apple and onions, and of the famous pierogi, dumplings that come filled with all sorts of different stuffings. If you can get someone to make them from scratch with you, you will never want to cook anything else at home anymore.

Making Pierogi in Bystrzyca Kłodzka, Poland

When I lived in Bystrzyca Kłodzka in Lower Silesia, we made Pierogi in the group of international volunteers with our Polish teacher. And my, were they yummy!

Of course a good Polish meal is not complete without good Polish vodka. No other beverage have I been drunker on. But if you drink the good kind and don’t mix it with cheap kinds, you will not even be hungover. I’m fairly sure I don’t even have to talk much about it. If you go to Poland, one or two vodka incidents are without fail bound to happen. And even if you never liked vodka before, trust me and try it here. It is delicious and it certainly speeds up the process of making Polish friends.

Pear Vodka, Sopot, Poland

Doesn’t look like vodka? Ah, but it is! With pears! And it was beyond delicious. Never would I have gotten to taste it if my friend Karol hadn’t known the bar tender 🙂

8. The Literature

Adding to the Polish language having drawn me in with strange magnetic pull, I have also fallen hard for Polish literature. It was no love at first sight. For a long time I didn’t really have any favourite Polish authors or works. But the more I read, the more I wanted, and the better I knew the language, the more I loved what I was reading. Epic realist novels like Bolesław Prus‘ Lalka („The Doll“), masterpieces of absurdism by Witold Gombrowicz, amazing SciFi like Stanisław Lem’s Solaris and heartbreaking poetry by the nobel prize winners Czesław Miłosz and Wisława Szymborska, and the great feminist novelists of today, like Olga Tokarczuk and my very favourite Joanna Bator – the list goes on and on.

 

I have found myself in too many books to actually list here, they have been eye-opening for me. To give you a taste, I translated one of my favourite Szymborska poems for you.

Na lotnisku

Biegną ku sobie z otwartymi ramionami,
wołają roześmiani: Nareszcie! Nareszcie!
Oboje w ciężkich zimowych ubraniach.
w grubych czapkach,
szalikach,
rękawiczkach,
butach,
ale już tylko dla nas.
Bo dla siebie – nadzy.

At the airport

They run towards each other with open arms
Calling out laughing: Finally! Finally!
Both in heavy winter clothing
In heavy hats,
scarves,
gloves,
boots,
But only to us.
Because to each other already – naked.

9. The Sense of Humour

Poles are extremely friendly and set great store by hospitality, as I mentioned last week. But not only that. Man, those people can make you laugh! I don’t know wether it is because they haven’t had much to laugh about in history, but generally Polish humour is dark, dry, politically incorrect and screamingly funny. To be quite frank it took me a while to really get into it, but I’m just telling you to not be shy, take that stick out of your butt that has been shoved up there in whatever country you are from, and go ahead and laugh.

Browarnia, Gdansk, Poland

„A bar tender is no camel, he needs to have his drink too!“ – on a jar for tips in a much beloved Gdansk based bar. Yeah, sometimes the humour isn’t dark and twisted, but just cute 🙂

I was warned before watching the Polish cult film Rejs, „The Cruise“, that I might not get why it is funny. I never stopped laughing when I saw it. I wish I had found a subtitled version of this scene which is my absolute favourite. I can but hope that the body language of the cast alone will at least make you smile. The dialogue is hilarious.

10. The Swearwords

Closing on a high note here. Obviously there is one specific part of language, which in general I already discussed, that deserves extra attention. Almost any language beats German when it comes to swearing, we only have boring words that don’t do the somewhat violent melody of our language any justice. But cursing in Polish is pure poetry. It is so emphatic and creative. I know you expect better of me, the academic, but I dare you to have a Pole teach you how to curse and your life will never be the same. There are actual linguistic studies on the fact that German cursing is usually related to fecies (shit) while Slavic cursing is related to sex (fuck). There is nothing as relieving as uttering a heartfelt kurwa jebana mać (a very emphatic „fuck!“, but literally something like „damn fucked bitch“). And the most brilliant thing is: They use swear words for affirmation and celebration as well – as in zajebiście, which means „awesome“, but literally „fucked“.

Bystrzyca Kłodzka, Poland

I called the little town of Bystrzyca Kłodzka my home for 6 months. There was nothing spectacular about it. But it is Poland. Therefore, it is home.

Having said all of this, I feel once more ever so grateful for my blog. You don’t understand how even thinking about all these things made me so happy. I think back on all the places I have seen in Poland, and all the ones I am yet to discover. There is no other country except for Germany that I know so much about, and yet I don’t know nearly enough. I want to see more, know more, understand better.

You know how when you travel and get cash from the ATM in a foreign country, you try to calculate so you won’t get too much as to not be stuck with foreign currency at the end of your trip? In Poland I never do that. I always take out any decent amount I feel like taking out. If I have Zloty left over at the end of my stay, I will just spend them the next time around. It is never far away.

Which country makes you feel at home? Why do you love it so much, and do people understand your love for it?

How I found Europe in Chicago

Even before I came here, I noticed in my travel guide that Europe is ever present on the map of Chicago: The Ukrainian Village. Little Italy. Greektown. Pilsen, as in the Czech town. The Holstein Park, as in the region in Northern Germany. Not only were there geographical allusions, but many places were named for famous Europeans: Humboldt Park. Goethe and Schiller streets. Pulaski Park. Dvorak Park (yes, they have a LOT of parks in Chicago!). I thought it was interesting how a country whose population is traditionally made up of immigrants to some extent tries to reconstruct its heritage this way, and I was curious if I would find Europe elsewhere in Chicago, too. I was not disappointed.

The neighbourhoods that take their names from Europen countries or cities are not only named that, but many are inhabited by immigrant population. This leads to funky combinations, like the neighbourhood with the Czech name of Pilsen being inhabited mainly by Mexican Americans today. Also there is the Old Town which used to be the German neighbourhood – and not only do you find a big European grocery store there, said grocery store also has a rooftop terrace on which you can have beer and, brace yourself, Currywurst!

Currywurst, Old Town, Chicago, IL

Germany in America: Currywurst with Sauerkraut…

Maibaum, Old Town, Chicago, IL

… and a Maibaum!!!

You also can hardly fail to come across signs of the Polish population. At the blue line stop Division, you will find the so called Polish triangle, and there is the renowned restaurant Podhalanka, a place that supposedly has really good Polish food. Along Milwaukee Avenue I saw several Polish Restaurants with Polish names that Americans who don’t share this descent probably cannot even pronounce – or how would you say Czerwone Jabłuszko (Little Red Apple)?

Polish Triangle

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And at the Polish Triangle another piece of Poland: The Chopin Theatre! (Yes he was Polish – NOT French!!)

 Not only do you see the Polish influence in the cityscape, you can also hear it. I went on the blue line one morning and waited at my stop for the train to come in. Two middle aged guys next to me were chatting animatedly in Polish. The first thing I noticed was how much they cursed. Every sentence was generously lined with the word „kurwa“, Polish for whore or bitch. While that amused me only slightly, my face split into a wide grin when they started discussing about Germany and what a dirty country it is. Sweden, yes, Sweden was clean, but Germany, kurwa, unbelievable, the amounts of rubbish in the streets. I chuckled.

Obviously, all of this stems from immigration, like I already said. I found this noticeable not least at Graceland Cemetery, a beautiful graveyard well worth a visit which I have written about here. A lot of the tombstones displayed foreign heritage, like this one showing that the deceased had been born in Hungary.

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Also, the Germans were here again, not only with their names: Many tombstones did note say „born“ and „died“, but „geb.“ and „gest.“ – short for geboren and gestorben. It means the same, obviously, but I found it quite remarkable that the Germans kept their own culture alive to the point of having their tombstones signed in their own language rather than English.

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Austria came into play when we went to a cute coffeehouse called Julius Meinl that saved the famous coffee and had interieur that resembeld classical Vienna coffeehouse furniture. The coffee was fantastic, and the menue carried things such as Einspänner, Melange and Verlängerter – with the umlaut writing!

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Finally the immigrants have not only named places after people and brought parts of their culture in food and drink and architecture, but they also saw to the fact that their greatest heroes would be commemorated in the city. There is a memorial for Alexander von Humboldt, one for Kosciuszko, one for Copernicus, one for Havlicek, one for Hans Christian Anderson, one for Goethe and one for Schiller – and I would have been bound to find more if I had been able to stay longer, I’m sure.

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Have you ever found Europe on another continent? Where was it and what made it so European for you?

 

Thinking of Kraków…

Dieser Post basiert auf diesem deutschen Originalpost.
My first visit to Poland was when I was 8. The second visit of this place that I would come to love so truly didn’t happen until 13 years later. I had been learning Polish for two years and was excited and curious for this country that I had but a dim and distant memory of. After all, I had decided to make it part of my life by studying its language, culture and, above all, its literature. I signed up for a four week language course in Kraków.
Krakow Panorama, Poland
Back then, one rather chilly day in early March, I got off the bus from the airport at the main station just by the Planty, a green belt, a little park that encircles the old town. Looking up to a grey sky and breathing in Polish air for the first time as an adult, I was full of anticipation and a giddy nervousness, as though I was going on a first date. The church towers led the way, and I walked towards them in the direction I supposed the old town’s center to be in. I walked down Floriańska Street towards the Rynek, the main square. I didn’t know that Floriańska was a famous street. I didn’t know it led to the Rynek. My legs carried me on as if they knew they way, as if they’d walked it a hundred times. A feeling, nay, a certainty came over me that I had been here before. There was music everywhere. Pictures flashed in front of my inner eye, pictures of heavy red velvet curtains that I would see at Cafe Singer in the Jewish quarter Kazimierz later during my stay. My soul seemed to recognize the city from a former life. Until today I feel sure that this first visit to Kraków wasn’t actually the first. Instead, I was coming home in many strange, yet very natural and sensible ways.
Sukiennice
When people ask me today why I love Kraków, this experience is really the only answer I have for them. To be quite honest I don’t understand the question. Kraków was the first city I ever really fell in love with. I have been there many times since, and every visit just makes my love for it grow.
A collage of memories:
Sitting bei Wisła (Vistula) River, just below Wawel, which is the castle hill. A sunny day in early April. The river is making a large bend here, and it runs calmly and proudly as though it couldn’t ever run wild and burst its banks. In this moment I realize that I have never felt like a stranger in this city.
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Or having my first Zapiekanka at Plac Nowy (New Square) in Kazimierz. Zapiekanka is the Polish version of fast food: a baguette, essentially with mushrooms and cheese, grilled in the oven and topped with lots of ketchup and chives. Yum! And there’s no place in all of Poland where they are better than at the Okrąglak, the funny looking round building inmidst of the square that used to be a market hall. So say the locals, and so say I.
Okraglak, Plac Nowy, Krakow, Poland
Running across the Rynek, hurrying to meet someone or other, and from the tower of Mariacka, St. Mary’s church with the two unevenly high towers, the melody of the Hejnał is sounding out to my ears, falling right into my heart, and I have to stop and listen to it. „Hejnał“ (which funnily enough is pronounced something like „hey, now“) is derived from a Hungarian word for Dawn. It is a very old Polish signal melody. Legend has it that when the Mongols tried to invade Poland in the middle ages, a guard was keeping watch on the tower and sounded the Hejnał to warn the people of Kraków when the army approached the city. He was shot mid-melody so that he couldn’t finish. Until today, every full hour an interrupted Hejnał is sounded in all four directions from Mariacka’s tower. Yes, even in the middle of the night. No, it is not a record. Listen to it here.
Mariacka, Krakow, Poland
Having a kosher* dinner at Klezmer Hois in Kazimierz and accidentally stumbling upon a Klezmer concert in the room next door. I’m standing in the door way, covertly hidden away. In front of a  delicate dark red curtain with golden ornaments, there is a man with a double bass, one with an accordion and a young woman with a violin. Their play is sweet and snappy, lively and melancholy. Hava Nagila. Bei mir bist du scheen. The woman will at times put down the violin and start singing. Her voice is deep and velvety, it sounds like the dark wood boarding on the walls. Like the stone pillars and the lace doilies on the tables. From dark depths, the voice is softly climbing up, sighing high, desperate, the way Klezmer clarinettes usually do. I feel like sighing myself. Magical, magical Kraków.
Klezmer Hois, Krakow, Poland

Instructions for a Bridgekeeper

As much as I love travelling solo, I am in the process of looking into finding travel buddies for my next adventure. Today I got into thinking what it would actually mean for someone else to travel with me. I am sure that in my time I must have developed a few spleens and weird habits when travelling on my own, and I think everyone deserves a fair warning. So here they are, the instructions on how to deal with the BridgeKeeping Travel Buddy (BKTB).

„Dear customer,

congratulations on obtaining your very own BKTB. Handled with care and maintained properly, you will enjoy this product for a very long time.

When choosing a travel destination, keep in mind that the BKTB must be exposed to travel to Poland at least four to five times a year and to another Eastern European destination of your choice once a year. Also make sure that the BKTB goes on at least one vacation a year that will allow her to return to Germany with a tan that will prompt people to say that she looks like a gypsy.

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Make sure that the BKTB has access to coffee in the morning, preferably Espresso or Bosnian / Serbian / Turkish coffee. The BKTB does NOT run on instant coffee. You run the risk of causing severe damage to the BKTB’s system if you try to fuel it with instant coffee. Also, keep in mind that while the BKTB doesn’t need much food during the day when travelling, a feeling of hunger can overcome her within seconds towards evening. When this is uttered, find food as quickly as you can or else run for dear life lest you want to be object to a very moody BKTB.

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While the BKTB will help you to just wander a place without orientation and finding incredible places, and while the BKTB has a fairly decent sense of orientation, she will not ask for directions unless she has to. You being there will mean that she doesn’t have to, because it’s your job. She’s weird that way. The BKTB will, however, randomly chat up strangers in coffee places, trains or other ways of public transport, on park benches or in line for a museum. If those strangers are locals, she will have annoyed them with a gazillion questions about the culture, the history and the minority politics of the country you are in before even having asked the stranger’s name. Yeah, she’s weird that way, too.

On the other hand, the BKTB needs her quiet time. Bring her to a religious site or a spectacular place in nature (a beach will always do, but mountains work as well!) frequently during your trip and just shut up for a bit so she can hear her own thoughts. Don’t take it badly if she wants to wander off on her own for a bit. It’ll be for your own good if she does.

Mariella in Butrinth, Albania

Credit for this pic to my friend Steve

If you’re female or gay, the BKTB comes with an option of daily cuddling / hugging. Actually to be honest, she comes with that option if your a straight man, too. Hell, the important question is probably if *you* come with that option!

The BKTB will express the urge to sing out of the blue frequently. The best way to deal with this is to find someone who can play the guitar and an adequate situation for singing, such as bonfires, balconies or terraces, beaches and the likes, or at least a karaoke bar. You do not have to provide lyrics since the BKTB knows almost all of them by heart.

Credit for this pic to my friend Julia

You have now been warned. Enjoy your travels.“

What is there to consider when someone travels with you?