as in family roots guys... mind out of the gutter!
25.10.2015 - 15.11.2015
Apologies for my lack of blogging! I've been swallowed up in a void of drinking, partying, new friends and too many adventures to count! As I'm now over a month behind on my blog entries I will unfortunately have to skip out the rest of germany (munich, oktoberfest and Berlin) - it was pretty much all alcohol induced mischief anyhow ... And then Czech Republic, vienna and budapest. Wow that's heaps! Sorry guys, I can aways write about it separately to you if you're dieing to hear my stories!
So. ... This blog will focus on my time here in Poland so far. I've been here for three weeks already, with only one week remaining until I return home to Melbourne. Upon crossing the boarder into Poland I immediately noticed the stark contrast in comparison to other European cities that I've visited. Entering Poland felt like stepping back in time. The houses could use a good lick of paint, the countryside seems bland and there is a definite communist feel remaining throughout Poland with its plain cement slab buildings and lack of originality or interest in the vast majority of the architecture here. Additionally, the Polish seem to be very behind the times fashion wise. According to my German/polish girlfriend they've caught up heaps in the last few years as they used to have absolutely zero fashion, and now they have about 5-10%. So all in all, it was definitely a bit of a shock first getting here. I expected to feel nostalgic, or a wave of longing and homeliness upon my arrival, but in all honesty it was more the opposite - relief that my grandparents emigrated to Australia and I have had the luxury of being brought up in gorgeous Melbourne.
For those of you who don't know, my grandparents on my dad's side were Polish, and I am currently in the process of acquiring my Polish Passport. Hence I took it upon myself to finish my 3 months of European adventures attempting to learn polish for one month, in addition to meeting some distant family members for the first time, that still live here in Poland.
My family live near a town called Rzeszów in South East Poland, and I found a language course 2 hours to the West of Rzeszów in a popular tourist and student City called Krakòw. So i signed up for an intensive month of polish lessons (mon-fri approx 4.5hrs per day + homework). The course organisers also set me up with dirt cheap accommodation renting a room in the apartment of a local resident. But nothing is ever cheap without a price; it turns out that the lady I'm living with is about 70, lives in the Bronx of Poland in a matchbox apartment, and speaks zero english. She also has a habit of sneaking into my room and rearranging things when I leave the house, oh and my bedroom door has a big glass window in it!! So living conditions are pretty av to say the least...
Upon starting my polish language course I found that there were only 5 students enrolled during my allocated month. This is great as it means more attention on each student and hopefully a better level of polish language by the end of the course! The other students enrolled turned out to all be 40yrs +, and all Germans, plus one crazy Austrian dude with super white Santa clause hair who always rocks a bum bag around his waist and a pair of fluffy slippers crossed with ugg boots. Since Germans and Austrians all speak German as their first language, it meant that even in our class breaks instead of going back to speaking english, I'd be practicing my German language skills! Exhausting but great fun!
Now I'd also like to mention that upon taking my first walk through Central Krakòw I was super relieved to see just how beautiful it is! The architecture and general presentation of streets and shop fronts is definitely starting to catch up with the rest of Europe, and it's gorgeous to wander around and explore. After spending three weeks here I can appreciate the beauty of Krakòw a lot more (well at least the pretty central areas), and I'm confident that there will be some big changes and progressions in terms of fashions, general city appearance, and overall Polish vibe/atmosphere in the coming years.
During my first two weeks here I was super lucky to have lots of friends from my previously visited European cities also backpacking in Krakòw. This meant that each day after completing my polish classes I would head into the city centre and always have friends to explore with. We managed to check out quite a bit including the beautiful Wavel Castle, the Jewish quarter, an enormous and extremely detailed and interesting Polish/Jewish history exhibition centre, and last but not least, Auschwitz. I have certainly been amazed at just how much history there is to learn about all the countries in Europe in contrast to Australia with its measly 200yrs. Learning more about Polish history also prompted me to email dad and refresh my memory on where our family were and if/how they were involved in many of the big events in Polish history such as the Nazi period. I was relieved to learn that whilst my grandpa was captured by the Nazis and became a prisoner of war, he was sent to work on a farm in Germany, and never had to endure the conditions of a camp like Auschwitz as many Poles did.
Whilst I've had my share of thought provoking history lessons here, I've also managed to do some less depressing things! I was very excited as soon as I arrived here to join one of the local gyms and try and get at least a little fitness back after 2 months of heavy drinking, junky eating and very minimal fitness! I'm continuing to have a lot of fun at the gym, with the highlight being my participation in group fitness classes! With my minimal Polish I'm able to understand the instructors when they count, or direct us to move left or right - but that's it!! So I've had a ball trying to pretend to be polish and fit in with the other participants, as well as more than a few red faced moments when I've really mucked up and had to admit that I had absutely no idea what was going on!! Additionally I've managed to squeeze in some shisha bar time, go karting (omg so so fun!!), and even went to watch the local football team "Krakowia" kick some butt against a team I cannot pronounce, or remember the name of.
Throughout my European travels I have also invented a great game that I thoroughly enjoy playing in each new city. I call this game, "the local game", and it involves trying to pretend to be local whilst buying things, asking for directions etc. for as long as possible until you get found out. In order to play I either try and speak the language like a local, or just avoid talking as much as possible so that they don't know that I have no clue how to speak it! I first started playing this game in Berlin to try and get into clubs as we were sure that the bouncers would be more likely to let locals in than tourists, however it was much easier in Germany as my German is waaay better than I think my polish will ever be! Anyway, it's been a great game with multiple mishaps and funny looks from incorrect responses, or disappointing bakery trips when I attempted to order something that looked delicious thinking I understood what it was in polish, only to take my first bite and realise how wrong I was!!
In my third week in Krakòw I faced a new challenge. It turns out that making friends in a foreign country whilst not in a hostel is incredibly difficult. Thus, in an attempt to find some company for my last two weeks in Poland I have been trolling tinder like there's no tomorrow! (For those of you that don't know, tinder is a very popular dating app!). I did clearly state on my profile that I'm not looking for hook ups, purely new friends or locals to hang out with and explore town. Whilst not as easy as I thought it would be, I did have a really fun weekend clubbing with a crew of Swedish boys that were just visiting for the weekend. Additionally I joined an Internet site and created a profile to advertise my english teaching services! I've already met with two girls for coffee and to help them practice general english conversation, and I've been able to pick up some great local tips from them too!
Last but not least, I spent this weekend visiting my polish relatives. They are the cousins of my dad and then their children as well. I've never met them before, and even better - they barely speak a scrap of english, aside from some of the kids of the kids who are around my age (confusing i know!!). Now dad had warned me that the Polish love to drink, so when I arrived I was fully expecting to be welcomed by vodka shot after vodka shot, but was pleasantly surprised when this was not the case. However what I was not prepared for, was the never ending stream of food! It began on Saturday at midday after a bit of sightseeing. We went to the first relatives house where we enjoyed a nice large and hot lunch as well as a few bottles of wine, then we all went to the next relatives house - endless cakes and cookies and of course more wine! Then straight to the next relatives house! cake, biscuits, and a large platter of breads, cheeses, meats and of course - wine wine wine and wine late into the evening! I suppose it makes sense to eat so much food in order to keep up with the drinking and absorb the alcohol?
A few photos from the famous castle in Łancut near the family's home in Krzemienica
The second day progressed in a similar fashion filled with sweets, food and wine - although the day started a little differently. We had agreed the night before (via some help from google translate) that I would attend Sunday morning mass with the family at 10.30am. So we all got up nice and early (for a Sunday), ate a nice breakfast together and chatted about how cold the weather was. Then I went to brush my teeth ready to leave. The only problem - I came out of the bathroom and everyone had left!! without me!! I stood in the empty living room looking around and wondering if they had nicked out to check the mailbox and would come back? But then the grandma came in and immediately looked shocked to see me. Speaking no english, there were some very large hand gestures and a few words repeated over and over that could only mean "why are you here?!? everyones already left for church!!" So unfortunately not knowing my way, and not being able to communicate with the grandma, I had no choice but to sit and wait until everyone came home. It turns out that the whole morning when I thought (in my basic polish understanding) that I was agreeing that "yes the weather is cold today" - I was really giving the impression that "yes it is much too cold for me to come to church today". Whoops!!
So a big thank you again to all of the lovely family in Krzemienica for having me, despite a large amount of awkward silences due to a lack of language skills on both sides! I think I will definitely need to keep working on my Polish before any future visits! (and sorry family for the lack of photos - we did take a few but none on my phone! I will have to ask Anna for them)
A few vintage pics that the family dug up of dad!
Which brings me back to Krakow. I have one final week here of Polish language lessons, followed by my final weekend in Europe next weekend! I am super excited that Vic (one of my good friends from Melb who has been living in England for the year) will be coming to visit me in Krakow for this final weekend as well! I'm sure it will be full of plenty more stories that I can tell you all about when I'm home next Wednesday!!
Sending lots of love to everyone back home! And I certainly hope to catch up with as many of you as possible during my two weeks at home before I fly out to Japan on Dec 10th!
Love Kristina xox